Recently by Mind the Gap
Thanks, all. As an online content creator not usually directly engaged with such policy work (aside from when an issue raises deep concerns in the field or when attending an FMC policy day), this week has been an education. I know my colleagues always wish there was more time for this type of advocacy, and hopefully now I'm armed with more ways/inspiration on the how/why side that I can share.
Sort of extending on what Doug just said re: potentially transformative initiatives, I'd add licensing. It seems to me that things like Creative Commons represent an important step in consumer education about rights issues (a.k.a. there's a lot of space between traditional copyright clearance and piracy). Still, there are dollars missing from that system that need funneled in. With so many people making and sharing content in that gorge between big profit and home movie, a system that doesn't require a team of lawyers and an extra day in the week to execute but that still spreads around revenue (many drops of micro-payment) efficiently would be a significant step forward.
A panel discussion I was part of a couple years ago at the Conference on World Affairs included a really enlightening (and only slightly tense) mixed-field copyright discussion. I found it especially provocative because it got things out of the music-only ghetto I'm usually sitting in. An MIT researcher sat at one end of the table--I believe they had arranged us along a spectrum based on how liberal our position on the issues at hand--and at the other extreme a writer for shows like HBO's Band of Brothers. Though the conversation was admittedly much more nuanced than I'm about to distill it down to, in brief, Mr. MIT wanted his work freely shared because he didn't feel the material could move forward and gain value without peer input and he personally didn't need it locked down in order to generate enough $$ to eat, put shoes on children, etc. That's how his field was designed, in fact. How "ready for the 21st century" of them. The TV copy writer felt exactly the opposite: when his work was shared, it was devalued, his children left barefoot. His field lived or died by such protections, he explained. After the panel was over, the TV writer and I had a side bar during which he patiently explained to me why I would feel differently about copyright when I was older.
As the Times quoted Christgau this morning: "If I've learned anything from cyberpunk fiction, and I've learned plenty, it's that worlds do not end, they change." I think there are also a few good songs about that. Recent cultural trends have shown a rise in people's interest in the quality and environmental impact of the food they consume and the products they buy. And if there's an upside to the downturn, it's perhaps that people are re-evaluating how they spend their time vs how much time they spend on earning that paycheck, leaving more room to pursue their true passions. I know we're all nervous about livelihoods and allowing talented individuals the space to train and create, but I wonder if the pro-am shifts that technology is facilitating in many areas may be shifting general public perceptions about the arts faster than those of us entrenched deeply in the pro fields even realize. If we're looking at the spectrum of who is a professional, who is an amateur, and who is pulling in the same direction on a lot of the creative rights issues before us, I suspect that for most the biggest sorting factor will come down to simply how the rent is currently getting paid. Will that end up being a problem? What current problems might that help solve?
Barely a sip into my first coffee of the day, I started reading these posts. Big money. Big media. Lobbyists. Leveraging. Oligopolies! I thought I knew a thing or two about the policy issues on the table, but suddenly I was reminded again how ineffective and small my potential to influence them seemed.
I took a moment
to hide to catch up on the other items in my Google reader. Ah, a post commenting on a post about the trailer for the new Facebook movie. That seemed like safe viewing. But I couldn't escape the topic at hand. That haunting soundtrack it has featuring an all-girl choral version of Radiohead's "Creep." Lovely voices singing about not belonging but wanting to have control, while actors depicting real people yell at each other, first about their big, creative idea, and then later (and at a higher volume), about money and ownership of that idea. Lawyers are then involved. There are tears, discussions of copyright and privacy violations, and things are lit on fire.
In real life, of course, issues of creativity, cash, and control don't usually get such a dramatic arc and backing track. To bad, because that would make policy work more exciting.
If sports have taught some of us only one thing, it's that being on the defensive is generally not the position of power. That seems to be the position we're playing from, however. Take this as an example: Composer Mike Rugnetta recently pointed out his perception that "that NO ONE - including those who get PRO checks - understands how rights mgmt works...Myself included; I have NO idea. Obviously this is a very broken system." And that's just a single example in a stack of issues where artists find themselves frustratingly confused about how things function and who is influencing what and why. Artists have been empowered by new technologies to control more aspects of their own work and career trajectories, but absent a middleman representing them, this brave new world also means that they need a way to look out for the larger political and legal issues pertinent to their creative life. But how do you DIY a lobbying effort?
Artists are often the bravest and most audacious people I know, but current circumstances seem to indicate that we need some serious(ly creative) methods for directing action/education on what we can do as individuals, what organizations we can look to for help, and how--absent $ resources to get it done--we can help educate our confused colleagues. I appreciate Doug's concern that artists probably don't even all want to pull in the same direction, and his recommendation that at the very least we need to be loud and proud in our debates. Still, even if our house is a bit divided, can we influence more people with the power of our creativity/the networks of our fanbases than big media could buy with big cash if we develop better methods for directing where to lob it?
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