Future of Copyright: Roundtable 3 – Law, regulation and the future

This looks like it was an excellent debate.

The Open Rights Group : Blog Archive » Future of Copyright: Roundtable 3 – Law, regulation and the future


Can copyright protect art from becoming a business activity. What I don't mean is can certain individual artists use copyright to protect their works against business, but can copyright be used to protect the commons? Lots of contemporary artists have the primary concern of their resistance to business. Is copyright forcing people to be small commodity producers, when this is not what they want to be.

Historically, art is either a business activity or a distraction for the independently wealthy. It is as dangerous to see art as not being a business as to see it as only a market. The humorous description of art as “middle sized dry goods” serves as a useful illustration of what the extents to art’s relation to the market should be, from both sides.

An essay in Art & Language New York’s journal “The Fox” from the 1970s discusses the state-funded art of what was then Communist Yugoslavia and describes how the absence of any necessity to either the production or consumption of art created mediocrity through bureaucracy.

Bureaucratic attempts to induce and manage the creation of culture, to guarantee the creation of cultural value, whether state or corporate bureaucracy, destroy cultural value. This can be used both as an argument for markets and as an argument for art’s autonomy. There is no contradiction, it is only when art has no necessity or becomes ideologically instrumentalized that there is a problem. Sadly both are the case in the contemporary art market.

All this said, in the UK some of the most successful artists and musicians of today started out being supported by the state, on unemployment benefits.

The answer is no. Introduced race relations act and sexual discrimination act in the late 60s, but things might not be worse but are not much better. Law is part of a social system and so reflect social values. What law tries to do is channel social and political conflict into what lawyers see as technical disputes. It's interpretations of rules. To the extent that copyright is associated with two or three major cultural or philosophical ways in which the world has arranged itself in the last 300 years, of property, rights, these things are a part of a coherent development that's lasted 100 years.

You are asking copyright law to do something revolutionary. People thought in the 60s that you pass a race relation act and racism goes away, and we've seen it doesn't.

But it helps. The social change that those acts are a reflection of are protected by them.

If the property right is so over-valued and its transmission is like shares in a company instead of the rights of an individual creator then the kind of exploitation we've described becomes an easy shot. Can we minimise that?

The question was can we use copyright law to have a revolution, and the answer is no.

Exactly. Copyleft is reform. It is unlikely to bring about a revolution, but it can prevent a collapse. It can be disruptive, and this disruption may appear revolutionary. This disruption is more a restoration than the creation of anything new. Which is disappointing to radicals and to venture capitalists. But it is vitally important to artists.

Posted in Aesthetics, Free Culture

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