MyCreativity: Alternative Business and Organisation Models
The topic of discussion at MyCreativity was to propose a new system of copyright that withstands the 21st century, respects the domains of knowledge and creativity, and provides artist with a worthy financial compensation. Joost Smiers has clearly thought about this thoroughly. His lecture was the most detailed and covered some important issues. In this blog post I will translate some of his thoughts.
The main point is that there needs to be an alternative for copyright that recognizes that because of the internet the world has changed drastically from how it was in the 19th century, the time when copyright was formed and with it the bizarre idea that the artist is a genius that thinks up all his creations by himself, almost in the name of God, and therefore is entitled to be the sole owner of his creations.
Copyright was once upon a time an aid for artist to provide them with an income. Nowadays copyright fulfils a complete different function. Copyright is a tool for conglomerates on the terrain of music, books and film to control the market. They have the authority to decide if audiovisual and text material can be used by others. And if so, under what terms and at which cost.
Our cultural expression gets privatized more and more. Our democratic rights and freedom of speech seem to vanish.
Millions of people that share their music and film collection using peer-to-peer software on the internet do not seem to take these laws concerning copyright seriously. They can not understand, or better yet accept, that one company can be the owner of millions of melodies. Digitization is an iceberg for the copyright system.
It has become obvious that the contemporary system of author rights has become impossible to keep intact: it neglects most artists financially and offers the possibility to privatize our public domain of creativity and knowledge.
Joost Smiers is professor of political science of the arts at the Utrecht School of the Arts, the Netherlands, and formerly visiting professor, Department of World Arts and Cultures, UCLA, Los Angeles. He has written, lectured and researched extensively in the area of decision-making in cultural matters worldwide, on new visions of creative and intellectual property, copyright and the public domain, on freedom of expression versus responsibility, and on cultural identities. His books include Arts Under Pressure. Promoting Cultural Diversity in the Age of Globalization (London 2003, Zed Books).
In order to provide an alternative Smiers argues that artists have to be looked at as entrepreneurs. They take an initiative to manufacture work and offer it on the market. That initiative can also be taken by others, for instance the producer or an employer, which in return get the artist to do work. All these initiative takers have one thing in common: they take an entrepreneur risk.
Copyright reduces the risk factor. The cultural entrepreneur receives a protection shield around his work, in effect a monopoly to exploit the work for more than a century and all works that seem like it.
Smiers states that any artistic work – be it a soap opera or a composition of Jan Smit- is constructed from elements of other works. In other words: from the public domain of creativity and knowledge. Smiers therefore wonders why we provide an additional heavy protection screen as well.
For most artistic expression such a screen is unnecessary. Smiers therefore proposes that the work should get on the market first, on its own, without the comfort of the protection cover called copyright. After all, whoever enters the market fist has a time and exposure advantage.
The interesting aspect of this approach is that this proposal will ruin the position of cultural monopolists, who together with their stars, blockbusters and bestsellers take away the attention from all other artistic work made by other artists.
How does this damaging blow work? If copyright as a protection shield does not exist anymore, we will all be able to exploit artistic work and adapt it to our own liking. We will then be at the situation as anywhere else in the world – with an exception of the Western countries after the 19th century- where artists create work based on works created by artists before them. In virtually all cultures it seems odd that someone can consider an artistic work as their own property that no one can draw on.
The effect of Smiers’s proposal is that a monopolistic market will disappear and competition receives a new chance. This fact will open the doors for many artists. They will not be pushed away from public attention and many of them will be able to get an income with their work. After all they will not need to fight – and lose – against the market dominance empowered by cultural giants, simply because they will no longer exist. The market will be normalized.
High investments, huge risks and insecurity often go hand in hand. It is then difficult to create competition. This is a second point Smiers tried to find a solution for. For instance film.
Smiers suggests that risk takers – the artist, producer or the employer – receive a one year protection period for those works. Within that year they have the sole right to financially exploit that work, and eventually obtain the economic benefits. But of course, Smiers includes, these works will fall back in the public domain immediately after their appearance and will be able to get culturally adapted by anyone who pleases.
Smiers also recommends a subsidy for artists. We need to be willing to pay a lot in order to give a wide variety of artistic expression a chance. Many critics disapprove Smiers’s theorie. They say that without copyright we will not have any artistic work and therefore no entertainment. Smiers however believes we will have more creative activity, from multiple fields. A world without copyright is very possible. It will provide a good income and it protects a public domain of creativity and knowledge.
What do you think?