Re-evaluating the cultural industries

On: September 12, 2011
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About Philip Breek
My name is Philip Breek, I am 23 years old, come from the Netherlands and am currently following the New Media MA program at the UvA. I got my BA in New Media at the UvA last year and am now continuing my research through the MA program. I wrote my BA thesis on digital music distribution and hope to continue on this topic, however I might expand or rethink my research to also look at the creative industries and the impact of digital media and culture in a broader sense. Alongside my studies I am a music producer & DJ primarily focused on Dubstep, Electro and Next Level.


With the rise of the Internet, ‘creative content’ has become an increasingly debated concept with regard to its nature, availability and legality. Within each of these respects severe changes have been seen which altogether have dealt a significant blow to global cultural industries. Whilst this has been thoroughly noted and observed by researchers tuned in to the ever-changing media landscape, there is an increasing focus specifically on how the cultural industries may better be able to deal with these impacts. The traditional producers and distributors of creative content have been seen to receive the worst end of the deal with regard to the turn toward digital distribution. Whilst the music industry has suffered tremendous losses following the rise of both piracy as well as legitimate digital music distribution channels, other industries such as the print and film industry have been left with unusually sparse audiences. Where ‘lock-free’ file formats such as the ‘MP3’ had a drastic impact on the sharing of music within digital environments, the emergence of new gadgets such as e-readers and tablets is dealing a massive blow to the print industry which increasingly sees people look to the internet for their newspapers, books and other ‘print’ content.

This shift in the distribution of creative content has called for much more specialized licensing types to cope with the diversifying needs of a range of information based goods. This has been widely discussed and dealt with, particularly by Lawrence Lessig whom founded the ‘free culture movement‘ in response to these developments. The ‘Creative Commons‘ licensing types that emerged from these efforts are a flagship example of how the various industries may deal with such developments that arose from the digitization of the cultural industries. These licenses which give producers of content the opportunity to specify their desired rights over a particular information based good are steps in the right direction with regard to regaining the ground lost by these differing cultural industries.

Despite the efforts of these industries to revert the damage done by the Internet, it has become apparent that in order to have any significant impact it is necessary to re-evaluate the various ways in which, specifically legislature, may be implemented to a further extent to combat these issues. What has been recognized as playing a large role is not simply the introduction of laws that tackle these issues, but particularly the enforcing of these laws in an appropriate manner. Central to these developments are motivations of money and the appropriation of rights in a dynamic new model of distribution. In taking further steps beyond the introduction of new licensing schemes such as the ‘creative commons’ licenses, there needs to be a much more focused approach with respect to the diversification of legal means of digital distribution.

Copyright laws may be modified to cope with new dynamics in the industry however a transformation of the range of content offered through legal means may approach the issue from another angle. In addition to reactionary measures that attempt to handle the newly emerging distributional patterns, there should be a revision of how such distributional channels may be influenced and adapted to complement and positively contribute to the cultural industries. The proposal of offering a much bigger range of legal content through the Internet should harness both the distributional strength of the Internet whilst protecting the rights and revenue of the companies and producers that supply this content. It is this ideal combination of protecting rights and revenue whilst making effective use of digital distribution channels that is central to this debate, and has called for re-thinking of the ways in which Internet may be approached so as to positively accompany the cultural industries.

Particular sectors of the creative industries such as the music industry have long been dealing with these issues and may be looked to as examples for future approaches within other sectors. Within digital music distribution, companies such as Apple have successfully managed to set up a legal distribution platform that despite widespread piracy manages to compete with goods that are essentially ‘freely’ available. In order to compete with such a distributional pattern it became apparent that the offering of incentives and unique qualities posed a way of drawing users back to legal means of obtaining music.

Although piracy is still widespread, the iTunes Music Store is a prime example of such a digital distribution platform that supports the cultural industries and successfully gives back to the producers of the content. In light of this, unique qualities and schemes of incentives may be looked into further by other sectors of the cultural industries in an attempt to reach similar results. Harnessing such users through gaining loyalty by such means may be the first step in regaining ground within the cultural industries. Although such methods will naturally bring with them an abundance of further issues, the reverting of damage done by the Internet has many facets and will most likely take place on many different fronts.

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