Symposium Calls For End Of Binary Discussion Of Rightsholders Versus Pirates 08/09/2008 by Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch 3 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch LINZ, AUSTRIA – Copyright discussion has become a simplistic binary debate of “pirates that steal everything” versus “rightsholders that want to protect everything,” warned Japanese entrepreneur, blogger and CEO of the Creative Commons Joichi Ito in his opening remarks for this year’s Ars Electronica Symposium in Linz, Austria. Ito was curator of the symposium on the “New Cultural Economy” that sought to get beyond the simplistic dichotomy and explore ideas and status of alternative content production and social action using digital networks. A lot of things the media artists and activists gathered at the Ars Electronica were doing, for example remixing existing content to create new works, were nearly impossible at the moment “without breaking the law,” Ito said. It is therefore essential to explore “how industry, society and government can be adapted” to the new modes of cultural production in the digital world. One aspect of this new production is the participatory aspect, said Ito. “Karaoke is not as good as professional music. Yet people rather want to participate than sit through a concert,” he said. Collaborative production processes are inevitable for industry and society as a whole to stay innovative and industry already has begun to rely on them, said Yochai Benkler, co-director of the Harvard University Berkman Center on Internet and Society. The “increasing complexity and speed of change” is pushing the “need to turn to open systems,” Benkler said, adding that it is impossible to rely on centralised production models and on internal capacity. But while some companies had incentivised teamwork and did more outsourcing, there is a fear of losing control. A company like General Motors has to be afraid less, said Benkler, “because people just don’t get together on a weekend to build a car together.” Yet the production of culture and knowledge allows for participative production. Anybody can participate and people do not even need any institutional permission to act. “Ownership no longer equals authority,” said Benkler, pointing to the competition that a collaborative effort like Wikipedia posed to the Encyclopedia Britannica. Benkler in Linz presented a list of web ventures that started out as small projects, but managed to establish themselves or even make considerable amounts of money, like US musician and songwriter Jonathan Coulton. An example of a whole industry breaking away from the traditional music production model is the tecnobrega industry in Brazil. Ronaldo Lemos, director of the Center for Technology and Society at the Fundacao Getulio Vargas School of Law in Rio de Janeiro and director of Creative Commons in Brazil. While a music major like Sony BMG released no more than 13 CDs of Brazilian music a year, the tecnobrega industry now is a multimillion dollar market production of around 400 CDs a year, plus 100 DVDs. Tecnobrega musicians and studios have “skipped normal distribution lines,” said Lemos. Musicians record their songs at studios that are competing for the best technological equipment, he said. For distribution they made a deal with street vendors, the pirates. Remuneration from the street vendors is not royalties that go back to the musicians, but the promotional effect for the musicians who earn their money from live concerts, studio equipment presentation concerts and higher quality CDs of their music sold after these events. An example of the positive market effect of piracy is the Nigerian film market, according to Volker Grassmuck, media researcher at the Helmholtz Center for Cultural Technology of Humboldt University in Berlin. In Nigeria, “pirated foreign movies created the demand for VCRs and television sets. This led to the original accumulation of capital by electronics dealers like Nnebue that they could invest in film production,” Grassmuck said. Piracy also established the networks of duplication and distribution that the Nigerian video film producers could then use. Today Nollywood is second only to Hollywood and Bollywood, he said. “The dynamics were similar to those in 19th century US book publishing,” said Grassmuck. Piracy of European books by US publishers created a mass market for books in the first place and capital allocation by the “pirates” then allowed payment to European authors. Piracy earlier had made foreign authors popular in the United States which allowed Charles Dickens to earn the “astonishing sum of $228,000” during a reading tour in 1867. “In the absence of legal copyright an environment emerged that was favourable both to foreign and domestic authors, and to publishers as well,” according to Grassmuck. Eva Lichtenberger, a European Parliament member, asked the Ars Electronica panelists if there was any chance that these examples might also work in Europe. At the Parliament, promotion of this kind of “new cultural economy” would normally result in warnings that this might bring down Europe’s culture industry, she said. Lichtenberger in fact asked for “help” from the experts and activists at Ars Electronica to inform the EU Parliament about the new developments. She was feeling sometimes like a “pirate on an old tanker ship” that is about to sink, as many older colleagues from the other party groups are not too well informed about what is happening on the internet. In fact, the Parliament is currently discussing measures for tougher enforcement of IP by relying on internet service providers and – behind closed doors – stricter border controls against pirated content was discussed on the international level. James Boyle, law professor at Duke Law School and founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain, said that alternative production models like in the tecnobrega industry already exist in the EU and the US. Many artists were in fact publishing their work under Creative Commons licenses because it paid off for them. “What we have got now,” he said, “is a segregated world.” But the alternative might not be as visible as the classical model. Lemos reported about tecnobrega bands that choose not to accept contract offers by music majors because they would lose the possibility of exploiting their rights further. Musician and author Gerd Leonhard warned that the attempt to control the new culture economy in the future would only succeed when establishing a control system of Orwellian dimension. “The dangers of an open, shared and connected ecosystem system pale compared to those of a controlled and closed ecosystem,” he said. He expected only those who managed to share cultural flat rate income would survive. Monika Ermert may be reached at email@example.com. 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