Friday, June 22, 2007

consuming, creating, changing, circulating

Just a quick thought on Barbara's comment. I think you're absolutely right that this discussion has focused most heavily on the consumption of culture. In some ways this is the work of the industry majors, who (a) think largely in terms of consumers and (b) strategically put things in terms of "consumers" and "pirates" because it positions them on the right side of the copyright debate, and makes fair use concerns seem least relevant. It is also the work of Napster, because it was so much the flashpoint around which these issues arose, and was, really, a mechanism for the consumption of music, through a novel model of distribution. But I would argue that it really has to do with the fundamentals of copyright itself. At its base, copyright takes cultural discourse (a continuous flow that depends on a complex variety of creative, distributive, and consumptive practices) and maps it into discrete events (a produced thing is consumed, a made thing is purchased). The law itself, and its neat fit with the logic of consumer capitalism, highlights (exaggerates?) a discrete, producer-consumer relationship, and maps all practices into one or the other category. And, what do you know, the business model of the film and music industry seems to such sense.

I think the struggle is to find language that works against this tendency, that can better articulate and account for the richness of cultural discourse -- which needs what looks like creation, what looks like distribution, what looks like innovation, what looks like criticism, what looks like organization, and what looks like consumption. We need language that is more attuned to the way these are not ven discrete categories. We may be seeing some movement here: in the world of the blogosphere, young users seem to take it as their natural right to write commentary on a movie the minute they get home from the theater. Whether this will still seem to be just another element of "consumer" activity and kept ideologically discrete from "production", or whether it will help us think instead about a spectrum of uses, re-uses, reactions, re-imaginings, compilations, and new productions, is still hard to say. I do suspect that copyright law, as it is, tends to be a conservative force in this regard.

So yes, there are artists and indies and avant garde-ists and garage bands and co-ops that are experimenting with different models -- though perhaps there always have been. My question tends to return to how / whether those practices will shift the norms around cultural participation, or continue to dance around the edges of an otherwise stable discursive paradigm. (Hmm, questions of stability and movement, again.)

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