Saturday, January 29, 2011

Putting a Price Tag on Culture

The "culture industries" use copyright as a way to extort money from people for accessing the culture of a people. I am amazed when I learn that dead artists "earn more" dead than when alive. It is even more odd to learn that it isn't the artist who is earning this -- they are dead, right? -- and it isn't their families. It is an "entrepreneur" who has bought "rights" to the cultural artifact, the works, the ideas, the persona, etc. So you can't talk about Mickey Mouse without fear that the Disney Corporation will demand that you pay a license fee to use that name which is "property" of the Disney Corporation.


The good news is that some artists are fighting the insanity that the current money-mad culture has created with copyrights and lawyers. Here's a bit from an interview with Francis Ford Coppola:
Is it important to veer away from the masters to develop one’s own style?

I once found a little excerpt from Balzac. He speaks about a young writer who stole some of his prose. The thing that almost made me weep, he said, “I was so happy when this young person took from me.” Because that’s what we want. We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice.

And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you. And Balzac said that in his book: It makes me so happy because it makes me immortal because I know that 200 years from now there will be people doing things that somehow I am part of. So the answer to your question is: Don’t worry about whether it’s appropriate to borrow or to take or do something like someone you admire because that’s only the first step and you have to take the first step.

How does an aspiring artist bridge the gap between distribution and commerce?

We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.
When I was a kid, books became "public domain" 55 years after the author died. But as you can see from the following illustration from Wikipedia, that period of "ownership" by the dead hand of the author keeps getting extended...

Click to Enlarge

The date at which the book will be "public domain" is receding faster than I age. In other words, I doubt whether I will live to see any more books put in public domain. The grasping hand of corporations makes sure that nothing will ever again fall into "public domain". Instead, everything will be milked for money. Insane!

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