Monthly Archives: September 2011

Capitalism and Art

It’s unfortunate that so many elegant theoretical economic and social systems can never make the transition from paper to reality. The real world is full of strange rules and odd exceptions that are beyond the realm of human understanding. In face of these forces the system does not work as it should and eventually ceases to exist. I can point to communism as an example or anarchism and many other sorts of ambitious project that tried to reshape human structures into something radically different from what has been seen before. After so many failures most now believe a utopia is impossible or ‘no such place’ and that while society can be improved, it can only be made into the best society possible not the best one imaginable.
Some idealist, including me, see culture as something that should be free if possible. Information is easy to replicate and retransmit; theoretically it would be possible to let anyone have any information on the planet for a cost that is next to nothing. A poor teenager in India could have the same access to the top quality textbooks that many students in the first world enjoy. It’s not a fringe philosophy and it shows up all over the place, especially in the software industry. But despite many of my peers strong beliefs in the benefit of a free culture, many of us would stop short of saying that all culture should be free, that would be a utopia scenario. It is the truth many talented people could not afford to make culture and ideas if they are not paid for their work. The best copyright legislation tries to find the right balance between societies need for the free flow of culture and the artist’s needs of for being able to make a living.
But in recent years copyright legislation has become excessive strangling the very culture that artists rely on for their ideas and inspiration. The copyright terms have become increasingly generous for businesses. The EU recently passed a law extending the copyright terms of songs from 50 years to 70 years. This means that many of the songs released by major records in the next month; you will likely be dead before they come out of copyright protection. At the same time Europe has begin applying pressure onto Canadian to extend the time it takes for copyrighted works to fall into public domain by 20 years, This is happening at the same time as the record industry continues to crack down on internet piracy, other makers of content continue to tell us how much Torrents dig into their profits, while continuing to lobby to the government for favourable legislation. The concern of piracy would be treated much more seriously by the public if the maker of content were showing us that their goal isn’t to cash grab as much as they wanted too. It’s ridiculous that companies still have a monopoly on the manufacturing and distribution of George Orwell books when the author died over 60 years ago.
Make no mistake, when companies tell you it’s in our best interest to extend copyright terms or strengthen the copyrights protections, they are lying to you. Culture will not stagnate and artists will not be hurt. A musician will not stop making music today, if he faces the prospect of losing his copyright in 50 years. The 50 years given is reasonable time period for an artist to collect his royalties from songs. And 50 years is even excessive, when copyright was introduced to the United States, the copyright term only lasted 28 years from the moments of its creation. This is seriously a whacked up world, when you can get sued for downloading material that is older than your parents.