While cultural production is more and more privatized by the industry, the age-old idea of the commons undergoes a revival.
Whereas before the access to culture was the privilege of aristocracy, clergy, science and the upper classes with the end of the 16th century a trend towards opening this domain of social life to the general public started. First public museums and libraries were founded in the 17th and 18th century and enabled the average citizen to get access to a field that had been largely closed to him for hundreds of years. With the rise of modern society a distinctive sense for the moral reprehensibleness of entry restrictions to knowledge, education, culture and information developed. Successively the task of granting access to these resources was assumed by the state and cultural politics and government aids for the creative community were born. The necessity of those developments was argued with the need to free the arts from economic constraints. Culture should be liberated from the forces of the market so as to enable creativity and also ensure its accessibility to all. This concept of a resource held or enjoyed equally by a number of persons is largely based on the idea of the commons. A conception that derives from the land law and originally described the jointly used land of a community including pasture, woodland and fishing grounds, but also squares and roads. Although over the centuries its use in an agricultural context declined it has been adopted for other areas such as for example culture. Here in contrast to rivalrous resources such as land, where with each new user the proportional benefit becomes smaller the sharing of nonrivalrous resources eg. knowledge or art benefits everyone.
Quite contrary to this notion of a collective use of resources is the effect that the rise of the creative industries has had on the public domain. The term was coined in 1997 by Great Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair who set up a Creative Industries Task Force which aimed at identifying industry sectors that combined creative content with export potential. By many this was seen as a good way out of the longstanding dichotomy between the creative arts and the cultural industries. While culture workers would benefit from the corporate financial support, the industry could prove that it was not only after profits, but also committed to fostering art and creativity. Yet while culture up till now continually had to struggle for its autonomy from government it now comes out of the frying pan into the fire. This is a result of the fact that the creative industries rather focus on the possibilities of economic exploitation than on the experimental, political and educational potential of cultural content. The concept of creative industries also conflicts with the - in a democratic context relevant - notions of pluralism and public sphere as it on one hand “has a tendency to limit, rather than expand, the range of what is permitted as ‘culture’” (Osuri 2001) and on the other hand largely monopolizes the access to culture and thus is in sharp contrast to the perception of a creative commons. Through copyright the creative industries turn cultural content into property, which in some cases assumes extremely bizarre shapes. For instance Mike Batt, English pop composer, was accused of infringing the copyright of American minimalist composer John Cage, after placing a one-minute silence on his latest CD - and saying it was a Mike Batt composition. While the attempt of putting a copyright on silence is presumably the most frightening incidence in the copyright discussion so far, excluding works from the public domain by means of intellectual property law has become common. This amongst others results in an erosion of the public sphere, which to a great extent is dependent on diversity and easy access to information and knowledge for all. A privatized public sphere endangers “the notion of struggle against subordination (in other words, any concept of social justice) and locates democratization in the realm of aesthetics and taste” (Osuri 2001). That media and communication matters are central to issues of social justice, fairness, equity and self-governance conflicts with the ideological rhetorical position that a corporate-dominated, commercially driven culture is something like a law of nature and thus automatically the best possible outcome for society.
++ LINKS ++
Freie Software: Zwischen Privat- und Gemeineigentum (Volker Grassmuck)
>>> http://mikro.org/Events/OS/interface5/wissens-almende.html (excerpt)
The Future of Ideas (Lawrence Lessig)
Stopping The Privatization Of Public Knowledge (David Bollier)