By Daniel G. Andujar*
Artecontexto, winter 2006
In the last few years, copyright has become a controversial issue. On the one hand, current information and communication technologies have generated a new social reality in which both old situations and new sceneries coexist. Undoubtedly, these transformations have also produced a crisis on the prevailing systems of distribution and cultural management. Societies have enough mechanisms to adapt themselves to their own processes, but we must ask ourselves if the current dogmatic legislative apparatus is prepared to confront these changes. On the other hand, the recent pressure that collective copyright management societies have exerted on our legislators, so as to make sure that the new laws on intellectual property will safekeep their interests, has intensified this debate. Specialists express their opinions on this subject even on the paparazzi TV shows, and of course, a few of them may suddenly show their preference for one of the options with the sole purpose of taking advantage of this situation. This is not just one more ephemeral topic. It's in fact an open confrontation between those who control and defend leisure industries -culture's big business-, and those who demand an urgent revision of the prevailing system and a reformulation of the notion of intellectual property in a new “free-culture” context.
This confrontation has already begun. Its tracks can be found everywhere and they are broadcasted without control through an increasingly complex system in which one can hardly identify central and peripheral zones, transmitter and receiver, means and messages.
We haven't yet assimilated the first phases of the digital era and action territories are still begin redefined, meanwhile we witness the first tensions between different, irreconcilable realities. The digital gap, generational clash and many other similar phenomena are challenging our traditional ways to work with, understanding and managing information -and they are also changing our view as for negotiating, trading, in short, living and understanding the world we're living in. The· “analogical adult” generations are trying to impose their lifestyle, educational system, hierarchic system, institutions and rules that the “digital natives” cannot comprehend. Those, who have just arrived to these new environments, those who haven't entered the new system, those who were taught traditional completely 0rbsolete models, in radically different environments, are beginning to have serious problems to understand the-reality and utility of a world they will keep living in for a long time. Some of them hold power and administer reality. Others simply try to construct their own reality ignoring former rules. Models are on a process of continual redefinition and we cannot foresee who will prevail.
Tensions in the art milieu are more than evident when positions must be assumed. Young applicants to enter the artistic limbo have decided to enjoy, without protection, the promises of an unlimited global village, seduced as they are by their natural idealism, persuaded that they understand the world they are living in, although they lack the most elemental pragmatic notions. Some collectives are trying to make a living from their own work in a cooperative, legitimate way, ignoring that in their pursuit of an adequate model they intend to sublimate the fruits of their work beyond the rest of society. An artist's contribution to society is not more valuable than that of a scientist, a teacher, an engineer or any other professional -even those in the Public Administration. The current legislation they are supporting has produced some very absurd cases, for instance, that the copyright management societies that represent the artists have collected more than 150.000 Euros as a compensation for the CD-R private copies of Free Software that were encouraged by Spanish Autonomic Regions (even though, any citizen may download this material for free). The total cost, -including the creation of the copies and the payment to those who made the job, is inferior to 100.000 Euros. Defending intellectual property and the legitimate rights of artists must not be confused with a tax that damages economic, social and cultural development, but it should be conceived as a support to a collective cultural process for the sake of our society. As a result of this model, we have a clear conflict of interests and those who manage the most visible part of both public and private cultural institutions in our country are taking advantage of it. Those who manage the network of cultural industries and the directors of cultural institutions are not interested anymore in encouraging a process to generate new contents and cultural production. Art institution has been absorbed as another mechanism of service production and it actively takes part in the “touristification” and the complex re-adaptation of the new city's infrastructures. Our inability to find a proper collective method that would dignify the artist's work has been exploited by these managers of visible spaces in order to claim that “artwork cannot be regarded as a merchandise” (whereas the central question was always “what do the artists eat”, specially those who are not hired to make rotundas, to decorate airports, foundations, offices and public spaces, and to develop corporate images, living off their high-rate fees, in complicity with prevailing political powers). The real merchandise is the audience, we all know it. As a matter of fact, most museums don't accept to pay the management societies' fees, nor assume their public responsibility in the active administration of artistic production, ignoring their role as supporters of contemporary artistic practice development. Everyone is free to make his own conclusion. Who's provokes who? The legitimate defense of intellectual property must not constitute an obstacle for the free circulation and the development of ideas and creations. Culture is a collective construction and, as such, we all take part in it.
What's the right position? Some people think that the regulations of the new Law of Intellectual Property (specially regarding such topics as the private copy, which has been reduced to its minimum expression) are outdated in this Internet era. On the other hand, we believe that the current regulations imply a real burden for creation, access to information and divulgation of knowledge. As a consequence, we are on the side of losers, among the illegal ones. And this current legislation has cast many artists' basic elements of production completely out of the law. We are not just talking about ideas and transformations in the conceptual order, but about what Spanish Congress says when it approves a legal text with more than 300 votes and the general agreement between all parliamentary forces. We are talking about what the BOE says, word by word: once these laws are implemented, judges will get used to apply them and no brilliant introduction to 20th Century art (from the collage to the objet trouvé and appropriationism) will soothe us. Is there any option left? Artistic practice, just as I conceive it, must be transformed into a form of “resistance” against a model that is obstinately aimed to prevail in a space of relations that is becoming more and more confused and globalized. Fortunately, art is not reduced only to the institutional aspect and the market. It can -and it must- find or invent new territories in which new proposals must be developed. Art, just as any other cultural process, is basically a transmission process, a process of transference, a continuing dialogue that is also permanent and¬ necessary. But let's not forget that art is also transgression, rupture, irony, parody, appropriation, usurpation, confrontation, investigation, exploration, interrogation… contestation. And fortunately, it's not easy to legislate on all these aspects. In any case, we are not alone. We are not discussing a localized debate, circumscribed to a specific political, geographical environment. Actually, is there any collective debate that is still exclusively local?
In the past, management societies became intermediaries between creators and those who had the production, distribution and commercialization means, but new technologies are gradually eliminating the need to have these intermediaries and management services. In the case of music ‘industry, it's something clear and it's not an isolated process.
The reasons to understand and assimilate all these phenomena are complex and varied, but understanding the new models of organization of works and information streams may help minimize the process. Network society is ruled by a series of behaviors that in some cases are extraordinarily ‘new. A certain hierarchical order is established through a sort of meritocracy, a social responsibility encouraged by the need to donate something valuable to our community and other users, existing also an eagerness for public acknowledgment. This kind of attitudes have supported the development, in a global scale, of different movements in favor of both new forms of collective creation and a free sharing of acquired knowledge and rights of use. It's a complex, global process of cooperation and development whose participants and interests are growing everyday. These forms of organization have proved to be more productive and incredibly capable to direct innovation towards a new communitarian objective. Social cooperation unveils its power of innovation and creation, understood as the best manner to support a model that permits distribution and expansion of contents for participants, users and audiences. Art has also a political function that requires ethical positions: aesthetic is not enough. Those who follow exclusively commercial and institutional models and practices may think this is all irrelevant, but they must learn to accept that they are anchored on traditional models that are radically different from those that will most probably prevail. They should see that digital space did not emerged simply as a means that favors communications, but as a new theatre for all kinds of operations. And this is clearly a disputed space whose interests are threatening their old hierarchies.