Copyright and Non-western Countries
Gradually we are starting to understand that the philosophy behind our present copyright system is less self-evident than we usually accept. We observe that copyright is mostly not in favour of artists, the public domain and Third World countries. I have proposed elsewhere that we cannot continue to support a system that favours huge cultural industries more than the public interest.1 Furthermore copyright has an octopus-like character. It includes all expressions that contain even a vague reference to a specific work, and its reach is nearly endless.
Copyright filters artistic communication. The 'owners' of artistic expressions decide who may use, in what way, and for what price those elementary sources of our cultures expressed in theatre, dance, music, films, works of visual art and design, and literature. We should keep in mind that those 'owners' - cultural conglomerates that also control the production, distribution and promotion of artistic goods and values - are privatising and appropriating most of our cultural expressions. Free cultural communication is the victim. It is also strange that one person may privately 'own', for instance, a melody, with the consequence that others may sing or change it only in accordance with the conditions of the 'owner'. This is contrary to what has happened in all cultures everywhere in the world and dates back only to the end of nineteenth century with the introduction of the system of copyright in the Western world and the privatisation of knowledge and creativity.
Artists should make a living from their work, but this is possible without the present copyright system. This is what I analyse together with Marieke van Schijndel in our forthcoming book "Imagine! No Copyright. Better for Artists, Diversity and the Economy." At the end of this article I will summarise our analysis and proposals. The system of copyright does not benefit Third World countries any more than those in the West.
The individual appropriation of creations and inventions is a concept alien to many cultures. Artists and inventors are paid for their work - the success of which will obviously depend on their fame and other circumstances. They may be highly respected for what they have created. However, in those cultures, no justification exists for an individual to exploit a creation or an invention monopolistically for many decades. It is simply not the practice. After all, the artist or inventor carries on the work of predecessors.
Let us consider how the introduction of intellectual property rights, of which copyright is one important element, changes cultures in countries and societies unfamiliar with individual appropriation and privatisation of their fields of artistic expression and a knowledge accumulated over centuries.
Dr. Joost Smiers is Professor (em.) of Political Science of the arts, Research Fellow in the Research Group Arts & Economics at the Utrecht School of the Arts, the Netherlands, and formerly visiting professor, Department of World Arts and Cultures, UCLA, Los Angeles. He has written, lectured in many places of the world, and researched extensively in the area of decision-making in cultural matters worldwide, on new visions on creative and intellectual property, copyright and the public domain, on freedom of expression versus responsibility, on Unesco's Convention on Cultural Diversity, and on cultural identities.
His books include Arts under Pressure. Promoting Cultural Diversity in the Age of Globalisation (London 2003, Zed Books), which has been published as well in Serbian, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai and Arab. Korean, Chinese, Tamil, Singalese and Indonesian translations are under way. He has edited together with Nina Obuljen a book on Unesco's Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Making it Work (Zagreb 2006, Culturelink). He has written a book on Imagine! No copyright. Better for artists, diversity and the economy (together with Marieke van Schijndel) that has been published as well in Spanish in October 2008 (Gedisa, Barcelona). He prepares a book on audio and visual noise in the public space. Joost Smiers lives in Amsterdam. email@example.com