The global level
Western cultural conglomerates
In the ongoing process of globalisation we can see Western cultural conglomerates, or their sub-labels, using artistic material from non-Western cultures on a huge scale. One could claim that this is the creative adaptation that should be stimulated, as I have argued. Everyone should have the right to make even minor creative changes to a work, as was previously tolerated and promoted in all cultures everywhere in the world. Does this mean that industrial creative adaptations do not have serious problematic aspects? I would not say so.
The main problem is that Western cultural conglomerates exploit the work being derived from non-Western cultures while controlling cultural markets all over the world. They determine the character, sphere and ambiances in which the work will be presented. This is not the kind of creative adaptation that occurs in an ongoing cycle of additions, changes and cultural dynamics within a community. A complete change of scenario follows: after we, giant cultural industries, get a grip on the work by owning its copyright, no creative adaptation will take place any more, unless we, cultural conglomerates, decide that it might or will happen, and moreover only under our conditions. This means that the cultural conglomerate alone decides what the work will be, now and in the future. This is completely contrary to the practice in other cultures where creative adaptations are the object of quarrels and enjoyment within a community, and where nobody could say, 'this work and all its possible adaptations belong forever to me'. Another problem is that cultural industries are not by definition respectful of the work they adapt.
Ownership of copyright means that creative adaptation ends with the appropriation of artistic material from non-Western countries. Copyright is the legal limit of creative adaptation. Moreover, the price of works that the cultural industries have adapted and copyrighted is astronomic compared to what they cost and yield in non-Western local cultures. This is a discrepancy too great to be justifiable.
A fair remuneration
Ensuring that artists get fair remuneration for their work in other geographical contexts will remain a major problem. The work of non-Western artists often pops up in Western publicity or is otherwise used without the artists' knowledge. This is the case when, for instance, Western ethnomusicologists use artistic materials gathered in other parts of the world. How widespread is this phenomenon? It goes without saying that artists should be paid for such use.
But how can payments be guaranteed, or even organised, when we know that the present copyright system does not serve these artists? I can only imagine at present that the different categories of users should establish a code of conduct, facilitated by their branch organisations, for instance travel agents, record and publishing companies, designers and advertising agencies. This code would oblige users of artistic materials that originate from non-Western countries to transfer payments to the communities involved or to the individual artists. More often than not it might prove difficult to trace the source of an artistic work. In such a case the users are bound to report this to NGOs that have good cultural contacts with non-Western countries and trace the source through their networks and contacts. They should serve as the intermediaries for transfer payments. If the source cannot be found, the users should contribute a donation to the funds that support cultural developments in non-Western countries.
More and more artists from non-Western countries are signing contracts with one of the big five globally operating record companies or with their sub-labels. If the work is distributed only in their own local or regional market, more or less the same questions will be under discussion as mentioned earlier concerning the relation between local artists and locally operating record companies. The contract that makes an artist from a non-Western country a star with global reach will not differ much from his or her counterpart from the Western world, including all the problems and objections inherent to the star system. Nevertheless, the negotiating position of artists from Africa, Asia, Latin America or from the Arab countries is weaker than that of Western artists.
Moreover, the 'rising' star must obey all the procedures of being under contract with a multinational record company. The 'sound' will be endlessly polished; concerts and tours have the one purpose of promoting a new CD; and all spontaneity disappears from the horizon. This fine-tuning will affect the artistic work of a non-Western artist more than a Western one. The latter's rhythm and tonality will remain more or less the same as when they played in the local pub. The performance will be polished a little more; and one may like it or not. But now listen to the music of a non-Western performer - this should still sound 'exotic'. And yet, the changes might be more fundamental in order to tune it to the Western ear, whatever this is supposed to be.
Amazingly, very little research has been done on what happens to the music of non-Western artists in the hands of the cultural conglomerates' producers. This is not a question of nostalgia. If musicologists can investigate what kinds of influences have penetrated the work of, for instance, Bach, why not reflect the transformation processes taking place at the moment in the music from the Arab world, Africa, Latin America or Asia as it is adapted to a global market? It should not be any more difficult to investigate these interventions. For instance, non-Western artists often have two kinds of repertoire: one they perform at home, and another they present as stars on the world-market stage. Comparisons can be made quite easily. Research would also focus on what is current in the artist's country or region, and how his or her work sounds or looks in the global context. It is strange and regrettable that such forms of analysis do not seem to be what keeps (ethno)musicologists busy.
Small record labels distributing music from non-western countries
Some thirty years ago the music, and of course also theatre and visual arts, of non-Western countries began to gain the interest of the West. One factor that facilitated this growth was that some aficionados initiated small record companies. Their purpose was, and is, to make those recordings qualitatively as good as possible; to respect the work of artists without translating it to contexts which would harm its real intentions; and to pay them fairly and as directly as possible (without losing money in bank transfers, for instance). How they will make good their returns on investment will be discussed below.
Performances in western countries
The number of concert halls where artists from non-Western countries perform has grown considerably during the last decades. What does this mean for copyright? I have already argued that collecting agencies are not appropriate organisations to ensure that non-Western artists will get their fees and royalties. It is always better to pay them as directly as possible. This is the only way to guarantee that money is not lost on the way.
Nevertheless, the question remains, whether all people who contribute to the creation and performance of the work have been fairly remunerated. In the case where there is, for instance, a composer, one may wonder whether he or she has been or will be paid by the performing artists and how this will be done.
The public domain
There is growing recognition that the public domain of creativity and knowledge is paying a high price for the cultural privatisation that is underway. From time to time the idea occurs that something like a system of collective copyright for traditional knowledge and folklore should be developed. This sounds sympathetic, but it is not realistic for several reasons.
First, apparently, the idea that what is very old must be protected from too harsh a form of privatisation, and that the cultural resources of the poorer parts of the world are liable to become victims of privatisation. Second, there is no political will to allow space for the recognition of the collective public domain. The neoliberal agenda does not provide for such a thing as 'respect for the commons', despite some hollow phrases in the WTO's Doha Declaration that something like a collective copyright should be developed. Why should respect for the commons be placed on the political agenda, all of a sudden, when the cultural interests of Third World countries are at stake? There is no reason to believe that the Western world would make serious efforts to do something that goes against their interests, namely, to cease exploiting the knowledge and creativity of non-Western countries.
Third, intellectual property rights have been constructed around the philosophy of individual appropriation. The system of copyrights focuses on exclusive, monopolistic and long-lasting ownership rights. The concept of a fluid collective ownership does not suit this rigid legal individualism.