Monday, September 25, 2006

You broke it, you own it

Henry Farell of Crooked Timber, in a review of a new book by Tyler Cowan, asks a rich question:

...if a significant number of people value art not only as passive consumers, but also because they can remix and reuse that art in novel and unexpected ways, should public funding of art be conditioned, say, on this art being released under a Creative-Commons type license where possible?
The more that one considers the knot that is identifying artistic work as intellectual property, the idea of a (when not the) public domain, and the question of whether patronage inevitably leads to ownership, the more one realizes what a total mess of a knot we're in, the kind of knot with a level of complexity that my four-year-old daughter typically creates with shoelaces.

I've completed a number of pieces with my own resources, on my own time, and satisfying no demands other than those of my own curiosity. This is work in which external patronage, whether private or state, has not played, does not play, and probably will never play a role. My investment in these pieces is one of time, musical and intellectual energy, and emotion. My attachment to these pieces is a private and emotional one. And yet, the premise of existing legal and economic frameworks is that the work belongs to the public, which may ultimately use, reuse, mix, and abuse it as it sees fit, and my custody over the work is both temporary and limited. My alternatives are to either assert a temporary claim to the work, in the form of ordinary copyright, or explicitly give up that claim, letting the public have more immediate and flexible access, through claiming a Creative Commons or copyleft-style status.

This is a profoundly unsatisfactory situation, especially in that it does not distinguish between properties which are real consumer goods with real market values and work that simply doesn't want to play that game. I believe that there is a fundamental difference between controlling the trademark on Ricky Rodent (or any other negotiable property) and say, La Monte Young's wish to controll the way in which his music is played and presented. The present environment appears to give the corporate owners of the cartoon rat more consideration that they do a living composer's wish to make his own music in the way he wants it. How do we stop having to play this game?

1 comment:

Daniel Wolf said...

I pushed the button too fast -- this item should have been titled "Go ahead and break it, you own it."