World is flat II
”If the public wants public culture, the public must be prepared to invest in public culture,” said James Love,as we were walking down a small street in central Barcelona after having evening tapas. It was October 2009 and we had just had a brief conversation about flatrates and blank media taxes.
Our conversation was held at a time when I was just trying to evaluate the voluntary collective licenses proposed by EFF, and supported by among others the Canadian Association of Songwriters and James Love’s association Knowledge Ecology International. It goes as follows: an internet subscriber chooses of his or her own free will to pay a fee to rights holder associations so as to be allowed to download, upload, remix and mix all the music they find like to online without being subjected to the threat of a lawsuit.
Jamie Love was the first person who in very direct terms confronted me with shared culture and information being, yes, socially important and valuable, but also having an economic value. In the sense that culture needs an economic influx.
Incidentally, my viewpoint at the time was that collective licenses in general were an evil to be avoided, much in line with the then and current policies of Piratpartiet.
”Who should be paid what, why and how?” being the catchy, and quite sensible, lead motif of Piratpartiet had led me to believe that there was reason whatsoever to distribute any money in any way which wasn’t entirely fair, and that all such efforts should therefore be abandoned. As I grow older (I love saying that, I’m 23 years old so technically I’m only barely half-way middle-age) I realize that the concept of ”fairness” is quite subjective – just because an action risks being unfair, does not mean that the lack of that action automatically becomes more so – and the question (or four questions) is wrongly stated: obviously the relevant questions for a society to ask itself are ”What do we want from whom, why and how?” Public sponsorship of culture needs to put the benefits to society first, not the receiver of the sponsorship.
The EFF proposal is meant to be a ”peaceful” solution to the conflicts around copyrighted music online. Philippe Aigrain from French NGO LQDN objects, rightfully and I agree with him, that a voluntary flatrate can never amend this situation. For how do you legally then handle all the people who didn’t subscribe? Presumably by precisely that type of legislation we want to avoid.
Philippe Aigrain advocates a different form of collective license, a politically governed flatrate on broadband connections, that is mandatory for all citizens inside the jurisidiction of those politicians and that would end to all legal complications around the up- and downloading as well as the remixing and mixing. Since all people inside the territory of this law, by virtue of being inside the jurisidiction, would pay the flatrate, there wouldn’t be a need for a law of enforcement at all – the idea of the flatrate is to remove the need for enforcement. The idea of Aigrain is, much like what Love said to me, that the public has an interest and a responsibility to invest in its own cultural heritage and future.
In the Green Group in the European Parliament, Piratpartiet has long stood up against collective licenses as a solution to any kind of copyright plight. Austrian parliamentarian Eva Lichtenberger though, once told me she believes it is a politically feasible solution.
If the Piratpartiet modus operandi is that ”the revolution is just around the corner so if we only wait for another few years surely the entire system will collapse”, I’m guessing Eva Lichtenberger means that it might be possible to act sooner. And since we know for a fact that we have a problem with a dwindling public domain and that methods for distributing knowledge and culture (like the bittorrent protocol) are being pushed back because of copyright (actually not only copyright, but for a part) issues(in favour of filehosting pages nonetheless – they are incredibly inconvenient and this trend should be stopped now or preferably yesterday! away with ye, http!) and that these are problems now, waiting for the revolution seems to me a very bad option.
Confirming the suspicions of Eva Lichtenberger, at least partly, is the Brazilian proposal for a flatrate on internet connections advocated by among others Volker Grassmuck. The Brazilian Ministry of Culture, and by extension former president Lula, supported the general idea of a low-cost flatrate on internet connections in Brazil, the revenues from which would go to remuneration of artistic efforts. Other people that supported the Brazilian proposal included Brazilian artists, including free culture artists. At the mature age of 23, I’ve realized that the flatrates appear to have some support with artists in, say, Canada and Brazil, whereas waiting for the revolution appears to be torturing, say, librarians. A public, collective license needs to solve two things: the situation for librarians and archivers with respect to contemporary and historical information; the enablement of continued advances in information spreading technologies. We have an interest and a responsibility to invest in our freedom and present, and with investment I mean here some form of monetary transaction – I did not make the economic system, I do not run it, but I acknowledge its general existence.
As it were, the new Brazilian president Dilma Roussef appointed a Minister of Culture not as keen on flatrates, meaning not that the new minister is waiting for the revolution, but that the new minister is more eager to follow the stricter enforcement model. Why? Well, presumably because the (political) flatrate solution as proposed in Brazil would have put a potentially huge amount of power of financiation of culture in the hands of the public, rather than in the hands of private interests.
For what we want, as a public, is most likely something along the lines of public culture. We want it from the artists and seeing as many (mind you not all) cultural activities require some form of money spending, we presumably want there to be money to be spend on such activities. And we want it because we value culture, we value the public domain, we value knowledge, information, music, films and collaboration, interaction, sociability, etc.
I suggested to Aigrain and Grassmuck at the conference that the collective license, or flatrate, on internet connections to end the onslaught of repressive legislation be modelled on the Swedish rules for library remuneration. This public fund is governed by the state (law) and replenished with public money through indirect taxes (money does not go from the reader to the fund, but from the tax payer to the state and then to the fund) when books (by Swedish authors) are loaned from the library. Money goes out from the fund in the form of direct remuneration to authors if their books have been read by a large audience (remuneration level based on number of loans) and stipends. The clever part about the fund, though, is that it restricts the amount of payout to an individual author after the total amount of pay that author receives in a year is approaching something that can be considered ”an average annual income”. Oh me.
The what in the case of the library fund was quite clear: we wanted books for our libraries. Why? So that people could read and learn. The who was not unclear: authors. The how was also quite defined: through something similar to a wage that would allow those authors to work full-time with their endeavours.
Returning to the political viability of collective licenses as assessed by Eva Lichtenberger – I’m not sure that the very sensible approach to public remunerations of artistic efforts a la Swedish library remuneration is part of what is ”politically feasible” but the idea of keeping the political solution political (as in, keeping such a flatrate politcally governed) certainly is. Both the Philippe Aigrain and Volker Grassmuck proposals included preliminary caps on remuneration levels to ensure maximum spread and benefit of the public funding. Public sponsorship of culture, needless to say, must put the benefits to the public first rather than the receiver of the sponsorship.
But if it were politically feasible, what would be the time scope for such a political action?
In Europe it is, as always, hinging on the European Commission and ultimately on the European Council. Activist groups and political groups (like, say, the Greens) in Europe are relatively fractured when it comes to the issue of flatrates – country of origin seems to play a large part in the activist or politician relation to flatrates and blank media taxes. One of my primary concerns with collective licenses in Europe is the installment of extended collective licenses such that libraries and archives can digitize and make publically available online their collections without risking lawsuits. One way of financing such a license could be a flatrate. Another, also primary, concern, is to get any kind of copyright issue out of the political debate – there are many aspects of information management that are very fundamentally wrong, most of them completely unrelated to copyright, but having that kind of copyright menace hanging over our heads is an obstacle to finding solutions for a general information accessibility.
I wrote about non-rights based distribution models before: 2010-11-12
And I’ve written about flatrates before as well: 2011-03-11
One might say it’s an ongoing endeavour to define potential public problems and adjacent potential public solutions.