Paradigm lost? How creativity is weaponized against us

This post is based on the talk Anna gave during CopyCamp 2017 “Paradigm Lost? How Our Freedoms are Weaponized Against Us and What We Can Do About It”. A video of the talk is available here.

How do you lobby for a great copyright in the post-political world? With difficulty, since it is also a post-factual world: politicians seem to care more about marketing than evidence. Perhaps when the facts are not important we should then look for a better propaganda?

Copyright beyond the bubble

This “better propaganda” should not be populist or based on lies. Digital rights organizations need a better, compelling narrative to convince people to care more. We need to test new approaches because European citizens do not realize that they are bound by the copyright framework every time they access news, knowledge or entertainment on the internet.

We also need to find more compelling ways to talk about rights in the digital environment because these days everybody is a creator and the only difference is that some of us identify as such and many of us don’t. Those of us who don’t, also don’t think that our small acts of creativity such as memes or photos we post online are serious enough to give us this status, but this does not change the fact that we are indeed creators.

From creativity to celebrity

In both cases creativity is crucial for self-expression, and self-expression is key to one’s identity. Today all three: creativity, self-expression and identity become market commodities, increasingly so via social media. So what happens when they enter the market?

It is the “celebritisation” of culture that happens (forgive me if this is not a real word, it should be though). Those regular people that are not “serious creators” are increasingly more occupied with personal branding. Today it is crucial how we are seen and how we want to be seen through our photos or cultural tastes that we display on social media. Sometimes the simplified 140-characters brand becomes more important than who we really are as complex human beings. This is a psychological as well as a cultural phenomenon.

For professional creators, or those who try to make a living from their creativity, the result is a bit different and it is neatly described in a Fair Internet campaign video. Fair Internet is an initiative to secure an unwaivable right to remuneration for performers. The organizers state that such provision is needed because performers in general have difficulty negotiating with big labels. Only the biggest celebrities are able to get good conditions and the rest end up with crappy contracts. Why then the campaign does not advocate for a better negotiating power against the labels is a mystery, but nevertheless the diagnosis is correct.

Celebritization turns creativity into a zero sum game – you only win if you are more powerful than others.

If we care so much to be correctly perceived we become more risk-averse, as individuals and as the society. This is a reputation economy and reputation is unlike money or property: if you lose it, it is much harder to get back. And a risk-averse society becomes an obedient society.

Society becomes customers, creativity becomes content

A risk-averse society becomes increasingly easy to sell things to. Low risk is good for business – any business, creative industry included. Our universal non-adventurous appetite for culture and entertainment can be easily satiated with mass-scale creativity.

The majority of creation accessible through the mass culture is a product of a risk averse-business model. Meanwhile creativity is about taking risks and questioning the aesthetic, cultural or political status quo.

Think about it. This simply cannot work! And that is also a thought shared by revered artists such as Martin Scorsese. “Cinema is gone,” he said in his recent interview. It took him a lot of effort and foreign funding to make his latest movie “Silence”. If even Scorsese says so, we have a problem. Yes, we all love SFX-loaded superhero movies, and the “Blade Runner” sequel is good. But let’s face it, in mass culture we are happy to buy endless versions of the product that we already liked before.

Risk, lies, and videotapes

Fortunately, unlike pre-internet technologies and business models built around them, the digital world offers us possibilities of low-risk investment in creation. Some people make memes for fun, some make a career out of it, and we end up with the proliferation of creativity. This amazing playground lets people decide what they want to do with their skills and test it quickly on their audience.

New technologies offer these new possibilities but to the old business models that mourn the death of videotape, they also offer new fields of exploitation of their rights.  And if we adopt this angle of looking at the current reform of the copyright framework, it suddenly becomes clear that as proposed by the European Commission it is not a random sample of loosely connected interventions.

The copyright reform is a uniform approach making sure that new fields of exploitation of IP rights are defined and ready to be cashed in on.

Take the upload filters for online platforms as an example. That would be a state-of-the-art level of control over creativity online. It gives rightholders a tight grip on a lot of uploaded content. Since it will filter out any user-generated content that includes (incidentally or intentionally) any third-party song, movie or photo, the only thing that will stay on the internet will be what the business wants to offer us.

Disclaimer: Playback of the embedded video establishes a connection to YouTube and may lead to data being collected by and shared with third parties. Proceed only if you agree.

Existing large-scale businesses will have an enormous advantage here. They already have the capacity to produce original content (or buy licenses), which would be the only thing allowed on the internet. We will be stuck with a limited choice between “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” and “Harry Potter and the Mystery of a Sock-Eating Washing Machine”, if that is any choice at all.

And of course, there will be audacious creators out there who will invest and deliver great original artworks. And yes, some of them will be scooped out by the big business in search of new faces and brands. And guess what – they will be offered a crappy contract.

The only freedom we should not exercise right now regarding the copyright reform is the freedom not to care.

A satire on the art business in which art experts and dealers who assess paintings are depicted as donkeys. After the drawing by Trémolières in the Hessisches Landes Museum in Darmstadt (cropped).
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