Reviewer biography

Ars Electronica

Festival for Art, Technology and Society
Linz, Austria
Thursday 4 - Tue 9 September 2008

Reviewed By Birgitte. Aga


Under the banner of “A NEW CULTURAL ECONOMY – The Limits of Intellectual Property” Ars Electronica Festival 2008 took place in Linz from the 4th – 9th September. Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schöpf, Directors of Ars Electronica, framed this years symposium by announcing the age of copyright and intellectual property to have come to an end with the arrival of a new economy of sharing and open access.

The symposium was curated by Joi Ito, activist, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and the CEO of Creative Commons, who underlined the fundamental behaviour change in users as a result of lowered cost of communication and the creation and distribution of information (through computers and the internet). The public / users have become an actively engaged and self-organising sphere capable of collective (global) action. These individuals does not consume according to Ito, but rather participate, co-produce and re-mix, in a commons existing between commercial and cultural markets where the notion of economics and property has been re-configured.

Taking a starting point around the historical notion of property as the basis of the creation of value, Ito brought together users, artists, businesses, policy makers and academics, to create an understanding of this emerging economy, how to adapt and embrace this new frontier.

The first session ‘Production and Creation in the Commons’ was lead by Tim Pritlove, media artist and main organiser of Chaos Computer club, who investigated the nature of commons-based peer production where non-profit and public groups are creating sophisticated assets, (such as Linux), previously only produced by corporations. The following sessions crossed the territory of remixing, appropriation, and piracy, through to how this is stripping authority of its grip on the truth and replacing it with collaborative, distributed, bottom-up truth generation and discovery (such as Wikipedia).

The discussions continued to circle the interplay of freedom of information and copyright protection, initially avoiding the matter of practical, workable regulations governing this new reality, as well as sustainable business models (for content creators and organisations), until Gerd Leonhard, Music & Media Futurist and author of The Future of Music, took to the stage.

He began his talk by declaring the end of economic egoism and the act of counting profit from total control. He continued by proposing that the problem with copyright on the Internet is that everything is a copy. With 92.7% of European citizens being internet users, the majority of his population would in principle be committing illegal acts breaching copyright law. Furthermore, with only 3% of the world currently connected to the Internet, it is on the verge of a huge expansion. Companies who still insist on exclusive rights to make a copy are legally entitled to do so, but as Leonhard claimed, they will be unable to access this market, secure attention, reputation and generate profit from clasping onto such outdated restrictions. Individuals no longer want to buy into a ‘walled garden’ where total control over writers, rights, distribution, money and payment of content is practised and individuals (customers) sued.

Leonhard proposed an open, shared, connected content eco system where business models are based around attention-based income (advertising), usage rights, and services (such as packaging and personalisation) as an alternative to current proprietary models. He used the traditional broadcast radio model to illustrate the potential revenue streams for the future of the record industry, where the content (songs on the radio) are free, but the content creators receive a proportionate pay, in accordance with number of downloads, (air time), paid by the record industry through attention-generated income (advertising revenues). Leonhard concluded with re-iterating the opportunity of new and open systems for the internet by quoting a 1925 record label; “the public will not buy songs it can hear at will by a brief manipulation of a radio dial”.

Exiting the Ars Electronica conference venue and Ito’s promise of a frontier of a new knowledge-based society with its sharing and open access, one’s attention was drawn to the shop where the Ars Electronica 2008 DVD was flying of the shelves for a mere €27, clearly broadcasting its copyright mark: ‘© 2008 AEC / Prix Ars Electronica All rights reserved. The programme on this DVD and CD is protected by copyright.’ An interesting commentary on Ars Electronica’s ‘embrace’ of the new economy and a clear indication of its (the economy’s) challenges implementing Leonhard’s open, shared and connected content eco system.