And what if we did everything differently? This question, which many creatives find quite inspiring, is not very popular with legal scholars and politicians. Since these are the groups that decide copyright design we can’t expect radical changes.
But radical changes are urgently needed because copyright is in crisis. The latest controversies over the new EU Copyright Directive are just as much symptoms of this as the recent volatile court decisions in the US (against the pop musicians Robin Thicke/Pharrell Williams and Katy Perry), which, in the view of some experts, upend previous legal practice. Originally created to protect artistic works and their authors from unauthorized modifications and from financial exploitation by third parties, then later expanded to provide a foundation on which trade in artistic works can be based, since digitization at the latest it’s clear that they contain so many flaws that they urgently require a major overhaul or reorientation. Inaccuracies, ambiguities and arbitrary provisions not only make lawyers lives difficult, but also increasingly impede the work of artists. This is most obvious in music: While competing economic interests in the recorded music industry and platform economics are in conflict and new deals are negotiated only a small minority of music creators can still make a living from copyright exploitation. In information and data capitalism, all content must incentivize mass clicks and package deals – its quality is of secondary importance. The core business with musical goods – vinyl, CDs or MP3s – is over, no one gets upset about illegal downloads anymore. The shift to leased access is accompanied by new licensing models and regulatory technologies; automated detection software that looks for protected content will increasingly decide what can be watched and heard online and what can’t.
What kind of music will emerge in the future and what it will sound like, what business models are worthwhile for creatives and what consumers and users have access to, in short, the prerequisites that regulate and enable the cultural space – all of this is at stake with the design of intellectual property rights. Reason enough, then, to end the combative rhetoric and to ask what kind of general overhaul copyright law needs or what, going beyond it, sustainability schemes for self-determined cultural production look like while claims for recognition, participation and compensation could also be worded differently.
While the 100 Years of Copyright project in the fall of 2018 was about understanding copyright law, tracing its evolution, identifying its problems and finding out which interests it serves, Right the Right focuses on new ideas: How could the existing system be changed and improved? What parts of it should be replaced with other regulations and what proposals exist for this? How can protection and use be meaningfully reconciled – or will it require completely different approaches than copyright? How should obsolete notions of authorship, originality and property be realistically updated? What do fair conditions for the arts actually look like from a global perspective?
Right the Right addresses these fundamental questions in lectures, presentations and discussions with composers, legal scholars, media scientists and software designers. It’s about “smart contracts” and commons, new copyleft licenses, global fair trade models for the arts or completely different forms of artistic collective management.
And it’s about music: the legendary Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal, who several years ago decided to renounce royalties for the use of his compositions, will perform at the opening. Chicks On Speed and Jasmine Guffond will present commissioned works, each dealing with audio ID technologies and algorithmic authorship, while Polish band Mitch & Mitch (copyright critics) will play a joint concert with Brazilian producer Kassin (copyright proponents), and Jan St. Werner (Mouse On Mars) is working on a sound installation with audio material made available by the US indie rock band The National especially for this purpose.
Detlef Diederichsen, curator