Anazasi pottery objects

A reaction to Nick Poole’s piece: Culture must always be a Commons

As I read Culture must always be a commons, I started thinking of several issues I ran into when writing my Masters Thesis. The most important being Copyright; For a long time copyright existed as a way to ensure artists had a steady income so they could continue to produce art, however,for a long time this protection has now been used for big organisations to retain control over culture for continually extensive periods of time, this not only hampers the democratic distribution of culture, but it also hampers the creation of new one. Where would music be now if for most of the last century copyrights on riffs, progressions and scales were non existent or unenforced, yet now we constantly find artists involved in lawsuits over a particular riff or harmony? This abuse of the system is stifling cultural development and is leading to stagnation. One way to fight this would be to bring to light the actual creative process in culture: themes are recycled, styles co opted or outright copied yet these derivatives are the way culture evolves.

The second line of thought I had, stems from the barriers this “ownership” imposes in the digital conservation and distribution of cultural heritage, specially in the field of 3D imaging, where the rules are struggling to keep up with the technology. Right now as far as i can tell these efforts are treated just like photography, however the nature of 3D imaging brings with it new issues that have not been thought of, such as where do 3d printed duplicates made from the digital file fall in regards of copyright? Is a printed version of such file considered the same work? A new work? A derivative work?

Finally when thinking of culture as a Commons, a big problem that will come up is ownership, specially in the case of entrusted works. At the Museum of East Anglian Life, where i worked as an intern, the museum had been entrusted with a huge floral tribute in the shape of Gypsy wagon dedicated to their leader. This wagon still belongs to the Gypsy Travellers, and is used in rituals such as marriages and births, however it has been in the care of the Museum for a long time. How do we treat such objects? They are not only part of british heritage, it is a ritual object still in use by its original owners, who might not agree of this object being regarded as part of the Commons. Thousands of objects fall into this grey zone, and while I personally agree that culture should always be a commons, sometimes the best way to ensure that, is to play the devil’s advocate and foresee the objections before they happen.

All in all I think that the piece you wrote is a heartfelt and honest call to arms, in a subject that we cannot ignore anymore. Culture, specially from the 20th century is in incredible danger from lack of collection and copyright. (If you want to see an example of conservation hell, look into the laws for software emulation, and how they impact the conservation of heritage such as videogames.)

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