Free Culture 2.0?

By , 10 July, 2008, 1 Comment

So I’m not a believer in all that free culture anarchism, at least not the way it was articulated in the mid-1990s as some kind of communitarian alternative to the capitalist economy. Artists were supposed to produce for the joy of it, and do something else (teach, sell coffee) to pay the rent. Art for money was not art. Writing licensed computer code for Microsoft was sinful. Etc.

The result is the old record companies arguing for REGULATING the internet as the capitalism-friendly model (which is weird, given all that stuff I learned in econ class about free markets…) and the artists/college students protesting for “free culture as both free from regulation and cost-free.

But now digital media has become mainstream, rather than a geek toy, and the 1990s GenX radicals have given way to GenY entrepreneurs. Artists are finally coming forward to say that free access to the Internet as a technology is and should be compatible with maintaining ownership and rights to content: artists need to make a buck from their work, but they can’t do that if they can’t get to market, and the Internet is now the market, not the product.

That’s the idea behind a new CD that brings mainstream artists (ex: Wilco, on the Warner Music Group’s Nonesuch label) with independents (ex: Aimee Mann) to raise money and awareness for this new middle ground, called “Net Neutrality.” The record, from indie label Thirsty Ear, is out on July 29, and the big surprise is a new song (I kid you not) from the Wrens!

Meanwhile is moving from free downloads to a model that remunerates artists for their work. AND the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, the proposed revision to the Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998, is back in circulation on the Hill.

Together, those three incidents tell me that the old binary might be breaking down.

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