Friday, January 25, 2008

Who Owns Your Culture?

Perhaps it's better that I save my thoughtless ranting for comments, in order to avoid breaking 2 of my New Year aspirations in as many days. (I'm afraid the second-hand bookshop is just, well, Too Much Fun Really.)

Either way, I couldn't help but leave a comment over on the FT's notes on getting ISPs to monitor illegal music downloading. The phrase that ultimately sealed my responsive doom was where head of IFPI, John Kennedy, mentions the idea of "protecting our culture" - inferring that we need to stop piracy of music.

But what is culture, exactly? Often (maybe too often), we assume that our "culture" is our art, our music, our films, our plays, our street performances. Our creativity. The Brighton Festival is "cultural" perhaps. A diverse set of "things to see".

How British! How Doublethink! Culture is this, yes, but it's also so much more. Think of the "Parisian Culture", and not only do you conjure up images of galleries, but also bistros, patisseries and dogs. Think of "New York Culture" and you think of Hot Dogs, Skyscrapers, and people yelling at each other in the street (but in a "scary-friendly stranger" way).

Culture is what we do and who we are. Culture is your underlying mindset that guides your actions and your outputs. And it's not hard to see, then, why we try and squeeze our own definition of "culture" into the limited "Things to go and see" category. If we try to define our culture in a more "traditional" manner, then we quickly discover that our real culture is this: Working late hours, Commuting on packed trains, Eating over-priced sandwiches at desks, and getting "comedically" drunk to make up for it all.

In this sense, indeed, piracy is part of our culture.

So you'll excuse me if I find John Kennedy's idea a little patronizing - that we should protect who we are by being forced to pay for it. If music is our culture, then let ushave it back. Let us have songs that we can sing without fear of breaking the law, and that we can pass on from soul to soul. Let us have a world where "Happy Birthday" is free from copyright, and where my own thoughts aren't treated as a commodity.

Alas, we failed to protect our culture a long time ago. That's why we love going abroad and stealing other people's all the time.

There's a nice comment over at the Register that pertains to ID cards, but is quite relevant here I think. As "mark" says:

"Once we had craftsmen. Now we've got marketing."

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