Panel 6: Professional Cultural Producers Sat Apr 12 15:15

Monday, April 14th, 2008

By this point in the conference, the afternoon of the third day, the challenges of the commons had been fairly well explored: Current copyright law thwarts free access and reusability; archives aren’t sure where to position themselves in the continuum between protecting their assets and promoting their collections; digital information can be copied and distributed so perfectly and cheaply that the value of the information is approaching zero… information wants to be free.

Which raises the question- if information is free, how do the people who manage and create information survive? Are we devaluing their efforts as well? Musicians seem to be navigating this tricky situation by using their digitally distributed music to promote their “in the flesh” touring schedule; visual artists can hope that people will come to see their work in person even if their images are splashed and appropriated all over the internet; educators and lecturers can perhaps be subsidized by universities, or can get more speaking gigs in order to make money. But what are filmmakers doing? What about authors? How does this potentially new audience of freeloaders help the creative person?

The timing of this segment on Professional Cultural Producers was very well planned, as it seemed necessary to hear from them about their abilities to navigate this tricky market. First to take the stage was Florian Schneider, a videomaker, essayist and cultural organizer, who overlaid his own theoretical talk of imaginary property with a video of a piece of physical artwork being carefully transported to a museum by a registrar. His talk focused on these issues of imaginary property, information flows, fears of representation and mis-representation, the fear of the illegitimate copy. In this discussion, he represented the theoretical side a practical issue, but I was looking for some practical case studies.

The next speaker was Bauke Freiberg, from FabChannel/Culture Player, who spoke about their product, which acts as a platform for concert videos from Paradiso and Melkweg, popular clubs in Amsterdam. Just as a museum might record registrations of its art shows, Paradiso started recording its concerts, and over time this grew into a sophisticated 6 camera system, which now records and streams concerts, with ads and corporate sponsoring. In this regard, they are tied into the traditional marketing model of wrapping content in sponsorship. They hold traditional contracts with the artists on their site, and everything seems to follow the normal copyright model. So, it is a concrete example, and a good-functioning one, of a sort of “corporate” solution, in terms of distribution or control of images.
So, from a very theoretical and open-source argument from Florian to a clean, corporate solution from Bauke, we arrived at the final speaker of the day: Kenneth Goldsmith, from Ubuweb in New York. He reinvigorated the audience by injecting humor and irreverence by declaring that he was not interested in creating community or having user feedback, that his site was not democratic, and was run only by a field of expert volunteers. Ubuweb never clears copyright on anything – his panel of volunteers mine and re-post artist text and video from a variety of sources, including members-only sources like karagarga. They have no ads and make no direct revenue from the site, and have a page http://www.ubu.com/resources/shame.html for people and organizations which have asked to be taken off the site.

Afterwards in the Q&A, with Rick Prelinger joining the stage, and moderated by Eric Kluitenberg, and audience member asked a simple yet difficult question – what can one tell an archive who wants to get started, who wants to enter this digital environment? The answers ranged from “Just get started.” to “ I really don’t have any advice for you.” It may not have been the brightest note for the ending of the conference, but certainly reflects the dilemmas and confusion facing archives and creators as we come up against the new economy of the commons.