It's already very nearly the end of the month! Before the end of October arrives there are some earlier comments to which I would like to make a brief return.
The discussion has raised many significant issues. It seems simplest to start by going to the recent post by Rene, which she concludes by saying “I do agree that we should investigate alternative business models and that locking works up in media that artificially prevent reproduction is not a valid road.”
Businesses that provide exemplary cases of licensing images are stock photography agencies, such as Getty Images. Such companies do not trade in the physical images, but rather the rights to reproduce them by licensing specific uses of the images. Doireann Wallace gave an excellent paper on this at the Computers and History of Art (CHArt) conference back in 2007 (‘Designing the Electronic Archive: Archive Fever and the Archival Economy of “Getty Images Online” Operations’).
Getty Images and other stock agencies employ digital watermarks to control and capitalise on the visual content in their databases. As Wallace pointed out this method, as with other interactive experiences designed by Getty Images to generate demand for their holdings, is as much a part of the internet as other practices that explore the potential of the cultural commons.
It seems to me that a key point was made earlier in the month by Fred Poyner, when he commented that collecting institutions “must try to find a balance between cases of conditional donations, with an ideal of making all collections available to the public”. I return at this point to one of the questions set out at the start of the month: “In what respects do the interests of commercial organisations such as Google, which exist for the purpose of making profit, differ from those of artists, museums and galleries and in what ways should the law respond to any such differences?”
It has been argued that corporations exist, and should only exist, for the purpose of making profit. Yet, even amongst those who consider that corporations should have broader social responsibilities, there is disagreement as to what those should be. Assuming for the moment (and I realise that it is a big assumption) that copyright is an integral part of the existing overarching capitalist model, there is currently little motivation for businesses to find alternatives to the recognition of intellectual property .
By contrast it is generally accepted that public museums and galleries have a much wider social remit than returning a profit. At the same time, they(and those employed by them) are inextricably bound into the profit-seeking, private sector. Under the current system, it seems to me one question for public institutions is: “what, and how, is a balance to be struck between making money and making a collection accessible?”
As regards the copyright regimes on which licensing is predicated, there are many who would echo Rob Myers’ view, when he wrote “I don’t think that copyright should be different for NMA [New Media Art], I think it should be greatly reduced in scope generally”. Yet, even if the type of work and the number of years such work is protected are reduced, this still leaves the difficulty of “what fixed in a tangible form of expression means” (to quote Rob again).
As Henry Lydiate commented “it’s that hoary old IP chestnut: the idea/expression dichotomy [...]The fixation rule is legislators’ best attempt to date to avoid ephemeral/transient acts of creativity [...] being automatically IP protected.” Yet, it is the uncertainty regarding this area that is one of the aspects which makes simply the threat of legal proceedings based on copyright such a potent means of inhibiting any given example of art work (which a court wouldn't necessarily agree infringed copyright) created using range of cultural practices . Moreover, different countries have different laws, despite efforts to achieve international harmonisation. All of which, it seems from the posts to this list, create as many difficulties from within, as much as from without, the so-called ‘art world’.