Thursday, February 23, 2012

freedom of choice - not just for consumers anymore

Creator´s Conf. Panel II from Andreea Calbeaza on Vimeo.

On February 3rd, the European Composer and Songwriter Alliance (ECSA) held the second annual Creators Conference in Brussels. This is a heartening trend - members of the professional creator community coming together for serious discussion around the ongoing market changes, legal challenges and trends, and consumer expectations.

I've always thought free-culture criticism of the creative sector as stuck in old business models or refusing to change with the times to be completely ignorant of what actually goes on in creator communities, and it's great to see organized efforts like this putting a very public face on a thoroughly forward-thinking sector.

Looking over the site for this conference, I came across Robert Levine's amusing keynote talk in which he skewers some of the more ridiculous free culture attacks on professional creativity. Levine is the author of Free Ride: How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back. He begins his talk by referencing the struggle for artists to make a living from an industry that claims to value exposure and promotion over actual payment. Of course, the struggle he references occurred in 1919 , and was just one of many over the years in which artists have to insist on being paid by industries that feel they are somehow doing us a favour by using our work.

Levine also makes reference to a TV panel he did on TVO's The Agenda recently, in which he was the only creative professional lined up against four academics all with distinct free culture leanings, and all of whom could not disguise their visible annoyance that a mere author would dare to question their theories about the rights of authors. Levine says that NYU prof Clay Shirky's jaw hit the desk when Levine mentioned creator rights.

I'd say the reaction was more aggressive than that. Shirky looked like he wanted to leap through the various screens separating he and Levine and throttle the guy. You can see the entire Agenda video here. Check out the look on UNC prof Zeynep Tufekci's face while Levine is speaking. The head-shaking, the barely contained disgust and anger. Why is it so painful to free culture to be challenged on its abstract theorizing by people who are actually living the life?

Levine's talk in Brussels was followed by an excellent panel discussion entitled Freedom of Choice, in which a long couch of creative pros chewed through some pretty scary questions about just how much control we have over our work in the current environment. Among others, Helienne Lindvall, Swedish-born musician and UK-based journalist who has graced these blog pages before, had a lot to say about her experiences dealing with both record labels and pirates.

I encourage everyone to watch the video above and then ask yourself - are creators really refusing to look at the future of their business?

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(Free Ride cover image courtesy Robert Levine and Random House)

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