31 March 2006

Hart House Lecture: Michael Geist and Our Own Creative Land

Last evening was a delight, with Michael Geist delivering the annual Hart House Lecture. Michael spoke to a sold-out crowd on Our Own Creative Land: Cultural Monopoly and the trouble with copyright. He regaled the audience with the unfortunate tale of sad Sam, and wowed people with what he called not the good news story, but the great news story: how the Internet has enabled an explosion of creativity and collaboration. He went on to suggest that we ain't seen nuttin' yet by comparing the Internet of 1995 to the Internet of 2005, and casting ahead to 2015 and 2025. What has emerged is a new group of stakeholders, namely the vast legions of people who now have voice, representation, and the ability to participate in what I call the new mass media - not media for the masses, but media by the masses. This means that traditional stakeholders - the so-called creative industries, publishers, industry lobby groups, tariff cartels, and the like - will not be "entitled" to the type of influence they have enjoyed in the past in the formation of public policy.

Geist called for an approach to balance in intellectual property law - copyright, certainly, but equally applying to patent law as well - that contemplates not only the requisite balance between creators and users (since all creators are users, and all users are creators). New policy must understand that innovation, creativity, the continued emergence of culture and our fundamental freedoms (like freedom of speech) are all at stake. Moreover, as we are seeing manifest in the United States dominance of the WIPO agenda, the ability of emerging countries to survive and thrive is increasingly at stake with policies that overwhelmingly favour those who already enjoy privileged access, and privileged protection.

All in all, a great show. Links to resources related to the lecture are available.

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hoong said...

I can see the importance of 'voices from the masses', but most time these voices are so fragmented, therefore we still have the same problems that 'small' voices are not heard. Such as whose voices are we hearing world-wide online? Only those who can access to internet. And that effectively takes away lots of voices.

And then there is the culture issues.

I am wondering, therefore hope to have some responses/diagnosis, would individualistic Americans still is in control of 'opinions/voices' vs. collective groups such as Asians? My concerns are around perhaps good intention groups such as Global Voice and others that promote democracy, free speech and the like, BUT, would they not create even more problems for nations that are not ready for democracy the Amerian way? Or have a different brand of democracy? For example Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand. These are countries that I would term 'democracy' that are not 100% but work rather well. Should we then promote 'democracy' that the Americans THINK it should be, and then creating havoc to these nations such as Thailand at the moment? How about democracy for Iraq?

McLuhan says again and again we have to be mindful of technology. I think this is one example that draws me to his thinking 100%.

Mark Federman said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, hoong. I think one of the effects of Global Voices is precisely to amplify the voices of those who would not otherwise be noticed among the millions online. It is certain that absolutely none of these people would otherwise have access to even local massmedia, let alone a medium that is noticed by the world at large. As well, remember that "access to the Internet" increasingly means "access to a digital wireless network with an appropriate mobile device." This incredible evolution in access reaches farther than the wired 'net will be able to for a very long time. (For some great coverage of what's going on in certain emerging countries with respect to technological adoption and adaptation, I would recomment Jan Chipchase's utterly fascinating blog, Future Perfect.) That being said, no one can disagree that all however-many-billions of people on earth don't have access. On the other hand, I would hazard a guess that a much greater percentage of the population has access to some way of amplifying their voice beyond their locale today than ever before in human history.

To your second issue, I agree that the word "democracy" has lost the commonality of meaning. American-style democracy is not what I would call democracy, especially under the current administration. Imposed democracy is not what I would call democracy either. Neither Afghanistan nor Iraq are what I would call democratic countries, since a mere vote does not a democracy make. The unilateral imposition of the will and whim of the current U.S. government on dozens of countries around the world - some in turmoil, others just threatened with economic sanctions, as we are here in Canada, and many are in South America - can be described by many useful words taken from hard-learned historical lessons; I lament that "democracy" is not among them.