Manhattan and Monopoly: Creativity, copyright, and culture

“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

For those who live by such words, today’s North American cultural industries have infinitely failed us. The corporate monopoly production of culture that comes out of Hollywood reflects capitalist values that individualize life’s miseries rather than provide a remedy.

But thanks to the sharing capacities of the Internet, not all North American art production has succumbed to this despair. In the last 10 years, the economy has become increasingly dependant on the generation of knowledge through creativity and innovation, otherwise known as the creative industries.

The rise of the creative industries has shifted cultural production away from corporations, and into the hands of the masses. This reduces the strength of cultural monopolies, and allows for meaningful artistic work that reflects the real values of middle class citizens living in North America.

Although the creative industries have changed the face of cultural production, there are barriers preventing the free flow of meaningful art. These barriers come in the form of intellectual property rights.

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Take the example of the new-age digital music producer. This person takes sounds from other artists, remixes them, and puts them on top of various other tracks. The web presents an unlimited number of mediums to showcase and market this kind of work.

However, if a large record label owns the rights to a song, any reproduction of that song is strictly prohibited. If a new-age digital music artist uses only a few seconds of that song they could be heavily fined. The only way to legally produce a track that uses a protected song is to buy rights to it. Unfortunately, those don’t come cheap.

But even with strict intellectual property laws, the Internet and the creative industries have still revolutionized cultural production. There is now a population of creators who make a living in online video production, blogging, online graphic design, and a range of other practices made possible by the creative industries.

Copyright laws stifle the innovative practices the creative industries provide and restrict the free flow of meaningful cultural production. But, as Woody Allen tells us, “We should not succumb to despair.”

Although the commodification of art in the cultural industries has led to corporate monopolies on creativity, innovation, and the production of culture, the web has provided us with an arena for meaningful cultural production at our fingertips. The web may be limited by intensive copyright laws at this point in time, but it has increased artistic practices that better reflect the values of the majority of North American citizens.