Friday, September 19, 2008

Cultural Rights?

Today, I listened to Bill Ivey present the thesis of his book Arts, Inc: How Greed and Neglect are Destroying Our Cultural Rights. Here is Tyler Cowen's brief review. Here's the gist of the thesis:
  1. We have "cultural rights" to things like music, art, photography.
  2. Firms lobby for copyright law to try and profit articles we have a cultural right to.
  3. Firms are successful because there is no regulatory agency, something equivalent to a Ministry of Cultural Rights.
  4. Conclusion: We need a Ministry of Cultural Rights that is strong enough to balance our cultural rights against firm greed.
It was an interesting talk throughout, and he is optimistic because he has some inside info that Obama is willing to do something about. He does recognize the enormous dangers of such an Orwellian/Taliban sounding institution, he says he recognizes the importance of copyright law, and doubts that firms would be able to capture an institution if it is strong enough. I think Americans will never go for it because it sounds like a left-wing attempt to create a right-wing Frankenstein.

I think this argument will have much more staying power than it is really justified because #1 is so inherently subjective. Explaining the enormous dangers and potential costs of such an institution won't matter if its proponents value #1 highly.

Yet, #1 to me seems the easiest to defeat intellectually. I find I have to teach my 2-year old that "just because someone shows you something, that doesn't make it yours." The lesson is the same for cultural rights activists. Just because I have seen pictures of JFK Jr saluting his father's coffin, doesn't mean I possess any rights to it. The photographer had rights to it (which he took for a profit), he sold those rights to a firm, which sold to another firm, etc. At no point does my having seen it entitle me to ownership, let alone any vague notion of "we" own it.

Be ready, if Mr. Ivey is right and Obama is on board, this may have to find its way into the Freedom Index.

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