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Towards a Commons-Compatible Cultural Economy in the European Union

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
29th June 2013


* Article: THE CULTURAL COMMONS AND SOCIAL JUSTICE: FOUNDATIONS FOR A NEW EUROPEAN HUMANISM. By Philippe Aigrain.

This text is excerpted from a contribution to the Green Paper produced by the Toolquiz project funded by the Interreg-C European programme of inter-regional co-operation. Toolquiz aims at creating the conditions for an inclusive creative economy.

Philippe Aigrain:

“Sharing: Culture and the Economy in the Internet Age 2012 builds upon proposals by researchers and policy advocates in the past 10 years. The book outlines how one could legalize and frame non-market sharing between individuals, how one could put in place a new financing scheme to give true social rights to financial rewards for contributors and to ensure the availability of financing for producing new works. The book also discusses the nature of a cultural commons-compatible cultural economy, and defends that it is the only form of fair trade in this domain, and that it can successfully grow.

The motivations to socially recognize the value of sharing between individuals are not just to depart from the war against sharing and its extreme effects on fundamental rights (freedom of expression and communication, privacy, and the right to a fait trial, for instance). It is also to seize an extraordinary opportunity to give access to culture to all in a manner that empowers many to contribute to it. A many-to-all cultural society is at our door, if we are not afraid to face its challenges. Yes, the challenges are great: how will we construct new ways to identify what is of interest or of quality (however one will choose to define it) in an ocean of works? How will we make sure that valuable editorial functions remain sustainable in this new world? How will the literate practices in the ancient world of analogic carriers feed the new practices of collaborative practices in the digital sphere, as Milad Doueihi (2009); Doueihi (2011) advocates when urging us to build a digital humanism. It is not possible to address all these issues in detail in the limits of this text, but it is worth addressing a key one: under which conditions will the cultural commons contribute to social justice?

THE POTENTIAL OF THE CULTURAL COMMONS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

There is one obvious social benefit of a better recognition of cultural commons and of rights of users towards them: to guarantee access to an immense wealth of digital works, at least for those who can access the Internet with reasonably open devices.7 A particularly important element is that, through sharing, the user enters in possession of a digital representation of work, that can be used to analyse it, compare it with other works, reuse it in one’s own practice. In contrast, streaming, that was indirectly promoted by the war against sharing, limits the user to a form of reception similar to television or radio with time-shift ability.8 The access to the cultural commons is in itself a great benefit, of particular value to the less advantaged citizens. It is nonetheless no guarantee that they will be able to take full advantage of this possibility to develop culturally, to have more agency in society and the economy, to live a richer social life.

A real contribution of the cultural commons to social justice depend on many other elements, among which:

* an education system that promotes a true digital literacy, rooted in older forms of literacy, and values cooperation,

* cultural changes in the relation to technology, so it is no longer taken as given, but problematized and debated,

* and above all, a change in our socio-economic systems in order to make possible for people to regain better control of the use of their time, a key scarce resource at the level of each individual.

Each of these changes will face the same obstacles that the recognition of the cultural commons themselves: they depend on a major change of focus in policy. The predominant focus on a finance-dominated economy must give place to a number of qualitative objectives that are of a social, cultural, ecological and political nature.

EUROPEAN POLICIES AT THE CROSSROADS

More than 10 years ago, the Public Debate transnational think-tank (2000) published a text titled “Quality-oriented policies and the European construction”. We tried to outline a new agenda for European policy building that would depart from the predominant focus on markets and would accept a number of heterogeneous qualitative objectives in the various domains of policy. We choose the notion of quality-oriented policies, so people could endorse it without committing to one particular overall political orientation. For us, European policies were already at the crossroads in 1999, and we predicted the failure of institutional reform if it was not accompanied by a redefinition of policy objectives. The crossroads is much closer, and we are travelling at a frightening speed towards a dead-end if we do not choose another direction. However, new paths are now open. The commons-based policy agenda has been articulated at a much more global level in arenas such as the International Commons Conference in Berlin in 2010 (und Heinrich Böll Stiftung, 2012) . New bottom-up movements regenerate the democratic ideal. The European policies will empower citizens to define their own agendas, or there will be no European policy.”

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