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Yochai Benkler - Conflicts in Cultural Production
New York, April 2007 
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Does the end of exclusive control over copies spell the death of cultural production? Yochai Benkler thinks not. While the music industry makes money off CDs, musicians supports themselves with performances. He points out that the film studios, on the other hand, take a large part of their revenues from performance and less from media commodities. He outlines how the changing cost structures in film and music production are enabling new stratums of society to create.

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00:00:00 Interview with Yochai Benkler
00:00:05 Many of the battles
00:00:07 represented first by the DMCA
00:00:11 in the late 90s,
00:00:13 later on by the move towards trusted computing
00:00:16 and the effort to embed the same idea
00:00:18 in hardware, have to do with trying to tame
00:00:23 digital computation and communications networks.
00:00:27 So that the same model,
00:00:30 taking information, encapsulating it in a discrete unit
00:00:35 and selling it, remains feasible, remains sustainable.
00:00:45 How should we think about this? Is it a good thing or a bad thing
00:00:51 that it's becoming harder, maybe impossible
00:00:55 to encapsulate information in discrete units and sell them?
00:01:01 The simplistic answer
00:01:02 the answer that you get from Hollywood and the recording industry
00:01:05 is, it's a disaster!
00:01:07 How will creators ever make money?
00:01:10 Before we buy that,
00:01:13 we have to remember that music
00:01:16 didn't begin with the phonograph,
00:01:18 and it won't end with the peer to peer network.
00:01:22 Theatre, narrative, stories, didn't begin with copyright or end with it.
00:01:31 All information, knowledge and culture in our society
00:01:35 is supported by a diverse set of revenue flows and business models
00:01:43 Not only the copyright system.
00:01:46 So most of our scientific research,
00:01:50 All of our humanities research,
00:01:54 is built on a model of education and government funding
00:01:59 through universities and non-profits,
00:02:01 not at all based on copyright.
00:02:06 Most of our classical music today,
00:02:09 much of jazz, much of music that is not roughly
00:02:16 in the segment of popular music,
00:02:18 is based on, a combination of public performances,
00:02:23 and public support.
00:02:25 Much of how musicians live
00:02:27 is based on live performances,
00:02:30 musicians, not the recording industry,
00:02:32 the recording industry is very much based on,
00:02:34 the units themselves but the musicians,
00:02:36 very much live off public performances.
00:02:39 All of these modes of revenue, all of these revenue streams
00:02:44 aren't threatened by the de-stablisation of the copy at all.
00:02:50 what's de-stablised is, the set of business models
00:02:54 that depend on the copy as bottleneck, as toll-booth.
00:02:59 That creates some problems for certain business models,
00:03:03 it is far from an impending disaster,
00:03:06 for our cultural production system.
00:03:09 When one tries to think about what the world
00:03:12 of what artistic creation might look like, after the copy,
00:03:18 the first thing to remember is that different forms of art,
00:03:24 and different forms of creative expression,
00:03:27 have very different cost structures
00:03:29 and very different social practices of consumption
00:03:33 and appropriation.
00:03:34 And so there is no single answer,
00:03:36 after copyright for all forms of creation.
00:03:40 Music which has been most in the spotlight,
00:03:44 is actually relatively cheap to produce
00:03:47 in terms of physical capital necessarily
00:03:50 It is not the large movie studios,
00:03:52 First of all artists own their musical instruments,
00:03:56 For a long time the cost of recording,
00:04:00 or the equipment to record has become much less expensive,
00:04:03 for relatively high quality.
00:04:05 The distribution network now doesn't need,
00:04:08 millions of copies to be stamped out,
00:04:10 or hundreds of thousands of copies to be stamped out.
00:04:12 instead you can distribute on the net,
00:04:14 so all the core costs of music production
00:04:18 have gone to a level that, artists who care about their music
00:04:22 can largely self-fund.
00:04:24 Now where will they get revenue?
00:04:26 Musicians by and large, musical performers,
00:04:29 live from performances, not from royalties.
00:04:33 It's also the case that for some of the rights that exsist,
00:04:38 it is not the copy but the right that makes the difference.
00:04:42 so for example when the musician writes music
00:04:44 and the music is embedded in a Hollywood film,
00:04:47 It is not the copy that protects them but one of the rights,
00:04:50 that will remain between large scale organisations,
00:04:54 that have models of appropriation and individual musicians.
00:04:57 That right will remain, they don't need to control the single copy
00:05:01 against users in order to capture those revenues.
00:05:06 And so when you look at the relatively low cost,
00:05:08 when you look at the overwhelming importance
00:05:10 of performances to the revenue of artists,
00:05:15 and when you look at the possibilities,
00:05:17 that we're beginning to see now musicians experimenting,
00:05:21 with online downloading and paypal based payment systems.
00:05:26 You begin to see if not the complete solution,
00:05:30 at least the makings, or the components,
00:05:35 of how artists can make a living, in this new environment.
00:05:40 The thing to remember is that the recording industry,
00:05:43 has perfected, the art of extracting all of the value
00:05:48 from the CDs, and earlier the records, to itself,
00:05:55 as the marketer and externalising almost all the
00:05:59 cost and risk onto the creators.
00:06:03 And so in that system, when you suddenly take out the CD,
00:06:07 the artists lose relatively little,
00:06:10 the recording industry loses a lot.
00:06:14 And the battle over the CD is a battle
00:06:18 over the recording industry not over the musician.
00:06:22 Things are different when we look at film.
00:06:24 Film is more expensive to create by and large,
00:06:30 but film also has two competing and stable systems around the world.
00:06:39 There is significant public funding for non-commercial film,
00:06:46 and that has been the source of a lot of some
00:06:49 of the most creative and insightful work around.
00:06:51 And then there's Hollywood, now, Hollywood,
00:06:56 has retained control over a significant
00:07:02 proportion of the revenues from public performance.
00:07:05 So the social practice of going out to the movies,
00:07:09 the social practice of going out to a musicians performance,
00:07:16 is what funds musicians and the recording industry
00:07:21 hasn't captured that because they were focusing on the CD.
00:07:26 That's not the same with theatre distribution of film
00:07:29 more than half of the revenues of film come from
00:07:33 public performances, that's not going away.
00:07:35 Remember that the copy, the single copy used by a consumer,
00:07:43 as a mode of appropriating film revenues,
00:07:47 is about twenty years old thats all.
00:07:49 Before that it was all theatre based
00:07:52 or attention based through television.
00:07:55 So both of those modes, attention based,
00:07:57 and we're seeing that attention based revenues,
00:07:59 are central to the web, and going out to the
00:08:03 movies, both of those remain sources of,
00:08:06 tens of billions of dollars a year to support the industry.
00:08:12 So it's possible that we'll see a contraction
00:08:16 of the video creation industry,
00:08:18 well it's possible we'll see some displacement from
00:08:23 relatively high production value blockbusters,
00:08:27 that then can be replicated through multiple media,
00:08:31 to a few of those based on theatre appropriation,
00:08:36 and a bit more of smaller scale, amateur video production
00:08:41 people will spend more of their time, this way
00:08:44 But again it's not the end of film,
00:08:46 it might be a contraction of the Hollywood model,
00:08:49 it might be an increase in the ethicacy of the
00:08:52 publicly supported model,
00:08:54 but in that industry too it's far from doomsday.
00:08:59 I think more generally, the availability,
00:09:03 of cheap video recorders that are relatively high quality.
00:09:10 The availability of cheap distribution mechanisms.
00:09:15 The availability of opportunities for people to see film.
00:09:22 respond to it care about it, opens up a new domain
00:09:28 of non commercial film production
00:09:32 or small commercial film production, by which I mean,
00:09:35 something that won't be the primary way in which
00:09:38 somebody makes a living, but is a part of
00:09:40 the mix of things they do for their life
00:09:43 To allow thousands or tens of thousands,
00:09:46 or possibly millions of more people to engage in film production.
00:09:50 The other thing thats happening
00:09:52 and thats maybe more short-term, but it may actually not.
00:09:57 Is that as people get into the habit of spending
00:10:02 time viewing much shorter pieces
00:10:06 caring more about the content of the narrative
00:10:10 than the high production value, that too opens up
00:10:14 a new opportunities for all sorts of creative people,
00:10:17 again both commercial and non commercial.
00:10:19 To use these platforms for new innovative
00:10:24 forms of using the film medium.