Access is art’s asset

Net era of plenty could feed creativity


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In his book the future of ideas : The Fate Of The Commons In A Connected World, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig comes up with some good advice. “Embrace the era of plenty,” he writes, “and learn how to live in it.” Take a moment and think about that. Never before in human history has so much been so readily available to us. Books, games, movies, music and television are all but a mouse click away, and it’s only going to get better.

Or possibly quite a bit worse. If you want to really understand how big media companies are trying to keep us from the stuff we value, read Lessig’s book. In the meantime let me take you on a quick excursion to the mystical land of what could be.

Imagine a world where noses aren’t bent out of shape when an existing piece of art is re-purposed and made into something new, be it a vocal track on a song, a character from a video game or a scene from a famous movie.

The citizens of such a world will recognize that information wants to be free, but also that credit must be given where it’s due and artists should be fairly compensated for their important work.

That compensation may not measure up to the incomes of current Hollywood A-list stars, but I did say “fairly compensated,” didn’t I?

In this wonderful world of what could be, I turn on my television and have instant access to a global library of programming. I make my selection and get an unencrypted digital download, which I can archive on my computer or back up on DVD.

If I so desire, I can cut and paste scenes from my favourite shows into e-mails or Web sites to enhance my communication with loved ones. I’ll likely spend even more time telling my friends about the great new international shows I’ve discovered and following up on their recommendations.

Liberated from local markets, television shows will find new fans around the globe.

Likewise, the companies that sell feature films on DVD won’t dictate what I can see, and the pointless practice of DVD region-encoding will be a thing of the past. The digital files on these versatile discs will also be unlocked not only that, but the film’s source material will be available right alongside the final release of the film.

This will allow a new generation of auteurs to hone their craft by re-editing their favourite scenes, hopefully enabling them to banish the next Jar Jar Binks to immediate obscurity.

As with music and video before it, the technical hurdles in making video games will come crashing down, so we can all pitch in to make the entire catalogue of human experience available for role-playing and simulation.

And cyber-sex will undoubtedly take on a whole new meaning.

As for music, the copyright battles of today will be but a distant memory. We’ll be downloading legitimately, because the big labels will be giving us true value for our money – not just our favourite songs but the source material, too.

We’ll be able to mash up the drum track from one famous recording with the rhythm guitar from another, or chop it all up and blend it into something entirely new.

As each of us dabbles further in producing media, even at the hobbyist level, we will all gain a new appreciation for it. More sophisticated artistic tastes will mean we’ll no longer be content to let big media conglomerates spoon-feed us our entertainment. We’ll demand art that challenges and informs us and truly represents the human condition. And such art will be made.

That way, eons from now when aliens are picking through the rubble of our once great civilization, they’ll find something a little classier than audition tapes from Canadian Idol.

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