The above report of the meetings of experts does not start with a methodological introduction, but a fairy tale written by Aymeric Mansoux to the literary contest “Future of Copyright” (2012), organized by the Modern Poland Foundation. Using a matrix of Vladimir Propp’s classic work on the structure of fairy tales, Mansoux is looking for answers to the question of the author, and participation in culture. Therefore, he leads his female character through the twists and turns of copyright and communications technologies, where she collides with symbolic protagonists and is looking constantly for ways out from the situation with no way out.
In the abundand with meanings fairy tale by Mansoux one thing is striking: the total lack of belief that the response to the crisis caused by a collision of intellectual monopolies with the practice of communication through electronic media can be a “free culture” project based on voluntary licenses and the resulting business models. Ten years ago the success of free software, which has created real and existing alternatives to proprietary software, gave hope that a similar effect can be achieved in other areas of the circulation of information. We believed that, by using and promoting licensing mechanisms, we can “hack the system” and create an alternative to the system within the system. Today, we know well that this is not true. It is true that in some areas free licenses are an effective tool for the recovery of subjectivity by authors and users of informaton (and a good example here is probably the movement of free educational resources), but in a broader cultural practice this tactics is simply ineffective.
Culture is always built on existing narratives. You can not participate in the processes of social communication in isolation from pre-existing myths, memes, songs; you need to use them in constructing your own messages. Culture is not a tool that - like software - we use to achieve pragmatic goals. Culture is our identity.
Therefore the only solution Mansoux sees is the total abolition of the system of exclusive rights. Does this literary diagnosis go too far? Probably so. But not without a reason the recently announced draft of the European Commission’s work on copyright is entitled “In the pursuit of new consensus ...”. The copyright law is currently the most discussed element of the European and global legal order. From the protests against ACTA (the most mass demonstrations in Poland since 1989) to this year’s public consultation of copyright by the European Commission, in which a record of 9.5 thousand citizens and companies participated sending in over 11 thousand comments, the copyright law awakens emotions.
But although the reform of the system now seems inevitable, the direction of change is still uncertain. Copyright law is a lens focusing a lot of different and complex problems - from issues related to fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of communication and right to privacy, through constitutional models of political life, to tectonic changes in the markets caused by technological changes. The status of this legislation determines not only the work of many business sectors, but also the basic issues related to communication of hundreds of millions of people, a lot of citizens treating copyright law as a way of earning a living, level of education, or the operation of high culture. Therefore, sets of political values are strictly associated with the copyright regulations.
Presenting to you the results of workshops devoted to reflection on the future of communication by the media and cultures in the era of the information society, we need to point out the difficulties associated with the speculative and somewhat abstract nature of the work done by us. We have adopted the form of work inspired by the methodology of foresight. Exploratory workshops, to which we invited experts from many different fields, were meant to indicate possible directions of change in Europe in the perspective of 2040.
It soon turned out that the key to outline the future of copyright and operating models of culture are two axes: position of intermediaries in the process of social communication and direction of public policies in the field of communication. The construction method, and the scope and stringency of intellectual monopolies are mainly due to the latter, but legal solutions are derived from the game of many different actors, the authorities being only one of them. For example, international treaties taking precedence over the local legal system are even in democratic countries proceeded beyond any social control.
Basing scenarios for the future on these two axes is also reflected in our diagnosis that the two most important trends of development of communication by the media are the development of monopolies towards their mediation in communication (including the circulation of culture) and the continous increase of areas seized by intellectual monopolies. These trends can be metaphorically called “Facebook iceberg” and “Amazon iceberg”. The first is the model of a centralized communications system which monetizes privacy, the second is a model of centralized distribution system which monetizes monopoly on access to content. Of course, in business practice we observe various hybrid solutions, an important role being also played by suppliers of equipment and financial services, but for analytical purposes this model is roomy enough to be able to serve the description of reality. It is important that both models assume the intermediaries control over communications processes. An unattended sphere from the point of view of business is a loss, and its existence means narrowing of the field on which the circulation of information is commercialized. However, similarly as the existence of public space in cities or public services in the country, the existence of the uncontrolled communicational space is crucial from the point of view of the public interest. Democracy and standing behind it civic ideals of subjectivity can not exist in an environment where freedom of speech and freedom of communication become empty platitudes due to the lack of Agora not under control. The more Amazon iceberg is coming to Facebook iceberg, the less space remains for the boat of freedom to glide.
Only two decades ago, it seemed that the societies braided by communications network would defend themselves. Slogans such as “Information wants to be free” by Stewart Brand and “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it” by John Gillmore were extremely successful in 1990, and the myth of the Web as the space of unfettered freedom is sometimes taken as fact, what with the aftermath of calls for different “Twitter revolutions.” In practice, of course, freedom of speech is primarily due to standards of public life, and the Internet media are prone to control and manipulation to the same extent as traditional mass media. The emancipatory potential of technology has been definitely overpriced, and this means that the freedom of communication has to be arrived at by political means. Therefore, the communications regulations (including copyright) are so crucial to the information society.
Sadly, we have to assume that none of the scenarios for the future, which are the result of the work of the expert group, presents itself as a utopia fulfilled and the Promised Land. Regardless of which direction we will develop our civilization, dilemmas, problems and difficult compromises are waiting for us. According to the well-known thesis democracy is a method of avoiding the worst solutions, rather than choosing the best. We hope that our report will help identify the directions of change that lead to disaster. To avoid them.