Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Linking and Thinking

crossposted at Jamaica Blog (more coming soon!)

Linking and thinking

I linked up with a friend of a friend(that cat helped Jamaica write its patent policy, with some of the same concerns I get into below about copyright). Andrea a woman involved in the roots music scene (who has also been a consultant for the Rough Guide to Jamaica and related RGs). She's great – I had a good conversation with her about the prison work but also about my future dissertation work. She seemed excited about the idea of someone coming to JA to listen to people's creative processes, to try to talk back to the colonial legal structure, and to the IP structure that wasn't written with them in mind.

I don't think Jamaica is unique (or no more so than every cultural scene is unique), I think it's a more dramatic case of what's true in the US and everywhere – people's creative practice bears little resemblance to what IP law seems to assume. Considering that a lot of IP law states its purpose as fostering creativity (for example, the US Constitutional justification for copyright), it would make sense to make sure we understand more about how creativity works, and thus how best to foster it. Anyway in JA the copyright law, recently re-written, is mostly shaped by the same old assumptions that were never really designed to foster the kinds of practices most common in Jamaica. There's a colonial narrative that works pretty well here, since the laws were not changed from the British system after independence (as if their purpose was somehow neutral) although some aspects of that are true the world over - I don't think assuming laws are neutral is helpful anywhere.

But anyway, it was cool (hot and sweaty actually) to sit on a porch in the evening surrounded by musical equipment. I also spent some time hanging out in a studio and witnessing people making music and talking about music in a way that just inescapably relies on a system of borrowing, copying, tweaking, and referencing. Of course, the other side is the deeply felt injustice of artists who are still living hand to mouth, while watching folks elsewhere profit mightily. Is that because their practices don't fit with law? which should be changed? the law or the practices? Can copyright law remedy this situation anyway? I'm not sure that's what it was written for, and I'm pretty sure that is not how it has historically functioned. That's one of my long-term plans - to understand more about the relationship between particular definitions of access and exclusion rights w/r/t culture and the ability for people to flourish.

But all of this is preliminary thoughts – and just the preface to my first real street party here in Kingston – Rae Town, a party that has been running for 30 years in a neighborhood in southern Kingston. more on that to come!

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