Fair Culture and Cultural Welfare

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1 Response

  1. A.J. Sutter says:

    The issue of promoting culture while providing a livelihood has been much discussed in Europe, esp. France, where it is a staple element of the discussion of guaranteed minimum revenue. See the work of André Gorz and also, e.g., the essay by Francis Combes in « Le Livre: que faire ? » (La fabrique 2008).

    However, I found the Solomon Linda story, while sad, not particularly supportive of the book’s larger argument. For one thing, even if he had been in a country with strong copyright protection, he might still have assigned his rights for a pittance. Or the song have been a work made for hire, in the US sense — a topic oddly missing from the book. The notion that “misrecognition” explains the premature deaths of his daughter and grandchildren (@2, 83) is a non sequitur. The issue is maybe better located in contract law, not copyright law. And then there’s the fact that it’s probably beyond law to eliminate all social differentials in bargaining power.

    Moreover, the book’s approach is kind of “Orientalist” to use such an exotic example of people getting screwed out of royalties for their compositions: there are plenty of examples in the US, especially among black musicians. Ditto, BTW, for the Satyatjit Ray – E.T. story: while this was new to me, and quite interesting, it is not only Asians who are getting cheated out of their stories by Hollywood studios and producers. Every waiter and cab driver in L.A. understands this.

    But suppose one takes the view that usual copyright law is broken, and that some sort of moral rights (BTW, another missing topic) should attach, that would have made it impossible for Linda to have alienated his right to be compensated for every performance and derivative work. The book doesn’t propose this (or any alternative, other than “fairness”), but that was my best guess as to how the story might impact IP law directly. How then, would one value such an interest, or consider the gridlock that would result when there are multiple upstream rights holders, each with an inalienable right to receive money? No clue. So while Linda’s story is an emotional one, it’s not clear what new practical solutions Prof Sunder advocates to result from it.