Sunday, May 21, 2006

Culture Clash and “Mashup” at the Princeton-Microsoft IP Conference:

I attended the wonderful IP (Intellectual Property) Conference at Princeton on May 18-19, 2006. I was expecting a violent culture clash and I experienced one, but not the clash I expected.

For me, Intellectual Property issues are determining the future of the arts, journalism, literature and software in the United States. We find the enormous companies accustomed to making enormous profits opposed to the grass roots movements in all these fields. As Larry Lessig explains, copyright law tends to make ALLL copying in digital media look like it's against the law, and the big corporations (and the many congresspeople who agree with them) are consistently litigating against today's creators who have found new methods of digital expression.

But that wasn't the clash we got. At the keynote session on Thursday evening, the first speaker discussed how, in the pharmaceutical arena, there is a similar tension between the few companies that want to make extraordinary profits, and the researchers who are finding new creative ways to research the drugs of tomorrow. In BioMedicine, there's constant negotiation between these two camps to make sure the big companies do not handcuff the researchers by the ways they choose to protect their IP ownerships. (Universities are caught in the middle, as they strive to earn big rewards from the big discoveries, acting like the big corporations, but also facilitate their own researchers, acting like their own inventors.)

The second speaker – Lawrence Lessig – apologized that his speech would be entirely unrelated, and he launched into a fine son et lumiere presentation about the conflict between the big corps and the new creators in the arts. (The whole conference went on like that, with scientists and artistic people presenting their separate experiences and viewpoints, rarely intersecting.)

During the Thursday night Q&A session I suggested doing a “mashup” of these two fields to see what their contrast could tell us. I think it's obvious that in Mo Bio, the big money makers understand that the researchers are producing tomorrows “big hits.” That gives the researchers financial clout, so that negotiations for their rights proceed with respect. In the arts, the RIAA and movie companies have no respect at all for the young artists who are creating mashups of their music and videos, so there is no respectful negotiation, but only heavy-handed DRM software and legislation. Matters might eventually improve when today's artists move into the managerial ranks of the large arts companies, or otherwise (through donations) achieve their own financial clout. Where might such financial clout come from?
Ed Felton is blogging about the IP conferernce, starting in the May 19, 2006 entry of Freedom to Tinker.
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