John G Bell
Winter '04 - Bohmer, Hahn & Vavrus

Research Paper Abstract

The trend toward privatization and marketization of all parts of human life can be seen in the fight over control of media and culture. Copyright is a quid pro quo arrangement between society and an author that allows economically exploitation of an author's idea for a limited time. After this period of time the idea must be allowed to move into the public domain, the realm of free ideas. Copyrights have been continually extended to the point that almost no works after 1923 have been released to the public domain. This is the concentration of ideas under private ownership. The media companies have grown so large that only a few companies own almost all media brands. This is consolidation of media under private ownership. The consolidation and concentration of ideas and media have the effect of privatizing and marketizing culture.

When media ownership is the gatekeeper of public debate, by controlling both the purchasing and selling of ideas, the media becomes a mechanism of social control. If the expression of culture can only be done within the context of a marketized domain of ideas, then communication of culture becomes marketing. When the marketized domain of ideas is controlled by only a few, then community becomes a form of tyranny. The public domain is a social resource which must not be owned or culture ceases to live a life that is more than a form of advertizing. Culture that is merely advertizing turns human behaviour itself into a commodity.

The social value of the public domain of ideas is in the fact that there is zero or near zero marginal cost to the ideas. This lowers the barrier of entry for utilization of the public domain, but that utilization does not diminish the value of the resource itself. In fact, since new ideas must return to the public domain, the social resource actually increases in value with each utilization. Neither a value in and of itself nor an extracted value that must be exclusively controlled, the public domain of ideas is the foundation of a vibrant public sphere, and a vibrant public sphere contributes and increases the value of the public domain in what is potentially an unceasingly accelerating social benefit.

Suggested Books

Due out 25mar04: Lessig, Lawrence. Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Bohm, David. On Dialogue. Edited by Lee Nichol. New York: Routledge, 2000.

Cornell, Saul. The Other Founders: Anti-Federalism & the Dissenting Tradition in America, 1788-1828. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1999

Douglas, Mary and Baron Isherwood. The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place: cafés, coffee shops, bookstores, bars, hair salons, and other hangouts at the heart of community. New York: Marlowe, 1999.

Suggested Websites

Copyfight: the Politics of IP <>

The Eric Eldred Act <>