Ian Condry (Assistant Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
My comment comes from reading the recent opinion piece on the GLOCOM
Platform website by Toyoo Gyohten "Japan's Soft Power Reconsidered" (
http://www.glocom.org/opinions/essays/20040830_gyohten_japan/). He argues
that ".... the governments should protect and promote the nation's cultural
assets and heritage....."
It strikes me that this is common way of talking about the promotion of
culture, namely, to "protect assets" or "protect intellectual property,"
yet my sense is that the spread of cultural influence depends substantially
on encouraging its flow, which at times may mean promoting the network of
artists, intermediaries, and fans, rather than protecting the culture itself.
One key to promoting cultural assets may be *not* protecting them. For
example, I've been particularly struck by the ways that American students
are changing their relationship with music consumption thanks to online
file sharing. I am also amazed at how anime fan circles in the US add
subtitles to the latest anime broadcast in Japan, and distribute the shows
for free over the Internet. Both can be seen as "piracy" yet both
encourage a deeper interest in, and a deeper involvement in, culture. My
sense is that the policy debate is too heavily focused on protecting what
is already successful, with less consideration of the mechanisms that
promote success. One might even say that copyright can protect the past,
but it can't create the future.
Along these lines, I've written an article that called "Cultures of Music
Piracy: An Ethnographic Comparison of the US and Japan," which will be
published this month (Sept. 2004) in the International Journal of Cultural
Studies (Sage Publishers). I have posted it on my website if the reader
might be interested (http://iancondry.com).