IASPM day 4: The Cultural Capital Project: Towards Digital Music Monetization Based on Shared Culture #iaspm2013

The Cultural Capital Project: Towards Digital Music Monetization Based on Shared Culture. Ian Dahlman (McGill University, Canada), Brian Fauteux (Concordia University, Canada), Andrew Dewaard (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA)


This presentation will introduce and outline the ideas behind The Cultural Capital Project, a collaborative research project funded by the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, which explores the historical antecedents, theoretical trajectories, legal ramifications and technical components involved in the creation of a non-profit patronage system and social network uniting musical artists and fans. CultCap operates on three fronts: first, a social network of user-generated listening and sharing habits; second, opt- in tracking software that harvests the musical consumption of users, then suggests equitable compensation to artists through a micropayment subscription fee; third, a legal intervention aiming to provide a legitimate space for the digital consumption and promotion of music in which users are treated as stewards of cultural goods. Incorporating the multitude of individuals who propel the cultural industries with their creative labour, including fans, photographers, artists, labels and others, The Cultural Capital Project aims to establish a “radical monetization” of the music industry based on equity, connectivity and sharing. Integrating the ideas of Bourdieu, Attali, Lessig and more, this research argues — both legally and philosophically — for the recognition and compensation of music consumers in the cultural industries, and the establishment of a sustainable infrastructure to fully embrace shared culture.

[note – my blog summary below was typed at some speed, and may not have framed this complex paper as fluently as the authors would like. For those who wish to explore the Cultural Capital in the detail intended by Brian and his colleagues, please read the original paper, published online at http://www.iaspmjournal.net/index.php/IASPM_Journal/article/view/635]

The presentation began with a short summary of the Cultural Capital Project, stating its aims to highlight perceived ‘fundamental flaws’ in efforts to monetise digital music. They have an explicit goal of a ‘radical monetization’ of the music industry based on micropayments, and the theoretical framework includes ideas from Attali (“Composing”), Bordieu (“Cultural Capital”) and Lessig (“Code” and “Hybrid Economies”). The paper frequently returns to its central question – how do we value, circulate and eventually monetize cultural capital? It describes the utopian ideal of the ‘Great Library of Recorded Music’, where music is collected and shared, representing ’the ultimate public and cultural good’. Copyright, as it currently exists, is a barrier to this. The problem, the presenters contend, is that any proposed economic framework involves tearing down the pillars of ownership/copyright.

The hypothesises some radical ideas by asking fundamental socio-economic questions, including; ‘What if commodity logic was not the organising principle of the music industry?’ and ‘Rather than the shopping mall as a model, with financial transaction at its core; what if digital music economies were organised like a library, with stewardship as its logic?’

The philosophical aim appears to be to disenfranchise gatekeepers and empower listeners. CultCap would be community-based, non-profit, and based on [digital] auto-aggregation. The current spectrum of online music services and their mechanisms is summarised. [it does indeed look like a disorganised mess when viewed from this macro perspective!].

The proposal for CultCap is essentially algorithmic and data driven. Opt-in tracking software would monitor consumption/sharing, suggesting an equitable payment through a micropayment subscription fee, with [the listener?] exercising stewardship of their favourite artists. A mockup of a payment dashboard is provided, with ‘payment pie’ models.

The reason, they say, that this has not been possible until now is that a global online micropayment mechanism does not yet exist on any significant scale. The final dimension of the CultCap project is a ‘legal intervention’ into copyright law [very much based on a Lessig-esque philosophy – JB]. They suggest that users could be ‘stewards’ rather than ‘trespassers’ in the land of music ownership.

The ‘How?’ slide asserts (after Lessig) that code is law, and posits that code can be invented to beget new law. They suggest that copyright strives to ‘a balance between promoting the public interest in the encouragement and dissemination of works in the arts and intellect and obtaining a just reward for the creator’. They suggest that ‘CultCap’s infrastructure emulates a property model of stewardship while not violating the current private property model of copyright’.

The benefits, they contend, are – Cultural Sustainability, Status and Distinction, Social Connection [presumably consumer-to-consumer], Rewarding Cultural Labour [presumably in a wikipedia-esque way?], and Direct Compensation to Creators [based, I infer, on voluntary micropayments from consumers, though I confess I did not fully understand how the consumer would be incentivised to reward creators – that is, to make any micropayment at all].

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