blog: Different approaches on the Commons

The afternoon session of day one of the conference – The Economies of Sharing– highlighted some of the main tensions present in the discussion of audiovisual material and the commons.  On the side of the creators, there is an understandable hesitancy to move to a position where already existing audiovisual material is sited in the Commons. Paul Rutten pointed to the potential anxiety for creators in looking to use such material – would then they be obligated to place their new work in the Commons?  Such fears are in part an expression of confusion and over time, as people become more familiar with the concept – say as expressed through Creative Commons Licenses – people from across the creative industry will become more comfortable with the Commons and their relation to it. But Rutten’s remark is valuable – not all organisations can, or are willing to, approach these issues.

Tony Ageh advocated the commons as a site, or practice – as opposed to a collection of material – where access to the material was as open as possible, but rights over reuse were retained. Such a position does appeal to the current economic realities of some audiovisual production. Certain productions remain expensive, and financiers and producers shouldn’t be discouraged. For Ageh the problem appeared to be not that material couldn’t be reused, but that it can’t be located in the first place. He advocated a Digital Public Space, with organisations linking up and cooperating to make their collections available.

Retaining copyright over reuse is a seemingly attractive method of retaining economic control and generating revenue. The task therefore remains for commons theorists to convince audiovisual industries that a Commons approach can grow the creative economy. Felix Stalder, and Eric Kluitenberg were both keen to define the Commons as a complimentary system to both state and market approaches. Stalder noted that fear existed not just from the private sector, and careful consideration has to be given to how the Commons can compliment, rather than threaten state activity. Kluitenberg emphasised not only a great economic potential for a greater adoption of Commons practices but also the reliance the new digital economy has on the Commons.  Kluitenberg noted the need for public support and warned of some of the drawbacks of crowdsourcing. This appears particularly applicable to the issue of audiovisual archive material in the Commons. Even aside from the considerable costs of digitising material on pre-digital carriers, the costs of storing and managing digital collections remain – the equipment and energy come at a price and audiovisual archives will need to rely on their state or private sector sources of funding.  David Bollier expressed a clear advocacy for the Commons, inviting as they do greater public engagement. Bollier remarked that work within the Commons is more innovative, and a 3rd way, neither the state nor the market. By operating in the Commons, people can work to their passions – receiving valorisation from their peers not as a product of purely economic performance. For Bollier the Commons goal is not to hoard, but to ensure healthy resource management – neither free for all or an ivory Tower.

The Commons approach to audiovisual heritage management appears inviting, benefiting both those who work with the material and those who can simply enjoy greater access. But economic considerations remain, both for those who have developed existing material, those who look to develop it and those who must manage both. Finding a way of reconciling the competiting demands of economic cost and societal value will be essential in any movement to the enrichment of the Commons with our audiovisual heritage.

by Simon Manton Milne

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