In Culture vs. Copyright: A Diary of a Naïve Philosopher, Anatoly Volynets lays out a treatise challenging many of society’s assumptions about intellectual property, what artistic ownership means, and how to best benefit both the artist and society. While you may not agree with all of his points, this book is sure to generate hours of meaningful discussion. It is an interesting, accessible blend of Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, Lawrence Lessig, and gift economy theory. Definitely a must-read for artists and thinkers alike!
— Shaindel Beers, author of A Brief History of Time and The Children’s War and Other Poems, shaindelbeers.com
Nobody paid me to write this blurb. I’m doing it because I think this is a wonderful book and I want a lot of people – like, say, you – to read it and understand the true nature of intangible economics. It makes a lot of points I’ve been making (see my Wired article from 1994 ‘The Economy of Ideas’) but more entertainingly. Maybe this time y’all will pay better attention. And that will have value to me.
— John Perry Barlow, Peripheral Visionary
A musing on the philosophy of copyright and the nature of culture, presented mainly as a dialogue among students.
In this philosophical book, the author’s debut, a . . . dialogue blends with essay-style authorial comment to develop the theory of . . . Authoright, a copyright alternative that requires full attribution of a work’s original creator but allows for unlimited reproduction and derivative works. The author acknowledges the book’s ambiguous genre in his introduction: “[I]t is neither a strictly scientific investigation nor a purely fictional, political or autobiographical work.” The dialogue is a conversation between a teacher and five first-grade students, identified as Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Kappa and Delta, who argue about the creative process, the relationship between culture and civilization, appropriate forms of compensation, and the nature of art. Periodically, the text returns to standard prose format for a longer essay or a summary on the same topics, written in the author’s voice. Volynets evaluates three different systems for recognizing and compensating cultural productions, concluding that copyright is a destructive monopoly, whereas Authoright is the most effective way of compensating authors while removing limits on creativity—a conclusion reinforced by the fact that the book displays an Authoright, not a copyright, in its front matter. Volynets’ book requires readers to be open to thought experiments and theoretical discussions, though these are, for the most part, easy to follow. However, readers may wonder why a dialogue among first-graders is full of comments such as “There are riveting and telling pictures out there, and there are many that are good for the trash can only. How is this possible?” Readers accustomed to the current publishing industry are unlikely to agree with Volynets’ expectation that authors will somehow increase their earnings by selling to multiple publishers under the Authoright system. Likewise, they might not consider the current setup to be a “toxic copyright-driven environment.” Nevertheless, Volynets presents an engaging discussion of a timely topic.
A detailed, if somewhat idealistic, exploration of art, culture and copyright in the marketplace.
I have gotten the final outcome of Anatoly Volynets’ work (after some many years now), and it is very charming, presenting a very nice frame for a nicely articulated viewpoint on copyright that is rewarding and a pleasure to read. If this seems a bit effusive from me, I think it’s because I am so pleased to see the outcome he’s come up with.
— Seth Johnson
CULTURE VS. COPYRIGHT
The author argues for a form of intellectual property protection that allows free publication of intellectual property as long as the work is attributed to the proper creator.
CULTURE VS. COPYRIGHT is a work based on a philosophical discussion between the author and five young children, purportedly first-graders. They discuss the nature of creativity and culture, and how creative works can best be distributed to the profit of the author and society. The author regularly summarizes his discussions with the children, addressing points they make and creating a clear thesis from their arguments. In the end, he concludes that the best possible form of intellectual property protection is a form that protects not distribution, but attribution – the publisher would no longer have monopoly rights on any given publication, but all works copied and distributed would be required to be attributed to the given author.
His arguments are logically and sensibly made, given his starting assumptions, and are clearly presented with a minimum of difficult language or jargon. He does address, with attribution, other forms of licenses that resemble the ones he wishes to promote, and gives a clear summary with the advantages and disadvantages of each – these include the Licence Art Libre (French), the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Open Audio License, the GNU General Public License, the Open Publication License, and the Creative Commons Licenses.
The first-graders he quotes use suspiciously sophisticated language and discussion topics for such young children – seven-year-olds generally do not casually reference the musical Chicago or use phrases like, “Why is it that ‘cultural satisfaction’ increases desire?” (p. 83). The author also rather too casually glosses over the importance of paying the creators for their work – while having one’s work distributed widely and one’s reputation increased is certainly important, it does not pay the bills or put food on the table. His suggestion that publishers might “sponsor” an author or pay for exclusive rights to a work until publication is somewhat dubious – it is often difficult to get people to pay for what they can easily get for free. While this may not matter, for example, to a salaried college professor seeking to get research results widely released and to improve his or her reputation, it does matter to the author seeking to make a living through writing or the artist tired of being asked to work for free for the sake of “exposure.”
CULTURE VS. COPYRIGHT is an intelligent, thoughtful and lively discussion of intellectual property rights and their purpose in the larger society. It is at very least a useful contribution to a vigorous public conversation about creativity and its rewards in a free society.
— Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader