Cultural diversity and copyright

These are usually considered two separate issues, but now they are moving together:

1. Countries that keep out foreign films with strict quotas, such as South Korea, encourage their citizenries to turn to piracy. South Koreans are perhaps the world’s most notorious illegal downloaders of movies.

2. Lately the French have made a big push for tough copyright enforcement. No, they are not concerned about Madonna’s royalties. Rather they believe that enforceable copyright is a prerequisite of cultural protection. They cannot keep out American culture if the medium is illegal downloads.

3. 16 million songs and one million movies are illegally downloaded in France each day, four times more than are purchased legally (see Variety magazine, July 26 issue, p.11). It is believed that Hollywood movies are the most popular downloads.

4. Given the new option of (illegal) movie downloads, Hollywood filmmakers have more to lose from quotas than before. It will lead foreign consumers to expect to receive movies for free. The foreign market now accounts for more than half of Hollywood box office revenue.

5. It is unusual to see France and the United States so closely aligned on a cultural issue — film and music copyright — albeit for different reasons.

In the United States the major artists typically scream loudest about copyright infringement. They care more about being paid than about being widely distributed. Many niche artists see downloads, legal or not, as a new way to reach audiences.

If niche artists can live with downloads, why cannot the French, who are not a popular culture juggernaut? Most likely, some of the French care more about keeping out American culture than about boosting French niche artists. Their goal is to protect a French mainstream culture, not to enable French innovation. And given these preferences, they hold the consistent albeit disagreeable position of favoring both cultural protectionism and strict copyright enforcement.


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