Culture


The Intellectual Property Strategic Program of 2007 (PDF version here) has as one of its many goals, to reach a conclusion on whether to extend the term of copyright protection from 50 years to 70 years by the end of the fiscal year (March 31).

Yet the working group convened under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology is split in whether to recommend the extension or not, according to Daily Yomiuri article by Yoshikazu Suzuki.

It is no wonder that members are split, with the panel being made up of rights holding organisations such as JASRAC and the Japan Writers Association, who of course have extending the term of protection, and lawyers and economists who feel an extension would be unfair, and would not provide any further incentive for creators to generate new copyrighted works.

The following argument makes sense if we consider that people are generally ‘rational actors’. If a novelist writes a work at 30 years of age, the current term will protect her work until she is 80 years old. For artists and creatives older than 20, the chance of the copyright expiring in their living years decreases considerably with every year that passes.

Unless, of course, copyrights are left in estate to relatives, friends, or trust funds. But clearly, those who stand to benefit most from an extension of the copyright term are the rights managing organisations themselves. As we get closer to 2010, the volume of copyrighted works that continue to expire undoubtedly grows. (I have no stats on this, but have the growth in music and television programs – given that broadcasting in Japan started in 1953 – in mind)

While proponents point to the added ‘incentive’ (of posthumous revenue?), there are also economic and creative barriers that an extension potentially raises. As Suzuki writes:

An extension would [not be without drawbacks for] copyright holders. During the Oct. 12 symposium, playwright Minoru Betsuyaku and nonfiction writer Shinichi Sano said the extension would hinder writers seeking to produce new works based on the work of past authors. It also is questionable what kinds of advantages and disadvantages would accrue to people who want to enjoy copyrighted works.

It does appear a tough one, given that the IP Strategic Headquarters wants to reconcile the rights of copyright holders with the ‘multi-use’ and reuse of content by artists and users. We know which way JASRAC are always going to vote.

The UK Government has ruled out tax breaks for the games industry, although commended the industry on its progress.

An MCV article reports Minister for Culture Media and Sports Margaret Hodge let the industry know that the government sees them as leading the creative industries pack financially but that they would not be seeing and development assistance in the way of tax concessions.

The Minister’s comments illustrate the reluctance of governments to give funding to an industry that may be perceived negatively by certain interest groups, and in particular, vocal voters.

Games in the UK arguably face the same issues that the games industry in Australia faces (see previous posts ‘could triple‘ and ‘Aus govt turns down games‘). There is no ‘threat’. Games lack the unique ‘cultural’ identity, and as they are a fast growing industry, they do not display any ‘infant industry’ characteristics.

The obvious critique of such a policy stance is that it is conservative and reactive. Shouldn’t governments be looking for new, high growth, high skills industries to develop rather than propping up old and inefficient ones?

While the answer would seem a clear “yes”, one question in response could be “should governments promote any industries at all?”

Industries that can anchor themselves in a rhetoric of culture and national identity arm themselves with an effective shield, based on the premise that economics (and ‘globalisation’) does not discriminate between qualitative differences in cultural goods. (This is not necessarily the case of course). There are still (if I remember correctly) exceptions in WTO articles for cultural goods, which eases international pressure on states from protecting them.

A second question, is whether governments intent on supporting industries should be looking to unlock the institutional barriers to investment by clarifying IP, tax, and inward foreign investment legislation, and aim their spending efforts at capacity building by investing in human capital formation and infrastructure development rather that giving financial incentives to any one industry.

Korean content producers, supported by government, are looking to extend their reach further into international markets, beyond Asia.

An article in Variety

  • Korea’s content industries are likely to produce ‘more nuanced’ properties rather than relying heavily on the local star system, . Big names appear not to be getting the pre-sales that they were overseas.
  • Film commissions in Seoul and Busan are becoming more aggressive at establishing Korea as a viable shooting location.
  • The film industry is looking to the US and Hollywood both for distribution and co-production opportunities
  • The technological savvy of local firms is helping to give Korea a leg up in certain sectors like special effects and new media.
  • Korean animators, who have gained technical expertise through years of outsourced U.S. work, are becoming strong contributors. KOCCA and other government organisations provide significant funding for training in the industry.

My question though, is how developed their storytelling ability has become, and to what extent government policies are aiming to develop these non-technical creative skills.

An article in the Taipei Times that argues when it comes to creativity, size isn’t all that it is cracked up to be.

A large volume of work in economics and industrial organisation has looked at how small firms may be more innovative in certain areas than larger firms. Yet this article is referring to the relevance of a nation’s size and economic might.

It is not unpredictable for a Taiwanese source to drum up support, both domestically and abroad, for the viability of small nations, particularly given the their political relations with the ever-expanding economic juggernaut China (PRC).

Yet the article points to the high rankings of Norway, Iceland, and Ireland on the Human Development Index, of Denmark, Switzerland, and Austria in a ‘happiness’ study, of Singapore, Hong Kong, and New Zealand in an International Finance Corp. study on ease of doing business, and of Denmark, Finlan, and Sweden as being high on the 2005 Globalization Index.

For medium-sized countries such as Taiwan, the article recommends:

Taiwan’s policies for development should concentrate on opening up to globalization, and creating a globalized society with Taiwanese characteristics.

An economy of creativity is the most important type of economy in the 21st century. Taiwan has a diverse culture and a climate of unlimited creativity. It should study examples like Ireland and the Boston area in the US and establish a social framework for creativity, to let Taiwan develop a unique position and advantages.

This framework includes three things: First, a good framework for creative industry, like improved financial systems, higher budgets for research and related organizations. Second, a general creative operation models, including creative work environments and flexible production methods. Third, a geographical, cultural and social environment that gives full play to creativity.

There is a mounting body of evidence that suggests a policy framework should include measure to promote both economic freedom as well as political freedom if a nation is to encourage the development of the ‘creative economy’. Providing an solid institutional framework for financial and legal systems, together with investment in education, research, and artistic endeavour appear to be key fundamentals in happy, creative, affluent nations.

Perhaps we should consider a viable and equitable health system and aim for healthy residents as well?

Things are looking up for the character business in Korea, according to an article in the English Chosun.

Industry size. The sales volume of the character industry in Korea totaled W4.288 trillion in 2005, with Korean characters claiming a 41 percent share of the market, up 6 percentage points from three years before.

Trade Surplus. According to data on character-related products, the export volume of W163.6 billion surpassed the import volume of W123.4 billion in 2005. This is a turnaround from the previous year. 2004 figures suggest exports were W134.2 billion and imports W148 billion.

International collaboration.

The successful overseas debut of Pucca was the fruit of a multinational collaboration. Korea’s Vooz Character Systems developed and marketed Pucca, the U.K.’s Jetix put up the funds, Canada’s Studio B produced the animation, and an American writer took care of the story. Korea’s advanced information technology did its part in the development of the character.

It is a little hard to take the Mediacorp news stories ‘Surprise Singapore’ (in ChannelNewsAsia and TODAYonline) without the proverbial grain of salt.

The article reports the findings of a Media Development Authority (MDA)-commissioned international panel, which suggests that creativity in Singapore is alive and well.

Yet does its statement that creativity will ‘continue to flourish in spite of the political climate’ come from the panel being asked directly whether ‘restrictions on political expression would impede the development of a creative culture and Singapore’s aspirations to become a global media hub’?

The answer given skilfully yet obviously avoids answering that sensitive question: “Singapore will continue to be hard on itself and keep asking searching questions like: ‘Are we creative?’ Of course, you are.”

The answer, given by Stanford University professor Paul Saffo is right. Naturally there is significant evidence of creativity in Singapore, and a growing entrepreneurial innovativeness that is relying less on tried and tested business models, and less on would-be entrepreneurs wanting to ‘bring in’ or sell under license a product in Singapore they have seen overseas.

But to the answer of will restrictions on political expression impede the development of a creative culture, the answer may well equally be ‘of course it will.’

This is not to say it will stop creative or cultural development, but it will certainly impede it.

One key question is how much of the “renaissance” that has been taking place in the arts scene over the last five years according to MDA chairman Dr Tan, has been driven by government direction and public funds? Many nations around the world have (heavily?) subsidised arts sectors, but the combination of significant public funding and restrictions on political expression do not bode well for creative development. Perhaps if there was more private sector investment (or even philanthropy) then any lack of political freedom may not be such an issue?

Some of the insightful findings reported include:

Among the recommendations yesterday of the 10-member Media Development Authority (MDA) International Advisory Panel, was one which called for Singapore to “foster an ecosystem that breeds talent for the media industry”.

The panel suggested that Singapore leverage on its strength in education, medicine and technology by developing media content in these sectors. These products could tap on interactive digital media technologies, tools and applications to produce materials such as professional publications or training materials.

In this article in The Age, ‘Less Kulcha More Creativity’, Steve Dow raises the issue of what image the Australian government is willing to promote overseas, how much funding they are giving to (or cutting from) arts and cultural industries in their diplomatic representations overseas.

The article criticises the Australian Government for being too interested in economic relations and cutting the funding for cultural counsellors in diplomatic posts around the world that can guide interested parties to Australian culture and creatives, as well as promote the image of Australia as a sophisticated and cultured on the international stage.

Could the creation of an Australian arts advocacy body for the dissemination of Australian culture internationally give our image and culture a broader, more sophisticated focus? Models being considered include France’s Alliance Francaise, Germany’s Goethe-Institut, China’s Confucious Council and the British Council.

While the mix of sources combined in the article does not quite attain what one would called balanced, what the article does raise is to what extent a government should or even can control the image that content and other creative products create of a nation. The article cites an incident where the Department of Foreign Affairs pulled funding from the Jakarta International Film Festival because the ‘Australian films selected for screening would not promote “greater mutual understanding between the people of Australia and Indonesia” ‘.

On the ‘can’ side of the coin, consider the Japanese Government (particularly the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and its minister Aso) hopes for Japanese content to be a(n) (in)tangible but cogent source of soft power, allowing neighbouring nations to see Japan in a positive light. As mentioned in previous posts (and in a forthcoming book chapter), there is nothing to say that private companies will produce works that the government will be proud to peddle overseas or hold up as examples of national pride. If the ‘textbook issue’ (issued by a private publisher) in recent years is not example enough, a certain amount of animation that is produced in Japan services a ‘specific market’ that the Government of Japan might not be happy to announce that exists let alone be excited about using these products as representative works of Japan’s national image.

As anecdotal as these might be, they provide an interesting contrast of a government trying to alter the representation of the nation, and a government being unable (?) to control the image that private citizens and industry may be carving on their own.

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