Edited by Ruth Towse
Chapter 34: The Internet: Culture for Free
Joëlle Farchy By emphasizing both the specific features of a sector (in this case, that of live performance) and the role of public authorities, Baumol and Bowen’s groundbreaking work (1966) paved the way for work on the economics of culture in a rather unusual perspective. The economics of culture – having long ignored the cultural industries that, ironically, are its principal source of employment and value added – has to a great extent structured itself not around concern for the industrial economy but rather around matters relating to public economics and non-profit organizations. As such, ‘free’ culture – in reality, financed by the taxpayer for purposes of public interest (democratization or the demand for diversity, for example) – in essence correspond to the public model, the goal being to organize culture in a way that is free of the demands of the market. The Internet has very much revived the debate on free culture, bringing with it both confusion and paradoxes, as evidenced by the many conflicting viewpoints on the subject. In France, for example, the Ministry of Culture decided to make certain museums free of charge in order to attract a broader audience; almost simultaneously, it passed a rather controversial law banning free downloads – that notorious cultural assassin. One paradox is: that at the same time as traditionally non-profit cultural institutions such as museums have taken a commercial stance by developing their own financial resources in recent years, private companies such as Google are offering more free services than ever. Yet another...
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