The concern: Theft and appropriation ….
The internet has provided opportunities for black creatives to create music, art, film, and writings, and distribute these products all over the globe. When I set up my first website over 20 year ago, it took an employee at a local print shop to drive home the point with me that I was no longer local, as my mailing address on my new letterhead would imply. My web address and e-mail he pointed out now took me to another level. I was now global. To this day I am still amazed and humbled when I hear from someone in Eurasia or Africa who either needed legal advice, sought some business representation, or read a blog post.
For black creatives in particular the opportunity to share our art and culture and dispel myths about our people is equal to and probably outweighs (slightly) the potential to increase the income for doing what we are good at; for doing what we love.
Centuries of oppression, for being negatively targeted physically and economically because of who we are can manifest itself in anger when our art is appropriated by the majority culture without acknowledgment or compensation. Ironically, it is that same majority culture that has no problem asserting that blacks have no culture while stealing and re-engineering the culture we have created for the purpose of communicating with and consoling ourselves.
I think this problem, of cultural appropriation, is not relegated to blacks in America alone. To varying degrees this problem also occurs in other parts of the Diaspora, but because I have spent my entire adulthood in the U.S., I will speak to the impact raiding black culture has on black America.
My concern in the United States is that the sharing economy may seep itself into intellectual property developed and sold by black Americans via inappropriate legislation or the misapplication of current rules applied to copyright, patents, and trademarks. Blacks in the U.S. need to be aware of the business model that has been emerging in technology and media over the last two decades: appropriating what is considered “public” information or data and re-engineering it for resale.
There is a faux libertarian attitude among many young liberals in media and tech that everything produced should be considered as part of some commons where anyone with the capital and technology can sweep in and extract. This is the same attitude behind “net neutrality”, where large content aggregators want to transport exabytes of data over public broadband networks for free and if these content providers can’t get their way i.e. send millions of cat and twerker videos over these networks for free, they will then argue that the democratic rights of their subscribers are somehow being violated. Networks as well as content provided by their subscribers are simply there for free extraction.
This same liberal view toward content, in my opinion, poses a threat to black creativity. Black creatives in America who do not take action to push back against this attack will find themselves back in the chattel-like slavery of their ancestors. Whereas their bodies were used for slave labor in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, their intellectual property, their creativity, will suffer the same fate in the 21st century digital economy.
Taking the property rights approach ….
Blacks own between two to three percent of private capital in the United States. Giving away our creativity would be tantamount to suicide. Lobbying pressure should be maintained on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the U.S. Copyright Office, the U.S. Senate Sub-committee on Intellectual Property and the U.S. House Sub-committee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.
Action cannot be reactive. It must be proactive. Black creatives must take action to ensure that legislation is being monitored and where threats are trending, be prepared to draft and present legislation to members of these committees for their consideration.
As creatives we tend to live in our heads, but we must make the concerted effort to keep our third eye open and on the Administration and the Congress.