E-Commerce, Technology and the Commercialisation of Culture
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The promotion of youth entrepreneurship is a policy objective for many countries. The very integrated role that e-commerce plays in a number of economies is significantly changing the way that small and medium enterprises can access foreign markets and utilize innovative business tools.
However, a very real concern for a number of youth communities across the world is the role that e-commerce platforms will play on the commercialization of cultural heritage and the intellectual property rights of the community from which the heritage originates. This brings me to raise a question from within a very active and ongoing dialogue amongst youth communities; ‘Are our national frameworks for intellectual property rights of arts and culture practitioners keeping up with advancements in technology and global trade and are they being designed to support the artist?’
Indeed, the culture and creative industries is estimated to be worth a whopping $2.25 trillion USD per year globally. This presents significant opportunity for youth-led Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to benefit from this growing industry, strengthening their local market and promoting their culture. Will this grand economic development opportunity permanently affect public ownership of their community’s culture?
After speaking with many youth across Africa, the Pacific and Asia about this relationship, it appears that many youth welcome e-commerce and technology as a powerful tool for the safeguarding of cultural heritage, the promotion of cultural diversity and the role that culture plays in economic development. Yet, with this, they also acknowledge that community ownership of such culture must be grounded in any efforts to economically benefit from a community’s heritage. What I mean by this, is that youth do not necessarily have an issue with arts and culture practitioners within their communities commercializing elements of their culture if it is done-so appropriately with the community’s approval and it benefits that group. What they do have an issue with is those outside of their community commercializing elements of their culture for economic benefit.
See the problem?
This growing dissatisfaction stems from recent incidences where major labels have commercialized community heritage, with Chanel’s 2016 Boomerang faux pas a clear example of what happens when national policy does not fully cater to protecting the intellectual property rights of artists and community. There is a great case from Ghana. The Kente cloth has a life of its own. However, young Ghanaians have expressed that their primary concern is that they believe that governments across the world do not fully see culture as being a valuable source for incredible economic activity. They believe that this will quickly reveal governments’ vulnerabilities to outside sources using artefacts like the Kente cloth for financial profit, with those profits not being reinvested back into the community from which the artefact is from. This is the case in Papua New Guinea, where in recent weeks, a dialogue has been sparked across the nation about the use of the term Bilum (an artefact at the heart of Papua New Guinea’s intangible heritage by a European label, ‘Bilum’ who specialize in ethically created bags from landfill-bound material, including former seat belt straps. This has caused great frustration across Papua New Guinea, with many youths there seeing this as not only a violation of their intellectual property rights and the community’s heritage, but a missed opportunity for economic development. As it has been said, where acceptable and appropriate, culture mixed with e-commerce can strengthen local economies. In the case of the Bilum, it is not all doom and gloom. The Papua New Guinea Government’s Small and Medium Enterprise Corporation have taken steps to harness skills in culture with trade for increasing income for many Papua New Guinean women.
So as the primary consumers and users of e-commerce, what do we, the youth population do?
We use technology to our advantage to:
1) Raise the global discussion on intellectual property rights for arts and culture practitioners.
2) Bring this discussion to national policy makers to ensure that policy and legal frameworks for the protection of arts and cultural practitioners’ intellectual property rights improves the global standard for community driven development in the nexus between culture and e-commerce.
3) Implement, where needed, community driven education solutions to introducing arts and culture practitioners to e-commerce and technology. With access to basic business and technology skills for the twenty-first century, local practitioners can deduce economic benefit within both domestic and foreign markets through their talents.
Buzzwords like ‘entrepreneurship’, ‘e-commerce’, and ‘Industry 4.0’ are uttered by policy makers and the private sector alike. What we need, with our bounds of knowledge in coding, programming, the World Wide Web, and creating, is to transfer what we know to each other; the creative economy has done wonders for sharing information at the click of a button. We need to work alongside young arts and culture practitioners, and their communities to transfer basic skills in developing websites and portfolios, uploading images to E-commerce platforms and managing a small or medium enterprise, if that is what they want. A great challenge I see and one we can address, is not that youth are not wanting and willing to express their heritage, and that communities do not see that they cannot benefit from e-commerce, but rather, that they themselves often feel powerless in reaping the social and economic benefits from merging the two together. With this in mind, the role that we can play is to work alongside policy makers to ensure that policies and the implementation of them are adept to upholding the rights of artists and practitioners, while we ourselves utilize civil society, the private sector and our networks to merge business skills training with culture for the development of sustainable societies.
Tamara Richardson, founder of PACE48