Law in the Internet Society
Innovation according to Orange or how to maintain a cultural imperialism in France

On October, 9th, on the French radio station France Culture, Christine Albanel, France’s former Minister for Culture and Communication turned Executive Vice President for Communication, Philanthropy, Content and Strategy of the France Telecom Orange Group talked about Orange’s latest project: an e-book called Read & Go. The process which Orange wants to set up is, in some respects, completely new in France and has not been set up anywhere else before. When using “traditional” digitalized books, the buyer downloads a book-length publication in digital form consisting of text and or images and thus acquires the right to access the document, to copy it, to reproduce it, provided it’s for personal use. With the Read & Go, however, Orange suggests to sell, as a “trustful third person”, a personal “right to read” which the company intends to “manage” .

In terms of results and from a technological point of view, this system is not different from other access control technologies used to limit the use and the sharing of digitalized books. As a matter of fact, almost every publisher commercializing e-books, regardless of the format used, has limited, to different degrees, the access to their content with the help of either DRM systems or digital watermarking processes . Thus, no matter what technology is used, the result is the same: the use of digitalized books is controlled by security systems. From a legal point of view, the structure of this new e-book is different from what has been done before in the sense that it gives rise to a whole different conception of use and ownership. However, even if the philosophy behind the fact of acquiring a right to read an e-book is different from acquiring a license to read a book, -it confers fewer rights on purchasers and imposes more constraints upon them, the reality showed us that the imposition of such restrictions is indeed an impossible thing to do: it will always be physically possible to give one’s e-book to another person or to scan a book and print it or send it to other persons. This new conception of use and ownership is particularly interesting to study while thinking of its special connection to France. Indeed, France always had a unique and somehow peculiar view on culture in general and on French culture in particular.

France’s attitude toward cultural has always been an attitude of cultural imperialism. France’s cultural imperialism is lead by three pillars: a language policy aiming to promote French worldwide through institutions such as “la Francophonie”, a linguistic imperialism trying to expand the French language by marginalizing dialects throughout France and maintain French as the official, or at least main spoken language in France’s former colonies. The last characteristic of French cultural imperialism is the so-called “exception culturelle” politic initiated in 1959, which designated the support to the cultural sector and the artistic creation field. In every creative field -such as the field of cinema, theatre or television, this support is conveyed by “systems of help to creation”. These systems automatically deduct a certain amount from the final price to create a kind of fund which is supposed to be used to promote and spread French culture and “France’s cultural heritage”. For instance, the National Center of Cinematography deducts a percentage of every cinema ticket sold to support the creation and the diffusion of French expression work. The result is actually nothing more than a tax on cultural goods so that, throughout the years, this concept, by imposing taxes on consumers and by giving the arrogant feeling than French culture is better than others and worthy of more protection, turned out to be very controversial. Apart from these polemical aspects, this concept shows us the idea that in France, culture is something people have to pay for.

What is really interesting to observe with Orange’s new project is that, once again, it is up to consumers to pay and with it to defend a certain idea of culture. It denotes the belief that culture is a kind of “holy grail”, which shouldn’t be free to access but restricted to a certain category of people, who by paying for it are worthy of having it. This new conception of use and ownership took place in France because it serves another purpose than the mere restriction of the sharing of a piece of work: it goes indeed beyond economic considerations and clearly indicates a form of cultural imperialism. This result is not surprising: in the information society we live in, cultural imperialism is the business of the public media, even if it results from a private initiative like Orange. , which by operating enterprises has a direct access to the dominating center of the system. The death of this system is now just a matter of time: what is the point of trying to maintain a “cultural exception” and thereby justify an illegitimate monopole on culture when the entire world virtually has access to every piece of information imaginable? No doubt that the people at Orange pertinently know that. But why stop a system when it is still possible to make money out of it while literally being able to thank Victor Hugo for that? As long as the bell doesn’t toll for oneself, why not try to make those for whom it does pay?


Webs Webs

r6 - 04 Sep 2012 - 22:02:12 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM