Copyrighting Culture: The Political Economy of Intellectual Property

By Ronald V. Bettig | Go to book overview

1
Introduction to the Political Economy of Intellectual Property

The political-economic theory of communications has already made a significant contribution to our understanding of mass communications and society. Denis McQuail identified three prominent trends in media business and technology that have greatly increased its pertinence in the current age: the concentration of media systems into the hands of a few transnational corporations; the expansion of the "information economy" and the convergence of technologies; and the decline of public control over communications systems.1 With its focus on institutional structures and practices, the political economy of communications is poised to help explain the forces driving these processes and to offer up predictions about their implications.

The political economy of communications properly belongs to the larger set of critical approaches to the study of culture and communications that began to challenge the "dominant paradigm" or "orthodox consensus"2 during the 1960s. In North America, researchers such as Dallas Smythe, Herbert Schiller, and Thomas Guback sought to fill the gaps in our understanding of communications processes and systems caused by the lack of attention to institutional structures and practices by mainstream communications researchers. The focus of the dominant approaches on media content, audience uses and gratifications, and effects largely left the issues of media ownership and control unexplored.

However, social movements of the 1960s prompted academics to bring questions of ideology, power, and domination to the fore. For political economists, this involved an analysis of the ownership and control of communications industries, interconnections between the communications sector and big business, and links between the communications sector and government, including the military. A substantial body of political-economic research has demonstrated how the logic of capital has resulted in the concentration of ownership and control of the communications system in the hands of the richest members of the capitalist class. The dominant class thus earns profits from ownership of communications firms, further enhancing its wealth. Political economists underscore the point that

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