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Notes from Egypt's Alternative Music Scene: Business Models, Commons and Copyright

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The mainstream discourse in Egypt, as elsewhere, deals with music as a private good, where markets are best optimized by the price mechanism and creators are motivated by profits realized through unit sales. Such discourse is reflected in copyright law. Maximal intellectual property protection is presumed to keep the incentive system intact by formulating and enforcing ever-tighter copyright controls, and imposing sanctions on free-riding “pirates”. This research adopts a different approach based on the premise that music embodies some characteristics of a public good, where the market mechanism typically fails to maximize both production and access, and where tension arises between the interests of producers and consumers. Extensive empirical research reveals that this tension is eased through business models and actual practices of music production and delivery as they exist on the ground in the alternative music scene in Egypt. These models of de facto commons are found to be more closely aligned with the interests of musicians and fans, and do in essence promote access to knowledge contrary to what the formal domestic IP law and policy formulation preach (but not enforce). This brings to question the relevance of copyright to the alternative music scene in Egypt, as opposed to the influence of prevailing social and cultural norms and economic realities.

Keywords: access to knowledge; commons; copyright; intellectual property

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: The American University in Cairo

Publication date: May 1, 2010

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