Beyond Culture vs. Commerce: Decentralizing Cultural Protection to Promote Diversity through Trade

Pager, Sean A. | January 1, 2011

For the past three decades, culture defenders and free traders have fought a pitched battle over global regulation of audiovisual industries, a collision of seemingly incompatible worldviews whose destructive repercussions policy-makers and scholars have struggled to contain. The battle has played out at multiple levels of international trade law, investment treaties, and UNESCO conventions. Now, the culture-trade war threatens to engulf e-commerce. Fortunately, there is a better way. The extraordinary flowering of Korean popular culture in recent decades—commonly known as the “Korean Wave”—can be traced directly to a set of decentralized policies enacted by South Korea’s government in the 1990s. This Article argues that cultural protection should be fundamentally reconceived based on Korea’s example. In place of the European “state patronage” model that predominates today, the Article advocates an alternative approach that embraces globalization and seeks to expand markets (rather than supplant them) using decentralized, non-discriminatory tools. Adopting a “diversity through trade” model would more effectively advance the goals of cultural protection and avoid the need for further distortions of international trade law and free speech.