Don’t ask if artists deserve to be paid.

I frequently encounter comments on this blog and around the web reiterating the thematic question as to whether or not “artists should be paid as much as they are.” The inquiry is typically posed by contrasting the arts to other professions we likely consider more critical, like emergency medicine or teaching or epidemiology.  This attitude is a bit of a shift in for artists, who are historically used to the idea that not even friends and family will take them seriously until they make a living; but regardless of the chimerical mood in the peanut gallery, everyone should rest assured that in general artists still don’t make very much money.  Be happy or unhappy about that as you will.

Often, when I encounter this question asking what “artists deserve to get paid,” it is in regard to wealthy, creative and/or performing artists.   And this is something of a variation on the recurring theme “Why should pro sports stars get paid millions to play a game, when people like nurses struggle to pay their bills?”  This rhetorical and apparently rational question is based on the fallacy that financial value is somehow tied to social value, which it simply will never be in a free-market economy. (Please resist the urge to stump for communism here.)  NFL players are paid millions because football is worth billions, and this has nothing to do with the relative “importance” of the game.

But we should clarify something about semantics right away:  in general, artists are not “paid” in the sense that most people are paid based on a contract with an employer.  Most artists are entrepreneurs, and if the product(s) their business produces sells million of units, they’re going to earn revenue in the millions of dollars. We are not “paying” them a million-dollar salary, and yet comments I read often ask literally, “Should we pay them so much.”  One might think the artists they’re talking about are on the public payroll, and we’re checking a line item in the federal budget.  “Dammit!  We’re paying Kid Rock how much???”  So, the semantics are either carelessly or purposely misleading when employing the words we and pay.

In fact, the question being asked isn’t even comparable to the ongoing debate over the salaries and bonuses that are paid to c-class executives in major companies.  While the government should not impose a maximum compensation package that a business may pay its leadership, we have seen examples of a corporate culture that can aggravate wealth consolidation and even reward failure.  When executives make four-hundred times the salary of a company’s average worker and may also receive an multi-million-dollar golden parachute, even for screwing up a corporation, these occurrences certainly beg the question as to whether or not these people should be paid so much?  And while the thesis inquiry about artists’ pay seems to echo this line of inquiry about top executives, the two subjects have nothing to do with one another.

As stated, most artists function as small businesses and produce works on spec with a wide range of investment from pure sweat to millions of dollars.  They earn revenues through sales of their works ranging from supplemental income, to full-time professional salaries, to cha-ching for a fortunate few.  It doesn’t matter if an independent business sells widgets or cheese boards or record albums; it is simply preposterous to ask whether or not the seller “deserves” the revenue from the units she is able to sell. But of course, that’s not really what the people who pose this question are asking, is it?  What they’re really asking is why they should pay for works produced by artists at all, and they are rationalizing a desire to not pay with a smokescreen of faux-humanist gibberish about creative work being less socially important than work in medicine or education.  But aside from the fact that the teacher and the doctor probably can’t perform a song anyone wants on his iPod, the real folly in this entire line of reasoning is that the doctor, the teacher, the plumber, and the fool asking the question are all economically co-dependent on that artist we’re arbitrarily presuming to remove from the ecosystem.

I know I’ve used the ecosystem analogy before, but it seems to me that it is economic suicide to eradicate a vital business engine just as it can be ecological suicide to eradicate a vital species.  We don’t necessarily know the exact cost of losing a particular beetle to deforestation, but we do know all species are interdependent and, therefore, view diversity as salubrious and extinction as hazardous.  How is an economy any different?  You would likely never be able to follow a path from a new creative venture in Singapore affecting trading that afternoon in Hong Kong, triggering a flurry of international trades, leading to a windfall in Seattle that seeds a company that offers you your next job.  But we do know that this matrix of chaos is what we call the economy, and we, therefore, accept the general principle that a rising tide raises all boats and vice versa.  Thus, most things with intrinsic economic value (i.e. things people want or need) that can be part of the grand game of trade are universally beneficial.  Put it another way, one benefits economically from the financial success of rock bands one hates. So, it is self-destructive to argue in favor of diminishing any legal, fair, and prosperous trade, especially if that trade is as economically diverse as the arts.  Diversity equals stability.

Some have argued that there is no economic harm in under-paying or not paying for entertainment media that is consumed.  Without so much as a wink, lobbyist Matt Schruers in July of 2013 wrote an article on behalf of the CCIA (Computer & Communications Industry Association) that rather astonishingly stated that “money not spent on pirated content is, in many cases, still spent.”  Hard to argue with that, but the implication that no harm is done as long as the money goes into the economy somehow is a shell game. Let’s make an evening of it…

You can save about twelve bucks by pirating three movies instead of renting them.  And with that twelve dollars, you can order a pizza to eat while watching one of your pirated films.  So, like Schruers said, that money still goes into the economy, right?  Yes, but at this point, you should probably skip the movies and the pizza and go back to economics class because what you’ve actually done is consume about $24 worth of goods and put $12 into the economy. Multiply that activity by millions of consumers and watch what happens, not just to one industry, but quite possibly to your job.  Because further exacerbating the folly of this false logic, you’ve just fed one sector of the economy that is considerably less robust than the sector you chose to starve. The core motion picture industry employs nearly two million Americans making over $100 billion in wages, and that contributes substantially to support jobs all over the country in completely unrelated industries. Like pizzerias.  Still, in some minds, that kind of wealth in the movie business translates into “they’re so rich, they don’t need my four dollar rental fee,” and this is the perfect attitude to adopt if you hope to go from being the guy ordering that pizza to one day applying for the job of delivering it.  It is far better for your overall economic health to rent one movie, buy one pizza, and tip the delivery guy for a grand total of about $18 and thus feed three tiers of the economy in a single night’s use of your disposable income.  It’s the same thing prudent investors do when they spread their bets.  Diversity equals stability.

It is a conundrum.  The technology that makes paying for creative works functionally optional fosters the notion that it is morally optional and, therefore, rationally objectionable. This leads to earnest discussion as to whether or not producers even “deserve” revenue for the things we consume; and once again, we see an example in which the technology that is supposed to connect us all actually blinds some of us to the ways in which we really are connected.

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83 Responses to Don’t ask if artists deserve to be paid.

  1. A couple of questions:

    1. What is the value of a creative work?
    2. What/Who sets that value?
    3. How does supply affect the value of creative works?
    4. How can you stop creative works from being available for free while maintaining the ability to maximize distribution?

    A pizza is finite, it is made, delivered and consumed. While a person can make their own pizza, the cost of delivery can be justified by the time saved in preparation as well as a potential perceived difference in the quality of the product. Quality and time are also selling points between various pizza shops. Pizzas have a base cost, dependent on the ingredients used and the skill of the labor. Competition also plays a role in pricing and cost, as well as demand.

    5. How can these principles applied to creative works?
    6. Is there a base value for writing a song? A movie?

    • BigPicture says:

      In our free market, the seller sets a price. It need not be related to the materials underlying the product or difficulty of providing the service. Each buyer determines whether the price is acceptable, or too high. But, and this is crucial to a free market: if the buyer refuses to pay, THEY DO NOT GET THE PRODUCT OR SERVICE. If they can steal what they want, they never know what they’d really pay. In NYC, many bars charge 13 dollars or more for a single drink. This is far too much, EXCEPT that I cannot drink in the bar unless I pay. And though some refuse to pay that for a drink, many, many people do pay. If enough people pay then the market has justified the price. If not then the bar will presumably notice the lack of customers and reduce prices.

      Answers: 1) What anyone will pay; 2) The buyer sets value from among the choices offered by the seller; 3) Supply has no automatic effect; 4) DRM 5) Pizza price is set using the above method and there is TREMENDOUS variance in the price due to that, as there should be. They key is that I cannot steal my favorite pizza if I don’t like the price. 6) No.

  2. John Warr says:

    The value of a creative work is uncalculable. Rembrandt enjoyed early success but in later years was reduced to poverty. Vincent Van Gogh was supported by his brother. OTOH creative work is whatever value the creator places on, you may not agree the price, just as you may not agree the price of the pizza. In which case you forgo the creative work, just as you would forgo the pizza. In reality though you may be justified, through circumstance, in stealing the pizza. I’d be hard pressed to see a circumstances justify the consumption of a creative work.

    • So if I go to a buddies house and watch a movie he paid for, should I buy it as well to justify my consumption? I mean, I would kick in for a pizza, why not a movie? Even with a DVD, or even a VOD, the media was not easily transferable between two parties. It was a limited commodity. So why do people not see value in digital media the same way?

      Short answer? Because there is no limit. One mp3 or mpeg is no different than the last. By making distribution easier, the industry also devalued the product by encoding it in a more or less lossless format. Device/account locked content may be the only solution to the problem of value/cost. It was a pain for the consumer in the past, but maybe it is time to re-visit the idea of limited access to purchased works. Just make the process simple for the end user. Incentivize legitimate consumption.

      • David Newhoff says:

        Uh, I just had to…

        In order to make the process simpler for the consumer, we’d have to send PAs to homes to push the buttons for them. And your rhetorical question is telling in this regard. Your buddy can rent a film on-demand and have thirty people watch it for a one-time fee of about four dollars. If that is neither simple nor affordable enough, then the consumer can fucking adapt.

      • How you continuously miss the point is beyond me.

        “Device/account locked content may be the only solution to the problem of value/cost.”

        DRM was poorly implemented in the past, but it is pretty much the only way to ensure legitimate use for the consumer. The process has actually become less obstructive and is used quite a bit today without the consumer even realizing it, in fact in the case of mobile devices it is often embraced.

        Pull your head out of your ass and recognize someone offering up a solution as opposed to more problems.

      • David Newhoff says:

        It’s funny that you think I’m missing the point of your comments when you repeat roughly the same comment no matter what the topic of post might be. This post is not about solutions to prevent theft. That is a perfectly good subject and one that comes with any number of other dumb theories about “liberty” from what many call the freetard crowd, but this post is about a different false logic. I think it’s pretty clear that I’m writing about the fallacy of an economic or social proposition I keep encountering — a cultural phenomenon that rationalizes piracy based on lame social or economic ideas. What that has to do with DRM or DRM like solutions is a mystery. If you read this entire blog, you will find that I am far more likely to criticize social or cultural attitudes than I am to look for technological solutions. As I am not a technologist, this is probably best. Again, if you think this misses the point, you’re going to continue to be frustrated.

      • Oh course you are, because you honestly have no interest in solving any of the problems you “discuss”.

        And you are clearly perfectly willing to blog about something that you simply do not understand(technology and the internet). YOU put that out there, as such, YOU deserve any criticism and response you get, especially from people who actually DO understand the subjects you are referring to.

        I was agreeing with you, now I get that you are too set in your ways to understand that, but how DRM and the like factor into your post is the FACT, not opinion, FACT that when presented with a free option, some people will always take that road even if they like and or “support” the creator in question.

        “What that has to do with DRM or DRM like solutions is a mystery. ”

        Of course it is, because you have no business commenting on the subject based on the knowledge that you do not possess in regards to everything. Do you want me to break down yet another diatribe, that seemingly analyzes one aspect of a real problem while not actually saying much at all? Or should I just nod my head and agree with you like some other commentators, who clearly suffer from the same lack of insight into how these things work and how they could be improved?

        I keep saying the same thing because you keep making the SAME damn post. how many blogs is this where the bottom line is “tech is bad we are all screwed”. Yeah, I get that is why you write the blog, well I comment, the same way, because I don’t think you guys are actually stupid, but you sure as hell are misinformed. And that is not going to help anyone, least of all you.

        Piracy is not “rationalized”. It is accepted because the value of creative works lies solely with the person who is consuming it. You just don’t get that. If I produce a song, and put it online for $.99. And someone else “steals” it and puts it up for free. The “value” of the song has nothing to do with how many people download it without paying. It is solely determined by the people who buy.

        What THAT has to do with DRM, since you didn’t get it the first time, is that in order ensure all people who WOULD buy something, actually DO buy it. Your best option is to make the free option so obtrusive and the paid option so simple as to make “stealing” not worth the hassle. Fucking academics like nothing more than bitching but never actually look at the problem.

        For all the elegance that comes forth in your writing, you never actually say much of import. Which is sad. You really could be a voice of reason and it would be possible to create some real change. I mean, you apparently know lots of people in the industry, so yeah, you might actually get shit done.

      • “To be sure, we seem to have accomplished the more part, but whether it’s all for the better is a question worth asking.”

        YOU asked the question David, if you only want answers that you agree with, please update the about IOM page.

      • John Warr says:

        That depends on the relationship you have with your friend. Sometimes, one friend will rent out DVD and the other the pizza, or maybe two DVDs will be rented and two pizzas bought. Whatever. I suspect though that if week after week one is both providing the DVD and buying the pizza then the friendship is most likely one of dependence or love. Though it could be a simple case of leeching.

      • So in that case, how does the process compensate the creator? On the front end at the point of access by licensing or selling the DVD to the rental store. At 4 bucks a pop, that means that the store on average would need 5 rentals to pay for THAT copy of the DVD. When I worked at a video store in my youth, and VHS was the norm, that number was higher, and they kept track of every penny until profit.

        A similar model could be applied to streaming, but it would mean limiting the number of listens either in general or per user. This could be set via the creator/publisher and easily tracked.

        Streamers/distributers could then decide what to purchase and how many streams made sense to them, but the creator would still get paid, up front regardless of how many times something was played.

      • AudioNomics says:

        AV- ” How you continuously miss the point is beyond me.”
        AV- ” Pull your head out of your ass ”
        AV- ” I was agreeing with you, now I get that you are too set in your ways to understand that”

        Have a look at what type of inflammatory language you are using… this alone doesn’t breed consensus. if that is “agreeing”, you are from a different planet… You must work for google….
        have a nice day…

      • Did I start there? Is that how I lead off in any debate we have had? No, not even close.

        “I usually find that the person(s) who pose that incredibly childish question, aren’t really asking a question, but justifying their actions. (I believe you said as much)
        Thus it’s not someone teetering on a fence whether to buy or steal, it’s someone who already made the choice, and is now vocalizing said decision just to hear if other people feel the same way, so they can sleep at night and not feel like they’re the only douchbag on the block.”

        That was your first post in this thread. I asked some pretty simple questions, none of which were loaded with the entire point of my initial post summed up with:

        “5. How can these principles applied to creative works?”

        Yeah, asking how the general principles that allow people to see value in one service to be applied to another is quite inflammatory, jackass.

      • AudioNomics says:

        …and none of that was adressed to you.
        Quite telling that you took that personally, but I was talking about pirates in general…and specifically responding to the text of David’s article.
        have a nice day…

      • “I’m sure it will fly right over the head of some readers, which shall remain nameless.

        I usually find that the person(s) who pose that incredibly childish question, aren’t really asking a question, but justifying their actions. (I believe you said as much)”

        LOL, bull…

      • AudioNomics says:

        Like I said, quite telling that you feel you fit the description… ego much?

  3. AudioNomics says:

    Great post David.
    I’m sure it will fly right over the head of some readers, which shall remain nameless.

    I usually find that the person(s) who pose that incredibly childish question, aren’t really asking a question, but justifying their actions. (I believe you said as much)
    Thus it’s not someone teetering on a fence whether to buy or steal, it’s someone who already made the choice, and is now vocalizing said decision just to hear if other people feel the same way, so they can sleep at night and not feel like they’re the only douchbag on the block.

  4. nikkokkola says:

    To the angry villager. What is the value of a creative work? Isn’t that a question that should be decided by a market? When a buyer and seller come together and agree on a price for a good or service it is said the economic outcome is optimal.

    The problem is today an artist is denied the right to participate in a market. Since the DMCA Safe Harbor allows an infinite number of presentations of an artists work the value becomes 0 and the artists right to participate in a market is denied. When a musician is forced to sell her work to a streaming radio service at a rate way below what she would agree to because of a “Consent Decree” she is denied the right to participate in a market in yet another way. And when rogue foreign web sites that give away an artists work with no consequences the artist is again denied the right to participate in a market.

    There is a solution to each of these matters. For one the safe harbor must go. Second, the consent decree must be eliminated. Third, any country that willfully allows web sites on it’s soil to violate international IP laws should be socked with punitive tariffs for any other goods that are imported from such countries. And the proceeds from those punitive tariffs should be distributed to artists.

    There are solutions. What is lacking is political will of politicians to go against some very powerful tech companies as well as a mob of spoiled kids who got so used to the idea that a never ending supply of free entertainment at someone elses’ expense is somehow their right.

    • “When a buyer and seller come together and agree on a price for a good or service it is said the economic outcome is optimal.”

      This happens all of the time. It is why some artists make millions and others work at gas stations. What most people here are suggesting would be to eliminate that aspect and artificially assign value to works as they are created. Creative works VALUE, not COST, but the VALUE is derived solely from the audience. Yes that is the case for most goods and services, but in the case of created work it is especially important to remember.

      “Since the DMCA Safe Harbor allows an infinite number of presentations of an artists work the value becomes 0 and the artists right to participate in a market is denied.”

      That is not true. First of all, that is not the point of the “Safe Harbor” clause, and secondly the value of anything that can be duplicated infinitely will always trend towards zero. The only solution to that problem is to either not convert your work into that format OR as has been subjected make paying for access to the work easier and more desirable than getting it for free.

      “When a musician is forced to sell her work to a streaming radio service at a rate way below what she would agree to because of a “Consent Decree” she is denied the right to participate in a market in yet another way.”

      That is not how “Consent Decree” works either. If you join a PRO who has an agreement with a service provider like Spotify or youTube, you are bound to their deals. But there is nothing stopping you from acting as your own rights manager and making your own deals. And if you are big enough, you just might get a better deal than other artists. Ultimately however, streaming is a promotional tool, and should be treated as such. The expectation of monetization is why the system is so broken. This could be solved IMO by limiting performances or putting them behind a pay wall. Kind of what Google is attempting to do with youTube.

      “There is a solution to each of these matters. For one the safe harbor must go. Second, the consent decree must be eliminated. Third, any country that willfully allows web sites on it’s soil to violate international IP laws should be socked with punitive tariffs for any other goods that are imported from such countries. And the proceeds from those punitive tariffs should be distributed to artists.”

      None of that makes any sense. Copyright is not what you think it is, and most of the things you mention miss the point of the law entirely.

      • nikkokkola says:

        No, I disagree on several points. There is no market when companies like You Tube run a platform that allows your work to be distributed without the creators consent and without compensation by hiding in the Safe Harbor. A market requires a buyer – seller agreement – which that is NOT. That is NOT a market. As far as the Consent Decree works – I think you need to do look at that closer as well. If you license with ASCAP or BMI, you are now required by law to provide your work at a court set rate to services like Pandora. Pandora has spent a lot of $$ on their legal team to use the obscure 1940’s Consent Decree law to force musicians to allow Pandora to use their work at a ridiculously low rate.

      • “There is no market when companies like You Tube run a platform that allows your work to be distributed without the creators consent and without compensation by hiding in the Safe Harbor. ”

        That is not how youTube works.

        “If you license with ASCAP or BMI, you are now required by law to provide your work at a court set rate to services like Pandora. Pandora has spent a lot of $$ on their legal team to use the obscure 1940’s Consent Decree law to force musicians to allow Pandora to use their work at a ridiculously low rate.”

        You are confusing PRO’s and artists. First of all, you are not “required by law” to do anything. You have agreed by being a member to let the PRO negotiate royalty rates on your behalf. I know, because I use the service. Second of all, the rates are not “set” by Pandora, or Spotify. They are agreed upon by your PRO and such services. The PRO’s are currently trying to adjust deals that were made before these services were as popular as they are, in an attempt to get better rates for musicians.

        Lastly. The consent decree at its core is a means of keeping the field level since PRO’s are more or less monopolies. Nothing however is forcing an “artist” to do anything.

        I did not have to use a PRO, but it is easier to track royalties through them and I have no real need to worry about such things at this time anyway.

        What you and a lot of people here are not getting is idea that the very nature of digital media makes it virtually impossible to lock down completely. The point of safe harbor was to protect against the very nonsense people like David bring up on a weekly basis.

        If you try to make the pass through sites culpable, you essentially stifle the desire to risk hosting or linking to copyrighted material. That might seem like a good thing, unless you actually understand the internet and then you realize that solution benefits no one. Safe Harbor puts the onus on the criminal not the pass through site. As it should be. It would be virtually impossible for every ISP, search index, streaming site, to monitor every link trying to match IP to creator. That is not their purpose or their job.

        It’s the responsibility of the creator. THAT is the point of the law. There is legal recourse against the thieves not against the company that made the getaway car.

      • John Warr says:

        “That is not how youTube works. “

        You keep saying that, but it is exactly how YT, and most other popular web2.0rhea, work.

        However, I listen to you tell all of us tech illiterates how it is that YT works.

      • Well, first of all, youTube does not “allow” work to be distributed without the creators consent.

        There are very strict guidelines to what can and cannot be posted. There are automated and manual measure by which content can be flagged and removed. There are compensation packages for creators based on views and legitimate advertising. You can’t simply monetize something you don’t own or have explicit permission use in your works.

        So while infringement can occur, it is EXPLICITLY against youTube policies and they ACTIVELY remove infringing content. So yeah saying ” allows your work to be distributed without the creators consent” is patently false and not indicative of how youTube works.

        Does that clarify things for you?

        If you want to say, some content on youTube is in violation of both copyright AND youTube’s upload/monetization policy. Yes, some content is, and as stated it is actively targeted for removal via contentID and the Copyright claim process.

        MP3 technology “allows” music to be copied and distributed infinitely, that does not mean it’s intended use was copyright infringement or keeping revenue from creators.

        When youTube started it was a mess, and there were no measures in place to protect content. Then Google bought it and has actively worked on making it a platform for LEGITIMATE sharing of USER created content.

        Those aren’t opinions. that is how it works.

        So when I say “you don’t understand how it works” I am not questioning anyone’s intelligence, but rather pointing out the reality of the system that is in place.

        The system is imperfect. So how can it be modified to work better? “youTube is stealing from creators” is a dead end street and not conducive to solving the problem. A problem that I, as a content creator and artist. am VERY interested in solving.

        You guys don’t think I would love an easier and more secure way to distribute my works online? That I would not like to have my music generate revenue? Of course I would.

      • John Warr says:

        Some content may indeed be approved, especially that which can be detected. However, the images in these music videos in this account are almost all infringing:
        https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEfMdQ-TPP7IBqwYIhQrIqQ
        https://www.youtube.com/user/49477378/videos
        https://www.youtube.com/user/02muratboran/videos

      • From the first video I clicked on from the second link. Alice by Tom Waits.

        “DISCLAIMER:”These videos were made for promotional purposes. I DO NOT own the rights to any of the songs, pictures or videos used in the footage. All credit and rights are reserved to their respective owners and talented artists. If you do not wish your work to be exposed, send me a private message and I will remove it immediately. But please consider the effort I put in compiling all videos.”

        And there are plenty of ways to have this work removed. The fact still remains, unless content matches something or is reported by the creator, and youTube were to ignore that, the point being made about their business practices remains unfounded.

      • John Warr says:

        As I said the place, as with all web2.0rhea, is one seething mess of copyright infringement.

      • M says:

        Actually John seems to be one of the few folks that get it. He’s got a technical background. He knows that to have a working system, we need to get rid of free communication (hence the hatred for “web 2.0”). Even privacy, so that we give corporations and the government intimate access into people’s private behaviors and force them public when they conflict with these institution’s goals (mentioned from previous discussions).

        That’s fair at all. Well not really, but it’s a viewpoint. The thing I always find somewhat ironic that his hatred for like Web2.0 is expressed on a Web2.0 platform. 🙂

        The problem is John – your opinion is hugely unpopular. Perhaps you can hide the problems with copyright enforcement, get the measures to kill the Internet through while no one notices? No I don’t think will work. People know what the consequences are. And I don’t think people are willing to jeopardize the personal privacy & free Internet so that artists can make a living.

      • John Warr says:

        Ha! The company I work for, or rather my colleague say 2 metres away, wrote a collaborative web app in 1994 for communication between and within software development teams. We’ve used it extensively since, and most of the company use a modernized version of it. I’ve used other collaborative websites extensively for natural history, and medieval history.

        Free communication is not the problem. Facebook, reddit, wikipedia, twitter and the like are. These sites dumb down communication. I’ve yet to see an intelligent conversation on any one of them. Indeed their functional worth is independent of any communication. It is enough that people keep coming back and posting something what that something is is irrelevant, just so long as the page views mount up.

        Take wikipedia as an example – 14 years and they still don’t have any metric for what is a good article. They don’t know whether the articles are improving, or deterioration. There is some evidence that articles that existed in 2008 have mostly either not changed, or are in worse state today then they were then. All the WMF does is count the number of article pages, the number of edits, and the number of people editing.

        I’m sure that on any of those platforms there is something of worth happening, but a random sampling of the sites won’t find it.

        Ill inform crap spoken in the pub, remains ill informed crap when typed into the comment section of web page. No magic pixie dust attaches to it simply because it ends up on the internet. And guess what? No one cares about ill informed bullshit. No one cares how many comment sections overflow with it, no one cares much what bullshit is spoken, no one cares about whether some company is able to profit from the bullshit, so long as there is some responsibility taken for it.

        It is not enough to post intimate photos of an ex-spouse as a form of revenge. It is not enough for a hosting organization to look the other way when their services are used for that purpose.

      • “I’ve yet to see an intelligent conversation on any one of them. Indeed their functional worth is independent of any communication.”

        Then you aren’t looking hard enough. The opportunity for meaningful conversation exists and it is not too hard to find, if that is what you are after.

        If you use a hammer to get a screw into the wall, sure it will go, but you will tear shit up in the process. Same thing goes for communicative tools on the web.

    • M says:

      There are solutions. What is lacking is political will of politicians to go against some very powerful tech companies as well as a mob of spoiled kids who got so used to the idea that a never ending supply of free entertainment at someone elses’ expense is somehow their right.

      Yeah like basically getting rid of the Internet. When you say “get rid of safe harbor”, that’s what you are saying. Basically any collaborative platform becomes a major liability to run. Including old school stuff like e-mail!

      • M says:

        And before someone is like, sure let’s ban the WWW but keep e-mail or whatever – you can actually tunnel the whole Internet through e-mail. Consider a system where you e-mail a bot and it returns hypertext and other resources automatically. Sure, it would be slower and convoluted but e-mail is just a pipe and can be used for implement arbitrary data communications, including everything needed for large scale piracy.

        Literally the only workable solution is to get rid of the Internet as it stands, if it exists it should work like TV and radio, not allow non-broadcast communication. Free communication and copyright just can not mix. You’ll never find a solution that can make both work together.

      • AudioNomics says:

        oh Please , “M”, you’re so friggin melodramatic… “kill the internet” my ass.

  5. Faza (TCM) says:

    I find that “Is a dollar much?” to be a useful answer to the question of whether entertainers should be paid so much. The way you earn a million dollars in entertainment is typically by convincing one million people to give you a dollar each.

    A more subtle approach is to consider the length – or rather: brevity – of most entertainment careers. If an entertainer ends up earning what we’d call riches, it will typically be over a brief period of time – usually several years, when they are at their most popular. Once they sink back into obscurity, for whatever reason, their income dwindles considerably. When comparing the situation to non-entertainment careers, we find even successful entertainers don’t earn that much. Just as an illustration: forty years of working a minimum-wage job will get you a lifetime income exceeding half-a-million dollars. Working for twice the amount will mean a lifetime income exceeding one million. We don’t think of “normal” people as millionaires, because the amounts are spread over decades, as opposed to five years, say, but earning a million dollars is not that big an achievment.

    Just a brief touch on the Angry Villager’s points: the value of a creative work is set by the market (million people paying a dollar), which – I note in passing – also makes any talk of the CD being “too expensive” rather silly: it cost so much because that’s what people were willing to pay.

    Admittedly, this does mean that zero-price content – by way of piracy – is also a market outcome and this is exactly why it deserves a strong law-enforcement response; for the simple reason that pirate supply of creative works is done in violation of other people’s property rights – no different than thieves supplying cut-rate, hot merchandise.

    I should also point out that the number of competing works need not affect the market going rate of any particular work any more than cheap Chinese t-shirts affect the price of top designer clothing – they simply aren’t in the same market. Given that few creative works are substitutes for one another, each essentially creates its own market.

    • “Admittedly, this does mean that zero-price content – by way of piracy – is also a market outcome and this is exactly why it deserves a strong law-enforcement response; for the simple reason that pirate supply of creative works is done in violation of other people’s property rights – no different than thieves supplying cut-rate, hot merchandise.”

      Those are the same failed principles used in the “war against drugs”. Going after piracy directly is pointless. There will always be more. The better solution to both illegal drugs and downloads is to make it easier and more profitable to be legit.

      “I should also point out that the number of competing works need not affect the market going rate of any particular work any more than cheap Chinese t-shirts affect the price of top designer clothing – they simply aren’t in the same market.”

      Except in this case. They are in the same market. Independent creators have no problem creating work of the same or better quality than “professional” artists. And the consumer can not tell the difference, or more importantly doesn’t care. If it sounds good and they like it, or if the story is great and they were entertained. The source of the creative work is irrelevant.

      • M says:

        In fact, the war on drugs is a more realistic endeavor. Because drugs are physical product. If you shut down a meth lab, another one can pop up right? But it takes effort to start up a new drug operation. You do some actual damage by shutting down drug operations! Surely it’s not permanent damage, but it’s damage nonetheless.

        You shut down a website, what is to stop someone from taking the original website code and recreating a few moments later? This is not academic of course, it happened with IsoHunt. It a sense the system of piracy is not a set of infrastructure or “things” that can be impounded or confiscated. It’s information, it’s an idea.

        Of course, drugs and piracy might converge. The war of drugs will become the war on piracy if someone makes a machine that can print drugs from digital blueprints, especially if that kind of machine can itself be printed from 3D printer blueprints. If that ever happens you can kiss what’s left of drug enforcement goodbye.

  6. Sam Flintlock says:

    There’s a big difference between the question “should artists get paid” and “should a tiny minority of artists be earning ridiculous amounts of money”.

    Nor do you have to be a full blown Marxist to recognise that something is really quite broken about the current economic system or to think that social value should be reflected more in earnings.

    That said, entertainers are pretty low down my list of high paid people to get outraged about. I have a much easier time getting up a head of steam about CEOs who get bonuses for laying people off.

    Besides, there’s perfectly straightforward ways of dealing with this issue. Higher levels of corporation tax and the top end of income tax. There’s absolutely no need to single artists out, if it’s simply a matter of thinking the rich should contribute more financially.

    And it’s noticeable that at least some of the same people prone to arguing that art is economically worthless are the same ones arguing for stuff like a flat tax, which suggests that people earning silly money isn’t a problem for them.

    • David Newhoff says:

      As a generalization, Sam, when a creative entrepreneur generates $10 million bucks in revenue, he reinvests many of those earnings into producing something new and hiring people to help him do it. When a CEO is paid a $10 salary, he may or may not put the money back into the economy in as effective a manner. Quite often, he does not.

      • @David Um, talk about a generalization… At least you admitted it in your post, sheesh.

        “Nor do you have to be a full blown Marxist to recognise that something is really quite broken about the current economic system or to think that social value should be reflected more in earnings.”

        Except you can’t pay someone doing unskilled labor the same as someone who has specialized training. You would be better off investing money into programs designed to increase a persons marketability than simply paying them more to do a menial, yet important task. We don’t need janitor to become a lucrative career for society to get better. We need custodial engineer to mean something more than “good with a plunger”. Automate these things as much as possible and train a whole new level of workforce to maintain the systems.

        “Besides, there’s perfectly straightforward ways of dealing with this issue. Higher levels of corporation tax and the top end of income tax. There’s absolutely no need to single artists out, if it’s simply a matter of thinking the rich should contribute more financially.”

        Neither of which would help the poor improve their earning potential or actually add more money into the economy. Higher taxes is fools gold, that neither addresses the underlying cause or contributes to an overall solution.

        “And it’s noticeable that at least some of the same people prone to arguing that art is economically worthless are the same ones arguing for stuff like a flat tax, which suggests that people earning silly money isn’t a problem for them.”

        People should earn what the market will pay them, doing whatever it will pay them to do. If you don’t like athletes making tons of cash, start a movement to get people to stop going to games. Don’t think CEO’s should get paid so much, get people using products from smaller companies. More taxes, as stated above solves nothing.

        The system isn’t perfect, but it isn’t completely broken either. Value is subjective, there is no amount of taxation, or anti-piracy measures that are going to change that. This blog is a prime example of how we should NOT be thinking moving forward. The idea that somehow the world is progressing and we are nothing more than bystanders.

        Same thing goes for your idea of “social value”. In both cases we make the world as profitable and as technologically safe as we choose. We are not on a ride that we cannot control. There are many ways to improve society for artists and the common man alike, none of which require shunning technology or going all Robin Hood on the rich.

        Both tech and the elite derive power from one source, the people. All the money in the world doesn’t mean shit if no one is buying what you are selling. And no amount of technology is going to change a thing without people using it.

        Point being, if there is change to be made, then we should be the ones to make it, nothing is stopping us.

      • Patrik says:

        There are many ways to improve society for artists and the common man alike

        Please, do go on. Why do you refuse to enlighten the readers here?

    • M says:

      I think corporation tax is silly. Corporations are not people. We should be taxing people at the point of income, and making sure the rich don’t get out of paying tax. Make capital gains taxed the same damn way as income for one. That Obama proposal would be a nice start, but it’s never happening.

      If there is any kind of corporate tax I support a robot/automation, offshoring, or some kind of “penalty for laying off workers” tax.

      • Do you understand what taxes are? I am not being a wise ass, most people don’t actually understand the concept of a tax.

        If I pay less taxes, I am not “stealing” from someone else. If a company pays less taxes, they are not robbing their workers to do so.

        You or I or a company earns money, that is OUR money. Not the governments, not the poor, OURS. If I pay less tax, I am keeping more of MY money, not taking money from someone else.

        When I win the lottery or get an inheritance, technically, that is MY money. So taxes are taking MY money and less taxes does not mean I am pulling something over on someone else.

        If you want people to work in THIS country, you have to make it profitable for companies to keep their business in THIS country. More taxes does not generally allow this to occur.

      • John Warr says:

        You or I or a company earns money, that is OUR money. Not the governments, not the poor, OURS. If I pay less tax, I am keeping more of MY money, not taking money from someone else.

        .. legislators cannot invent too many devices for subdividing property… Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions or property in geometrical progression as they rise. Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right.
        Thomas Jefferson

        Private property … is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing, its contributors therefore to the public Exigencies are not to be considered a Benefit on the Public, entitling the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honor and Power, but as the Return of an Obligation previously received, or as payment for a just Debt.
        Benjamin Franklin

        You enjoy property rights and money because of laws and regulations expressed through Government. Without it you have no property, no money, nothing. If you are NOT contributing a just and equitable share to that society then you are indeed robbing it.

  7. @Patrick

    1. Network like artists together so they are sharing a fan base. Start this at the distribution/PRO level. Make it optional but allow artists to pool their collective resources in terms of exposure.

    2. Instead of simply collecting royalties, PRO’s should create a singular point of access for all creative works under their roof. If the problem with trusting other companies to keep your shit secure is um, having to trust them, then don’t.

    3. Do you care where you get your music from? I mean does it matter if the MP3 came from apple, or Amazon, or Google? Does the stream source matter? Of course it doesn’t, because in the end they are all using the same format. So there are several options, not limited to, creating a proprietary format ensuring your works will only be available from one source. Create a service just like the rest using MP3 or whatever and incentivize getting the material from the source, cutting out the middle man altogether.

    4. Have your PRO strictly control access to services like youTube/Spotify/Pandora with a blanket agreement that submits ALL works for content identification allowing artists no matter how small, so long as they belong to the PRO to be able to receive copyright notices.

    5. Create tiered categories for musical distribution. Studio quality is not the same as home recorded quality. Regardless of where something was recorded and how it was produced. The two groups of music should be separated as much as possible. This will help with the dilution of the creative pool. Broadcast quality standards are a simple enough means of determining where a work should go.

    6. Going along with the network idea from #1. Focus more on the artist as a service when appropriate as opposed to their work being a product. Linked artists could collaborate and in turn supplement their incomes with “freelance” projects.

    Bottom line. Get artists and PRO/Distributors working together. Big or small, there is no reason why artists shouldn’t be exposed to one another as professionals and as such be able to use the mutual connection for the benefit of all.

  8. monkey says:


    If that ever happens you can kiss what’s left of drug enforcement goodbye.

    At that point you could probably kiss society goodbye. Which you might like, given your views on other subjects, but orthers might find a little troubling.

    • M says:

      Saying the easy availability of drugs would destroy society is a bit unrestrained. The only thing I think truly capable of ending human civilization is the singularity.

      • AudioNomics says:

        and yet you cheer it on…

      • monkey says:

        Um, no, m, my point is that when we get to the point where drugs can be synthesized by printers, presumably everything else will be, and we will have pretty much anarchy.

        Spoiler alert: the singularity won’t happen. We have a few decades to sort things out or else the planet will burn us alive. As well, as has been said before countless times, technological advances don’t eliminate basic ethics and morality.

      • “Um, no, m, my point is that when we get to the point where drugs can be synthesized by printers, presumably everything else will be, and we will have pretty much anarchy.”

        What region do you live in? You are watching way too many movies, the world is never going to work this way. No matter how available things become, no matter what technology exists, no one would accept anarchy as the norm.

        “As well, as has been said before countless times, technological advances don’t eliminate basic ethics and morality.”

        Yet you and David speak of them as if they are all powerful mind controlling robots that will eventually take over the world.

        People are not as stupid as the media or anyone else would have you believe. MOST people are quite capable of finding a balance between tech and their day to day lives. Yes some people have their faces buried in their phones 24/7, but is that truly and indication of addiction or is it simply a matter of having no particular need to be connected to the other saps riding the bus, or who are in the coffee shop.

        David asks the question, “do artists deserve to get paid”. And the simple answer to that is this. The ones who catch enough attention to generate a sale do, the rest, not so much…

  9. monkey says:

    Av: lots of people getting “attention” are not getting paid.

    So what do you think will happen when driverless cars destroy the taxi and trucking industries, when Amazon swallows retail., and when people can’t even get servuce jobs because robots do it cheaper? And when anyone can download and print a gun?

    You seem to think the market will even out, but it’s becoming impossible to “adapt” when tech is replacing everything.

    • I think there will be less taxi driving jobs. I think being a truck driver will become a less lucrative career. But as David is fond of pointing out, those aren’t the only jobs in those industries. There will always be a subset of jobs created as some are replaced. No, it is not one to one. But new jobs, and new types of jobs crop up all of the time.

      • David Newhoff says:

        To be clear, I am not a critic of Schumpeter. Creative destruction is part of the deal. Where I quarrel with several Internet-based “innovations” when they produce destruction without any creation. As this post mentions, for instance, you don’t get to argue with the economic value of $100 billion in wages. If half of that is removed by technological change without replacing it with something, that’s a problem. The problem with the buggy whip analogy people like to make is that innovation created a need for something new and removed demand for a buggy whip. Nothing thus far produced by digital tech has replaced demand for music, books, motion pictures, etc. Thus, the creative destruction thing doesn’t really apply. This can also apply to transportation. The big problem is that all this leads to labor losing hard-won rights.

      • Aren’t you assuming those wages are not being replaced? Someone created these technologies and new industries/markets arise all the time that would not exist had they never been created. I am not arguing with you, just pointing out that new technology does not just eliminate antiquated or obsolete jobs. As stated it is not a one to one trade, but the difference is not always on the losing side of the equation either. Sometimes technology creates far more than it destroys.

      • monkey says:

        And there is more competition for those jobs, and wages are steadily going down…

        As Lanier has put it, what good is having a printer that can make everything for a nickel if people are paid a cent a year?

      • I think the system is more complex than that, and the potential for growth exists. Where I see a lot of issues with new tech comes from companies and jobs built on unsustainable ideals, or based solely on usage as opposed to the service being provided.

        The tech behind something like youTube has value that exceeds the amount of people who are posting videos. Keeping track of that volume of data is no small task.

      • John Warr says:

        Ha the 3D printers are miles away from prime time. Currently the material they use for printing is artificially high. They’ll charge for 100mm what they are paying for a 50 gallon drum. Additionally the printing is entirely hit and miss you are as likely to end up with a sticky mess as a part. Additionally most actual, useful, objects require plenty of support structures being added to the process to prevent warping. Currently it is a novelty and likely to be relegated to making very expensive plastic buttons, for the foreseeable future.

      • John Warr says:

        Aren’t you assuming those wages are not being replaced?

        Well one UK small UK record label pays more tax than Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple combined.

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/mediatechnologyandtelecoms/9844225/Government-seduced-by-tech-firms-like-Google.html

        These companies are notorious for displacing workers too.

  10. Anonymous says:

    John Warr–
    “You enjoy property rights and money because of laws and regulations expressed through Government. Without it you have no property, no money, nothing. If you are NOT contributing a just and equitable share to that society then you are indeed robbing it.”

    I agree. That’s why I believe we generally need less copyright protection; as it stands now, authors are overprotected such that they aren’t contributing their fair share. And ironically, the additional protection does the authors little good as well, so it’s just a failure on all fronts.

    “Currently [3D printing] is a novelty and likely to be relegated to making very expensive plastic buttons, for the foreseeable future.”

    It’s also used for very high end stuff, it’s not only limited to plastic, and it’s improving fast. Your complaint reminds me of how people were dismissive of early personal computers, which couldn’t even do lower case letters.

    ***

    David–
    “[Y]ou don’t get to argue with the economic value of $100 billion in wages. If half of that is removed by technological change without replacing it with something, that’s a problem.”

    Well, it’s a problem insofar as people do need an income in order to survive. But don’t be led down the road of fetishizing particular industries or labor as being inherently desirable.

    As a thought experiment, consider what would happen if someone invented, and following the example of Jonas Salk, freely gave away, a perfect and inexpensive panacea. Most of the entire medical industry would collapse, since since any ailment could be cheaply, quickly, and effectively treated by taking a pill. Probably trillions of dollars of the global economy would be lost, but at least we’d have our health. Such an outcome, as obviously unrealistic as it is, would be worth it, in my opinion. Would you suggest that we go the other way, and preserve jobs at the cost of increased human suffering and death? If so, perhaps we should stop our efforts to wipe out the last vestiges of polio; a lot of people had good jobs making iron lungs and caring for the people who were trapped inside them.

    “This can also apply to transportation.”

    In Japan, as late as the 19th century, the technology of the wheel and axle was well known, but was rarely used for transportation. There were also serious restrictions on the use of ships and boats. As a result, nearly anything that had to be shipped went overland, and was carried by human beings or pack animals. Even wheelbarrows, which were extremely popular in China (where Japan usually looked for good ideas) were pretty much absent. We associate the rickshaw with Japan, but really this wasn’t invented until after the country was opened by the US (and then became immensely popular overnight); before, people who wanted a lift went by animal or by litter.

    A single freight train line, once trains became available, could carry as much in a single trip as would previously have probably taken thousands of people to do, and could be operated by only a handful of people.

    If we can eliminate those last few transportation jobs, and let the trains run themselves (as some trains already do), and let the trucks and cars and taxicabs run themselves, it won’t be the end of the world.

    I really don’t understand your nostalgia for old technologies, David. While there are plenty of good things we should take from the past, their technology and standards of living by and large sucked.

    “Nothing thus far produced by digital tech has replaced demand for music, books, motion pictures, etc. Thus, the creative destruction thing doesn’t really apply.”

    That’s not where the destruction is occurring. The destruction is occurring in distribution. No one needs a giant printing plant anymore in order to send out a daily paper. No one needs a TV studio to make a show. No one needs a record label to make and distribute CDs to record stores, which we also don’t need anymore either.

    The problem for authors is that the business model for creating music, books, movies, etc. was all deeply tied to the business model for distributing copies of those. A new model for funding authors is needed which is financially able to tolerate the pirating of copies.

    “The big problem is that all this leads to labor losing hard-won rights.”

    If no humans are involved in the labor any more, what labor rights do they need? If a worker isn’t working at all, a 40-hour work week is meaningless. And it’s just silly to insist that a machine only work for 40 hours a week, lest it upset the established order. By all means, let’s eliminate as much labor as possible. And while we should not declare open season on the remaining workers’ rights in the workplace, there are other sources of rights to protect unemployed persons; rights as citizens, and rights as human beings.

    • David Newhoff says:

      Anonymous, I cannot argue with the tautological assertion that labor rights have little meaning in a world without human labor. I shall continue, therefore, to criticize your dystopian futurism wholesale. I am not nostalgic for any particular technology, but that is an ever-present straw man, isn’t it? You are repeating the same talking points to which I and others have responded in detail many times. I don’t feel like doing it again. Everything you’re saying about production is both true and also less than a full picture of the industries you mention.

      For all of the lecturing about “new models,” the only people I have met personally or tangentially who have actually developed and employed new models are the producers themselves. Yet, not one single new structure, new production technique, new financing scheme, or new distribution approach avoids the fundamental reality that human labor and skill is required to produce all of the things you’re talking about. And we should not desire to change that fact. Music, books motion pictures, etc. which are not produced by human beings are meaningless. You might as well be arguing the meaning of time before the Big Bang or the meaning of the human condition after the technological singularity. Once you are projecting outside the human experience, there is no longer a context for discussion.

      For the present, I’ll stand by the fact that destruction to one or two steps in a production chain is not the same thing as creative destruction of an entire industry that may seed growth in a new direction or industry. Fundamentally, music is still music. People still love it. Some people are really good at making it. Demand still exists, ergo a market still exists. If the means of distribution must inevitably destroy the P2C market, then we can look forward to the comparative silence we’re likely to hear in the creative diversity fostered by corporate patronage. I’m not the one who’s being nostalgic for a model that harkens back to the Medici.

    • John Warr says:

      I’m well aware 3D printing is used for high end stuff. It is part of what we do – writing software that enables a part to be manufactured using additive processes, including but not limited to aerospace parts, medical components, plastics, and resins. We’ve been doing this for the last 15 years. 3D printing is not ready for public use and won’t be for several years yet. Whether its part of a jet engine, a medical implant, a piece of bespoke jewellery, or a child’s toy you cannot simply take a design and 3D print it, despite all the tech hype it don’t work like that. Unless you have the process down you are more likely to end up with an expensive sticky gooey mess then a usable object.

    • John Warr says:

      I agree. That’s why I believe we generally need less copyright protection; as it stands now, authors are overprotected such that they aren’t contributing their fair share.

      Actually it appears that authors and the like are contributing more than their fair share. Its the tech companies that enable mass theft that are by and large NOT paying anything near their fair share. See above.

      Meanwhile they seem to get much in way of recompense.
      http://www.salon.com/2013/03/15/hey_amazon_wheres_my_money/

      Now the other day I went to see a group, some tribute band for a 70s rock group. They’ve been doing it for 20 years or more. Recreating the look and feel of those old concerts. An agreeable evening, damn good musicians, but nothing new. Never recorded anything, no merchandise to sell, packed out auditorium based on nostalgia for the old band. As they say on stage “We’re a part-time fake rock band”. In the UK the music venues of full of such groups these days. I suspect that years ago they may well have made a career in their own right. But as I thumb my way through the upcoming gigs at that venue it is mostly tribute bands, and survivor 70s rockers playing the old tunes interspersed with anecdotes.

  11. Anonymous says:

    David–
    “Music, books motion pictures, etc. which are not produced by human beings are meaningless.”

    Where did that come from?

    As a quick tangent, I will say that I can enjoy art without caring about its origins. Suppose that evidence came to light that some popular song had really been entirely computer generated. Would this invalidate its popularity? Would the people who liked listening to it have been wrong? Of course not. I’m sure similar debates raged in the past with painters insisting that photography wasn’t art because the photographer was just pointing and clicking, instead of laboriously constructing an image with paint and brush.

    But it doesn’t matter for a while, because we’re probably a long way off from computer-generated art that people would find pleasant. (And, as with the case of photography, so long as there were any humans involved, no matter how otherwise automated the process, it would get some sort of a pass — the plot was computer generated, but it the computer was programmed by a human who influenced it with his own artistic sensibilities, etc.)

    When I was speaking of new models for authors though, remember that I was just talking about a new model for funding human artists that would function despite piracy, rather than quixotically requiring its elimination. Not replacing them with robots that would peck away at keyboards. I really don’t know how you made that leap.

    “I’ll stand by the fact that destruction to one or two steps in a production chain is not the same thing as creative destruction of an entire industry that may seed growth in a new direction or industry.”

    I think your definition is way too strict. By your standards, something like the train was not creative destruction in transportation because it merely substituted for wagons or canal barges. Digital cameras would not have creatively destroyed Polaroids, because all they do is take photos with fewer consumable chemicals, allowing the shuttering of the factories that made them.

    But I hope you can agree that it is at the very least an improvement in efficiency, which at least promises to free up resources for new endeavors.

    “If the means of distribution must inevitably destroy the P2C market, then we can look forward to the comparative silence we’re likely to hear in the creative diversity fostered by corporate patronage. I’m not the one who’s being nostalgic for a model that harkens back to the Medici.”

    What about consumer patronage? I think that Kickstarter and similar models look quite promising. Still some kinks to work out, but ultimately it replaces the approval of a single person (editor, movie executive, etc.) at a publisher, who is guessing at the reception of the work in the market, with the approval of numerous consumers directly. It’s an easy transition to make — replace the elevator pitch with an explanatory text or video, continue to have to prove that you can perform well enough to merit the level of funding, and find someone who believes you well enough to put in money.

    But I’m not picky. I just want works. I’ll enjoy works from patronage just as readily as I’ll enjoy works from the extremely similar publishing advance/royalty model that has dominated for some time, or works funded by any other model.

    *****

    John Warr–
    “Actually it appears that authors and the like are contributing more than their fair share.”

    Their copyrights last too long, and protect too much. The contribution of authors is ultimately to the public domain. This isn’t happening, thus they’re not contributing enough.

    “Its the tech companies that enable mass theft”

    Which companies would that be? I mean, none of these computers are going to work without electricity; clearly the local power utility needs to start writing checks to authors. They profit by selling kilowatt hours to pirates that they’d otherwise not have consumed. How deep does your rabbit hole go?

    “Meanwhile they seem to get much in way of recompense.”

    Bookstores before the Internet came along tended to retain roughly 50% of the cover price. The remaining 50% was split between publisher, author’s agent, and author. Assuming a conveniently priced $10 book, and a 10% agent, the breakdown would be something like $5 to the bookstore, $4 to publisher, $0.10 to agent, and $0.90 to author. And the author gets an advance on royalties but nothing more until his actual royalties exceed the amount of the advance (earning out). And almost no authors ever got a penny beyond their advance, because books really do not sell all that well.

    The guy in your article says he sold 4000 books, and for the sake of argument we’ll assume that he means the $14.95 list price paperback. That means a total of $59,800 made on the book by everyone altogether, and if he were at a traditional publisher, that’d be about $5,400 for him. He says he gets a better deal being an indie publisher, 50% of the wholesale price after expenses (i.e. 25% retail, less expenses). If there were no expenses, it would be $14,950. He says he got about $12,000, the math looks like it checks out. Being an author is a bad way to make money. Nothing new there. If he wanted to be a millionaire, he should’ve written a book that sold over 300,000 copies.

    If you have a problem with retailers taking such a big bite out of the cover price, your complaint is not with Amazon. Amazon, like several big booksellers before it, buys wholesale but marks up the book less than the cover price, as is allowed, and makes it up on volume. It still makes money, and the publisher and author aren’t affected at all so long as they don’t decide to lower their wholesale price for some reason.

    Rather, the practice of the retailer taking that much of a share is an old, old practice in the market. I’m not sure when it started, but I would not be at all surprised to find out that it dates back to the 19th century at least. So whatever complaints you have are apparently either bunk, or are best directed at long-dead publishers and retailers.

    “But as I thumb my way through the upcoming gigs at that venue it is mostly tribute bands, and survivor 70s rockers playing the old tunes interspersed with anecdotes.”

    So?

    • David Newhoff says:

      Anonymous —

      I made the leap because you got into projecting a post-human-labor society, which destroys the context for talking about human endeavor. This is true whether we’re talking about writing books or driving trucks. It is so holistically another ballgame, that it is not technically a response to anything I write on this blog in defense of human works. As the context is so often creative works and rights pertaining to those works, I made the leap to imagining creative works in your post-human future. I have already written a couple of pieces on the prospect of “art” created by non-humans, so I won’t repeat that here, since this thread was really a discussion of economics and the business of making things.

      I don’t think my definition of creative destruction is too strict at all. If we look at something like Instagram and Kodak, I would say that is an example of an inevitable transformation in the way people take and use photos that will not replace the jobs once supported by Kodak but may yet lead to something new. In this example, I think we’re witnessing a change that is purely technological and not inherently based on breaking any laws or rules (like an Uber or a pirate site), but the extent to which it is creative destruction from an economic standpoint remains to be seen. Either way, there is not much point in criticizing the fundamental shift that put little cameras in all our handheld devices.

      Now, a motion picture can be (and has been) made with an iPhone, and that’s cool. Neither I nor any filmmaker I know disputes that we live in exciting times with regard to the means of production and, in some cases, distribution. BUT, when the scale, complexity, or production values of an intended project increase incrementally, the scope of production increases exponentially. And anyone you talk to about motion picture production will tell you that digital technology has generally not made production cheaper, faster, and easier. It’s hard to explain in few words if you’ve never worked in production, but it is still a labor-intensive and collaborative process among highly skilled workers. Nothing about digital has changed this fact, and in some cases it is more complex and, therefore, more costly.

      Since piracy is an underlying subject here and high-end motion pictures are major targets of piracy, it is fair of me to say that justifying piracy based on the notion that distribution is now more efficient is complete hogwash. Distribution is one step in the total production chain. The price of milk may go down when gas prices are low, but it doesn’t go down to zero because producing the milk in the first place has a cost. Likewise, the cost of streaming a film legally is quite low, but it should not go down to zero. Additionally, I’ll point out that all the adapting that filmmakers have done to develop and work with new distribution models, to deliver works flexibly and affordably, are both exciting and more complex than the older models. That doesn’t necessarily change film production itself, but it adds layers of complexity to the overall process from planning through distribution (i.e. more lawyers).

      The point about creative destruction in this example is that nothing has changed consumer demand for motion pictures, even the big ones everyone likes to complain about, the way technology changed consumer demand for Kodak products and services. Nothing has fundamentally made the process of making motion pictures more efficient in a way that lowers the cost of production; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Yes, the barriers to entry for an individual creator have lowered, and everyone thinks that’s cool. Two people with a camera and computer can make and distribute a feature film. And if it goes on to win awards at Sundance, that film itself will still not make any real money. It’s what those filmmakers do next that may or may not become a career and part of an industry, and thus the aforementioned scope of production becomes part of the equation.

      If nothing else, of the various assumptions people like to make about digital efficiencies, none of them applies to the films most popularly sought via pirate sites. So, the entire premise becomes truly silly. Winter Soldier cost $100 million to make. If nobody wants to see it, fine. But these are the big films that top pirate lists all the time, and that cannot be justified by claiming the producers are failing to take advantage of efficiencies in the market.

      • AudioNomics says:

        David, no matter how many times and no matter how many different ways you say these important facts, the ‘tech religious’ will never let that point sink in. They’ll pick out one irrelevant sentence in that whole excellent synopsis and go from there -avoiding- or deflecting the point until you just want to strangle someone. It’s not that they “don’t get it”… it’s that -they don’t want to- !

    • monkey says:

      ““But as I thumb my way through the upcoming gigs at that venue it is mostly tribute bands, and survivor 70s rockers playing the old tunes interspersed with anecdotes.”

      So that is – how shall I put it? – not exactly innovative.

    • John Warr says:

      So?

      Well it appears that, contrary to claims, copyright isn’t stopping a lot of bands from performing other people’s songs live on stage. That the rock music industry is so screwed that its only the old stuff that is selling, that if you want to have a semi-decent career then best turn yourself into a cover band.

      How deep does your rabbit hole go?

      The depth of the channel that diverts a watercourse and causes a downstream drought, alternatively no deeper than the shallow grave we should bury them in.

      If you have a problem with retailers taking such a big bite out of the cover price

      My comment address the fact that Authors don’t get paid a huge amount per book. Just because you have a book that sells doesn’t mean that you are making millions. As for the traditional publishers they do/have developed the careers of authors, offsetting the gains in popular works against the loses of less successful works. I don’t see that any of the tech companies come anywhere near to supporting the content that they feed upon.

      You talked earlier about computer generated content. Well formalistic works are always popular, take Mills & Boone romance novellas. Most have similar plots, similar characters, and similar dialog. But its not only Mills & Boone. Many genre novels fall prey to the same. Some successful authors have done the same. I recall some 20+ years ago Private Eye showed that at least one Jack Higgins novel was a cut & paste from two other novels. 10 years ago there were racks of “childhood lost/abuse” exploitation novellas in newsagents and bookshops.

      So it goes.

      At the weekend I was looking in Toys-R-Us for a book for a toddler. There were a number of series each series consisted of the same characters and same basic plot. If we go back to our childhood the books we read were also formalistic “Famous five”, “Secret Seven”, the Agatha Christies, the Western adventures, etc, I suppose for kids it works, but as we also know it also works, at a slightly more sophisticated level, for adults too.

      When the grandkids where in their early teens we took them for days out and had a pop radio station on. At the time everything seemed to fall into the categories of either chants or rounds. Once again formalistic. When I listened recently on last.fm to metal rock that people were posting up, it was all samey.

      So it goes.

      There is not much innovation any more, even to the extent that someone was telling the other week that electric guitar pedal blocks are all reproducing the late 60s and 70s sound.

      So it goes.

      If I look at the Explore pages on flickr, the images are once again samey. Someone has success with a particular technique and a whole bunch replicate it. day after day, month after month.

      So it goes.

      Copyright simply isn’t putting a dampner on creativity. What appears to have happened is that there is little experimentation going on, there is little space to appreciate something different.

      But hey since the rise of the internet we have had more formalistic and copycat music, movies, books, and photos.

      So it goes.

      It ain’t copyright that is the problem, it is adversity to risk. Where did that come from? OK its always been there but I don’t know of a time and place outside of the medieval and orthodox when such has been the case.

      So it goes.

      • monkey says:

        Exactly.
        Outliers in any media (lou reed, Harlan Ellison, David lynch) never became obscenely rich but could survive under the bad old system – and in the case of lynch and other filmmakers, that also meant steady work for production people and actors, to whom lynch was very loyal.

        The outliers are still out there, but they have to hustle for every dollar. Which mean that even the indie scene is dominated by the extroverts and those who play to their audience rather than challenge them.

        Remember Apple Corps? It was essentially a reverse kickstarter, where the Beatles offered a pool of money to “anyone with talent.” Trouble is that the Beatles realized that being gatekeepers was harder than they thought.

        If this translates to everything – if every cab driver, waiter, etc has to “brand” and sell themselves, then we are in a lot of trouble.

    • John Warr says:

      Their copyrights last too long, and protect too much. The contribution of authors is ultimately to the public domain.

      And so it does the moment it is published. The ideas and style, is immediately in the public domain. Not so the exact copy but pretty much everything else is. In fact the exact copy contributes nothing extra to the public domain. Wouldn’t we rather have a 1000 different wizard school stories, than 1,000,000 extra copies of one of the books? Which is pretty much formulaic on those 50s and 60s boarding school stories, but instead of ponies and rugby we have dragons and quidditch. But, we’d much rather have the variations on the Wizard school story theme than a pages of Weasleycest porn.

      Creators enhance the public domain from the moment they publish. The expiration of copyright whether it is 5 years later or 500 years later, adds very little extra.

      • Monkey says:

        Exactly. Instead of a Flash Gordon movie, we got Star Wars. Instead of new Middle Earth stories, we got a whole genre. As Robert Levine points out, When Columbia signed Bruce Springsteen that didn’t give them the copyright on songs about New Jersey.

        i remember arguing with someone about James Bond’s copyright deterring new James Bond stories. But the truth is that if James Bond became public domain tomorrow we would get very little new Bond fiction and hundreds of publishers reprinting the original books.

  12. monkey says:

    “Now, a motion picture can be (and has been) made with an iPhone, and that’s cool. Neither I nor any filmmaker I know disputes that we live in exciting times with regard to the means of production and, in some cases, distribution. BUT, when the scale, complexity, or production values of an intended project increase incrementally, the scope of production increases exponentially. ”

    One of the most depressing things I’ve ever read is Patton oswalt – a passionate movie fan – claimed that one could make citizen Kane on an iPhone now. Oswalt should have known better.

    The thing is – “efficiency” is only one part of the equation, and sometimes it has less to do with technology and more to do with the willingness to exploit people.

  13. AudioNomics says:

    Technology is a tool. It is almost meaningless unless in the hands of the person who knows how to use it. A paintbrush or a hammer are tools as well, yet we don’t have people worshipping at the alter of ‘hammer’..(nor should we)
    It is the person behind the tech (or using it) that gives it meaning and purpose.

  14. Anonymous says:

    If you keep strong arming the pizza place for a ridiculously high price to sell pizza’s, your going to see pizza production continue to fall until pizza is non – existent.

  15. Michael says:

    There is a real moral issue in digital piracy, but there is a greater technology issue.

    Let’s suppose that I see an exquisite porcelain vase in a friend’s home. It took an inspired and talented and experienced artisan a lot of time and effort to make. You can watch this process on youtube. It’s pretty amazing. I say I want to borrow this vase for a party I’m having on the next weekend. He is reluctant because he paid $3000.00 for that vase, but I say I will pay him for it if it is damaged, etc. He agrees.

    Now having the beautiful vase, I go home and use a 3-D scanner to meticulously copy all aspects of the vase. I then use my 3-D printer to make a micro-millimeter copy of it. I can paint the vase with ceramic paint, and make it look exactly like the original. I display the copy and claim that it’s an original from the same famous artist.

    Did I steal the vase, or is the vase a counterfeit? If I make a free, pirated copy of your song, did I steal your ‘music’ or did I counterfeit it? If I used an advanced porcelain 3-D printer to make a microscopic copy of the vase, is it stealing or counterfeiting? My copy vase and the original are identical.

    No one steals ‘music’; they counterfeit it. What they steal is the artist’s PAYCHECK, not the artist’s/writer’s music. Piracy will never be stopped or even slowed down in the digital age. I see an uncomfortable future where virtually anything can be duplicated digitally, and be indistinguishable from the original.

    Is any economic paradigm even possible in that scenario? Technology is so far ahead of human morality and political and economic philosophy that it’s truly scary.

    • David Newhoff says:

      All good points, Michael, though I would argue that what is “taken” from the author is his/her rights. This is where language gets tricky for folks like our new commenter Wendy, who questions whether copyright functions like a property right. Naturally, the property is the work itself, and copyright is the right that grants ownership of the work to the author. But those who want to play fast and loose with justifying piracy as a technological paradigm change, like to play shell game with the property (the work) and the right that protects it. Thus, the the conversation gets bogged down in semantic knots that are hard to untie.

  16. I read the comments here and am amazed at the ILLUSIONS many people have about the world they inhabit. It is plain greed that drives most of the arguments here. And it is greed that has destroyed my (at one time) reasonably satisfactory income. I now live in poverty, at 67, yet I receive letters from GooglePlay telling me that I am a major earner. For whom?

    “They’re building these enormous businesses on the backs of the folks who benefit least,” Casey Rae, the director of the nonprofit Future of Music Coalition, said. “That’s a structural inequity where the blame cannot be laid at one party’s feet…. The labels want the same thing every time. They want cash advances, they want ‘most favored nation’ status so nobody can undercut them, they want equity in your company, they want nonplay-related income.”—from the International Business Times, http://www.ibtimes.com/artists-fear-apples-low-priced-music-service-will-cut-further-their-streaming-income-1807998

    I will avoid this topic in future. it is not healthy for me.

  17. Anonymous says:

    David–
    “And anyone you talk to about motion picture production will tell you that digital technology has generally not made production cheaper, faster, and easier.”

    With regard to this statement, are you assuming an identical end product? I think that what has happened is that some technological advances (e.g. digital non-linear editing, computer-generated images, digital sound) have made production cheaper, faster, and easier. But, filmmakers have generally responded by making films that are more technically demanding, so the gains from the new technology get used to make films more spectacular and roughly as expensive as ever (adjusting for inflation), rather than merely as spectacular as before, but cheaper.

    A long, long, time ago, I helped to make a book, and this involved typesetting on a partially computerized phototypesetter, and doing paste-up work, marking with blue pencils, etc. I wound up working on another book project some years later, and PageMaker, PostScript, and laser printers had hit the market in the interim, and it was colossally easier to do a project of similar complexity thanks to computers. I admit that I’ve never helped film or edit a movie, but some of the stuff on YouTube (as well as medium and low budget TV) would appear to suggest that it is not as ineffective as you think. OTOH, sure, it’s not like you can hit a button and a new movie pops out of a slot.

    “Since piracy is an underlying subject here and high-end motion pictures are major targets of piracy, it is fair of me to say that justifying piracy based on the notion that distribution is now more efficient is complete hogwash.”

    I wasn’t justifying it. I was saying that movies, like most other works, made their money largely by exploiting the distribution right of copyright. Pirates now have distribution systems that are as good as, or better than (due to reluctance by publishers to adopt the best methods) legitimate distributors. This is the central reason that piracy now can have as much of an impact as it does. It seems unlikely that these distribution technologies are going to go away or get worse. Therefore, if publishers (and the various parties that rely on publishers) want to stay in business, it behooves them to find a way to make money that works well even if pirates completely destroy the financial viability of the distribution right.

    My point here is simply pragmatic. It’s like saying that you can live in California if you like, but you should take some steps to prepare for earthquakes, since earthquakes cannot yet be prevented.

    “Likewise, the cost of streaming a film legally is quite low, but it should not go down to zero.”

    Maybe not, but that won’t stop someone else from streaming it illegally and for free. Complaining about it isn’t helping. Many legal and technical reforms have been implemented to no avail over many years. Various industry groups and businesses have pledged to fight it, and have lost the fight, apparently. As I said some months ago, it is probably wise to come up with a plan B which allows authors to get by economically in an environment in which the piracy situation does not improve, and perhaps continues to get worse. At the very least, it can’t hurt to think about it!

    “more lawyers”

    Well, at least there’s some good news.

    “nothing has changed consumer demand for motion pictures, even the big ones everyone likes to complain about, the way technology changed consumer demand for Kodak products and services”

    Widespread digital cameras, photo sharing software/sites, and display devices have dramatically increased consumer demand for photographs. Kodak’s problem was that their products and services were not matched to what people actually demanded. I recall an HBS lecture about Polaroid from not too many years ago — an instant photograph, which could not be easily edited or reprinted, cost about a dollar. Now I take instant photos casually of nearly any stupid thing. I don’t mean proper photography, but just to capture some information. I took photos of the take out menu from a Chinese restaurant the other day, just so that the next time I called in an order from my cellphone, I’d have the menu handy. This never would’ve happened before. And of course, part of the reason why it happens now is that the photos are free. There’s a relatively small sunk cost for the camera and the storage, and if I share photos, a recurring cost for bandwidth, but it’s all low enough that in a single afternoon, I could take so many photos that were film still a thing, it would’ve cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

    The main constraints on demand for movies is probably the time people have to watch, and the subjective quality of the movies available. But as cost decreases, whether legitimately or not, demand does go up somewhat.

    “All good points, Michael, though I would argue that what is “taken” from the author is his/her rights.”

    If that were true, the author would have no rights that he could base a court action upon in order to seek restitution and an injunction, because they were taken. In fact, the pirate would then be able to start suing third parties for copyright infringement, because he would possess the copyright. Clearly, your hypothesis just doesn’t match up with observed reality; it must be wrong.

    Remember, the word that is used is “infringement,” and copyright isn’t the only legal context where we see it. When the government engages in censorship, they infringe on your right of free speech. You don’t lose that right. In fact you can often wield it like a sword to successfully attack the censor. Another form of infringement is trespass to land; if someone walks across your property, you don’t stop owning it, and he doesn’t take any rights in it. He just violates the rights that you hold and continue to hold throughout. And legal action against the perpetrator is meant to enforce your rights, not to reacquire them.

    “Naturally, the property is the work itself”

    No, works cannot be property. Property is capable of being used and enjoyed by its owner, of being lent and recovered, and of being disposable (whether by destruction, sale, or gift). Creative works fail at the latter two. You can’t lend a story, you can only copy it. This is exactly what Jefferson is talking about, when he says “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

    Indeed, if works could be property, we wouldn’t need copyright; creative works would be functionally no different than any other personal property. You can enjoy a brick, you can lend a brick or get it back, you can dispose of a brick; you’d be able to do that with a story or a song. But it’s not possible — as Jefferson also notes, “That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation.”

    Copyright is an artificial right meant to approximate what it would be like if works could be property. They’re vaguely like a proxy for the work, but they are completely distinguishable from the work.

    “copyright is the right that grants ownership of the work to the author.”

    No, that would be the vesting language from the copyright clause.

    I’m sorry, but your statements as to the nature of copyright are seriously wrong. This isn’t just a matter of the usual arguments that go around on this site; this is pretty much universally-agreed upon stuff.

    In short:

    A creative work (e.g. a story, a song, a movie) is an intangible and inherently copyable thing, and is not, and cannot be, property.

    A copy is a tangible object in which a creative work is fixed (e.g. a paperback book, a CD, a DVD). Even the first object in which a work is fixed is a copy (the word does not, in this context, mean a duplicate, although you can have multiple copies of one work). A copy is always personal property.

    A copyright is an artificial right, created by government, which pertains to creative works, but is not itself a creative work. Because copies contain instances of works, copyrights effectively pertain to copies as well, but copyrights are intangible, and are not the copies either. There is some debate as to whether a copyright, as distinguished from a work or a copy, is property, but there is a strong argument that it is.

    To help distinguish them from one another:

    If I write a book, I have a work (the book) and a copy (the paper the book is written on). If I xerox the copy, I now have one work (the book) and two copies (the two papers that the work is written on). If I destroy the original copy, I still have the work and a copy. A work exists so long as at least one copy of it exists.

    If a government sees fit to grant me a copyright, which it isn’t obligated to do, I can have the work, a copy, and a copyright. Suppose I print up a batch of copies and sell all but one of them to a bookstore, which then sells them to customers. Now I have the work, and a copy of the work, but so do all of the customers. What I have which is special is a copyright, which has a separate existence from the work or the copies, and which allows me to control, to some extent, what other people can do with the work (or copies containing the work).

    I can sell the copyright to someone else, while keeping a copy and thus an instance of the work, but I become indistinguishable legally from any other person who owns a copy but not the copyright, and I am just as subject to the control of the copyright holder as they are.

    Or I can sell my last copy of the work, and lose access to the work in the process (unless I remember it, which is the usual reason that works aren’t property), but retain the copyright, and continue to control what other people can do with the work and copies. But due to limits in the copyright, I can’t force them to give me their copies, or even access to them. (Cf. the joke about the painter who was kicked out of the museum for trying to touch up a painting he sold them)

    And given enough time, all the copies of a work might be destroyed, effectively causing the work to become lost, although the copyright would continue to exist, despite being moot. Or, better yet, the copyright might eventually terminate, while copies of the work still exist, removing the copyright holder’s ability to control what others do with the work and copies of it.

    I hope this helps.

    ***

    John Warr–
    “Well it appears that, contrary to claims, copyright isn’t stopping a lot of bands from performing other people’s songs live on stage.”

    I don’t recall having said that it was, or that anyone was saying that, really. Cover songs are a staple of popular music, at least in the US. There’s even a statutory exception allowing performers to make and sell cover recordings without the permission of the copyright holders. (Though I have seen at least one copyright-maximalist musician complain about that)

    “That the rock music industry is so screwed that its only the old stuff that is selling, that if you want to have a semi-decent career then best turn yourself into a cover band.”

    I expect that that has more to do with the tastes of the audience. How many Disney movies got turned into Broadway musicals — and made a fortune? People like familiar things sometimes. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    “My comment address the fact that Authors don’t get paid a huge amount per book. Just because you have a book that sells doesn’t mean that you are making millions.”

    Only a teeny tiny number of authors make millions. In fact, most authors make less than if they had worked at a ‘real job’ instead. If you just want to make money, don’t be an author; be an investment banker.

    Anyway, the reason that authors make so little is the same as the reason that most artists make little: Shit rolls downhill. That is, bookstores have an enormous number of books available and limited shelf space — so if the publisher of a specific book wants to cut the store’s share of the money, the bookstore can refuse to stock that book and generally not suffer for it. Likewise, there are just scads of authors trying to get published, but publishers have limited resources and reject most of the books submitted to them. If an author insisted on cutting the publisher’s share of the money, the publisher can refuse to publish that author’s book, and generally not suffer for it. The author, however, is at the bottom of the pile, and there is no one that he can exploit. Even the author’s agent can fire an annoying client and likely not suffer for it. So except for big name authors, of whom there are few, authors don’t get paid much, and never will. It’s just the nature of things.

    “As for the traditional publishers they do/have developed the careers of authors, offsetting the gains in popular works against the loses of less successful works.”

    Well, helping authors is not obligatory for publishers. When they do it, to the extent that they do it, it’s because the publisher is either calculating how it will help its own bottom line, or because the business is not well-managed financially.

    And using successful works to cover for the losses of unsuccessful works is a common practice, but is arguably unfair. It’s the sort of thing that comes up when people complain about Hollywood accounting, in which movies never turn a profit (and so never pay out to people who own points in the gross) because every imaginable loss and expense, even from unrelated projects, is deducted.

    “There is not much innovation any more”

    I don’t think that’s true, though I do think it’s possible to see refinements overshadow innovations, simply through sheer quantity. But it’s all alright — there is room in the world for works which are carefully improved and polished, but are based on rougher, innovative works. The OS making your computer work is almost certainly traceable back to either Unix, which began development in 1969, or WindowsNT, which began development in 1988 but is closely based on an older OS called VMS, which began development in 1975. It’s easily possible to create a new and innovative new OS, but what people want in that market is polish. Decades of polish.

    “It ain’t copyright that is the problem, it is adversity to risk.”

    They’re both different problems.

    “I don’t know of a time and place outside of the medieval and orthodox when such has been the case.”

    I’d bet good money that it’s always been like that, but that it wasn’t as noticeable due to 1) Old, bad works being forgotten about; 2) More works where it is noticeable being published now than previously.

    “In fact the exact copy contributes nothing extra to the public domain.”

    No? Well, in that case if we were to burn all the copies of all of the books, except for a single copy of each book, to be held in the Library of Congress, we’d be no worse off than we are now, by your logic, plus we’d have all sorts of free space on our shelves for tchotchkes.

    Or does that not appeal?

    More copies of works is actually a strong contributor to the public domain, because it improves the ability of members of the public to access the works (difficult when there’s only the one copy), it tends to lower the price of copies, further improving the ability to access, and it increases the odds that the work will survive over the long run. The great national libraries of the world are wonderful. But let’s not forget that great libraries burn down from time to time. Most of our copies of works from antiquity exist because people made copies and disseminated them widely — had we put all our eggs in the one basket, whether it was the Library of Alexandria, the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, or Nalanda, we would know almost nothing of ancient history and knowledge.

    “Creators enhance the public domain from the moment they publish.”

    They do, but only because copyright doesn’t protect the entirety of their works, and even then, they don’t improve the public domain more than a trifling amount. It takes the termination of the copyright for the public domain to truly benefit.

    “The expiration of copyright whether it is 5 years later or 500 years later, adds very little extra.”

    That is an astonishingly foolish statement, plus it is entirely backwards in its assumptions.

    *****

    Michael–
    “There is a real moral issue in digital piracy”

    I disagree. I think there is no significant moral aspect to either copyright or piracy. Though if it were absolutely necessary to find one, I’d say that piracy has the better claim to morality.

    “I display the copy and claim that it’s an original from the same famous artist.

    Did I steal the vase, or is the vase a counterfeit?”

    Claiming that it is an original is what makes it a counterfeit. If you told the truth and said that it was a copy which was indistinguishable from the original, it would merely be a reproduction, but not a counterfeit. Counterfeiting has nothing to do with the quality of the copy (other than that better copies make it easier to fool people) and everything to do with fraud concerning the provenance of the copy. Since provenance is not copyable, markets that rely on it (such as for fine arts) do not need to rely on copyright much, if at all.

    “What they steal is the artist’s PAYCHECK”

    So you’re saying that if I were to download “Uptown Funk!” (I have no idea what that is, I just looked for the #1 pop song on Billboard), that I would get money that was supposed to go to Mark Ronson? Would it arrive as a check that I would have to deposit, or is it wired to my account, or what? It’s a popular song, so I assume that we’re talking some thousands of dollars here. Or maybe you’d like to tone down your hyperbole.

    “I see an uncomfortable future where virtually anything can be duplicated digitally, and be indistinguishable from the original.”

    If you want the extreme scenario, look at the replicators from Star Trek. They could make exact copies of virtually anything, and came in sizes ranging from ‘a plate of food’ to ‘a pre-packed cargo container’ and probably bigger still for industrial applications. What happens to farmers, grocers, and restaurants, when a perfectly prepared meal, from a worldwide menu of millions of choices, can be zapped into existence at the press of a button? Why have furniture stores when you can throw yesterday’s furniture into the hopper and get today’s different furniture back out? Hell, why even make the bed, when you can just rearrange the bed’s atoms into an already-made bed, mints on the pillows and everything? Would we mourn the loss of these things given the tremendous benefits we’d receive?

    Obviously it’s unrealistic for material goods — even 3D printing is nowhere near that and may never be — but intangible creative works can be copied just that easily. So it’s a useful thought experiment.

    *****

    Jessica–

    “It is plain greed that drives most of the arguments here.”

    Greed is at the heart of copyright. It wouldn’t exist without greed on the part of the public, and it wouldn’t work without greed on the part of the authors and publishers. If only we all lived in Altruismland, where people just give money to authors out of the kindness of their hearts, and authors give away their works because doing so makes the world a better place.

    “‘They’re building these enormous businesses on the backs of the folks who benefit least,’ Casey Rae, the director of the nonprofit Future of Music Coalition, said. ‘That’s a structural inequity'”

    See my comment to John about shit rolling downhill.

    • David Newhoff says:

      Anonymous, I don’t have time to respond to all of that, but on film production, what you’re saying simply isn’t true. Yes, studios make big, effects-driven spectacles, which are expensive and complex. We can project a future in which those films don’t exist, which is fine although we also have to admit those are the films most often pirated. Regardless, take any relatively small, character-driven film and the process that costs time and money is roughly the same as it was in a pre-digital age and can be more complex, depending on the production elements, locations, etc. I was just discussing this with an indy filmmaker in LA, but there’s a logic behind doing things right that drives up cost. As a simple example, you don’t hire a great DP and then tell him/her that you’re dropping the operator and the two camera assistants, which is sort of a standard crew complement for one camera. Those roles are not superfluous even though there are examples of bootstrapped films that are made without them. You’ll never see what they do, but they’re one department collaborating with several other departments in order to make an end product like Allen’s “Manhattan” or “Taxi Driver” or “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The functions of all those departments has not changed radically because the recording and editing tools are now digital. And in some cases, the process is actually harder and more costly.

      We might predict a future in which motion picture entertainment products are so radically different that what I’m saying doesn’t apply, but that’s not the trend at all. The trend is new producing entities like Netflix and Amazon, making works like long-form series delivered a whole season at a time, but the process of making a “House of Cards” is not cheaper. There are savings in distribution to be sure, but those savings are already passed onto the customer who gets a whole Netflix account for eight bucks a month.

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