Big Tech Still Full of BS on Piracy

Following the loss of Robin Williams, my kids were in the mood to re-watch Disney’s Aladdin.  We thought we had a VHS copy of the film, but I bet mine is not the only household with a few VHS jackets containing the wrong tapes inside.  (See kids, this is why we put things back…) Anyway, not so much with the tape, I never did get around to buying a DVD; and so I checked Netflix and iTunes, neither of which had the film in its libraries.  I’ll order a DVD or something the next time I think of it, but I share this otherwise unremarkable anecdote because it seems to me that many very serious people would have us believe that what happened to my kids as a consequence of this postponed desire is quite extraordinary.  They lived!  They even shrugged off the deferred desire to watch that particular movie and resumed their otherwise normal lives.

What I’m saying might seem obvious to the average reader, but it turns out highly-paid, fully-grown professionals would equate the mundane experience I just recounted with deprivations like hunger, thirst, or disease in order to justify media piracy as though it is the only rational response to whatever barriers stand between the consumer and 90 or so minutes of entertainment.  The self-righteousness with which this premise is consistently proclaimed and repeated — and taken seriously by lawmakers — is nothing short of an embarrassment in a world where an estimated billion people don’t have access to safe water.

Recently, TorrentFreak reports that Google, Facebook, and Microsoft rejected Australia’s anti-piracy proposal, and as usual, the CCIA is playing another variation on the familiar theme that piracy is a consumer reaction to producers’ failures to deliver unfettered access at a “fair price.”  To quote:

“…CCIA director Jakob Kucharczyk says that any new scheme should employ a “holistic end-to-end approach” and be coupled with efforts by content providers to give customers the content they need at a fair price.”

First of all, as a former corporate communications guy, let me say for the record that when someone employs a redundancy like  “holistic end-to-end approach,” he’s blowing smoke straight up your ass.  These are words used by people who either have no solution to a problem or do not seek a solution to a problem because they don’t acknowledge that there is a problem.  That’s what’s happening here.  The CCIA, speaking on behalf of Silicon Valley, is saying piracy is a) not a problem, and b) if it is a problem, it’s the producers’ fault because consumers aren’t getting what they want.

The funny thing is I agree prices aren’t fair.  They should actually be considerably higher in most cases.  $1.29 for a song in 2014 is equivalent to $2.35 in 1990 just before us Gen Xers — yes, we were actually the first adopters of all this stuff — got online.  Has the cost of living for the several people who made that song possible gone down? Of course not. Granted, prices and wages have failed to keep up with the cost of living across many sectors, which is why we’re seeing a shrinking middle class, but it isn’t going to help if the next generation of consumers buys into this ridiculous narrative that they’re getting a bad deal on discretionary purchases that are widely available and already quite cheap. Spotify for music is just one way the consumer is certainly not getting hozed; unfortunately, though, songwriters and artists are; so there’s a problem that needs a “holistic” solution and fair pricing that’s legitimately fair to the next generation of musical artists.  But of course, that’s not what Mr. Kucharczyk meant.

It’s understood that this is how big, corporate interests play hardball.  The Internet and consumer electronics industries have a financial stake in continuing to reduce the value of professionally produced media until the musicians and filmmakers and other creators around the world are left with no choice other than to make deals with the only devils left standing.  Now, I personally think these guys are straight up pigs, but the only way they’re going to get away with owning the universe is if the consuming public allows them to do so by believing this story.  But I actually don’t believe people are quite that cynical or naive.  Sure the short-term lure of instant gratification without cost is tempting, and it becomes easy to rationalize; but bit by bit, people begin to understand that it is patently absurd to love iPods and HD TVS without any media to play on them.

© 2014, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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64 comments

  • But I actually don’t believe people are quite that cynical or naive. Sure the short-term lure of instant gratification without cost is tempting, and it becomes easy to rationalize; but bit by bit, people begin to understand that it is patently absurd to love iPods and HD TVS without any media to play on them.

    And there you have it why the public roots for the technology industry. It is the technology industry that fights for making content available on the iPods and HDTVs. The content industry profoundly lacks technological vision (they pretty much go kicking and screaming into new formats, even when it unambiguously benefited them, like VCR).

    What is copyright? A legal tool to make enable scarcity and limit availability. That’s literally all copyright enables at the concrete sense.

  • David,
    “What I’m saying might seem obvious to the average reader, but it turns out highly-paid, fully-grown professionals would equate the mundane experience I just recounted with deprivations like hunger, thirst, or disease in order to justify media piracy as though it is the only rational response to whatever barriers stand between the consumer and 90 or so minutes of entertainment. The self-righteousness with which this premise is consistently proclaimed and repeated — and taken seriously by lawmakers — is nothing short of an embarrassment in a world where an estimated billion people don’t have access to safe water.”

    Maybe, but that doesn’t mean that crying ‘shame, shame’ is an effective response.

    Lots of people partake in all sorts of behaviors which are more about sating a desire for personal pleasure rather than being morally upright or socially useful. We banned alcohol, but everyone drank anyway, and the best solution was to admit that the ban was a mistake. We banned marijuana, but lots of people smoke pot anyway, and now we have two states that have outright legalized it, and many more are heading in that direction. Bloomberg tried to ban large cups of coke for perfectly sensible health reasons, and wound up on the receiving end of protests, as the butt of jokes, and wound up losing.

    Casual piracy is not particularly different. Home taping didn’t kill music. But even if it did, home taping is more important than music. Or rather, home taping is more important than a music industry that cannot coexist with home taping.

    We know for a fact that it’s possible to have the various publishing industries in a world with less copyright. We know this because we’ve done it; we had less copyright in 1977 than we do now, even less in 1971, and in 1909, and so forth. The world’s not going to end. We can have instant gratification and content to put onto our neat devices. It’s patently absurd to claim otherwise; in the main, people won’t stop creating and they won’t stop publishing.

    And I have to agree with M on this point — people like technology firms when they provide products and products which are useful and enjoyable. Invasions of privacy, not so much, but for now the good outweighs the bad. What’s the RIAA done for me, other than to standardize equalization curves? What’s MPAA done for me, period? If you’re going to make an argument founded on the enlightened self-interest of the public, you could not have picked worse horses than publishers and the current Copyright Act.

    • There isn’t a single technology firm that M likes that aren’t involved in a massive invasion of privacy. he puts up with it because they allow him access to stuff that they don’t own, and turn a blind eye to rampant piracy on the properties they control. Make no mistake the ISPs, facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo et al know exactly what piracy is occurring on their properties but it isn’t their IP so they don’t give a shit so long as they can sell you more bandwidth to access it, store it, or find it. Otherwise they know the colour of your underwear, the last time you changed them, and what it was you were watching that stained them.

      M gives not a single thought to privacy he sold his for fee maps and cat videos.

      • Should we be monitoring tech companies for abuses of the public trust here? Sure.

        So here is the difference. Technology companies don’t activity attempt to probe things you want to keep private, and even build such capabilities into their software. Very personal invasions of privacy are not in their interest. They do things like provide customized services that are usually beneficial. Just an example from today: my phone was able to tell me to take a different route back home because of a car wreck, a route that saved by me an estimated 23 minutes of commute time. These kinds of helpful things literally happen all the time. Even customized advertisements are usually beneficial, it’s a waste for both parties times if a promotion is not relevant.

      • [Should we be monitoring tech companies for abuses of the public trust here? Sure. ]

        No we should be shutting them down.

        Very personal invasions of privacy are very much in their interest. They just rely on you not actually caring, or not knowing exactly what purposes they are putting that data too. If you don’t think that financial, political, religious, and sexual orientation are personal matters heaven helps us.

        BTW The radio in your car has a button that tells you when there is a hold up ahead. Cuts in when there is an announcement. Has done so for more than 20 years.

    • Anonymous,

      We’ve done this one before I think, but I disagree that piracy, casual or not, is analogous to prohibition, which speaks directly to one of the main points I continue to make about this non-problem organizations like the CCIA keep “identifying.” Bootlegging was a response to a ban; nobody has banned entertainment media. Is every title available worldwide 24/7? No. But the answer isn’t as simple as “well it should be because technology makes it possible” unless you remove commerce from the equation. More to the point, I care far less about measuring the economic impact of piracy (or arguing about it) than I do about the cultural flaw in devaluing the work itself. This doesn’t end with music and television. Human labor is being devalued in every sector, and it’s having a very bad effect on the economy. Eventually, corporate leaders will begin to see that by squeezing the middle class into a struggling condition, their employees will no longer be their customers.

      You can love your gadgets all you want. I love gadgets and always have. But if they don’t do anything, then they’re very pretty paperweights. You claim artists will create great works with or without copyrights, but you can’t actually prove it. And despite the fact that the US has been the leading producer in these sectors for more than a century, you want to upset the apple cart and see what happens in the name of…what exactly? It’s the proverb of the dog and the two bones.

  • David-

    The funny thing is I agree prices aren’t fair. They should actually be considerably higher in most cases. $1.29 for a song in 2014 is equivalent to $2.35 in 1990 just before us Gen Xers — yes, we were actually the first adopters of all this stuff — got online.

    There’s a big difference between then and now though. Supply and demand. There is an incredible amount of music out there. It’s one area where “more” isn’t an “illusion”. To give a personal example, this afternoon I discovered a nuclear holocaust themed surf band. That’s the kind of band that would have been local heroes back before the Internet. Back in the day, we had fanzines and newsheets. These days we have Soundcloud and (especially) Bandcamp. I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t visibility issues still, but from an aging indie kid perspective I absolutely would not want to go back.

    So, when discussing “fair price” we need to remember that “fair” is subjective. Any band charging twenty dollars for their album is going to have to have something special to offer that none of the bands charging five dollars or even giving away their music for free doesn’t. That isn’t easy, especially if we move away from “special editions” etc.

    That doesn’t really nullify your point on piracy though. I’d personally welcome a more level playing field, because I think the DIY scene is now in a position where we can hold our own against overproduced corporate rock with high promotional budgets. And that can’t be tested until piracy is lessened. I’m just saying that I wouldn’t assume that a reduction of piracy will lead to a massive leap in prices. Piracy has never been the only factor at play, no matter how much some people would like it to be.

    We’re probably talking about a different customer base anyway. Common sense suggests to me that the “instant gratification” types are not going to be the same people that are spending hours seeking out new music on Bandcamp.

    You claim artists will create great works with or without copyrights, but you can’t actually prove it.

    I can prove that, using strong circumstantial evidence.

    Great works were created before copyright. Great works are being created now under creative commons licenses so unrestricted that I think we can assume that they would be created without any copyright. I also think we can make a good case that artists currently giving away their work free or for pay what you like would mostly carry on creating without copyright as money obviously isn’t their motive.

    However, this does not mean that the abolition of copyright wouldn’t also have problems. Many historical great works were created under the patronage system, which has massive obvious issues. It does not necessarily mean that the same number of artists would be creating or that all great works would have been created without copyright. It’s certainly not as clearcut as copyright terms, where it is self-evident that great works have been created from intellectual property that has fallen out of copyright. It should also be noted that a good deal of the artists I know that give their work away free or on pay what you like are heavily opposed to commercial exploitation of their work being allowed. Because they’re the same artists that have deliberately refused to have any commercial restraints influencing their work.

    So it doesn’t change your argument as such. But it’s important, because there’s an implication you’re making (that I’m pretty sure is unintentional in your case) that works created and given away are de facto less artistically worthwhile.

    I’ll make an offer to you and anyone else who wants it. Give me three bands you like and I can recommend you a band you’ll also like that exists outside the standard label system and is either copyright free or pay what you like. (Offer doesn’t extend to classical or jazz, because I suck at those genres!)

    • Sam- “There’s a big difference between then and now though. Supply and demand. There is an incredible amount of music out there. It’s one area where “more” isn’t an “illusion”.”

      All music doesn’t compete with all other music. There is only one [insert your favorite band].

      “Great works are being created now under creative commons licenses so unrestricted that I think we can assume that they would be created without any copyright.”

      I support an artist’s CHOICE to give away their art, if that indeed their choice…I don’t support someone making that choice for the artist.
      And FYI, Creative Commons relies on strong copyright protection to even exist, otherwise there’s nothing backing that decision. A decision btw that can be done without CC (not the other way around..)

      • @Audionomics

        All music doesn’t compete with all other music. There is only one [insert your favorite band].

        Yes and no. When I talk about competiveness, I’m looking at something wider then someone’s favourite band. Nobody just listens to a single band, so there’s a lot of competition still going on, just for listener’s attention.

        This is getting into 1000 free fans territory which is a whole discussion in its own right, but I think you can breakdown the potential audience as follows:

        A) “They’re my favourite band”. Those people who will buy everything the band puts out; the target audience for special editions, handwritten lyric books, games of football with the drummer etc. Not every band has those kinds of fans. I think suggesting that someone will necessarily only be like that with one band is overly rigid, but it’s certainly going to tail off around five at most.

        B) “I’m a fan”. Not as completionist as the first group, but they’ll probably buy at least all the official albums put out and maybe a t-shirt or gig ticket. They’re less interested in studio outtakes or those other kind of novelty tracks though.

        C) “These are good”. We’re getting into far more casual fans now. They’ll often buy on a whim, if they hear a track they like and may extend from that to other songs by the same band. But they won’t go out of their way to seek them out or keep updated on future developments with their band.

        D) “This is ok”. Very casual. If they buy at all, it’ll be the specific track they’re listening to. And you need them to buy on the spot, or it’s not happening.

        There’s also some weird groups outside that. The ‘nostalgists’ mostly care about the music of their youth, but if you’re that kind of legacy artist, they’ll buy up your expensive box sets as a way of reliving their younger days. Not much use to new artists, but great if you’re the Rolling Stones or the Dead Kennedys, both of whom survive on that market. Particularly as they often have a sizeable amount of disposable income. There’s some overlap with the audiophiles, who are all about the expensive stereo equipment. If you allow them to show that off they might be interested, but don’t expect them to support a career.

        So that’s what I mean by “competition”. It’s a fight for listeners attention, especially at B and C which is where the bulk of the purchases are going to be made. A is impossible to force and D isn’t reliable enough to be worth worrying about.

        And FYI, Creative Commons relies on strong copyright protection to even exist, otherwise there’s nothing backing that decision. A decision btw that can be done without CC (not the other way around..)

        Sure, my point there is only that CC suggests that some artists would consider to create if copyright wasn’t around, not to imply that means that copyright should be abolished. Indeed, as I point out, some of the artists I know who are fiercely anti label are exactly the same ones who are against commercial operations like the Pirate Bay. Because they want nothing to do with corporations at all, as a point of principle, not one of financial interest.

    • [(Offer doesn’t extend to classical or jazz, because I suck at those genres!)]

      Damn I was going to say Miles (c1970-1976), Jarrett’s European quartet, and Weather Report.

      But the thing is that given a style/genre there isn’t much that is truly awful. You’ll tend to like anything that sounds similar. I’ve recently bought stuff by prog-rock groups Camel, BJH, and Renaissance, groups I wouldn’t have listened to in the 70s for entirely pathetic reasons. Now I wouldn’t say that they’d suddenly become my favorite prog-rock bands but there was nothing wrong with their output. The same is true of other genres too.

      Also if you give it a chance genre/styles that are unfamiliar to your aren’t ‘quite so bad’ as you may think.

    • Sam, regarding pre-copyright creation of works, please see my response to Anonymous. I don’t see a reason to repeat the same points in the same thread. Regardless, I would never say that work given away is less artistically valuable. The first principle of copyright, though, is choice. The choice resides with the author, and this just seems like common decency to me. Naturally, an author doesn’t need copyright to choose to give his work away, but he does need copyright if he wants to at least try to impose some other control over that work — financial or otherwise with regard to its use.

      By attacking piracy and what I consider to be either childish or industry-serving rationalizations for it, I am not advocating a single manner in which artists disseminate their work. When I wrote about Amanda Palmer’s TEDx talk, I didn’t attack her for being the poser many people think she is, but did criticize the notion that she represents “the way things should be done.” I don’t know a single copyright advocate, even in the most industry-focused position, who thinks that all artists should produce and disseminate in one specific system. But piracy is not a system. It’s a black market that removes the choice from the author(s). And people may not like to think of Warner Brothers as an “author” because its a big-ass studio in a conglomerate, but that’s rather hypocritical, if they’re pirating Warner’s movie. It’s also economic folly when 95% of the people who made that movie are middle-class, skilled labor who shop in their stores, etc.

      And my point about pricing is that if even if what you do want is pop music or Warner’s new Batman movie, these things are cheap and accessible in a variety of ways. The CCIA claim that piracy is a response to scarcity is just bullshit in many markets, especially the American market. Piracy is a habit usually formed young, and such habits are hard to break and invariably become congealed with naive justifications. Bestowing it with more virtue than that baffles me.

      But you don’t really need to prove to me that there is great work that gets done without copyrights or without commercialization. I see and hear things all the time that I like that fit those descriptions. It’s not that work done by an amateur artist (i.e. doesn’t care to be paid for his work) is less artistically valuable than work done by an artist who chooses to be a professional. I simply don’t see why the existence of the former negates the rights or the value of the latter. I want the singer/songwriter down the street to make a living as well as the electrician across the street. If the electrician also plays in a shit-hot band that gives away free downloads for the love of the music (and may be just as talented as the singer/songwriter), so be it. But if people want the work of the singer/songwriter, and it has a cost, they should pay that cost. Because if the singer/songwriter really has something millions of people are going to love, his work is going to end up supporting a lot more jobs than the electrician’s business ever could.

      • [The choice resides with the author, and this just seems like common decency to me.]

        Of course. One of the bands I came across in the last year or so is Driscoll and Kouyate (check them out). Saw them earlier this year at the Camden Jazz Cafe towards the end of the concert they said we have CDs buy one share it amongst your friends, put it online if you want (we don’t care) just buy a copy. That is their choice to do that, they want to get their work known, their way of doing so.

        Last week we went to see Henry IV part I Shakespeare pre-copyright, patronage by prominent members of the court. For the Elizabethan court Henry IV was a difficult figure, crown stealing, usurpation etc. So Henry IV hardly appears in the play at all.

      • @David

        Sure thing. But some people are explicitly arguing that “amateur” artists are less important in these discussions, which is why I’m so insistent on fighting for the other side.

        This probably goes without saying, but just in case, even at my most polemical when I talk about “destroying the major labels” I’m not actually meaning that literally. It’s more pithy then going “I wish to make the labels obsolete overtime by promoting alternatives”.

        I am not advocating a single manner in which artists disseminate their work. When I wrote about Amanda Palmer’s TEDx talk, I didn’t attack her for being the poser many people think she is, but did criticize the notion that she represents “the way things should be done.”

        Agreed. There is no magic bullet here. (This includes “cracking down on piracy” as some kind of absolute solution that will make everything ok again). Amanda Palmer forgets that, unlike her, a lot of artists are neither good at or comfortable with selling themselves as a brand. I have some friends who’ve toured with her and she’s like that all the time. It’s who she is, not who everyone is.

        And people may not like to think of Warner Brothers as an “author” because its a big-ass studio in a conglomerate, but that’s rather hypocritical, if they’re pirating Warner’s movie.

        But… they aren’t an author. They’re a producer. I don’t think of them as an “author” not because I pirate from them, but because they don’t reasonably fit any linguistic description of what an “author” actually is. We’ve already had the rubbish that is corporate personhood, do we really need to start rewriting language for the sake of big corporations even more?

        But if people want the work of the singer/songwriter, and it has a cost, they should pay that cost.

        Agreed. But people need to accept that eradicating piracy won’t necessarily make them a living. Because if they don’t, that’s when we’re going to see far more dangerous proposals being put on the table when they realise it didn’t fix anything after all. Internet slowdowns, for example.

        Because if the singer/songwriter really has something millions of people are going to love, his work is going to end up supporting a lot more jobs than the electrician’s business ever could.

        Complicated road to go down though. Because, equally, I’m pretty sure my nurse friend is going to save way more lives then any singer/songwriter. Yet she isn’t paid what Lars Ulrich is. I accept we’re getting into far wider political ground then entertainment/copyright there though.

      • Sam, just to clarify, “author” is the term a lawyer will use generally to define a creator, individual, group, or corporate of a work. Nearly all films are produced by a single entity that binds together some collection of works for hire, licensed works, etc. And many films are then sold to other entities in distribution deals. I wouldn’t confuse the point with corporate personhood or the Citizens United problem. Author is shorthand for creator, and we need shorthand because films are made by teams from 5 to 500, based on either original or highly derivative written works.

        Eradicating or mitigating piracy does not guarantee anyone a living, and I don’t think too many artists are confused about this. Few entrepreneurs fail to recognize that their ventures are risky. But that risk, or competition, should be allowed to occur in a legit market where consumers vote with their wallets.

        I don’t think there’s any point in contrasting wealth and value in this context. Sure, every teacher is more important that every CEO. Ditto every nurse, and so on. I’m not sure how that’s relevant, though, unless we’re recreating an entire society from scratch, as you imply. Suffice to say in the economy we have Lars’s career, like a movie, supports dozens or hundreds of middle-class jobs, which supports healthy middle-class communities, including hospitals where the nurses work. All other current economic flaws (and there are many) notwithstanding.

  • David–
    “Bootlegging was a response to a ban; nobody has banned entertainment media.”

    Don’t expect perfection out of analogies. But even where supplies of a desired good or service are artificially limited by quantity, quality or price, black markets arise even though there is not a total ban.

    The British taxed legitimate tea, so the Americans smuggled tea to avoid the taxes. Cigarettes are legal nationwide, but people still smuggle them from states where taxes are low, and then sell them at illegally low (but profitable prices) in states where cigarette taxes are high. When taxi services are limited and expensive, competitors arise; not just Uber, but also informal jitneys. And the world’s oldest profession has existed since the dawn of history because there’s not enough casual sex in the world to meet demand without it.

    Works generally aren’t banned, but if they’re priced high enough that you can’t afford to buy a copy, what’s the difference? Either way, you don’t get to enjoy it lawfully.

    “Is every title available worldwide 24/7? No. But the answer isn’t as simple as “well it should be because technology makes it possible” unless you remove commerce from the equation.”

    Sounds like a plan.

    “More to the point, I care far less about measuring the economic impact of piracy (or arguing about it) than I do about the cultural flaw in devaluing the work itself.”

    At this point you lose me. Copyright is only an economic incentive to create and publish works. Piracy doesn’t diminish the cultural value of a work, not that we should care one iota about that sort of thing in formulating copyright policy. In fact, piracy probably increases cultural value, if only by allowing the work to be more widely dispersed, and more likely to survive the loss of original copies. Pretty much every work we have from antiquity exists due to copying.

    “More to the point, I care far less about measuring the economic impact of piracy (or arguing about it) than I do about the cultural flaw in devaluing the work itself. … Human labor is being devalued in every sector, and it’s having a very bad effect on the economy.”

    I tip my hat to you; that is an amazing circular argument, and in only two sentences.

    In any event, as I’ve said before, I’m all for replacing human labor with technology, provided that the benefits of doing so are shared fairly with the people whose labor is no longer of economic worth. It’s perverse to me that the old policy of ‘work or starve to death’ should be treated as being in any way a good thing.

    And of course, if authors no longer need to sell their artistic labor, or make money by exploiting copyrights, in order to sustain themselves, this should produce a great increase in the number of works created. No longer will authors have to care about whether there’s a paying audience for their work. No longer will authors have to make artistic compromises for reasons of profitability. No longer will authors have to hold down day jobs that take away time from their real jobs. And if authors don’t need money (or as much money) from copyrights, we can reduce or perhaps even eliminate the copyrights and satisfy their audiences as well.

    “Eventually, corporate leaders will begin to see that by squeezing the middle class into a struggling condition, their employees will no longer be their customers.”

    I agree that the middle class shouldn’t be squeezed, but I don’t trust big business to stop of their own free will. We’re going to have to force them.

    “But if they don’t do anything, then they’re very pretty paperweights.”

    You think that back in ancient Sumeria, someone invented the stylus, the clay tablet, and the cuneiform writing system, but that everyone refused to write the first wedge with this new technology until Hammurabi whipped up a copyright law? Or that all the musicians in the country threw down their instruments until 1972, when there was finally a federal copyright for sound recordings?

    You know perfectly well that there will always be creative works around, so long as there are people. We’ll never face a situation in which gadgets are paperweights or doorstops, unless they’ve been supplanted by better gadgets.

    “You claim artists will create great works with or without copyrights, but you can’t actually prove it.”

    From the first time that a human being created a work of art until 1710 (and then, only in England), every great work was created without copyrights. And in most of the world, copyrights didn’t exist until the 19th or 20th centuries (and largely as a side effect of European colonization, rather than any actual merits the idea has, or desire for it). And even after copyrights were ginned into existence, they didn’t apply to very much for some time; books were protected long before works of visual art, or dance, or architecture, or music.

    Almost all the history of art is my proof. QED.

    “And despite the fact that the US has been the leading producer in these sectors for more than a century”

    Ah, now it’s my turn for a challenge. You claim that the US has been the leading producer in the arts for more than a century because of copyright, but you can’t actually prove it. To do so, you’ll have to account for the effects of collateral factors. For instance, there would be fewer books published, if fewer people read books, which would be the case if we didn’t have public education, good artificial lighting, significant amounts of leisure time, inexpensive paper made from wood pulp, the printing press, mechanized transportation to haul copies from the publisher to stores cheaply, etc. By all means, show us which sliver of our arts would not exist only but for copyright.

    “you want to upset the apple cart and see what happens”

    Yes.

    Of course, I’m only interested in copyright reform, not outright abolition (unless the circumstances call for it). For most of the century that the US was the leading producer in the arts, we had far less copyright than we do now. Terms were shorter. The scope of protected works was less. Authors had more obligations in order to obtain rights to begin with. And yet, as you yourself point out, we greatly prospered. While I don’t want to revive the 1909 Copyright Act, which is what you apparently credit with such great achievements, having lasted from 1909 to 1977, I do want to chop the 1976 Act down quite a bit. The success of our industries with less copyright for so long clearly shows that we don’t need the excessive protection we suffer under now. Reform can bring us sufficient protection, with more freedom for the public.

    “It’s the proverb of the dog and the two bones.”

    No, I think it’s the fable of the dog and the wolf.

    • Anonymous —

      It’s interesting that in the context of the US, you cite other cultural factors for the production of work (e.g. education), which is certainly correct. I would never say that copyright alone is the incentive to create anymore than I would say that civil rights legislation is the sole incentive to treat fellow citizens decently. But when referring to pre-copyright history, you skip over the qualifiers. Elizabethan England produced Shakespeare and his contemporaries, but patronage of the ruling class was essential for survival, and so on. That’s a common example, but which arts in which culture are we discussing? Copyright critics like the generalization that humans have always created, but as you indicate, one really has to look at other factors, including the political and economic structure of a given society at a particular time, in order to evaluate the benefits to the society and the creator relative to our own contemporary values.

      Certain individuals, even in the most repressive impoverished societies, will create art; no one can dispute this. Dissemination of works in a free and competitive market is another matter, but it sounds to me as though you are an idealist bordering on Marxism. You write, “And of course, if authors no longer need to sell their artistic labor, or make money by exploiting copyrights, in order to sustain themselves, this should produce a great increase in the number of works created.” You state this following your embrace of technology to replace human labor, but it sounds to me like utopianism with at least a hint of “to each according to his needs.” If this is indeed your view, it provides relevant context for your proposed reforms of copyright because you’re prosing said reforms envisioning a society based on something other than a capitalist market. As such, we’re not really debating the pros and cons of copyright so much as the pros and cons of capitalism in a democratic republic. Or am I misreading you?

      • I don’t think Marxism as defined by Marx is the future, but something not like our current breed of capitalism.

        This has everything to do with the devaluation of human labor you describe (you will find that technologists/futurists even those apathetic to copyright have been sounding the alarm on that before it was even considered by most anyone).

        Futurists often say the future will be a “resource-based economy”, an economy where the only thing that has inherent value is limited resources (metals, oil, etc.) and where distribution works in a somewhat communist fashion (universal basic income), as the requirement for human labor converges to nothing in the economic system. The idea is nobody will have to work for a living ever again, but it’s a gradual process towards that, and the economy will have to look more and more resource-based to not collapse as we get there.

      • Yes, I’m aware that these predictions are not new. I am also fairly convinced it’s a dystopian fate.

    • [For most of the century that the US was the leading producer in the arts, we had far less copyright than we do now. Terms were shorter. The scope of protected works was less. Authors had more obligations in order to obtain rights to begin with.]

      Examples of where the shorter terms and less protection produced more works. There should be plenty of derivative works based on earlier content that fell out of copyright due to the term expiring. Give us 10 major works that were created as a result. I’ll make it easy for you can mix and match written (prose, poetry, non-fiction), film, music, stage plays.

      ready set go.

      • [From the first time that a human being created a work of art until 1710 (and then, only in England), every great work was created without copyrights.]

        Mostly because they were one-offs In Michaelangelo’s time there weren’t load of people making reproduction Davids, no workshops creating copies of the Mona Lisa.

        Where you do see similar works being produced these are almost always coming from the same workshop. You find that in particular in the medieval churches where commissions are being described as “A new Rood for the chancel, like the one you did in village X, but with Saint Z instead of Saint Y”.

        Two weeks ago I was Kilpeck church the stonework there has similar examples in other places within the County, and some examples exist in Normandy. Thing that draw them all together is that the patrons/donors where all the same or members of the same family and the work was all done under the direction of one or two master craftsmen.

        Go to France and the Gothic cathedrals, the decoration is mostly different from place to place reflecting local preferences, in areas where they are dealing with similar subjects there are stylistic differences, and when there are not, when you see copies modern research is again indicating that the work was done by the same hands.

        Church floor brasses across England mostly come from 3 London workshops, identifiable by stylistic differences.

        The past was NOT a hotbed of piracy.

      • @John

        Also if you give it a chance genre/styles that are unfamiliar to your aren’t ‘quite so bad’ as you may think.

        I should make it clear that this is a reflection of my limitations, not those of the genres in question! I simply don’t know them well enough to be confident about making recommendations. Like, I know I like Sun Ra, but that’s where my knowledge of jazz stops.

        But the thing is that given a style/genre there isn’t much that is truly awful.

        Have you not heard Britpop also-rans, Northern Uproar? Seriously, they’re bloody awful. I wouldn’t recommend seeking them out. :p

        groups I wouldn’t have listened to in the 70s for entirely pathetic reasons.

        Recommendation you didn’t ask for, but do you know MJ Hibbett and the Validators? I think you’d like them, MJ is like an indie Billy Bragg. I ask because your comment reminded me of this song- http://mjhibbett.bandcamp.com/track/the-lesson-of-the-smiths (NSFW; bit of swearing in it)

        Examples of where the shorter terms and less protection produced more works. There should be plenty of derivative works based on earlier content that fell out of copyright due to the term expiring. Give us 10 major works that were created as a result. I’ll make it easy for you can mix and match written (prose, poetry, non-fiction), film, music, stage plays.

        Interesting and fair challenge. I’ll give it a go. I’ll do it straight as well, no cheating and using stuff which was used with permission, complex ones where the copyright isn’t held by the creator or music that hasn’t been cleared legally due to sampling.

        League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore.
        Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar by Neil Gaiman.
        The Once and Future King by T.H. White (while you can argue that the Arthurian legends were never in copyright and hence don’t apply, T.H. White’s version is heavily based on Malory).
        West Side Story.
        Dracula. Obviously, there’s lots of different versions here, but I’m particularly fond of the 1958 Hammer version.
        Blake’s Jerusalem by Billy Bragg.
        O Mistress Mine by Emilie Autumn.
        Man of La Mancha by Wasserman, Darion & Leigh.
        Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds by Jeff Wayne
        L.H.O.O.Q. by Marcel Duchamp.

        So, yeah, the evidence is there. But all of that only makes a case for shorter terms, not for the abolition of copyright entirely.

        Can anybody provide a list of ten works that wouldn’t have been created without copyright or, alternatively, works that weren’t created because the copyright term would run out in the future?

      • @sam Re. “The Lesson Of The Smiths” no I’d not heard of the band before, but very true. I couldn’t get into Morrissey in the 80s despite being left a bunch of albums to listen to, thing was I couldn’t quite hear the lyrics, and those that I could made me impatient “but I know this, tell me something new”, of course it was new for the people that were listening to it. Went to see Grace Petrie last Thursday, should check her out if you’ve not before.

        Interesting list, but I think quite a few were well out of copyright even in today’s terms when the derivatives were made.

  • Anon says: ” And of course, if authors no longer need to sell their artistic labor, or make money by exploiting copyrights, in order to sustain themselves, this should produce a great increase in the number of works created. No longer will authors have to care about whether there’s a paying audience for their work. No longer will authors have to make artistic compromises for reasons of profitability. No longer will authors have to hold down day jobs that take away time from their real jobs. And if authors don’t need money (or as much money) from copyrights, we can reduce or perhaps even eliminate the copyrights and satisfy their audiences as well”
    M says (the same thing without taking up a whole page) “basic income”

    We’ve been through this before, UNTIL your cults prayer gets answered, an no one has to hold jobs anymore, please gtf off our backs. IF that day comes, where I can live comfortably without having to work, I’ll gladly let you have your cults copyright reforms.
    I find it interesting, nay, quite telling… that you “volunteer” a class of people other than your own to ‘go first’ in foregoing their income. And yet you still want us to slave (not an unintended use of the word slave either) over our work in the meantime.

    Heck, i’ll say we should do away with paying lawyers.. we have waaayy too many of them and I think their prices are extremely high. It would serve ‘the public good’ as well if we just did away with retainers and rewards…[/scarcasm]

    • – Anon says: ” And of course, if authors no longer need to sell their artistic labor, or make money by exploiting copyrights, in order to sustain themselves, this should produce a great increase in the number of works created. No longer will authors have to care about whether there’s a paying audience for their work. No longer will authors have to make artistic compromises for reasons of profitability. No longer will authors have to hold down day jobs that take away time from their real jobs. And if authors don’t need money (or as much money) from copyrights, we can reduce or perhaps even eliminate the copyrights and satisfy their audiences as well”
      M says (the same thing without taking up a whole page) “basic income” –

      I’m not actually sure that the basic logic used here is true. I may be the token cynical capitalist pig but I think that money actually motivates a lot of art, especially from established or semi-established artists. I’m sure many people have said. “Jeepers my kids going to college I gotta write another book/make a movie/ record an album/ make a sculpture/whatever.” I believe plenty of good art gets created this way (although worthless cash ins also get created this way). Making art is really hard (usually) and I don’t think most people will do hard things consistently without the motivation of real world consequences.

      Given a society where work is obsolete, or at least vastly less necessary, I think most people would go to the bar not go around making things. What’s the ratio of great artists to louts among trust fund kids? I don’t know and there are certainly many of the former. My guess is that it’s a tiny fraction compared to the latter.

      I will concede that it’s conceivable that the vast number of hours freed up by such a scheme may result in net more art. But I don’t think that’s a given.

      (Note: This is not an argument for or against a basic income or any social welfare idea. Even if I’m completely right I’d certainly trade a large amount of art for the disappearance of poverty.)

      • I would go so far as to say it isn’t just creative work. People are driven to do things by the need to overcome obstacles. This might be as common as just getting the bills paid, or it might be as audacious as curing a disease. That drive to alter the world is, I believe, innately human. Some folks do it with poetry, others by building spacecraft. And I agree that, so far, the system that best complements this aspect of human nature is a capitalist economy in a democratic society.

      • Agreed, Mr. Newhoff. One thing I was trying to imply in my own backwards mealy mouthed way is that we use this term “art” like it’s this totally separate thing from any other kind of work. (i.e. “If people didn’t have to work they’d make art!”.) But it ‘s really a word we use for certain kinds of work. And work needs incentives.

        Money is a great incentive, even if it isn’t the only one.

      • Not mealy mouthed at all. Thank you for commenting. And of course money is just an instrument that relates effort and value.

      • Yes, and you’ll notice that anon and M’s core rationalization derives from this fantasy world where no one needs employment. That is their whole basis of weakening copyright as far as I can tell… and I’ll agree in a fantasy world that might make sense, but not in the real world (ie, the world we live in). And again, its not their own efforts they are offering up for “the public good” … this is also key.

      • This is true, although there are many people not as inclined to believe we can immanentize the eschaton who are just as wrong about copyright.

      • David,

        This might be as common as just getting the bills paid, or it might be as audacious as curing a disease. That drive to alter the world is, I believe, innately human.

        People who build spacecraft have no problem making a living. But a lot of the money pumped into space comes from government funding. Curing diseases is more hybrid – medical research by drug companies based on the [sometimes hugely profitable] sales of drugs, but also since I suppose as a society we consider health very important, we also fund medical research significantly via government funding and even charity.

        Science in general, especially the more “pure” it gets, is very much a patronage system. It’s not joke cash either, look at the budgets of NIH, NSF, NASA, and many other sources all over the government actually, and that’s one nation (and states significantly fund science too, believe it or not). So really, if you think of it, it’s a patronage system that is probably worth something close to trillion dollars per year globally. And it works pretty well. At least, I don’t see it causing tons of controversy the way copyright does. You know, economic systems around science are not perfect, but you know, currently it is better then anything I can think of.

        What I am getting at here sometimes it’s not possible to have a market around a human endeavor. And that’s fine. That does not mean it can’t be done.

      • Yes, and you’ll notice that anon and M’s core rationalization derives from this fantasy world where no one needs employment. That is their whole basis of weakening copyright as far as I can tell… and I’ll agree in a fantasy world that might make sense, but not in the real world (ie, the world we live in). And again, its not their own efforts they are offering up for “the public good” … this is also key.

        Except I don’t have any real power to weaken copyright. The failure of copyright is an inevitable consequence of the information age. Surely you don’t copyright mysteriously become weak in the late 20th century, something that was largely uncontroversial and around for hundreds of years without much issue?

        So I highly suggest you read Stallman’s post linked there. It explains exactly what caused copyright to weaken, and solutions as well.

      • I’m not actually sure that the basic logic used here is true. I may be the token cynical capitalist pig but I think that money actually motivates a lot of art, especially from established or semi-established artists. I’m sure many people have said. “Jeepers my kids going to college I gotta write another book/make a movie/ record an album/ make a sculpture/whatever.” I believe plenty of good art gets created this way (although worthless cash ins also get created this way). Making art is really hard (usually) and I don’t think most people will do hard things consistently without the motivation of real world consequences.

        Money motivates labor, which is pointless if human labor is devalued by technology. As you mentioned here:

        Agreed, Mr. Newhoff. One thing I was trying to imply in my own backwards mealy mouthed way is that we use this term “art” like it’s this totally separate thing from any other kind of work.

        Basic income is a solution to the devaluation of human labor.

        Now for another tangent on that topic.

      • (Note: This is not an argument for or against a basic income or any social welfare idea. Even if I’m completely right I’d certainly trade a large amount of art for the disappearance of poverty.)

        I am not convinced the devaluation of art strongly contributes to the disappearance of poverty. The free distribution of all the world’s culture and knowledge to the world is made possible by today’s technology – and that has some really positive effects – but I concede that David has a point in that it only matters when people are even interested in it.

        I will concede that it’s conceivable that the vast number of hours freed up by such a scheme may result in net more art. But I don’t think that’s a given.

        If it is essential to encourage artistic creation at all. Personally I think art tends to is a bit overvalued as a human experience – to me the purpose of existence is to understand existence – to know the cosmos. “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

        As far as “the scheme”, lets take it to the limits here – when human labor is not valued, the only other realistic alternative, the capitalist alternative mind you (you are a capitalist right?) to basic income is to allow wealth to concentrate in whoever controls labor, whoever controls the machines (or they control themselves – right? :)), and basically kill or starve off the rest of humanity. I personally prefer basic income but your mileage may vary.

        Of course, perhaps we can halt all this progress, of course, one person’s progress is another person’s catastrophe. There is a guy called Kaczynski’s who has a manifesto on just that. He predicted all of this, the coming failure of copyright, the discussions on basic income, everything. It’s actually quite coherently written, but flawed (much like his atrocities, even in the purest Machiavellian idea). The flaw, in his own admission Kaczynski said he could find no time in history where technological progress reversed – if a technology changed an industry or society – it did so permanently. There is no back tracking. I don’t see any reason to disbelieve that.

        So the options for the future are limited. Either we become a utopia, or a dystopia, or exterminate ourselves – that’s up to us. But the anthropic principle is equally plausible in time as it is in space – so act quickly.

  • Sure, full time artists should be (assuming they have the ability to actually do the job) making a living wage from it at least. We could do with pegging that more closely to labour time in my view, but that’s a general point, not specific artists.

    Earning stupid amounts is less justifiable. That said, that issue is hardly unique to artists. And there’s a better case for starting to tackle that problem with CEOs, bankers etc. When it comes to massive wealth disparity, the entertainment industry is a minor issue at most.

  • Conservative Mark

    I agree with much of what you say but the last paragraph. There is another alternative. For all of those who badmouth unions, this is exactly how unions come about! Screw people over until the band together (pardon the pun) and tell “the man”, If you play ball with me, I won’t cram the bat up your ass.”

    Another aspect of what is wrong is people look at Taylor Swift and hear she is worth 40 million as a songwriter. Sure she got there with talent but more importantly, she got there by controlling every aspect of her business life and cut out the no-talent parasites that suck at the tit of so many other talented people.

    Bottom line, if America wants to continue to be well entertained, the creative minds bringing them the entertainment must be rewarded otherwise… I feel a boycott or strike coming.

    When Rosanne Cash gets up before congress and tells them she was paid less than $150 for over 600,000 streams of her music over 18 months, well, you would have to be a complete idiot to not understand the problem or you have to be part of the “corporate America” problem.

  • M says: ” So really, if you think of it, [regarding NASA and other science endevours] it’s a patronage system that is probably worth something close to trillion dollars per year globally. And it works pretty well. At least, I don’t see it causing tons of controversy the way copyright does.

    …because people can’t steal a space shuttle…

  • AudioNomics–
    “Yes, and you’ll notice that anon and M’s core rationalization derives from this fantasy world where no one needs employment. That is their whole basis of weakening copyright as far as I can tell”

    I can’t speak for M, but they’re totally unrelated for me.

    I think we should reform copyright so as to maximize the public benefit produced by copyright — whether this requires weakening it or strengthening it, or something more complex — regardless of how our economy works. I don’t care if it creates a new golden age for Hollywood or requires tens of thousands of artists to look for jobs at McDonald’s, so long as the overall outcome is what’s best for society.

    I only mentioned a basic income because David looked into his crystal ball to make predictions about the future, so I thought that it was fair game. And being a nice person, I’d like to see a future in which people didn’t have to look for jobs at McDonalds. But you don’t need to be Nostradamus to know that always only increasing copyright is not going to solve anything.

    “Heck, i’ll say we should do away with paying lawyers.. we have waaayy too many of them and I think their prices are extremely high. It would serve ‘the public good’ as well if we just did away with retainers and rewards…”

    We certainly have too many lawyers for the way the legal industry is structured. And I don’t know of any state bars that don’t encourage pro bono work. Some require it. And I’ve enjoyed doing pro bono work. My last pro bono client was an up-and-coming recording artist.

    But if we switched to a legal industry regulated like, say, the UK’s NHS, such that lawyers were paid a reasonable but not excessive salary by the government, and were available at no charge to the client to handle any legal matters that arose, in an efficient and productive manner, we might need more. It would certainly be a big help for public defenders. We have too few of them, more because of low salaries than because of lack of interest. And if we mixed up the assignments for criminal attorneys, such that they divided their time between prosecution and defense, that might really improve our criminal justice system.

    The NHS has managed this with doctors for many decades, so we know the model is sound. I’d be happy to see a change like this in my profession. Where do I sign up? And why do you keep calling me a hypocrite, when you clearly don’t know me or understand me at all?

    “people can’t steal a space shuttle”

    You can copy it, though. The Russian Space Shuttle was called Buran. It was somewhat better than ours, but subject to some of the same flaws, and the country fell apart after its maiden spaceflight, so no surprise if you hadn’t heard of it.

    Conservative Mark–
    “Bottom line, if America wants to continue to be well entertained, the creative minds bringing them the entertainment must be rewarded otherwise… I feel a boycott or strike coming.”

    Awesome. I love labor unions. They should go for it. I don’t think it would work for a second, but I’d enjoy seeing the attempt.

    David Newhoff–
    “It’s interesting that in the context of the US, you cite other cultural factors for the production of work (e.g. education), which is certainly correct. I would never say that copyright alone is the incentive to create ”

    Nor would I. But I do think that copyright plays a rather small role, all told. We can live with less of it. I wouldn’t want to live without any of it, but the time may come when that’s the best option available to us.

    “Elizabethan England produced Shakespeare and his contemporaries, but patronage of the ruling class was essential for survival, and so on.”

    Patronage does not render Shakespeare’s plays and poetry an invalid example. It is a legitimate means of funding the arts. I don’t suggest that we should abandon copyright in favor of patronage, though copyright is closely related to it — most authors need the patronage of a publisher, who in turn needs the patronage, one copy at a time, of members of the public willing to pay money, and this has predictable effects in pressuring authors to create works the patron will enjoy.

    “but it sounds to me as though you are an idealist bordering on Marxism”

    As M points out, the paths available to us in the future appear to be the loss of useful technologies that can benefit our species; a dystopia in which there are a handful of very rich people and as large a number of very poor people as the rich are willing to allow to exist; and a third option in which we reallocate resources for a more equitable outcome without technological regression. You seem to think that we’re currently heading for door number two, and I agree. Where we differ is that I don’t think that any copyright policy whatsoever has a snowball’s chance in hell of saving us from that. Copyrights will neither save the middle class from destruction, nor Jaron Lanier from being a tool.

    That said, my economic policies don’t really inform my stance on copyright. Whatever our economic situation, we should have copyright laws that best serve society. Even if we did have basic incomes, copyrights would still probably be useful for their incentivizing effect. It would take a really utopian society, in which no one wants money at all, for copyrights to have no incentivizing effect, and thus not worth having around. That might be fun, but it’s not on my agenda.

    “As such, we’re not really debating the pros and cons of copyright so much as the pros and cons of capitalism in a democratic republic.”

    As I said above in this post, you’re the one who started with dire predictions about the future; I just joined in. But to restate my position on copyright once more: I’m in favor of however much copyright produces the greatest public benefit, as measured in both the number of works created and published as a result of copyright, and the least amount and shortest duration of restrictions on the public. I have some guesses as to what that might look like, but everything is on the table.

    John Warr–
    “In Michaelangelo’s time there weren’t load of people making reproduction Davids”

    I’d bet good money that there were. It was always a symbol of Florence, and a source of great civic pride. I’d bet good money that not long after it went up, someone started making small souvenir copies of it.

    On the other hand, there’s good reason to believe that the famous statue of Laocoon is a Roman copy in marble of an older Greek statue in bronze. Ditto the Apollo Belvedere, which was, for centuries, the single most admired sculpture in the western world. The Romans did this kind of thing all the time; That the fine arts would not fare so well in the post-apocalyptic dark ages is perhaps not a great surprise. After all statuary and oil paintings are fairly expensive. What about other forms of art that you’ve ignored? Songs, stories, dances — these are all pretty cheap, and require somewhat less training, and there are plenty of examples of these being copied and distributed and transformed all over the place. Some our our greatest literature is fanfic.

    “The past was NOT a hotbed of piracy.”

    There’s a lot of past for you to make blanket statements like that. In Ptolemaic Alexandria, piracy was official state policy. Anyone entering the city with books had to let the Library copy them, if they so wished, in order to increase the size of the collection. Usually you’d get the originals back. Sometimes you got the copies and the library kept the originals. And it’s a good thing that they, and others, made so many copies, for only copies of copies of copies survived; the originals are long gone. And even then, we only have a fraction of what they had. Any historian worth his salt would literally kill for a complete copy of Ab Urbe Condita.

    M–
    “Science in general, especially the more “pure” it gets, is very much a patronage system.”

    What’s really been surprising to me in recent years has been the resurgence of the inducement prize funding system. This was fairly common a few hundred years ago. An excellent example was the longitude prize offered in the UK. Patents, it was felt, achieved better results. And yet now we see things like the X Prize and DARPA Grand Challenge having good outcomes.

    Sam Flintlock–
    “Sure, full time artists should be (assuming they have the ability to actually do the job) making a living wage from it at least.”

    That’s really up to their audiences, though. On my way home from work, I frequently see several buskers. Some I give money to, others I don’t. Competency is a basic requirement, but I don’t give money to musicians who, however competent, play music that I don’t like.

    If you want full time artists to make a living wage regardless of audience appeal, you’ll need a different funding mechanism. And if you want people to be able to dedicate their full time toward learning to be musicians, they too will need a way to get a living wage while not up to the minimum level of competency that you expect.

    sf46–
    “I think that money actually motivates a lot of art, especially from established or semi-established artists”

    Wasn’t it Michael Caine who said that he had not seen Jaws 4, which he starred in, but that he had seen the new house that he had bought with his paycheck?

    I have no doubt that money is an incentive for a lot of artists. And some, though not all of that money, comes from exploiting copyrights. But copyright related money is not the only incentive that exists, not always the most important incentive for artists, and sometimes not even the source of most of the money. Art existed without copyright for the vast majority of human history, and with less or no copyrights for the majority of the short history of copyright. I merely suggest that we can do okay with less copyright.

    “I will concede that it’s conceivable that the vast number of hours freed up by such a scheme may result in net more art. But I don’t think that’s a given.”

    Well, the complaint for copyright is that there are a lot of artists out there who have to work day jobs to support themselves because their copyrights are not valuable enough to provide them with a living so that they can dedicate themselves to art.

    Even if a basic income didn’t result in there being more artists — though I think it would — it would at least solve the problem of artists who cannot spend as much time on their art as they want, because they’re stuck at day jobs.

    And I’m only interested in the idea because I am pragmatic, and it seems like a solution that would have actual, positive effects. If it doesn’t, I’m not married to it. I’d happily abandon it for something else that produced a better outcome.

    • “Well, the complaint for copyright is that there are a lot of artists out there who have to work day jobs to support themselves because their copyrights are not valuable enough to provide them with a living so that they can dedicate themselves to art.”

      Who’s complaint is that? It may be someone’s but it ain’t mine. I am, er, more cynical, maybe? I don’t really believe in “art” for the most part. I see it as just another consumer product although one that I happen to have an affinity for. But I’m kind of a weirdo, I grew up idealizing Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens as much as I did John Cleese, Tony Iommi, and George Gershwin. Frankly, I think most artists don’t admit, even to themselves, how important money actually is to them. This is not to say that no one will ever make art without money, just as my wife, a chef, would still make something fancy once in a while even if no one paid her to cook. But, when paid, her production will be higher, more innovative, and better. Especially when we’re not just talking about a single chef but about a broad industry of working chefs.

      In short, I’d rather eat in a society where a bunch of people get paid to cook, watch sketch comedy shows in a place where people get paid to make sketch comedy, and get wool sweaters in place where people get paid to make wool sweaters. ( Rather than go looking for wool sweaters in a place where you only get them when someone wakes up a feels like knitting.) You may not always get the better product in the paid world but I think the odds are wayyyyy better.

      This does not mean that a guaranteed income is not going to be the best available solution to the worlds post capitalist ills. I think it might, in fact, be. I’m just saying I think the rock’n’roll won’t be quite as rockin’, the comedians less funny, and the chicken wings less spicy.

      • I should add that, of course, we won’t stop people from being paid to, say, make sweaters if we have a national income. We won’t stop all sorts of legal rules that allow people to make money. If somebody shows up to bomb your sweater factory the cops’ll still try to catch him. I don’t see why one should affect the other. It’s like saying “Look at all these people injured in Road accidents. Screw car safety standards! We need to have nationalized health care to help them!”

        Why cant we have car safety standards AND nationalized health care?

      • In short, I’d rather eat in a society where a bunch of people get paid to cook, watch sketch comedy shows in a place where people get paid to make sketch comedy, and get wool sweaters in place where people get paid to make wool sweaters. ( Rather than go looking for wool sweaters in a place where you only get them when someone wakes up a feels like knitting.)

  • anon says –“I have no doubt that money is an incentive for a lot of artists. And some, though not all of that money, comes from exploiting copyrights. But copyright related money is not the only incentive that exists, not always the most important incentive for artists…”

    Yes, there are other incentives, such as eating and paying the bills, & raising a family ..all which require money. Things like attribution and recognition from peers fall in a distant second.

    –” … And I’ve enjoyed doing pro bono work. My last pro bono client was an up-and-coming recording artist./// And why do you keep calling me a hypocrite, when you clearly don’t know me or understand me at all?”

    Good for you. I’ve done (a lot of) charity work as well, what does this have to do with not getting paid for your labor?
    The hypocrisy comes from .. I seriously doubt you would continue to be a lawyer if ALL your work was forced pro-bono, (just set up a tip jar) ,unless that is you are independently wealthy, in which case all work is optional. I don’t think the arts are best served when only 2nd-generation rich kids are allowed to participate on a professional level.

    Since you state you want the “right amount” of copyright whether less or more, I offer that we already have very strong examples of what places with no or minimal copyright look like, and if you like Somalia, that’s what no rights look like. OK, that’s an extreme example, so look at Russia… who has more creative and diverse output? Us, with relatively strong copyright, or? what’s the example you’re basing your “less is good” argument on?

    I would agree an ever increasing regime doesn’t make much sense, but IMO, bringing all nations into the system is a good thing. And it’s harder to change copyright for greater or lesser protection when you need to convince all nations to agree to altered terms…or is this what you are afraid of? like the Google’s of the world, they don’t want agreements between nations, as it makes it harder to deconstruct and devalue works in the wake of their land grab.

  • AudioNomics–

    “Yes, there are other incentives, such as eating and paying the bills, & raising a family ..all which require money. Things like attribution and recognition from peers fall in a distant second.”

    As I said, not all money, not even most money, always comes from exploiting copyrights. I used to make a good living as an artist, and neither I nor my clients cared about copyrights. They just wanted me to create various works, and paid me for my labor. And their business model didn’t involve copyright related revenue. This wasn’t unusual; a lot of artists work in this way.

    In the fine arts, copyright is also not very important, because what usually matters there is provenance. People are often willing to pay substantial amounts of money for original copies of works, but would not pay anywhere near to that for a copy, no matter how exact it was. This not only means that the business model for many fine artists is to simply create one offs, or a limited number of copies (e.g. numbered prints), but also that there is not much money in the sort of piracy that we see in the mass market, where one copy is considered as good as another.

    And there are a number of other ways for artists to make money from their art without exploiting copyrights.

    But contrary to your claim, money is not always — I’d say not usually — the motive for creating works. You just wrote a reply to me, which is a copyrighted work, for which I’m confident you’re not going to make money from, and which actually cost you money because you could’ve spent that time doing something more productive. Fame is certainly a strong incentive. Practice is another good one — go to any decent art museum, and you’ll usually see art students practicing by making copies. Sometimes people just want to create art for art’s sake. It sounds silly, but it accounts for a lot of creation. And there are more incentives for creating art besides those.

    Making money from art is great, if that’s what you want to do, but it is not the end-all be-all, and it does not require copyright, nor does copyright always even help.

    “I seriously doubt you would continue to be a lawyer if ALL your work was forced pro-bono, (just set up a tip jar) ,unless that is you are independently wealthy, in which case all work is optional”

    The idea behind a basic income is that is is within our collective financial ability to allow everybody to be independently wealthy. Not extravagantly so, but enough that a decent standard of living could be maintained while rendering work optional.

    Until then, it’s up to people to decide whether and how much free work they like to do, and society can choose, or not, whether and how much to encourage that, via the government. And copyright can be changed too. If we reduced copyright, it might reduce the amount of paid work authors could get. It doesn’t force them to work for free. But it might nudge them toward not working as authors so much, if they don’t want to do more free work. That’s okay, if it leaves society better off, all things considered.

    “Since you state you want the “right amount” of copyright whether less or more, I offer that we already have very strong examples of what places with no or minimal copyright look like, and if you like Somalia, that’s what no rights look like. ”

    Why should we look so far away from home?

    Until 1990, the United States did not offer copyrights for architectural works. We were an excellent example of what a place with no copyrights for architectural works looked like. And we had Monticello, Grand Central Station, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Fallingwater, the Guggenheim, and so much more. Granting architects copyrights in buildings built since 1990 has not caused architecture to get measurably better. Clearly, we could abolish copyright for architectural works again, and not suffer the least little bit for having done so.

    Until 1978, copyright terms were substantially shorter, and authors had to go through a couple of hoops to get copyrights on published works. And we were an excellent example of what a place with copyright terms shorter than life+50 looked like. And between 1909 (before then the terms were even shorter) and 1978, we had the golden age of Hollywood, the Jazz age, Rock and Roll, modern art, and so forth. Clearly we could reduce copyright terms back to those levels again, and if it caused us any harm (which I doubt), it would be quite minimal.

    There’s a point where the amount of copyright — both the duration, and the scope — is just right in terms of the public benefit enjoyed. I suspect it’s less, and your absurd hyperbole fails in every possible way to describe it.

    “Us, with relatively strong copyright, or? what’s the example you’re basing your “less is good” argument on?”

    The example is the United States, in the recent past. We seem to have done okay. Certainly I don’t see that we’re doing very much better than before.

    “bringing all nations into the system is a good thing”

    Why? I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about what other countries do about copyright, just as I don’t care about their postal systems or the shape of their electrical outlets.

    Presumably, they should do whatever they think is best for their own people, just as we should do whatever we think is best for ourselves. If France decides that they’re only willing to grant copyrights to works in French, I can’t argue with that. Authors can either comply or go home. (And indeed, many countries have an exception allowing unauthorized translations of works to be made, lest copyright and a language barrier keep their public from enjoying foreign language works)

    I’m all for having the US withdraw from all our copyright treaties. We should grant copyrights to foreign authors unilaterally, because it serves our interests; not because of some quid pro quo that inevitably prevents us from changing our own laws to suit ourselves. The only two rules needed for international copyright are 1) foreign authors should enjoy national treatment, and 2) states should informally work together to avoid situations in which a copyright in one state bars an author from obtaining a copyright in another.

    This allows experimentation, and it allows states to adopt different laws that best serve their own people. A global minimum standard for copyright is an abysmal idea, and needs to be taken out back and shot.

    OTOH, things like climate change or the laws of war certainly benefit from international agreements. I don’t care about Google; I care about the American public. And there’s just because treaties are sometimes useful doesn’t mean they always are.

    • The reason it matters what other countries copyright policy is is obvious… the internet. What another country’s policy are directly affects American artists (among others); for example the dmca… it’s useless if I set up a server off-shore, even though it doesn’t look any different from the user perspective and directly affects the local market.
      As for term length, I happen to believe it is a factor on whether or not I or other artists stay in business or more quickly transition to other endevours, especially if one has dependents..I don’t see it (longer terms) as impeding new works myself, in my view it does as intended: forces innovation rather than recycling tired expressions. But I’m not as adamant on term length (within reason) as I am on other aspects.

      As for architecture copyrights, that’s not an area I’m familiar with nor do I have a stake in (in other words, I don’t really give a shit about that, they can fight their own battle).

      ” Until then, (basic income) it’s up to people to decide whether and how much free work they like to do, and society can choose, or not, whether and how much to encourage that, via the government. ”

      hmmm… why don’t you sell t-shirts? I mean you should find another business model because I’ve arbitrarily decided that I don’t want to pay for lawyer services anymore (this is what the vocal people on the internet tell me..)

      ” This allows experimentation, and it allows states to adopt different laws that best serve their own people. ”

      Funny you think that this “experiment” should always trend towards less rights.

  • AudioNomics–
    “The reason it matters what other countries copyright policy is is obvious… the internet.”

    Yes, I’m sure that when Victor Hugo caused the Berne Convention to come about in the 19th century, he had the Internet on his mind.

    “What another country’s policy are directly affects American artists (among others); for example the dmca… it’s useless if I set up a server off-shore, even though it doesn’t look any different from the user perspective and directly affects the local market.”

    We control our own borders, and what passes through them, including telecommunications.

    Imports of copies of copyrighted works are, to some extent, controlled now. But data over a wire or radio is not a copy, so customs won’t be effective. Instead, if someone tries to send radio through, jam it. The Soviet Union routinely jammed Voice of America and BBC World Service transmissions, in order to prevent that information from getting into their country. If someone tries to send data through international cables, block them with a national firewall. China has a firewall to prevent certain data from entering the country, as do most countries in the Middle East.

    Personally, though, I oppose censorship, whether it’s for political or ideological reasons, or for mere commercial reasons, such as copyright. If international telecommunications are used for piracy, the cure would be far worse than the disease. Just as stores realize that the cost of stopping all shoplifting would cost more than it’s worth, you’re going to have to tolerate a certain amount of piracy. Your best option really is to adjust the local law so that there’s not a great demand for internationally pirated copies.

    “As for term length, I happen to believe it is a factor on whether or not I or other artists stay in business or more quickly transition to other endevours, especially if one has dependents”

    The widows and orphans argument is, and always has been, bogus. For most works, the value of a copyright is zero. For the remainder, the vast majority of the value is realized within a short time after the first publication of a work in a given medium; for example, if you write a book, you’ll make most of the money you ever will make from that book within around two years. Anything after that will almost certainly be a mere trickle. A few works are exceptions, with long-lasting continuing value, but they’re extreme rarities, and generally start out quite profitable.

    So the value to the widow and orphans of copyrights is generally nothing, or at best a mere pittance. The idea that someone can provide for their survivors with a copyright is as stupid as if they were given a big box of lottery tickets.

    If you are actually concerned about survivors, then you will not pretend that copyrights are a sound mechanism for it. Instead, authors should buy life insurance policies. They should save money, and invest wisely. They should support social welfare programs so that in the event that the author cannot help them, they are not left totally destitute. And of course, you’ve found yet another place where a basic income would work far, far better than a copyright would.

    I’d also note that a fixed term of years is better for this sort of financial planning than any term length based on life; no one knows when they’ll die, but if a copyright could last for no longer than, say, 25 years from publication, it’s easier to make plans based on that.

    “I don’t see it (longer terms) as impeding new works myself, in my view it does as intended: forces innovation rather than recycling tired expressions.”

    As far as copyright policy goes, “recycling tired expression” is exactly as good as “forced innovation.” Even the current law rewards them both with identical copyrights. Any difference between them is simply a matter of subjective artistic taste, and it’s inappropriate for the government to favor one over the other.

    “As for architecture copyrights, that’s not an area I’m familiar with nor do I have a stake in”

    So what? I brought it up to prove that we can have substantial artistic creation without copyright, and I’ll take your non-response as a concession.

    “hmmm… why don’t you sell t-shirts? I mean you should find another business model because I’ve arbitrarily decided that I don’t want to pay for lawyer services anymore (this is what the vocal people on the internet tell me..)”

    I’ve never heard anyone on the Internet say that selling artistic labor (e.g. playing music at a venue for a fee) is not a viable business model. And that’s what my business model is — people pay me a flat fee or hourly rate for legal services. Maybe you should give it a shot.

    “Funny you think that this “experiment” should always trend towards less rights.”

    I don’t. Berne already only defines a minimum standard. Some places, like the US, have gone further; instead of the minimum term length of life+50, we went to life+70, and will likely go longer quite soon. Mexico went to life+100, IIRC.

    If states, in the good faith interest of their own people, want more copyright, then I wouldn’t stop them. If it were clear that more copyright were better for Americans, I’d support more copyright here. But I suspect that we’ve gone too far, and need somewhat less copyright. It’s just a gut instinct, I admit, based on historical example, but there has been little scientific research on the issue, and so far what I’ve seen indicates that term lengths at least should be shorter.

    I only support what’s best for the public. I don’t care if it happens to be a lot or a little.

    • ” I’ve never heard anyone on the Internet say that selling artistic labor (e.g. playing music at a venue for a fee) is not a viable business model. And that’s what my business model is — people pay me a flat fee or hourly rate for legal services. Maybe you should give it a shot.”

      I’m a songwriter, not a performer. I physically can’t tour.

      ” So what? I brought it up [architecture] to prove that we can have substantial artistic creation without copyright, and I’ll take your non-response as a concession.”

      The market for buildings and the market for art are vastly different and you know it. We tried patronage for the arts before, and I seriously doubt a return to feudalism is for “the greater good” (btw, why do I picture the movie ‘Hot Fuzz’ every time you mention that..)
      http://m.youtube.com/?reload=7&rdm=18uqza6ne#/watch?v=yUpbOliTHJY

    • The widows and orphans argument is, and always has been, bogus. For most works, the value of a copyright is zero. For the remainder, the vast majority of the value is realized within a short time after the first publication of a work in a given medium; for example, if you write a book, you’ll make most of the money you ever will make from that book within around two years. Anything after that will almost certainly be a mere trickle. A few works are exceptions, with long-lasting continuing value, but they’re extreme rarities, and generally start out quite profitable.”

      “Take Five,” the jazz composition by Paul Desmond, generates $100,000 a year for The Red Cross, to whom Desmond willed the song. Not a fortune, but not bad for one song. Similarly, the works of Dorothy Parker and James Barrie earn money for the NAACP and a children’s hospital in London, respectively.

      Your architectural example ignores the fact that buildings are usually produced via large commissions. The copyright, I surmise, is more about preventing people from ripping off ideas.

    • Sorry, wrong link
      This should make more sense:
      http://m.youtube.com/?#/watch?v=yUpbOliTHJY

      🙂

  • AudioNomics–
    “I’m a songwriter, not a performer. I physically can’t tour.”

    I didn’t say that you had to tour. I said that you could sell your labor. If you’re a songwriter, find someone willing to hire you to write songs. You could charge by the song, or by your time spent on the song, perhaps with a greater or lesser charge based on the subject, quality, degree of customization, etc.

    “We tried patronage for the arts before”

    We still have it. In fact, the typical publishing model is basically patronage: An author can create whatever he wants, but if he wants to make money, it has to please the audience, who collectively form a patron, and often a publisher as well. Many an author has had their career get bogged down in making popular works that they don’t want to make. And no one makes them do it, just as patronage isn’t obligatory, but they put up with it for the money.

    “‘the greater good’ (btw, why do I picture the movie ‘Hot Fuzz’ every time you mention that..)”

    I do enjoy firing two guns whilst jumping through the air.

    Monkey–
    ““Take Five,” the jazz composition by Paul Desmond, generates $100,000 a year for The Red Cross, to whom Desmond willed the song. Not a fortune, but not bad for one song.”

    Indeed. Just as with the lottery, people do win all the time. But given the sheer number of people and attempts and the bad odds, it’s still exceedingly unlikely that it will be any specific person.

    It’s unrealistic to look only at the winners, and to ignore the gigantic mass of losers, though. How many jazz songs don’t generate $100,000 a year for anyone? A hell of a lot, I bet.

    “Your architectural example ignores the fact that buildings are usually produced via large commissions. The copyright, I surmise, is more about preventing people from ripping off ideas”

    No, copyright specifically doesn’t protect ideas. They are rip-offable at will. Architectural copyright basically exists because of a nonsensical idea that artists necessarily deserve copyrights, and architects are a type of artist. There’s no reason to have them on their own merits, though.

    And feature-length movies are usually produced as large commissions too. As are many record albums, works of public art, and even the odd book or two by major authors. That they’re large commissions isn’t relevant.

    • Feature length movies are produced as large commissions but the revenue generated from them is based on copyright, rather like the people who commission architectural works get revenue from real estate.

      Copyright benefits a lot more people than the lottery,

    • So… If copyright doesn’t protect ideas, then what’s your problem with longer terms? I thought the whole point was that we wouldn’t have derivative works!

      BTW, even if Shakespeare was alive, no lawyer would even consider suing the makers of West Side Story. The only connection between the two is the idea of lovers from rival families.

    • anon says. ” I didn’t say that you had to tour. I said..”

      Well thanks for telling me how and what I can do, I’m sure that will be helpful…
      The reality is the majority of my income and of my peers comes from the ‘backend’ , the longterm (that you say doesn’t exist…except ask any working songwriter and they’ll tell you are full of something…and that something isn’t info).

      “the audience, who collectively form a patron”

      omg, please.
      You stretch definitions so long that it’s quite ridiculous. You know damn well any business selling goods to the general public isn’t a patronage system..yes they are patrons, but you clearly should know the difference.

      “I do enjoy firing two guns whilst jumping through the air.”

      lol, those two make for a funny flick. Check out “Paul” if you are a fan.

  • Monkey–
    “Feature length movies are produced as large commissions but the revenue generated from them is based on copyright”

    Not all of it, nor is it necessary that so much of it be, or that the revenues be so great.

    “Copyright benefits a lot more people than the lottery”

    The overall copyright system, yes. An individual copyright for a particular work is no better than a lottery ticket, though. Most are worthless; a few have middling value; a relative handful are big winners.

    “So… If copyright doesn’t protect ideas, then what’s your problem with longer terms? I thought the whole point was that we wouldn’t have derivative works!”

    The point of copyright is to promote the progress of science. Specifically, it is meant to provide a greater benefit to the public than if it did not exist, and ideally should be carefully tailored to provide the greatest possible public benefit. There are two types of public benefit at issue: First, more works are created and published than would have been had there been less or no copyright. Second, the public suffers from the least number of restrictions, for the shortest time possible, as to the works.

    Term length is important, because the public is harmed by works not being in the public domain. The shorter the term length, the less harm the public suffers.

    Also, note that copyright as we know it was invented in 1710 — the derivative works right first came into being in 1870, AFAIK. While it is the most expansive and concerning right in copyright, it wasn’t the ‘whole point’ of it.

    “BTW, even if Shakespeare was alive, no lawyer would even consider suing the makers of West Side Story. The only connection between the two is the idea of lovers from rival families.”

    If Romeo and Juliet were under copyright, West Side Story would infringe; it doesn’t just borrow that idea, it’s a deliberate adaptation of Shakespeare. It’s not a secret or anything.

    AudioNomics–
    “The reality is the majority of my income and of my peers comes from the ‘backend'”

    You may want to have a backup plan. The majority of newspapers’ income was from ads and classifieds, and then the web and Craigslist destroyed that, plus faster, more convenient, free news sources rapidly multiplied. Things can change fast.

    “the longterm (that you say doesn’t exist”

    I didn’t say it doesn’t exist, I said it’s rare, and if it’s quite substantial, it’s even rarer.

    “any business selling goods to the general public isn’t a patronage system”

    It’s close enough for government work. Seriously, other than the difficulty of getting a patron, what bad things do you get with patronage that you cannot possibly get with a larger audience taken collectively?

    • anon says “Term length is important, because the public is harmed by works not being in the public domain. ”

      That is quite.a.stretch.
      The only harm that I can see (if indeed it is “harm” not to be able to see a specific movie or other work) is from a dysfunctional market system. Since we have iTunes and Netflix, for very minimal prices I might add… the “public” isn’t restricted from participating in the marketplace… for a token fee seeing or hearing pretty much any work ever made is a public good that enriches all players involved, including the incentive and return necessary for the copyright holder to keep producing.

      ” You may want to have a backup plan. [regarding royalties]”

      Funny, that was the backup plan. Since loud internet denizens destroyed the front-end…

    • [free news sources rapidly multiplied.]

      No they didn’t, and they still haven’t. The news sources are the same as they ever were. What you have now is a bunch of scraper sites, that just filch content from elsewhere. If the news sites shuttered up behind a wall that the scraper bots couldn’t get through the ‘free’ sites would be no more.

      Someone seems to have convinced the news media that they needed an online presence. They didn’t, and all they have done is make it more convenient for thieving sites like Google to rip off their content, and for them to compete against their own print advertising rates at a fraction of the cost.

      The internet is nothing without content and the likes of Google provide none of it.

    • west Side Story is different enough from R&J that it would most definitely not be infringement. R&J does not feature rival gangs or racial tension (and SPOILER only one of them dies in the end). It’s no more sn infringement than a Star Wars is of Flash Gordon – which was not in public domain in 1977.

      But you’re missing the point: many artists are less upset by good faith collaboration or derivative works. What they are bothered by is monetizing of piracy.

  • [Term length is important, because the public is harmed by works not being in the public domain. The shorter the term length, the less harm the public suffers.]

    How?

  • John Warr–
    “How?”

    Works are moderately beneficial to the public while copyrighted, but become truly beneficial when they enter the public domain. Once in the public domain, no one is restricted in any way from how they use the work (bar generally applicable laws, e.g. fraud, etc.).

    The price to obtain a copy quickly drops to marginal cost, and in some cases, below that. This is good, as most people have a limited budget, and lower prices mean that they can afford more works.

    Anyone can now create a derivative work based on the work. Adaptations into other forms, e.g. the movie of the book, the book of the movie, or the stage musical of the painting. Translations can also be made, opening the work up to entire new audiences who may not have been familiar with it. Many of these derivatives might’ve been outside the ability of the original copyright holder, unaffordable when profits were a factor, or uninteresting to them.

    Distribution of the work is now completely unrestricted. Want to give a copy to a friend? You can just make one and distribute it. No permission needed, no fees to be paid, no obstacles to this ordinary act of sharing something. Want to share it with the world? You can do that too. Many a work has been stuck in obscurity only to be rediscovered later, often thanks to the efforts of third parties who get the word out.

    And public performance and display of the work can be undertaken without having to worry about copyright holders who charge fees which may be unaffordable or which otherwise reduce the budget needlessly, without having to worry about requirements imposed from without that may not be acceptable, and without the transactional costs involved in all of this.

    As pointed out earlier, this also increases the likelihood that the work will survive for long spans of time, which is useful for posterity’s sake.

    AudioNomics–
    Merely being able to read, or listen to, or see a work isn’t enough. It’s good to be able to, but it isn’t enough. And if there’s a cost, or some restriction on that, that isn’t good enough either. Creative works exist for the benefit of all mankind, not just a handful that happen to control them.

    “the incentive and return necessary for the copyright holder to keep producing”

    I agree — the amount of copyright should be closely tied to what’s necessary for the copyright holder to have created and published that work. (Future works are too speculative) Specifically, it should be the absolute least amount of copyright necessary for that, since anything more would be superfluous. For most works, that’s nothing at all. For the remainder, that’s usually very little, less than we provide now.

    “Funny, that was the backup plan.”

    If licensing songs for a royalty of some sort was the backup plan, what was the original plan? Selling sheet music to the public? Player piano rolls? I don’t think the Internet is to blame for those markets largely evaporating. You’ll want to have words with Thomas Edison, inventor of the phonograph, instead. You can get in line behind John Philip Sousa, who swore that Edison’s phonograph would destroy music.

    • 1) If someone reuses a work in the public domain, they don’t usually do so as a straight copy, they add something extra. As such the public domain acts a clearing house for new copyrights. How many watch a 1930s film instead of the 2010s remake?

      2) Where I live we have public lending libraries, from which I can get any book I want within a few days. Films and music are also available.

      3) Most main streets have a convenience store that loans out DVDs. Worst case there is Amazon LoveFilms, or whatever they call it these days.

      Someone I know has not worked in the last 20 years, they have a collection of over 2000 films. All bought in thrift shops and similar places for the equivalent of $2 each. OK so he doesn’t get them the instant they are on sale, but he says so what?

      4) Lending a copy to a friend has never been a problem.

      As for the public performance issue well that isn’t the public that is some commercial enterprise wanting to reduce their costs – fuck them, they aren’t the public. I recently asked some friends in the folk music scene what the process was when they wanted to record someone elses song. The response was to shrug and say “well we fill in the PRS forms and pay the fee”. They didn’t seem to think it was any big deal. Everyone does what is suggested here:
      http://www.graememiles.com/lyrics

    • Anonymous, I have to say that while I find your legal knowledge insightful, I don’t understand the persistent claim that the works don’t benefit the public fully until they enter the public domain. This is a position not supported by fact and is even contradicted by your own observation that works tend to be at their most valuable for a short period after their publication or release into the market. Still, work-for-work, it is extremely hard to make any of these generalizations. Some works create tremendous benefit while under control, others spawn new opportunities in the public domain; some works max out their economic and even social value quickly, others remain socially and economically valuable over decades. But there is little argument to be made that works under copyright are inaccessible to the consumer or entirely untouchable to the derivative creator. Your statement about Shakespeare and West Side Story isn’t necessarily true; the producers of West Side would very likely and easily have paid a royalty to the Shakespeare estate had such a thing been necessary.

      • anon’s whole argument seems to be based on some theoretical person that doesn’t really exist, but is being just crushed by other people’s rights and property…
        And if there is actually someone who feels like that, they are iust likely misinformed (by people like anon) about the facts on the ground.

  • John Warr–
    “If someone reuses a work in the public domain, they don’t usually do so as a straight copy”

    They often do so, actually. Go to any bookstore and look for copies of public domain books. Shakespeare is always an easy one. Sometimes there are derivative works (e.g. Bowdler, or the Lambs), but usually the plays or poems are presented just as they were, possibly with minor tweaks to standardize the spelling that are not sufficient for copyrights.

    “As such the public domain acts a clearing house for new copyrights. How many watch a 1930s film instead of the 2010s remake?”

    I liked Charade better than The Trouble with Charlie, and I dare you to find anyone who doesn’t.

    In any case, you’re only proving my point; by putting works into the public domain, we enable the creation of derivative works that we might otherwise miss out on.

    “Where I live we have public lending libraries, from which I can get any book I want within a few days. Films and music are also available.”

    Me too. And they’re great. But that’s no reason to stop there. And libraries themselves are often stymied by copyright, even with the special exceptions to copyright that they enjoy. No one stops libraries from reprinting public domain material to keep it available at a lower cost than buying it from a publisher, or even selling copies to raise funds, and some libraries do just that. The Library of Congress has a wealth of public domain material available online for free, which you can copy at will, which is more convenient and more useful than borrowing and returning lent copies.

    “3) Most main streets have a convenience store that loans out DVDs. Worst case there is Amazon LoveFilms, or whatever they call it these days.”

    And if I wanted to watch movies, which would serve me better? To be able to freely copy, distribute, and watch whatever I liked, paying only for cheap hard disk space, or paying to merely rent discs that must be returned, and paid for again if I want to watch them again?

    “4) Lending a copy to a friend has never been a problem.”

    No, various DRM measures can make it impractical to do so without breaking the law. Publishers don’t much like first sale. And again, maybe your friends don’t have copies to lend you, maybe you can’t even ask due to embarrassment (I choose to imagine you here as a closeted Brony). The public domain opens up more options, and that’s in no way a bad thing for you.

    “As for the public performance issue well that isn’t the public that is some commercial enterprise wanting to reduce their costs – fuck them, they aren’t the public.”

    Let’s suppose that I, in my personal capacity, want to go out to the middle of the park and start reading aloud from a novel. It’s a public performance, but I’m not a commercial enterprise. Still standing by fucking me?

    And anyway, there’s nothing wrong with commercial enterprises. I don’t get upset that Disney mines fairy tales for movies, or that every bad sitcom inevitably rips off Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” sooner or later. I think it’s splendid that the local ballet company performs the Nutcracker every Christmas, and that the local orchestra plays a lot of public domain classical music. Putting works into the public domain lowers barriers to competition later on, and can enrich the public whether through having derivative works created, or new copies, performances, displays, etc. made to get the work out there.

    So long as the work survives, and can be used, and ideally is used, it’s all good.

    David–
    “I don’t understand the persistent claim that the works don’t benefit the public fully until they enter the public domain”

    I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

    “even contradicted by your own observation that works tend to be at their most valuable for a short period after their publication or release into the market”

    My apologies if I misstated this, or was otherwise unclear. To clarify: works are most valuable in the public domain. Copyrights are usually most valuable (if they have any value at all) for works immediately upon publication in a given medium, but not for long afterward.

    “Your statement about Shakespeare and West Side Story isn’t necessarily true; the producers of West Side would very likely and easily have paid a royalty to the Shakespeare estate had such a thing been necessary.”

    Bullshit.

    There’s loads of rightsholders that refuse to license their works for all manner of reasons. Even if there’s no artistic objections or arbitrary ones, the money is often a show-stopper, with fees set too high and budgets unavoidably stuck too low.

    Outside of situations where Congress has stepped in and created compulsory licensing, the most common outcome is that where there is a commercial use, licenses are not granted, or are highly restrictive and uniform.

    • Anonymous, do you have any data to back up the implication that rights holders more often stymie derivative works than permit them? I’d be surprised if you did because that would be a pretty tough research project. Suffice to say derivatives happen and fees get paid for projects great and small. That you assert so firmly that West Side Story, which had monumental production challenges, would have considered licensing such a major hurdle is pure speculation and less probable than my assertion that a license would not have been prohibitive. Based on anecdotal evidence, there are no grounds for the chronic repetition by champions of the PD like yourself that “West Side never would have happened.” Besides, I happen to think West Side might not have had to pay Shakespeare anything since it is so different from Romeo & Juliet, which itself is based on Pyramus and Thisbe. Broad story elements are not so easily copyrighted — otherwise there would be like two cop movies instead of an unforgivably endless supply. I can imagine a hypothetical case between the Shakespeare estate and the producers of West Side, but I’m not sure it’s a lock that Shakespeare would prevail.

    • Rights holders can be persuaded to allow adaptations. There was a movie about it last year.

      I still doubt any lawyer would claim than West Side Story infringes on R&J.

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