What problem are we trying to solve in the copyright wars?

My latest Guardian column is "Copyright wars are damaging the health of the internet" and it looks at what we really need from proposed solutions to the copyright wars:

I've sat through more presentations about the way to solve the copyright wars than I've had hot dinners, and all of them has fallen short of the mark. That's because virtually everyone with a solution to the copyright wars is worried about the income of artists, while I'm worried about the health of the internet.

Oh, sure, I worry about the income of artists, too, but that's a secondary concern. After all, practically everyone who ever set out to earn a living from the arts has failed – indeed, a substantial portion of those who try end up losing money in the bargain. That's nothing to do with the internet: the arts are a terrible business, one where the majority of the income accrues to a statistically insignificant fraction of practitioners – a lopsided long tail with a very fat head. I happen to be one of the extremely lucky lotto winners in this strange and improbable field – I support my family with creative work – but I'm not parochial enough to think that my destiny and the destiny of my fellow 0.0000000000000000001 percenters are the real issue here.

What is the real issue here? Put simply, it's the health of the internet.

Copyright wars are damaging the health of the internet


  1. “I’m not parochial enough to think that my destiny and the destiny of my fellow 0.0000000000000000001 percenters are the real issue here.”

    Are you saying that only one person in one hundred quintillion makes any money from the arts?

      1.  He’s making money off of the Arts not Mathematics :P
        Although I hope he has an accountant to track the money for him…

  2. The problem? The problem is that the corporations don’t have all of our money yet. Let’s work on that.

    1. Close.  The problem is that certain cartels, including TV and recorded music, are losing their monopoly status.  Monopolies don’t like that.

      And lest we feel complacently that they can’t really hose things up too badly, look at the last time America was in this position.  (I can’t speak for the rest of the world.)

      When Ma Bell was faced with an antitrust suit, she was able to stall the case for over fifty years. In that time, by purchasing lobby power in Washington, the Bell System was able to maintain absolute monopoly over communication technology.

      As a result, innovation in this country was stifled – to the point where my father’s generation was making jokes about Japanese transistor radios.  You know why those radios were Japanese?  Because Bell Labs held the patent on the transistor.

      So if anybody doubts the content cartels are willing to stifle the Internet to maintain their monopoly power, remember it has happened before, and it was very successful, and a lot of money was lost to anticompetitive behavior.

      And this time, they’re going international.

      1.  rather than a “like” button, we need a “dammit!” button.  don’t get me wrong, i applaud your post, but i sure as hell don’t like it.  that is to say, it’s depressing.

  3. The article reads like it lost in a copyedit war. The three issues I can remember are:

    “all of them has” (have?)

    “A policy that makes changing the software on a networked device in order to ensure you’re not defeating region-controls or subverting the App Store is nothing short of insane.” (missing word – illegal?)

    “have a good look around for the some way that person” (one of ‘the’ or ‘some’ should be taken out and shot.)

    Amen to your third from last paragraph.

  4. We should simply get to the point where everyone is suing everyone simply for repeating what they said.  Then maybe someone will pay judicial attention.

    1. I am a lawyer, and I approve this statement. (Actually, I’m not, but it would make me want to become one).

  5. That’s because people aren’t as stupid as they are treated.

    Everyone I know personally (not going to say *everyone* – but personally this is so) doesn’t believe for a second that the cost of publishing a book electronically justifies a price as high as even a paperback.

    They all site the same thing – cost of printing, binding, shipping, shelf space, inventory, labor to move the goods all are not trivial and thus MUST account for a portion of the price of a physical good.

    Take those away and the publisher should be better off – and thus a *discount* should apply to the end user.

    They are *all* aware of the fact that an encrypted epub or mobi is impossible or very hard to share unlike a physical book – this is considered a loss of use – and thus deserving of a *further* discount.

    Publishers look at the above and price the ebook more than the hard cover on first release.  This is absurd and so you get people who don’t care about stealing the book because in some level people get mad when they feel cheated – and self justification is easy for most people I think.  It’s a bit of rebellion.

    The music and movie industry can’t seem to figure this out either – again the cost of printing/packaging/shipping/etc. of CD’s/DVD’s is not a trivial cost – expecting to shave all that off and sell people a more restrictive product at the same cost pushes people away.

    When ITunes came out – it wasn’t the Apple brand or the software that drove people to use it – it was the cost – .99 a song was *reasonable* – and so people bought.

    At some point they’ll get it and understand a physical product worth 18 dollars (the new blu-ray of whatever movie – discounted) which includes a blu-ray disk, a dvd and other goods – that I can let my parents borrow or sell afterword – means that the movie itself in digital format can’t be worth as much – in fact you can rent the same physical movie for a dollar (in anyplace that has a redbox) but to ‘rent’ it online with no physical product at risk you want 5.99-8.99 typically.

    Where is the value-add – what am I getting for more money?  Streamed movies even in high def don’t match a dvd upscaled in quality – so why charge more?  The business model needs to adapt because they are competing with their own product and I don’t know a single person that actually values a digital file more than a physical one.

    With one exception – if the file is not encrypted people love it – they can let a friend borrow it – they can sell it later – then it’s worth more – but as long as it’s locked down no one looks at it with the same value as the physical product.

    1.  Well put. If the price for media in various forms reached what the public considers “reasonable” (a lot less than it is at the moment), then the amount of piracy of that same media will decrease, the profits for the owners will likely increase etc. However, it means the RIAA/MPAA will have to be reasonable and accept that just as the means that their media is being transmitted has changed, so must their business model. Since the folks in charge of big media would have to learn everything all over again (or more likely be replaced by those who get it), they will fight tooth and nail to maintain the old business model and ignore reality. If the rest of the world gets screwed over by that process, they don’t care.
      The truth is that a lot of the middlemen/organizations are not needed at all, and the world will be a better place when they finally fail.
      In the meantime we inch closer to a police state every day to maintain and outdated business model that will simply never work the way they are fervently wishing it would.

    2. this buffers something I read yesterday in an interview with the guy from Valve.

      Valve:  our second biggest market is Russia
      Interviewer:  WHAT WHAT WHAT?  Russia pirates everything!
      Valve:  everyone else doesn’t bother to release their products there until 6 months later, so Russia pirates it rather than wait.  we give it to them the same time as the rest of the world and they buy.

    3. Everyone I know personally (not going to say *everyone* – but personally this is so) doesn’t believe for a second that the cost of publishing a book electronically justifies a price as high as even a paperback. They all site the same thing – cost of printing, binding, shipping, shelf space, inventory, labor to move the goods all are not trivial and thus MUST account for a portion of the price of a physical good.

      Up front: I work for a publisher. You’re correct that all of those factors contribute to the price of a book, and eliminating them should bring prices down, but the percentage is not nearly as high as most people think. 20% would be too high. All of the costs you cite ARE trivial.

      Before you print the first copy of a book, you have to pay the author’s advance, the editors, the cover artist, the proofreaders, the promotional department, etc. These are all fixed costs — they don’t depend on how many copies are sold. Pulling a number from the air, let’s say they total $50,000.

      Then you print and distribute the book. You’re right that this step can be skipped for ebooks — but the savings are trivial. It depends on the size of your print run, but let’s say $2-3 on a $25 hardcover.

      Then the reseller takes their cut of every copy sold — typically 30%. This is NOT voided for e-sales — Amazon still takes their cut, just like a physical bookstore. Call it $8 of the $25.

      That leaves us with $17/copy for an ebook, versus $14/copy for a hardback, to cover all those fixed costs in step 1. If a book sells more than 3-4000 copies, which is a middling sell-through, great, you’ve about broken even, either way.

      Now say we do as you suggest, and offer the ebook at a discount off the MMPB price — say, $5. After Amazon takes their cut, that leaves us with $3/copy to recoup the fixed costs — which suddenly means we have to sell 17,000 copies to break even. That’s a lot harder.

      Now, you might say that the fixed costs are too high, and maybe you’re right that some fat could be trimmed. But books are made better by typesetters and editors and proofreaders — clearer, easier to read, more pleasurable — and they’re not exactly Croesuses. And that $50,000 has to include about a year’s pay for the author; I wouldn’t want to see it get a lot smaller.

      So, yeah, I know that a lot of people believe ebooks should be much cheaper than hardbacks, but belief doesn’t always translate to reality. A discount of a couple of bucks would be reasonable, but not a lot more than that.

      (Disclaimer: These specific numbers were pulled ex recto. I don’t publish fiction. But the basic framework stands.)

      1.  How about the #bookz model…

        The community does all the typesetting and proofreading… resellers aren’t a factor. Everyone who wants to distributes.

        The more popular it is, the more versions are released.

        Cost to print, copyedit, and distribute… free!

        As for authors making money… thats the hard part, but I think its where we need to start.

        Author directly to consumer with no one in the middle except for who the author hires. Price is pay what you want. If there was a tip jar, I’d use it. I spend little to nothing on published content, and piles of money on indie stuff and kickstarting what I want to see.

        1. If you have an author who enjoys spending time managing editors and proofreaders instead of writing, and has the funds to pay them up front, and hires editors who are willing to edit instead of saying, “Gosh, boss, that’s good stuff!” then sure, that model can work. But then the author is paying all of those people out of her expected proceeds, and taking on all of the risk from a failed project. A publisher spreads the risk around, and already has an experienced staff on salary to handle what comes after the first draft comes in. Instead of every author reinventing their own wheels, they provide a chassis.

          I’m not familiar with #bookz, but your description makes it sound like it depends on a lot of unskilled volunteer labor. People are paying with their time instead of their money; okey doke. Never mind — it looks like “the #bookz model” is just assholes filesharing the work of authors without paying for it, so fuck them.

          People undervalue editors. Authors don’t. I don’t really understand the “I want to give my money to the author, not those icky editors!” mindset. I want more good art; in the fiction world, that means getting money to both authors and publishers.

          1.  I didn’t say that I didn’t value the editor and typesetting – my point still stands that the ebook is typically sold for *more* than the hardcover sells for on day one.

            Perhaps your company doesn’t do this but if you buy books you certainly notice the trend – and I’m sorry but the physical books *do* cost more – perhaps it’s trivial – but it is a cost and it should reflect in a cheaper ebook than the hardcover – even if that’s slight.

            Now perhaps I’m being unfair comparing the price I can buy the hardcover from say.. Barnes and Noble on day one – they obviously cut out some of their own profit to promote a book and gain sales…

            No – sorry that’s right – the publishers sued Amazon to keep them from being able to discount ebooks (even though it was their money they were loosing) and now the vendor isn’t *allowed* to do the same thing.

            This is where I point to your above numbers and wonder why the ebook costs more – sure you have alot of fixed costs – but if you discount the ebook by say 1 dollar over the hardcover cost – and then let vendors sell for what they want – you’d end up with an ebook on day 1 that cost less than the HC – by an amount that would/could vary by vendor but I’m willing to bet it would be enough to make people think it’s worthwhile.

            I really do appreciate your fixed costs – but you also have to look at how hard the publishing world (in general) has fought tooth and nail to make ebooks cost as much or more and then re-evaluate perhaps the idea that they are the victim in this mess – by not adapting.

            I also point out – seriously – that an ebook can be sold *FROM THE PUBLISHERS WEBSITE* in a trivial manner – without significant overhead to the publisher (no inventory – warehouse – shipping – etc) and thus keep *all* the middleman profit.

            Ultimately this last point is what I believe we will eventually gravitate towards with digital goods – why share your profit with Amazon when you can take it for yourself. 

            You already see this happening rapidly in the video game industry (see E.A. Origin and why they moved away from a distributor in Valve’s Steam).

            I also would point to data made available by the video game industry (Valve in particular) where they showed that by discounting the 60 dollar game to 9.99 for a weekend – they made more *profit* than the year prior in sales – because the volume was that much larger.

            I don’t think publishers will go away – there is still a market for someone I trust to slog through the sea of books and pick out authors that are worth reading – I do think that they will need to (eventually) start to market to me directly if they want to stay relevant going forward.

          2. Okay, I think we actually agree. My company actually releases the ebook for free on our website when we start selling the physical copies, but we’re an academic press; our model is pretty different.

            For fiction, I would agree that the ebook should be a little cheaper than the cheapest edition currently available, not counting reseller discounting. That would mean starting at 80-90% of list upon release, and reducing over time as cheaper editions are released (and as the more expensive editions cover the fixed costs).

            I’m all for cutting Amazon out of the picture. The trouble is, when the vast majority of people look for books, they go first to Amazon, and if they don’t find it there they think it doesn’t exist. We sell our books on our website cheaper than Amazon sells them — like, 10-20% cheaper — and yet loads of people still order them from Amazon. We end up making less money on each Amazon sale, and the customer ends up paying more. We pack and ship the books either way, so the end experience for the user is identical.

      2. Why are you selling your books through Amazon?   Why haven’t you guys cut out the middleman yet?   I buy my O’Reilly books from O’Reilly.   There’s no 30% going to Amazon there.

        There is absolutely no reason why ebooks should be going through Amazon.   Their store is terrible.   I _want_ the service that publishers offer of filtering out crap and doing good editing; with Amazon, there’s no easy way to tell which books have been published and which have just been dumped, and as a result I buy fewer books than I used to—I buy by author name and have no imprint I can trust.

        You guys really need to turn your status as publishers back into an asset.

        1. We do sell books directly, as I said in a later comment. But people still go to Amazon to find them, even though they cost more there, because Amazon is where most people go to find books. If it can’t be found on Amazon, they think it doesn’t exist.

          It’s not a choice between making a sale on Amazon and making a sale on our website. It’s a choice between making a sale on Amazon and not making a sale at all. If we didn’t sell our books on Amazon, someone else would (and do).

          1. You’re not really getting what I’m saying here—I think I stated my point poorly.

            The reason people go to Amazon is that they have no choice—they can’t look at every individual publisher’s web site to find their books.

            What I mean by selling it yourself is not that each publisher set up an individual web site so that people can go there to buy books.   That’s not practical, and no-one will do it.

            What I am suggesting is that you have an aggregator, possibly independent, that aggregates the catalogs of a large number of publishers.   The aggregator does a decent job of marketing those books on a single web site, so that I can go there and find only books that have been through an actual publisher, but for a large set of publishers.

            That said, the reason I buy direct from O’Reilly is that they have a brand I trust, and have managed to structure their web store in a way that encourages me to visit their site, so I actually do visit it.   If they can make this work as a single publisher, it’s not a fluke—it can be done.

            Tor has been trying to do it, but their store sucks because they have the (I suspect) mistaken belief that people go to their online store to see what Tor has published, not to buy, so the buy link is buried and it’s hard to get to the e-book.   Also, their e-book prices are still pretty high.   But it’s still tempting to shop there, despite the problems, because I have some basis for believing that if I buy a book from them, I’ll like it.

  6. I can’t help but feel that what the author is telling us is that since only a small number of people make money with art, we should be comfortable if that number shrinks even closer to zero. It seems a bit backwards; we should encourage a society where you can earn as much a living as an artist as you would exploiting a natural resource.

    Obviously destroying a free and open internet and sacrificing all privacy and due process rights at the altar of Copyright Protection is the wrongest way to go about doing that, but I don’t see why we can’t consider both sides here.

    1.  i think what he is saying is, most people who do art fail…usually because they arent good at it, and that is the expected result of being a bad artist…and that we should except this fact and not try to erode personal liberties to chase this mythical “everyone who makes art deserves to make money on it” idea.

    2. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive either, but I think art is by definition begging, and we shouldn’t be placing it (edit: copyright) ahead of our other values (private property, privacy, education, liberty, etc) or something as important as the Internet in a vain (necessarily futile) pursuit of something that will still be, at the core, begging. Copyright is a human invention that contradicts the reality of digital copies (easy, cheap, viral, …). (When human thoughts contradict reality, it’s not nature that will ultimately have to change.) Respect for artists, buskers, hospitality workers (when asking for tips), and beggars isn’t bad, but they can all still earn money in concrete ways too and beg on the side, with the understanding that it’s a gamble – and that they are competing for a handout from society’s surplus purse. Since begging isn’t even on par with our higher values (private property and safety from being spied on by your own government) though, I don’t think we should topple all the others to put begging at the top of the heap. But we are…

      1. Funny that you mention privacy. Privacy is a “human invention” that contradicts the reality of digital surveillance (easy, cheap, viral!), and yet you seem to think it’s worth fighting for. I think compensating artists in line with the value of what they produce is worth fighting for too.

        The reason we make progress as a species is because human thoughts sometimes contradict reality.

        1. I didn’t use privacy as an example of a contradiction, only as something more important than begging.

          1. Your argument is that fighting for copyright is “ultimately futile” because “when human thoughts contradict reality, it’s not nature that will ultimately have to change.” That applies equally well to fighting for privacy, which you don’t seem to think is futile. Your human thoughts contradict not only reality but each other.

            But okay, all art is begging. So is coding, then, presumably; there’s no bright-line distinction between writing a book and writing a program. I am not Mr. Techypants, but I understand that coding is kinda important to the internet. So you’re arguing that we shouldn’t put the internet ahead of something as important as the internet?

          2. I didn’t say fighting for privacy wasn’t futile too, just that I put privacy before copyright. I don’t think privacy is analogous to copyright at all, so you have made a correlation that I do not think exists. If you are interested in my options, though, I think privacy will have to adapt to reality too, hopefully in an egalitarian way… Until everyone has the same rights to record, and share, I will probably stand up for privacy…

            But back to copyright… I get an impression when I talk about copyright that my anti-copyright views necessarily make me anti-artist. that is not true. To use your words “I think compensating artists in line with the value of what they produce is worth fighting for too.” I just don’t accept that copyright is necessary, or that copyright should be held sacred. I’d be willing to flush it. I donate to worthy causes, in no part thanks to copyright.

            Put the Internet ahead of the Internet? You lost me. I am a programmer. I make money in billable hours in service. Programming is a skill I use in my concrete work. I program to create good things for myself and others. Copyright doesn’t enter either of those activities. As for the Internet being in competition with itself, the Internet makes information available at diminishing costs, replenishing it’s architects. The Internet will thrive assuming we don’t dismantle it to make room for something worse, to make more money for copyright holders.

          3. “If you are a programmer, then by your definition you are a beggar. Correct?”

            Correct, assuming I want income from the *product* of my work, and not the work itself (the time spent). Live artists who can convince people to pay in advance are hardly beggars. Artists who record a song and expect the copy to generate income are most certainly beggars.

            I am trying to draw a distinction between trying to make income from the users of a work and the commissioner of a work. The commissioner pays in advance. The user (in the current model) pays after a work exists. It is the user who views the artist as a beggar. The commissioner views the artist as an employee.

          4. “I see. So only some art is by definition begging.”

            If that’s a nit you wish to pick, yes. I was assuming we were talking about the user/consumer’s perspective.

          5. “Manufacturing is also begging, then. Because they’re trying to get money from people after the product exists.”

            You’ve jumped entirely out of the Internet into a world where one thing can be held by one person at a time. In that world we sell that possession. Returning to the Internet, copies have no property of exclusivity. Copyright tries to inflict one, but at a cost that I don’t condone.

          6. I would like to hire you to program something of value to me — say, a fart app for my iPhone. But wait! If I just let someone else hire you to make iFart, then I can get it for free!

            What is my incentive to ever pay you for anything ever, beggar?

          7. I realize that I am being needlessly insulting, but please understand that that’s only because you opened this conversation by needlessly insulting me, my mother, Robert Rauschenberg, and a host of other people I respect.

            Here is my point: I don’t know who you work for, but if they hope to make money by selling whatever you program then they are, by your definition, beggars, and they get the money to pay you by begging. I don’t know exactly how the internet is put together, but I know a lot of it is built on software that was written by people who were motivated to do so by the hope of being paid for selling copies — beggars, in your words. (A lot was built in other ways, too.) Begging, the way you define it, is vital to the creation, maintenance, and advancement of the various bits of the internet. It is therefore nonsensical for you to say that “begging” — or what a normal person would call creating work in hopes of selling copies of it — is less important than the internet. The internet could not exist without it.

          8. “I would like to hire you to program something of value to me – say, a fart app for my iPhone. But wait! If I just let someone else hire you to make iFart, then I can get it for free!

            What is my incentive to ever pay you for anything ever, beggar?”

            Perhaps, because no one else will put up with you? :)

            Actually, you would pay me, or someone like me, if you didn’t want to wait for someone else to get around to it. Copyright doesn’t drive business for me at all. If something is worth doing, it’s worth paying for right now.

            But in all seriousness, I would encourage you to take your business elsewhere.

          9. Robert Rauschenberg sold original physical paintings (objects), not digital copies of them. In that specific sense, he was not a beggar, he was an owner and seller. His product could only be possessed by one person at a time. He was also being an artist and asking for people to like his work in order to increase it’s value beyond that of the material that went into it. In that sense, yes, he was the beggar. Many people saw his work before deciding to pay for it.

            We forget that “file” is a metaphor, not a truth. Copies are not objects in the way copyright advocates want them to be. If they were, then I could buy a DVD and I would quite literally “own” the copy — and I would have every right to do anything I wanted with it, including transcribe it a billion times over. (I’d agree with that, but it contradicts the copyright model…)

            Yes, if someone I program for expects to sell copies of my work, they are beggars. I don’t hide that. I do my best to tell them of that reality. However, they do not “get the money pay me” by begging. They pay me to create, in advance. I am paid before anything exists. They are commissioning work, not begging to recoup losses.

            “I don’t know exactly how the internet is put together”

            Slot A, tab B… Usual stuff.

            “Begging, the way you define it, is vital to the creation, maintenance, and advancement of the various bits of the internet.” 

            Of course. I didn’t say begging was less important than the Internet. I said copyright was less important than the Internet. As long as artists beg, rather than inflict copyright on people, everything work’s fine.

          10. “…art is by definition begging, and we shouldn’t be placing it ahead of […] something as important as the Internet in a vain (necessarily futile) pursuit of something that will still be, at the core, begging.”

            In other words, “begging is less important than the internet.”

          11. ‘…art is by definition begging, and we shouldn’t be placing it ahead of […] something as important as the Internet in a vain (necessarily futile) pursuit of something that will still be, at the core, begging.’

            In other words, ‘begging is less important than the internet.'”

            I can see how you could misread that (or take it defensively). The “it” in that sentence is copyright. By saying “still, at it’s core, begging” I am saying art (a copy, from the user’s perspective) is begging and we should admit that it is begging in order to have the proper perspective on copyright. We should not be compromising the Internet (designing censorship, DRM, etc), all to defend copyright.

          12. Okay. I think what you are actually saying is, “Any attempt to sell something that could be freely copied, whether it’s a song, a story, a program, a design for a new engine, or a formula for a new medicine, is begging, because the buyer always has the choice of getting it for free. A lot of art — art that cannot be copied, work done for hire, art that the creator doesn’t try to sell — doesn’t involve begging.” In my defense, that is very far from what you actually said. I still disagree — creating something of value because you’re motivated by the prospect of future income isn’t begging, and if the future buyer wants lots of things to choose from it’s worth maintaining that expectation — but I no longer think it is utterly incomprehensible and offensive.

            Either way, I shouldn’t have gotten so tetchy and insulting, and I apologize.

          13. “I think what you are saying is… “art that cannot be copied, work done for hire, art that the creator doesn’t try to sell — doesn’t involve begging”

            Actually, I would say the part of art (a painting, for example) that that makes it art, is (by definition) begging. That doesn’t dismiss it’s value. In the case of digital copies (which is what I have focused in on), there is no physical good left and the whole thing is art/begging. Again, that’s not bad, but it no longer depends on a physical object, which changes its relationship with the consumer. Where physical “art” (object + design/process/creativity) was tied to a real item, digital art (design/process/creativity) is no longer tied to anything under the creator’s control (apart from the myth of copyright)… It can be copied freely, and any financial reward is at the discretion of the audience, as in begging, busking, and waiting tables. I did use some words casually (art… in the sense of design), and assume the computer user’s perspective (we are using computers), and not using pronouns very clearly (it… copyright, that which we are debating) – but then, I did not know I would have to defend them with a scalpel. However, I did not change my assertion either. The nature of art is intangible (what makes tangible art “art” is still something intangible), and an intangible aspect can’t be traded like tables and chairs. Digital art can take part in a request for compensation, but unlike material goods, it (pure intangible – for example, digital – art) does not come with an obligation because it can be copied easily and is not exclusively ownable. The normal process for “selling an echo” is to send/stream it to an audience (the user downloads it) and then you ask if they liked it… If they did, you have a “sale” (patron).  If they didn’t, you keep trying. Business as usual…

            Update: See http://www.ouya.tv/discover/
            “OUYA offers every game free to try because we believe you shouldn’t buy anything until you know you love it.”

          14. “creating something of value because you’re motivated by the prospect of future income isn’t begging, and if the future buyer wants lots of things to choose from it’s worth maintaining that expectation”

            No hard feelings… I could have been clearer.

            Continuing, I *do* think creating something the value of which is subjective and depends entirely on social values (since it no longer has any material aspect, as in the case of a digital copy) can be called begging. Again, I’m not saying that art is wrong or valueless, just that the pricing expectation (pay to play) is wrong given the facts (easy, cheap copying). I’m also not convinced that eliminating copyright would reduce the incentive to produce digital art, or the reward:


            Again, I think I can be against copyright and still be for rewarding artists. Copyright doesn’t even seem relevant to artists (musicians, coders, graphic designers, researchers) any more, only to their parent companies, distributors, and publishing intermediaries, and I want to continue to promote the increasing independence of creators from such non-producing third parties.

      2. I think you have an unusual dictionary. Most definitions of art don’t even reference money. I think I see what you’re getting at (that without copyright all payment to artists would be voluntary), but that’s wrong too, because it only applies to the part of art that can be copied. Which is a lot, but not all. Live performances and original physical works can never be copied exactly, because people value original works more highly than otherwise-perfect copies. Then there are commissions — not patronage for the sake of supporting the arts, but actually paying to cause something desired to be brought into existence, even if it can’t be owned exclusively afterward.

        1. Art is made to be seen (heard, etc, etc). Art is discretionary; it’s the part where the artist has a choice. Art is dead… Whatever definition you use, art is above and beyond the mechanics necessary to survive, so money does seem to come into it. Specifically, with respect to money, art is something you hope people will like enough to reward you for, but are under no obligation to agree.

          Paying to cause something desired to be brought into existence is still patronage: the patron commissions a work… The patron bears the risk by paying in advance. Live performances are work. The artist has a right to set their fee in advance, the listener or viewer bears the risk… A recording of the performance is just a copy. The artist cannot control an echo, and should not, when they had a chance to be paid in advance and everyone else has a normal drive to share.

    3. What is wrong with the number of people making money off of art shrinking?  There is no art shortage in this world.  I get that people like to do art, and that in an ideal world they would all make a living off of it.  I also like to eat pizza and play video games.  In an ideal world, I could make a living out of that too.  I can’t.  I am not going to demand some sort of insane government monopoly to make my lifestyle choices profitable, and eat pizza and play video games on the side.

      Further, I think it is a false choice.  Bringing copyright laws in line with reality isn’t going to change anything.  There is nothing in this planet I can’t already pirate.  Making it so that copyright last a sane amount of time and has strong fair use protection isn’t going to change anyone’s behavior.  People who don’t want to pay will continue to not pay.  People who are willing to pay will continue to pay.  The only difference is that if someone remixes a Beatles song into something new and interesting, or if a kid ads music to his youtube video, they are not going to be nuked by lawyers.  Neither one of those activities was going to affect revenue anyways.

      1. You have it wrong: the number of people making art is _increasing_, not shrinking.   The Internet has been a huge boon for artists, and new business models have allowed new artists to make money in new ways.   There is absolutely no reason to say that the internet is bad for artists.

        However, the internet _is_ bad for incumbent business models that don’t work over the internet.   The new copyright regimes that governments are pushing on us serve one purpose only: to perpetuate the business models of these companies, and to perpetuate their dominance over our culture.

      2. What is wrong with the number of people making money off of art shrinking?

        Because I want more art, always. And I want mature art, from artists who have been able to devote thousands of hours to practicing their art. Amateur art can be great, but I want people who are good at it — as many of them as possible — to have the option of devoting themselves to that art full-time. I don’t want good artists to create work for two years and then realize they have to go into accounting to support their families.

        As Ted says below, the internet isn’t bad for this — it creates a lot of new revenue streams for artists. But there still needs to be money flowing from the consumer to the artist somewhere along the line.

        1. I’m glad you want art.  So do I.  However, if the price you have to pay is having all fair use rights pissed on (something which is bad for art…) , brutal international treaties, and endless copyright, and handing lawyers the ability to financially murder anyone who tickles their fancy, I’ll stick to amateur art.  

          There are a lot of thing I want, but there is proportionality in getting them.  I would also like dogs to not shit on the street, but I am not willing to shoot dog owners that don’t pick up their dog’s shit to keep the streets clean.  Copyright is so completely fucked and disproportionate right now it isn’t even funny.  If I drink myself blackout drive my car into a family, killing them all, the civil fine I can take is less than what I could face for copying a CD.  

          That is fucked. 

    4. No, what he’s saying is that we shouldn’t be ruining the internet for everyone to protect publishers from the small minority of incorrigible leeches.

  7. They can have my copies when they pry them from my cold dead hands.

    I have free and open access to pretty much everything ever created. Internet is still up too.

    My opinion is that publishers and distributors are little more than parasites and gatekeepers…. they choke off the free flow of our culture for their financial benefit. The consumers, the creators are both screwed by them.

    Since the internet is the biggest free flow of culture ever, of course they are threatened… they have no place in the new world, and of course they won’t go quietly, but they will go inevitably.

    And yes they can pass all the laws they want, but until they can enforce them, they aren’t going to be effective in the slightest.

    I recall a whole bunch of DRM schemes being shot down in short order, and I’m only aware of a few botched and hamfisted prosecutions regarding it, which hasn’t changed a thing.

    I think the internet is fine, and will always be fine.

  8. [deleted because my comment didn’t add anything other than this: I disagree with you on most things, Cory, but I agree with you on this.]

  9. The problem is we’ve allowed them to have 100+ years to get money out of things.  So no need for new tech when they can just keep beating the dead horses they are riding to the finish line… and then pay to have the finish line moved again.  Imagine if we went back to the old models of yesteryear, where they actually had limited time to get the value.  They would be releasing discs and quality downloads as fast as they could rather than sitting back and waiting for them to get in the mood to actually meet consumer demand.

  10. I mostly agree with Cory’s essay, but I think the idea that people are concerned with artists’ income for its own sake is a bit of a straw man. The reason for copyright, and for much of its ongoing defense, is not that people are concerned for artists’ incomes per se, but rather the idea that ensuring that people can make a living by making good art *leads to more good art* for everyone to consume. This idea is debatable, I know, but that debate should start with this acknowledgement that people on both sides have broad social values in mind, not just the income of the one-hundred-billionth of a person (just going with Cory’s ballpark figure here) making a living off art.

  11. The disneyfication of our legal system is crippling to our “culture”. The whole point of copyright was to protect the artist, briefly, from theft. But then the art is supposed to filter down into the wider culture, to be used by other artists. We’ve cut that process off at the knees. 

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