My reasons for feeling this way are explained in great
detail in another
essay. Even if you disagree with me there, though, the question of
"How could I make money by giving my art away?" is still very much
worth answering. If you do agree with me, it's also worth speculating
on what will happen to the present media industries when the content
they sell becomes free.
Before suggesting some answers to the first question, I'd like to
point out that's not really all that important a
question. People routinely produce art of all kinds without any
expectation of making money off of it; they're motivated simply by
love for what they do. Eben Moglen covers the issue extraordinarily
well in Anarchism
Triumphant: Free Software and the Death of Copyright; quoting him
fleetingly, "we have the Magic Flute even though Mozart knew very well
he wouldn't be paid."
I'd also briefly like to state my opinion that offering content
freely constitutes a morally healthier way of doing things. (I'm an active GNU developer,
after all, so it shouldn't surprise you too much to hear me saying
something like that.) In his GNU philosophy writings, Richard Stallman
argues that the impulse to share is fundamentally good; something that
should be encouraged where possible, not denigrated. I agree with this
thinking, and I feel it applies no less to other forms of published
information than it does to software.
Approaches to Fundraising
This approach is fairly straightforward. The artist simply includes
a note with her media which reads, "If you like what I do, here's how
to send me money, which will help me continue to provide you with
art." This will be most effective for artists who manage to amass a
large following, and by no means completely ineffective for everyone
(As a side note, the viability of this method will be become
stronger with the advent of a ubiquitous digital cash system. With
such system in place, consumers would be able to deliver small or
not-so-small bounties to their favorite artists with, say, a few mouse
clicks 1. RMS has pointed this
out in some of his brief writings on the subject.)
Another way of approaching this is for the artist to sell copies of
her work even though it is available elsewhere at no cost. Another
suggestion, floated by Bruce Schneier, is the Performer's Protocol, in
which an artist will release her next song, film segment, etc. when,
say, another $50,000 has been donated to her Performer's Protocol
Account. In fact, Stephen King is employing the Performer's Protocol
to decide whether he will release the third part of his new
e-book. Both of these approaches are fundamentally twists on
soliciting donations, though, at least from the consumer's
This approach is also fairly straightforward. In exchange for
support, a corporation will have its name somehow attached to some
amount of the artist's work.
This model, of course, is precisely the status quo for commercial
television and radio. The network produces a program, and the costs of
doing so are defrayed by companies who, in exchange, get to air ads
during the commercial breaks. Corporate sponsorship is not unique to
these media, however; bands go on tours sponsored by the likes of
Pepsi and The Gap, public television programs briefly thank the Mobil
corporation for their grants in support of public TV, companies pay
bounties to have their products placed in movies -- either to have
them appear in the frame, mentioned in dialogue, or both -- and so on.
Making content freely redistributable doesn't fundamentally change
any of this. The only wrinkle is that redistributable content can
easily be edited midway through the redistribution process. This
greatly reduces sponsors' ability to hawk their products during
commercial breaks, for commercials would likely be stripped out of the
programs in short order. It may even put a cap on the obviousness with
which products can be placed in the programming proper, as fans might
make it a point of pride to edit out product placement if it's
Sponsorship money may come from organizations that exist expressly
to support the arts. These organizations may be governmental or
Such sponsorship is similar to corporate sponsorship, the main
difference being that it places far fewer new requirements on the
artist. (Mostly, the artist will have to act in a manner that is
politically acceptable to the donating body.)
Seeding the Market
In some situations, if an artist's work is freely available, it
will help spread word of who he is, what he does, and what his ideas
are. This seeds the market for products and services the artist can
offer which can't be encoded and sent down a wire.
For example, a jazz band that makes its money by playing at bars,
weddings, and bar mitzvahs can reach a larger base of potential
patrons if their music is out there. A respected indepedent film
director may find herself such a household name that her non-shooting
schedule is overfull with speaking engagements, and that she's
amassing quite a lot in speaker's fees. And so on.
Even if an artist's digital content is available at nearly no
charge, the same will not be true of physical, salable objects
associated with her work. This approach is best exemplified by, say, a
band that gives away its music at the same web site where it sells
Thus far, I haven't described much of a niche where the digital
publishing industries can fit in this new paradigm; instead,
I've concentrated on what artists can do to make money. There are,
however, distinct niches where publishers will still be able to make a
living by adding value to the products they redistribute.
For example, an on-line business could maintain a large archive of
music, television, and movie files, each of which have been checked
for quality, completeness, fidelity, etc. Consumers who'd like to
access the archive would be charged a small fee for doing so -- a few
cents for each file downloaded, or a few dollars per month for a
subscription that gives them unlimited downloads. Moreover, it seems
likely that such businesses would give back to the artists; it only
seems fair, and consumers would probably prefer to do business with
companies that meet their notions of fairness. Popular artists could
also make money by inking promotional deals with these
distributors. In fact, emusic.com is already selling a similar and
entirely legal subscription service for mp3 music, though the pricing
schemes and comprehensiveness of their library are perhaps subideal.
As another example, publishers (or the artists themselves) might be
able to offer premium subscription services to their fans that
guarantee them the earliest-possible access to new releases. The
viability of such a service, though, depends on consumer impatience
exceeding the content's ability to propagate itself throughout the
network. Thus, premium subscriptions make sense only if this
propagation speed is rather slow, or if the demand to obtain the item
-- immediately -- is very high (e.g., The Next Harry Potter Book, the
most recent installment of a very popular half-hour situation comedy
that's being released intermittently, etc.)
The Courses of Industry
As I mentioned above, I feel that all
published digital content will, by necessity, become free. If we take
this as a given, how will it change the industries that presently
produce and publish digital content? Bear in mind that I do not by any
means have insider's knowledge of any of these industries, but here
are some predictions:
The Studio Film Industry
At present, films make money by way of a many-tiered distribution
system which serves to extract every last bit of value from the public
that it can. Here's an outline of how this all works for a big-studio
U.S. film (not strictly in order):
First, the film goes on its main theatrical run in the U.S. Then
it's released to the shrinking numbers of second- and third-run
theaters in the U.S. It's released on pay-per-view systems. It's
released on home video. (If the studios feel that a film isn't worth
the cost of putting through a theatrical run, it will be released
directly to the home market without hitting theaters at all.) Its
broadcast rights are sold to T.V. stations; first, premium movie
stations, then non-premium. The film is also released stage-by-stage
in foreign countries, the exact timetable tending to vary by country
or region. Often, the foreign release schedule lags behind the
U.S. schedule. In fact, a movie just hitting the theaters in some part
of the world will often already be available on video back in the U.S.
On occassion, the studio can make some money aside from that by
licensing merchandising rights (action figures, plush dolls, plastic
lightsabers, Spaceballs the Flame Thrower, etc.) This is especially
true of kids' movies.
A shift to freely redistributable content sweeps away the in-home
tiers of this system. In contrast, there's good reason to believe that
the theatrical run will continue to exist. The video and sound of a
theater can't really be reproduced in most people's homes, and the
social usefulness of movie-going isn't likely to fade soon. There is a
risk of a high-quality bootleg making it to home video while the film
is still in theaters, but this is a manageable risk. All in all, the
studio can maintain control of theatrical releases. Video releases, in
contrast, will become free.
This would all be fine were it not for the fact that relatively few
films cover their costs just from their theatrical runs. I predict
that studios will deal with this in the following ways:
- Theatrical runs will lengthen. One corollary to this is that
second- and third-run theaters will again assume greater importance.
- Product placement and other forms of corporate sponsorship will
- Studios will continue to make movies that allow them to sell
- Theatrical re-releases of older movies at strategic moments will
become more common.
Even so, when all is said and done, the disappearance of home video
and TV's revenue streams will shrink the feature film market
overall. With less money to chase, fewer big-studio movies will be
Nonetheless, as is customary now, these films will, some time after
their theatrical run, be released for in-home consumption. Although
there'll no longer be any direct money to be made by doing so, it'll
be worth it because of exposure. Timely home-video release will lead
to further career opportunities for directors, actors, screenwriters,
cinematographers, etc.; as such, they will likely make it a condition
of their employment. It will provide publicity and prestige for the
studio itself, and may help them hype upcoming releases. Importantly,
it provides greater publicity for the film's corporate sponsors.
This shift in the mode of production will also constrain studios'
foreign release plans. It won't require studios to do simultaneous
premieres worldwide, but it will push overseas release earlier, before
home-video release. (Home video release will, by necessity,
automatically become a worldwide affair. Even language barriers won't
be too much of an impediment, as it'll be fairly easy for fans to add
subtitles to the home-video release and then redistribute.)
Independent filmmakers face a slightly different situation than the
big studios. First off, the profit motive often is not their primary
concern, or at least not to the same degree. A corollary to this is
that they tend to depend less on the distribution pipeline discussed
above. Also, quite importantly, they're in a better situation to
solicit donations from individuals and foundations than the big
studios, which from the consumer's point of view are clearly part of
the Establishment. Conversely, they can expect less from the corporate
world; low-key sponsorships or promotional deals will still be within
the realm of possibility, but if this becomes too great, it will
quickly lead to the artist being labeled a sell-out.
There's fairly good reason to believe that the shift will be a
substantial improvement for the filmmaker -- it'll greatly improve
exposure of his works and increase the audience from which to solicit
funds. We may see a tendency for independent film to be digitally
released to the public at large without making a theatrical run at
all. Or that a film will first be released in that fashion to test the
waters, and then be released in theaters if audience demand calls for
The Television Industry
As described earlier in this essay, television will lose the main
way its costs are now defrayed: the commercial break.
Recorded (as opposed to live) programming will suffer this problem
with the plainest obviousness. In an environment where such
programming will be freely redistributable, the broadcast model
largely ceases to make sense as its delivery method. People much
prefer to watch programming when it is convenient for them to watch it
-- perhaps when it first is made available, perhaps a few hours later,
or perhaps years later -- provided the access to the content is
convenient as well. Free redistribution of digital content makes that
possible. It's worth restating that this also makes it impossible to
stick in commercial breaks, as they'll just get stripped out.
The commercial break will be similarly weakened for live
programming. The reason is more subtle, though. Perhaps you're
familiar with technologies like TiVo. Or perhaps not. At any rate, one
of the most intriguing possibilities stemming from these new-fangled
TV technologies is the ability to cut commercials out of programming
on the fly. Want to watch the 6 o'clock news without commercials? Just
set your box to start silently recording at 6 and then start watching
at 6:12. It'll excise the expected 12 minutes of commercial out of the
program on the fly. (Perhaps it'll require you to hit a fast-forward
button to do this, which is how TiVo functions, or perhaps it could do
Of course, there are still some live programs that viewers will
want to watch exactly as they unfold: New Year's Eve programming, for
example, or sports. Especially sports. (It's safe to ignore the fact
that a present-day TV viewer isn't precisely seeing anything live. It
takes time for the signal to reach her house, and there may be another
delay first in which assiduous censors bleep out any curses the
microphones happen to pick up. This is still pretty close to live.) In
such situations, the commercial break may well survive.
How will other programming get paid for? The answer's simple:
pretty much the same way that films will, minus the theatrical
run. Commercial programming will run on product placement and other
forms of sponsorship; non-commercial programming will run on donations
from individuals, foundations, and low-key corporate sponsorship (much
as public television does now). In fact, between the loss of the
commercial break and greater flexibility of program length, many of
the distinctions between movies and the medium that television has
evolved into will cease to be so sharp.
That said, just as radio didn't go away when its importance
diminished, broadcast television won't go away either. Instead, like
radio, it will become a niche player -- useful for things like sports
broadcasts, or reaching markets where the newer technology hasn't yet
achieved dominance, or whatever.
The Recording Industry
The financial incentive for record companies to assemble and
mass-market musical acts will be greatly reduced, as there will no
longer be any money to be made by selling albums.
This does not mean that less music will be recorded. The difference
is that most recording will be done by individuals and groups looking
for exposure, as this will be the key to soliciting donations, selling
tie-in products, or offering other services; i.e., live
performances. Lest I be accused of harboring a specific misconception,
when I say live performances I don't mean cross-country tours, which
are loss-leaders for most present-day bands, worthwhile because they
perk up record sales. (Of course, there are exceptions to this rule:
The Grateful Dead, for example, or Phish. And in all likelihood, there
will continue to be such exceptions.) No; when I say live performance,
I mean weddings and bar mitzvahs, and I'm talking about groups that
stay in touch with the tastes and demands of their local audiences.
This is not to say that music with broad-based popularity will
disappear. Though many bands will now have more limited ranges of
operation, their recordings will not suffer from the same limitation,
and may attract a geographically widespread following. Even the
traditional recording industry and its manufactured bubble-gum pop act
still has a future. Again, enter corporate sponsorship. Right now, the
motive for organizing and marketing acts like this is money from
selling CDs, but there's no particular reason it couldn't be money
from selling cola or khakhis instead. The sponsor simply needs to
associate itself very strongly with its music, maybe even insist that
it gets mentioned in a lyric or two, and it gets instant exposure.
A great many musicians, of course, would view corporate sponsorship
as selling out. It's also easier for them to avoid striking such
Faustian bargains than it is for filmmakers, who have to contend with
much higher production costs. Amusingly, this might make the source of
a music group's funding a useful metric in determining precisely what
is bubble-gum pop and what isn't.
The Radio Industry
Radio will undergo transformations basically analogous to those
that will happen in television. The broadcast method will cease to
make as much sense for recorded content, so the niche in which, say,
music stations operate will become still more circumscribed.
Likewise, even live commercial content will suffer from a weakening
of the commercial break. Again, sports will be an exception. Radio
stations will have some ability to deal with this via product
placement, but less than television.
And again, public programming will likely be able to chug along as
it always has.
The Publishing Industry
The status quo on books does not have to change, although the text
of a book is, well, already digital. In fact, computerizing a printed
text and redistributing it digitally wouldn't be hard work -- just get
a few dozen fans together and assign each a chapter to retype. It
won't matter, because the preferred way to read a book is on printed,
professionally bound pages. Even if a book is available in digital
form, the present alternatives to buying a bound version are reading
the book onscreen or printing and binding the book oneself. Reading
onscreen isn't easy on the eyes and makes it hard to take the book
into bed or out to the beach, even if you have a laptop. Printing a
hard copy costs a lot in time, paper, toner, and printer depreciation,
and after all that, the copy isn't all that well-bound. Simply buying
a professionally-bound version is generally cheaper and more
Even for evanescent forms of the printed word, like newspapers and
magazines, using the print-version of the item has a number of
advantages. Sheet music, in fact, is the only printed medium I can
think of where bound copies resoundingly lose out to what the consumer
could print out himself, so long as the soft copy which the printout
comes from is easy to modify. Even that would only be true of
relatively short pieces, or a single instrument's part as opposed to
a full orchestral score.
In spite of all this, digital texts may well have a place in the
system. Making text available digitally, since few people will want to
read a long work that way, can serve as teaser for authors looking to
sell bound copies. Also, when the full text of a work is available
digitally it makes it easy to search through it for specific words and
phrases. (A nod to the classics
server at MIT is appropriate here. It was a wonderful tool to have
when I was writing papers on the Greek tragedies -- English
translations of which are in the public domain -- my freshman year of
college. Another to Project
Gutenberg is also appropriate.) For these reasons, we may see a
trend in which publishers tend to make the digital form of their works
available for download.
This carefully balanced system will all come crashing to the ground
if digital books become a preferred way to read. That is, if a
technology develops which displays text digitally in a package that's
as convenient to use as a printed book. Such a technology could, for
example, be built around the electrosensitive
rewritable paper presently being developed. (Writing an image to
such paper would take a fraction of a second, and it's projected that
a a single sheet of the stuff could last for a million rewrites or
more.) Just bind a pair of digital pages inside a cover threaded with
circuitry, add some controls, and put a communications port in the
spine: instant paradigm shift. In fact, such a device would in many
respects be decidedly more convenient than a traditional book -- it'd
be lightweight, and obtaining a new text would just be a question of
Of course, some niches for bound books will remain should this
happen. Keeping a few well-stocked bookshelves around the house may
remain socially prestigious. Some people dig the total sensory
experience of reading a book -- feeling the pages, smelling the glue
in the binding -- and perhaps that will persist. Bound books will
likely fare better in tougher environments: in a backpack on a
cross-country bus trip, for example, or a playpen. By-and-large,
though, authors would have to make money plying their trade in much
the same way that musicians will.
Rights for All Uses?
One last thing to consider, which applies to many of the above
fields that have been discussed: if digital content is made free for
individual use, the same needn't apply for all other uses. The
business conducted by the American Society of Composers, Authors and
Publishers is a very instructive example in that regard. Music
copyright holders abrogate the task of collecting public-performance
duties to ASCAP, which then licenses its music library to entities
that would tend to perform the songs held therein (radio and
television stations, retail stores, sporting arenas, restaurants,
businesses that play music when they put you on hold,
elevator-proprietors of all sorts -- heck, even Happy Birthday is
still under copyright 2). ASCAP auditors then go out into the field
to catch violators. Which is to say, auditing is effective way to
enforce traditional IP law when the field of potential violators is
So, free redistribution of content doesn't necessarily mean that
every band on the planet automatically gets the right to do covers of
whatever songs they please, that publishers will automatically have
the right to publish print editions of another publisher's book even
if the text itself is freely available, that a play with
freely-redistributable text can automatically be staged, and so on.
I'd argue that explicitly granting such rights, however, is in most
cases the right thing to do, for both moral and practical reasons.
The moral reasons I've already touched on. If it's moral for the
artist to give the consumer free control over his content, surely that
wouldn't involve drawing distinctions on the different ways it can be
From a practical standpoint, if an artist grants these
performance-type rights to her work, it increases her exposure. Which,
as I've been saying all along, is the key to soliciting donations,
seeding the market, selling to advertisers, and so on. It's quite
plausible that the additional revenue rolling in from those sources
would easily outweigh what she could have gotten from performance
royalties instead. Besides that, certain organizations -- prestigious
symphony orchestras playing modern pieces in concert, for example --
would likely feel obliged to pay royalties to the artists that create
what they perform, even if it's not strictly necessary for them to do
so. An artist's performance royalties may not even appreciably suffer
insofar as that holds true.
Encouraging the System to Change
I've talked about the effects of widespread copyright violation a
great deal here. I feel that being party to it, however, makes it
harder to adopt the moral high-ground when discussing the issue. It
makes it seem as though you accept everything about the present system
except the direct costs to you. No; the thing to do is to support
artists that begin to freely release their work, and to respect the
wishes of those that don't while encouraging them to examine the
wellsprings that these wishes come from.
And if you're an artist yourself, leading by example can't hurt.
1 Or perhaps this could be
done with just one click, Amazon.com's legal department allowing.
2 If this doesn't convince
you that the world's intellectual property system is at least a little
bit broken, I don't know what will.
3 The only uses that I
feel should be treated differently are those that could impinge on the
integrity or the freedom of the work. Some examples of such uses:
making major changes to a work without providing an accounting of what
was changed; making false claims of authorship; or swallowing pieces
of code that were intended to remain free -- e.g., licensed under the
GNU GPL -- and rolling them into a proprietary product.
First let me get my biases out of the way. I'm a lawyer, and I represent people who make their living from controlling the rights to their intellectual property -- not all my clients, but some. I'm in favor of having intellectual property protected. I don't think the current regime does a bad job of it, either. You state "... that offering content freely constitutes a morally healthier way of doing things." You don't say heathier than what, but I'll guess from the context that you mean heathier than selling content. I disagree. I don't find a moral issue in giving content away or selling it. The owner gets to choose. If the creator of content owns it, I don't see why she shouldn't have the right to choose to sell it, give it away, or burn it. It is her property. Of course, there's always stealing it from her -- but that's not the morally healthier way of doing things, is it?
Your suggested alternatives to making a living by selling content just don't work, in my humble opinion. Soliciting donations? I live in the San Francisco area, and people are beating the doors down on donors, public funds, private funds, and friends and relatives to get funding to make their video for POV, their first feature film on digital tape, their first record. By relegating creative people to soliciting donations, you relegate them to day jobs to live while they pound the pavement looking for donors. That's already the situation around here, I'm afraid. The ones who have already successfully produced a television show, movie, record get first dibs on the money, even if their venture was not for profit, and they still have to have a day job. Your suggestion perpetuates the status quo for way too many creative talents.
Selling copies which are freely available on the Web doesn't really work for TV shows. Where do you pick up a copy for sale? Or an independent movie? Or a live performance? What does a copy cost the artist out of pocket before a copy can be sold? You're making a night job get stacked on top of the day job so the artist can pay for copies -- they aren't free, you know. Someone has to front the money.
Corporate sponsorship? Isn't that selling out? Blair Witch with what, cans of Coca Cola strewn about the woods? Everyone in Gap jeans? Broadcast television and radio are paid for by commercials, yes. But taking television, the first run shows are often money-losers, maybe break-even for some hits. The real money is in the reruns. And the owners of the content get to license the shows for money in syndication. I'm still seeing reruns of I Love Lucy, Leave It To Beaver, and The Honeymooners. Someone is still getting paid for the rights to broadcast those shows. They weren't free.
Seeding the market? My creative artist wants to do a TV show on coping with the death of her mother from breast cancer. I'm open to suggestions on how to seed the market. And the ancillaries -- you know, the action figures and plush toys, maybe official T-shirts? Speakers fees? Yeah, right. Tons o' money rolling in for _that_ topic. The sad thing is, it's a real story with much to teach people. She'll keep her dayjob for now, though, while she figures out how to seed the market. And how to pay for action figures and plush toys. They're not free, you know. Someone has to front the money.
My bold prediction is that content will never become free, at least not as you envision it. ER, Survivors, and the like will continue to be made and protected by copyright, and tons of money will be made off the syndications of the programming. Music may change because of the ease of stealing copies and publishing them, but I haven't seen the market for movies and television shows that I see for pirated music. And reading books on a computer has a _long_ way to go before hardcopies are replaced by digital content.
Studios will still make blockbuster hits like The Matrix, The Cell, Hollow Man, Star Wars Episode LIII, and indies will make small films like Blair Witch, All Over Me, Pi, Ulee's Gold, and the like. But those blockbusters get financed from profits from all those dirty licensing agreements with first run theatres, second and third runs, video, Europe, Asia, and television. Free movies won't cut it, I'm afraid. Those special effects not only cost a ton of money, they create a ton of jobs that pay a ton of people a living wage. The Matrix on a Blair Witch budget and crew? Sorry. It's not free.
It isn't moral to _make_ people give their property away for nothing. In that case, to quote "Me and Bobby McGee," "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." Stealing music, as you say, does not give anyone the moral high ground, but neither does compelling people to give up property rights without just compensation. (That's in the Bill of Rights, by the way, a moral high ground in its own right.)
You have lots of suggestions, and my suggestion is that, instead of asking others to make the sacrifice, you lead by example. Are you paid for your work? Give it up. Give your work away. Solicit donations for each item of work you are to produce so you can pay first for the raw materials (film stock, tape, camera and lens rentals, to name a few up front expenses for creative artists), get corporate sponsorship for each separate piece of intellectual property you create ("Buy Pepsi" popup windows in your code?), sell official T-shirts, arrange for speakers fees. Give your work away and ask people to contribute what they think it's worth. Lead by example.
By the way, if I disagree with the GPL, can I break it? I think that copyleft is just a little bit broken -- too restrictive -- so I'm going to break it. I'm going to create a program using gnus compilers and sell it, without making the underlying code available. You buy just the executable. Is that a problem for you?
mettw and stripling: I'm not making or forcing anyone
distribute their work under terms by which it would be freely
redistributable. There are three reasons, far as I can think of, that
artists might do so: 1) if the artists, like me, feel that it is the
right thing to do -- clearly this won't describe everyone, nor will
economic realities necessarily allow for it, but it will
describe at least some minority; 2) if they find that they can
make as much or more of a living by doing business based on something
other than selling copies of their work; 3) if technological
developments currently underway -- a high-bandwidth internet,
mass-storage media burners that can be used in the home, etc. -- make
trying to enforce traditional copyright law like trying to enforce laws
against voyeurs and peeping toms in a world where everyone has X-ray
for the analogy goes to Roderick Long.) It's worth thinking and debating
and writing about this at least for the sake of artists in circumstance
#1 -- there are some out there; not everyone with these kinds of notions
goes into writing software. I'm not especially claiming that
circumstance #2 will hold true for everyone, or even anyone. I
mean, I hope that this happens for some people, and things like public
TV and radio seem to suggest that they would, but I'm just expressing
thoughts here, not guarantees. The questions that I raise become
critically important if circumstance #3 comes to be, though, and I feel
that this will happen. (As I emphasized in the essay, feel free to
disagree with me on this, but to understand my rationale you'll have to
read the essay that
I wrote with that specific thesis.)
"Should," asks mettw, "musicians, authors, programmers and
any other copright protected producer spend a year or more producing
their album/book/programme without any income at all and then have to
either beg or do something else to recoup their costs and attempt to
gain enough funding for their next project?" stripling raises similar
concerns. Let's start with "should": when I stated my opinion that
allowing content to be freely distributed is more moral, I did not mean
that to be a normative standard to which artists should be held up.
Also, when I discuss
"Encouraging the system to change", I wasn't exhorting all artists to
make their work freely redistributable, only those who agree with me. My
apologies if this was
unclear. And again, it may not matter who agrees with me if the X-ray
vision scenario comes to pass. Although I'd hope that any artist in any
situation -- 20 years ago, today, or 20 years from now -- would start
small to hone her skills and to start attracting a following, rather
than starting in with year-long opuses right away.
Aside from that, I specifically didn't talk about programmers and
software in the essay. This is deliberate. There's already a decent body
of work arguing that software should be free/open-source, and that this
is practical, and that it won't put developers out of jobs. If you
disagree with RMS, ESR, et. al. on these issues, there's certainly
nothing anything I can say to convince you otherwise. The only
thing that I can add is that the X-ray vision scenario won't happen to
software for two reasons: there are trust issues involved in running
software from some random source that's been cracked to do God-knows
what, and a large proportion of software is used in business
environments where auditing is an effective way to enforce copyright.
stripling, much of your reply talks about intellectual property as if
it were the same as physical property. This is, well, not true. If I
give someone my CD player, I no longer have a CD player. If I want to
play CDs (and lack a second player), I have to go out and buy a new one.
In contrast, if I e-mail someone Rhapsody in Blue on mp3, I don't have
to deprive myself of the ability to play it -- I make a copy and send
them the copy. This takes all of a few seconds -- near-zero cost.
Producing or buying a new CD player costs a lot more. Speaking of the
U.S. constitution, let's take a look at section 8,
article 8, which grants Congress the power "To promote the Progress of
Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and
Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and
Discoveries". The interpretation of this that I often hear is the
purpose of "ownership" rights for thoughtstuff is the public good, not
some intrinsic right of the author or inventor. Thomas Jefferson, in
fact, wrote a good deal on his
ambivalence on whether intellectual property systems were right at all.
I point these things out 'cause some of what you say seems to imply
With regards to your suggestion that I stop accepting pay for working
on free software: I'm guessing that you make that suggestion on the
assumption that what I'd like to see artists do is tantamount to that.
Maybe you're right, but I don't think the issues are that clear-cut.
By the way, if I disagree with the GPL, can I break it? I think
that copyleft is just a little bit broken -- too restrictive -- so I'm
going to break it. I'm going to create a program using gnus compilers
and sell it, without making the underlying code available. You buy just
the executable. Is that a problem for you?
Presumably, you mean something more like producing a compiler based
on gcc's source code and then distributing that without source? Your
point being that I rely on copyright to protect my interests. First off,
I don't recall saying copyright was bad anywhere in my essay, though
perhaps I didn't defend it as vigorously as I might have. Moreover, if
there were no such thing as copyright -- I don't advocate this, but
let's pursue it as a thought experiment -- I don't think I'd feel it
necessary to write software licensed with GPL-like restrictions. Without
copyright, there'd be few reasons for people not to make the source of
their improvements and derivative works available as well; the concept
of making software proprietary to begin with would largely go away.
Selling copies which are freely available on the Web doesn't
really work for TV shows. Where do you pick up a copy for sale? Or an
independent movie? Or a live performance? What does a copy cost the
artist out of pocket before a copy can be sold? You're making a night
job get stacked on top of the day job so the artist can pay for copies
-- they aren't free, you know. Someone has to front the money.
One last point before I call it a day -- your prose is a bit unclear
-- here you seem to have, well, completely missed what I was driving at.
The video (to use your example) is a big, big bunch of ones and zeroes.
It's available on the internet in this precisely this form. "Official
copies" would also be available some other way. For example, the artist
or the publisher could sell official copies on a web site, with
consumers putting in orders as gestures of support. A few days later, a
video disc gets delivered to her front door. Granted, artists might find
that to this they need to produce copies on demand or in small runs
should it prove hard to anticipate demand. This leads to some
diseconomies of scale, but nothing terrible, since the asking price for
an official copy is going to be much greater than the cost to produce
that one copy. What I am most definitely not envisioning is
artists holed up in garrets all night burning copy after copy of their
work and then carpeting the populace with them as though they were AOL
CDs. That would be absurd.