Paying for Creativity

By Sean Carroll | June 18, 2012 8:40 pm

Over on Facebook, a single blog post was linked to by four different friends of mine: a physicist, a science writer/spouse, a saxophone player, and a screenwriter. Clearly something has struck a nerve!

The common thread binding together these creative people who make a living off of their creative work is the impact of technology on how we distribute intellectual property. In other words: do you ever pay for music any more?

Emily White doesn’t. She’s an intern at NPR’s All Things Considered, where she wrote a blog post saying that she “owns” over 11,000 songs, but has only paid for about 15 CD’s in her entire life. The rest were copied from various sources or shared over the internet. She understands that the people who made the music she loves deserve to be paid for their work, and she’s willing to do so — but only if it’s convenient, and apparently the click it takes to purchase from iTunes doesn’t qualify.

The brilliant (and excessively level-headed) response that my friends all linked to was penned by David Lowery. He makes the case much better than I would have, so read him. Making the case is necessary; there is a long tail of compensation in creative fields, and we’re all familiar with the multi-millionaires, so it’s easy to forget the much larger numbers of people sweating to earn a decent living. Not everyone has the ability to create work that other people are willing to pay for, of course; the universe does not owe you the right to earn money from your writing or thinking or playing. But when other people appreciate and benefit from your stuff, you do have a right to be compensated, I think.

Coincidentally, today I stumbled across a book that I didn’t know existed — one about me! Or at least, one whose title is my name. Since nobody other than my Mom thinks I deserve to have a book written about me, my curiosity was piqued.

Turns out that the book (apparently) isn’t so much about me, as a collection of things I have written, supplemented by Wikipedia pages. None of which I knew about at all. In other words, for $60 you can purchase a 160-page book of things you can find on the internet for free. There is a company, VDM Publishing, that specializes in churning such things out via print-on-demand. Turning Wikipedia pages into a book is bizarre and disreputable, but possibly legal. Taking blog posts and articles I have written and including them in the book is straight-up illegal, I’m afraid.

Fortunately, I’m not losing much value here, as only a crazy person would pay $60 for an unauthorized collection of Wikipedia articles and blog posts, and I like to think that my target audience is mostly non-crazy people. But it’s a bad sign, I would think. Stuff like this is only going to become more popular.

Don’t let that dissuade you from purchasing highly authorized collections of very good blog posts! For example The Best Science Writing Online 2012, appearing this September. No posts from Cosmic Variance this year, but I have it on good authority that the editor worked really hard to make this a standout collection.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Business, Technology
  • Miles Bader

    “she wrote a blog post saying that she “owns” over 11,000 songs, but has only paid for about 15 CD’s in her entire life. The rest were copied from various sources or shared over the internet. She understands that the people who made the music she loves deserve to be paid for their work, and she’s willing to do so — but only if it’s convenient, and apparently the click it takes to purchase from iTunes doesn’t qualify.”

    Keep in mind that there’s a lot of very good music on the internet which is quite legal to download without paying—tons of musicians release their stuff on the internet with liberal licensing, music being one of those fields where many people do it for the love of the craft, rather than to make a buck.

    So unless she explicitly said she was downloading “commercial” tunes, don’t be so sure she’s some sort of scofflaw…

    [This is of course one of the reasons the traditional music industry is so scared of the internet: if they can’t control the means of distribution, what’s to stop others from undercutting them, or dreaming up interesting business models which sidestep them?]

    “Turning Wikipedia pages into a book is bizarre and disreputable, but possibly legal”

    Wait, why on earth would that be bizarre and/or disreputable…? If somebody wants wikipedia in print form, it seems a good thing that there’s some service to provide that…

  • http://thefloatinglantern.wordpress.com Tim Martin

    A decent article – gives me some things to think about. However I was disappointed by the fact that the writer made mostly a moral argument, as opposed to something more objective (i.e. “This is what might happen to the music industry if people don’t pay for music,” etc.)

  • Aaron Sheldon

    The information economy is all fine and dandy, but in the end someone has to push a plough or we will all starve.

    If you are expecting to make a living by thinking things that other people will perceive value in, well then you might as well play the craps table. The human perception of value is endlessly capricious and fickle, and will pick and choose what it wants without any wisdom, consideration, or reason. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all.

    If your goal is to make a substantial profit then you will have to manipulate public perception.

    There are plenty of compelling artists and scientist who live in obscurity, and particularly for the artists near poverty, and there are plenty of vapid billionaires. Don’t every expect the human race to make sense, none of us are entitled to explanations, you have to seek them yourself.

    If you want to be happy, find a job that will support your interests and will hopefully not be to divergent from them, or horribly onerous.

  • Jason Dick

    This is why I tend to think that our entire content distribution system is fundamentally broken. I’d really really like to see a system where all media is free (aside from small fees for publishing), and artists are paid based upon how many people view their work. We would then have to all pay some small tax or similar. Different works may be able to negotiate different levels of payment. For example, low-volume, high-cost books like graduate-level text books may be able to negotiate higher fees per use.

    That said, in music, if you want the artist to get money, go to concerts. That’s where all but the biggest-name artists make most of their money these days (and, crucially, artists get a larger fraction of the receipts than they do for music sales), and concert receipts have increased even as music sales have fallen. This is, as I understand it, the real reason why many musicians release their songs for free: they don’t make much money that way anyway, and it acts as advertisement for their real revenue stream.

  • Tasha

    Whenever I lament on Goodreads.com about a book I want not being available in e-book form or in this country, I invariably get helpful tips about where and how to download it (illegally) for free. I don’t steal books, but it is obviously very common.

  • keith

    By linking The Pirate Bay, for example, to “big business” (Google search results) the author is lying for a manipulative effect, which is a shame because there’s a good point in there somewhere. I think we need to have faith in people. Emily may be rotten, and if she’s representative then we’re all going to hell anyway, but we need to find that out by rolling the dice.

    I sold all my 800 CDs, but now I buy a lot of individual tracks by following links from last.fm – a very simple process, and there isn’t much I have to steal. There was a study commissioned by the British film industry that proved, annoyingly for them, that the biggest torrentors also contributed the most money to the film industry (they still lie about this in piracy warnings). I guess this is a universal trait, on average, and everyone needs to chill out and not focus on individual Emilys.

  • varcher

    “Wait, why on earth would that be bizarre and/or disreputable…? If somebody wants wikipedia in print form, it seems a good thing that there’s some service to provide that…”

    The goal isn’t to provide printed Wikipedia, the goal is to spam Amazon with as many keyworded “books” as possible, and hope that some gullible soul will think it’s a real book and purchase it. The typesetting and assembly are now entirely automatic, it’s using a couple of Google related searches and Wikipedia cross-linked articles to create new books at regular intervals.

    Now, regarding the original article and the intern’s position, it’s… complicated.

    The publishing (whether it’s books, music, video, whatever) economy is undergoing an enormous disintermediation. The traditional publishing economy cycle is thus: Creator/Author -> Editor -> Publisher -> Wholesaler -> Retailer -> Consumer/Reader/Listener/Spectator (with, of course, the reverse flow for the monetary compensation).

    With the information infrastructure, most people see the middlemen as unnecessary intermediates. Or, for the fanatics, outright parasites. And when you look at the sizes of the relative positions, then you’re going to think they’re even bloated parasites. Take a Sony BMG (which combines Editor/Publisher), or an Apple (a Wholesaler/Retailer), and it’s hard not to think of them as completely useless intermediaries.

    So, at one point, it’s “us vs the system”. Not “us vs the authors”, but “us vs the big bads that steal from the authors!”

    What those people don’t realize is that the intermediaries DO add value. First, because the job of creating is not the job of publishing or marketing: the author who does all his marketing, setting up merchant account on paypal, working on a sales site… is doing the wrong job. He’s not creating. With people whose full-time job is to edit books, promote bands, and sites who provide you with a simple way of purchasing, you have an author who can focus on producing books, writing songs, creating new shows. And that’s added value, which, presumably has to be paid.

    Of course, once you look at the profit levels of those intermediaries, you cannot escape the feeling that those intermediaries are compensated at a level disproportionate to that added value. That, and of course, the shenanigans (mainly on the video side) that a legal monopoly allows to twist the market to extract the maximum money from the customer (support exclusivity, time-delayed and geography-constrained releases).

  • keith

    Some middlemen are useful, but more still will find themselves redundant. The noise we currently hear is the death rattle of useless middlemen. They’re rich so they get to make laws to protect their crumbling corpses, and I think that’s the only real danger here. Focus fire on corrupt lawmakers.

  • http://juanrga.com Juan Ramón González Álvarez

    SLAC reports, in a recent news, that BaBar data hint at cracks in the Standard Model. The excess decays has to be still confirmed, but they claim that data already rules out the Two Higgs Doublet Model.

  • Kevin

    #4, Jason Dick: My thoughts on future forms of content/media distribution tend in a similar direction as yours. Digital goods have no scarcity, so we can’t rely on economic systems which are based on scarce goods.

    In an idealistic mood, I would say we should guarantee a base allowance of media consumption for everyone, e.g. “content stamps” (like food stamps) which can be used by consumers to support creators they like. (Obviously, those above the poverty level would do the same with their own income.) The impetus for supporting creators should not be phrased as a property transaction; digital goods have no scarcity, but creativity itself still does. Creators need support to keep creating, and we should support creators we like for that reason.

    A good model of how consumers think about piracy: Piracy and the four currencies

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    In several countries, the Pirate Party is making significant inroads. These people openly threaten the idea of copyright, which led to the democratization of creative work. The alternative is that only the rich, or those who are supported by rich patrons, can afford this sort of work. That would be a return to the middle ages. (By the way, the fact that they are in parliament in some European countries and not in the US is because of proportional represenation, not because such thought is more prevalent in Europe. Of course, I continue to support PR even if the occasional kooks get elected. Actually, it is better that way since kooks are then more quickly recognized for what they are, and can’t play the card that a siginificant (if small) fraction of the population is overlooked.)

    All of the stuff about the “content mafia” is a smokescreen to divert attention from the real problem, which is theft, pure and simple. Even if there are problems in details, that does not mean one should chuck out the whole system. Even less does it give one the right to steal things. The whole idea of laws is that one should abide by them even if one disagrees; if everyone agreed, there would be no need for a law.

    This has nothing at all to do with the idea of open access in science, primarily because scientists have never earned money by selling access to their papers. Sean, beware: as an open-access advocate in science, the pirates will claim you support their idea of the abolition of copyright.

    There are several arguments in favour of stealing stuff that anyone who can’t see right away that they are bogus probably won’t benefit from an explanation. These stupid arguments are that theft is free advertising for the creative ones, that it is no different from taping vinyl albums on cassette, that it hurts only the middle men and not the artist, that other people are paid once for doing something so artists should too (note that they usually don’t suggest how this suggestion should be implemented), that it should be allowed because it cannot be prevented anyway (by that logic, one should legalize gang rape in the ghetto).

    In principle I don’t have any problem with a more modern system in which artists were paid depending on how many people download something, but the same people who advocate “file sharing” (a good example of doublespeak) are also the same people who would disallow counting such acceess on the grounds that internet users have a right to privacy. (Cue Anonymous demonstrating for transparency—behind masks. Cue Anonymous demonstrating for freedom of speech—by launching DDOS attacks on the web servers of those who think differently. The sad thing is that most people, whichever side they are on, don’t see the hypocrisy.)

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “That said, in music, if you want the artist to get money, go to concerts. That’s where all but the biggest-name artists make most of their money these days (and, crucially, artists get a larger fraction of the receipts than they do for music sales), and concert receipts have increased even as music sales have fallen. This is, as I understand it, the real reason why many musicians release their songs for free: they don’t make much money that way anyway, and it acts as advertisement for their real revenue stream.”

    First, simple human decency and respect for one’s fellow humans should dictate that the artist should decide if he wants “free revenue” or not, not you.

    Second, there are many bands who, for various reasons, do not give concerts. Maybe you are not aware of them, but that is part of the point: abolition of copyright would hurt the low-profile artists much more. Also, sales of CDs etc bring in revenue over a longer period of time.

    With things other than music: yes, authors occasionally have public readings, but this is not where most earn their money. Then there is the whole film industry, which involves many, many people (watch the credits!).

    I seriously think that this idea that copyright has been made superfluous by the internet is the greatest threat to civilization that exists. Yes, there is stuff like AGW, but by now there is a consensus and deniers are kooks. That is not yet the case in this discusssion.

  • PL Hayes

    I think that blog post is pretty appalling, actually. The author appears to be a teacher of the economics of the music business but one needn’t be familiar with even the absolute basics of the economics of innovation and intellectual property to see what is wrong with his blatant “you are taking money directly from the artist” fallacy. In particular, I doubt someone like Emily White would fail to see what’s wrong with it. Despite the claim to the contrary I think the whole post is rather strawman-ish and crude and risks being counterproductive.

  • James

    Yes, that response was excessively level-headed, but it was also completely beside the point. The future of the music industry in the online age won’t be affected *at all* by what someone thinks people should do, or even by what many think people should do. It will be determined by what people actually do, and what they do is download music for free.

    Now if there were a system where people could download whatever they wanted and agree to pay (or not) a small fee each time they listen to a song, then I think we’d find many people doing it. Then there would be no risk. Most of the 10,000 illegally copied songs on my ipod I haven’t even listened to. It would be ridiculous to pay for them. More to the point, I would never both downloading them if I had to pay for them. But I would probably agree to pay a ten cents, say, directly to the artist every time I listen to a song.

    In the absence of something like that, only the old and the suckers will pay. Things are only going in one direction. Get used to it.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    @14

    A system where the consumer pays what the consumer deems is fair won’t work. Why not put your money (or lack of it) where your mouth is and demand this for all payment, not just for creative works? Thieves are thieves. I, for one, am extremely happy that Kim Schmitz is behind bars.

  • Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Thieves are thieves.

    And the recording industry’s fabricated piracy numbers are fabricated. I guess that’s why Lowery couldn’t actually support his argument with by providing statistics about real damages to artists (there aren’t any), instead relying on a few personal anecdotes and making assumptions about causes.

    Both of these artists, despite growing global popularity, saw their incomes collapse in the last decade. There is no other explanation except for the fact that “fans” made the unethical choice to take their music without compensating these artists.>

    Yes. That is the only possible explanation. No citations needed. Case closed!

  • Arun

    “The Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) of 1998 extended copyright terms in the United States by 20 years. Since the Copyright Act of 1976, copyright would last for the life of the author plus 50 years, or 75 years for a work of corporate authorship. The Act extended these terms to life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier.[1] Copyright protection for works published prior to January 1, 1978, was increased by 20 years to a total of 95 years from their publication date.
    This law, also known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, Sonny Bono Act, or as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act,[2] effectively “froze” the advancement date of the public domain in the United States for works covered by the older fixed term copyright rules. Under this Act, additional works made in 1923 or afterwards that were still protected by copyright in 1998 will not enter the public domain until 2019 or afterward (depending on the date of the product) unless the owner of the copyright releases them into the public domain prior to that or if the copyright gets extended again.[clarification needed] Unlike copyright extension legislation in the European Union, the Sonny Bono Act did not revive copyrights that had already expired. The Act did extend the terms of protection set for works that were already copyrighted, and is retroactive in that sense. However, works created before January 1, 1978, but not published or registered for copyright until recently, are addressed in a special section (17 U.S.C. § 303) and may remain protected until the end of 2047. The Act became Pub.L. 105-298 on October 27, 1998″.

    —— Why is the copyright extension acceptable?

  • OMF

    But when other people appreciate and benefit from your stuff, you do have a right to be compensated, I think.

    I think it’s pretty clear that your book/paper writing ratio has increased in recent years.

    If you would cast your mind back a few years to when you wrote papers, and needed to cite others, perhaps you would recall being on the receiving end of the copyright industry? Perhaps you would recall being asked to pay $25, $30, and even up to $50 for 1MB pdfs sitting behind paywalls? perhaps you would recall writing some of these very papers—for no compensation at all.

    Perhaps you will recall how your labours generated private profits for others, for nothing but additional cost to yourself.

    Now, maybe you had access to a very good library and didn’t encounter such pay-walls on a daily basis. Or maybe a few years ago the situation was not as bad as it is now(I would be interested in learning about this). But regardless, I think you need to re-familiarise yourself with the contemporary relationship between copyright an academia before you make statements like the above without qualification.

  • http://backreaction.blogspot.com/ Bee

    There was an interesting article in the NYT some while ago about the “robot authored books”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/books/review/do-androids-dream-of-electric-authors.html?pagewanted=all

    (I think it’s the same “Lambert M. Surhone” whose name I believe I can decipher on the image in your post.)

    You know what’s the real tragedy about this is that this stuff shows up in Amazon searches and so on. They really should think about some filter there.

  • keith

    “A system where the consumer pays what the consumer deems is fair won’t work.”

    I’m fairly certain that it will. Different people will be paid different amounts from now, there will be much complaining and lying from those no longer useful, but if we can’t trust ourselves to do well then there is really no point in anything.

  • Moshe

    Here are some numbers in an area I care about:

    http://money.futureofmusic.org/a-first-look-at-jazz-musicians/

    In my mind, based on these numbers, this might well be the last generation having full time professional jazz musicians. As for solutions, I am all for anti-piracy legislation. But, more practical solutions might involve finding different models for artisist to make a living. Science is also an esoteric activity whose benefit is not measured in timeframe of weeks (like money-making music). To a large extent we can survive because we don’t have to sell our product directly to the public. I do see more musicians supporting themselves by teaching in colleges and universities, that might be a start of a model.

    (incidentally, the blog post in question does not seem to be about this issue at all. I also don’t own physical -as opposed to digital – music any more, and I also think that the Spotify model might well replace music ownership. This has nothing to do with music piracy.)

  • Jack

    The copyright issue is much more complicated than people are presenting it. I think a large amount of the push back from regular people is due to the ever increasing influence that major industry players have on the government. In a world where sharing one song could cost you $150k, and copyright is extended for another 20 years whenever mickey mouse is close to public domain, one begins to wonder if it is really worth “playing by the book” and paying for all of the content one consumes when large corporations are not playing fair themselves. The argument for independent production is a good one, and people should have a stronger moral incentive to pay in those situations (and they do, look at the success of the humble indy game bundles as an example of giving away a product and only asking to be paid!).

    That said, the abolition of copyright is not going to cause a worldwide meltdown. Look how well open source software has done, it has allowed for an ever increasing number of people to gain more value in their lives (whether they know it or not, things like Facebook, Google, and Wikipedia, are all courtesy of software which is free to distribute). The digital medium has allowed for middle men to be cut out, no need for warehouses and delivery trucks, people can distribute among themselves. To think that this revolution in civilization is a bad thing is absurd, it is the most amazing thing that has happened to humanity, the free and open dissemination of knowledge and art is very powerful!

    To those who pirate, I ask only one thing: contribute yourselves. Don’t just take, give back and let your own creative works be disseminated. If you don’t like the idea of that, then maybe you should rethink your own actions.

  • Ben

    I enjoy supporting musicians by buying CD’s in the same way that I enjoy leaving a tip in a street performer’s cup. But I think it’s perfectly fine to digitally copy other people’s music, which I often do.
    My decision which method I use to get music depends on many factors, and I don’t think other people need to care how I do it. When I go to a show with friends and buy a CD, I expect them to copy it from me, who doesn’t? Listening to a street musician and then not tipping is not immoral.
    Digital copying of anything is not immoral. Why do we have a law for only the latter? For the same reason that many people feel righteous about telling other people what they can copy: Because powerful lobbies have been telling us that up is down.

    Technology has changed. How many people had 11,000 records? A law which is unenforceable should not be a law. Let people lead by example, and let bands make their own pleas about why they
    would rather us not copy their songs; people may listen to that. It’s a pretty tall order to expect a non-musician could convince someone that downloading music is stealing, or cheating. If we end up with no musicians because they couldn’t sell enough albums, society will adapt.

    This comment is copyrighted. All rights reserved. Reproduce by permission only.

  • http://vacua.blogspot.com Jim Harrison

    There is a huge contradiction in the middle of this issue: intellectual property rights are always defended in the name of rewarding the creative individuals who produce the content, but the larger beneficiaries are the corporate interests that control the content in practice and are simply engaged in rent seeking. It has always been thus. The printer/publishers of Elizabethan England didn’t give a damn about starving poets. They promoted the Stationers Register system in order to ensure their lasting control of profitable backlist. Extending copyright for 90 or a hundred years may result in a check arriving at the apartment of a novelist’s puzzled great grand daughter, but mostly it will serve to enrich the mostly anonymous owners of cultural capital.

    Let us separate out two problems: on the one hand, how do we make it possible for creative people to live well and go on creating and, on the other, how do we make sure that the creators have property in their works? The sciences provide one possible model. You don’t have to pay a royalty to Feynman’s widow every time you draw a Feynman diagram, but it remains a Feynman diagram because he published, i.e. gave away, the method and thus established his priority.

  • Milan

    “But when other people appreciate and benefit from your stuff, you do have a right to be compensated, I think.”

    I dont think you have a ‘right’ to be compensated. We as a society deemed that it is beneficial for all of us that you do get compensated and created the copyright system to ensure this. The system is failing and it is not possible to correct for this without serious consequences to personal freedom. The goal I have no problem with, but we need a system that is new and fundamentally different.

    I am from the same generation as Emily and I do pay for my music and I donate directly to artists. I find her views to be naive and selfish.

    But why would you post a response to such a simplistic view of the problem? If we admit that her position is naive then the response itself obviously cannot prove its point because it overlooks many important issues. Is the generational gap so big that you are unaware of why our generation is taking this position? Or do you believe it is entirely because of shallow views such as Emily’s?

    As you kick ass in pretty much anything you write about I am very much puzzled by this.

  • PL Hayes

    @Jack “That said, the abolition of copyright is not going to cause a worldwide meltdown. Look how well open source software has done,”

    Arguably, that is in part thanks to the GPL (which is reliant on copyright law) and things would’ve turned out less well in overall economic welfare terms if there’d been no copyright law or – nearly equivalently – BSD-style licensing had dominated.

    Boldrin and Levine have argued for copyright law abolition but I favour Boyle’s view that it’s a good idea in principle which has been so undermined by mindless propaganda and corruption of form that it’s been brought into disrepute even in the eyes of some of its direct beneficiaries.

  • Jeff Johnson

    Dean Baker has an interesting idea, the Artistic Freedom Voucher, as an alternative to copyright for creative works. It’s worth looking at for at least a thought provoking suggestion on how things might be otherwise than they are:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dean-baker/the-surefire-way-to-end-o_b_1224165.html

  • Marshall B

    To #4 Jason: Here’s something Amiee Mann posted on her FB page yesterday:

    “Though I appreciate the advice, “learning to market” isn’t really viable, as I market my records & tour as much as I can afford. Touring is expensive if you want to pay your musicians a decent rate. Most of my tours LOSE money.”

  • http://logosconcarne.com/ Wryd Smythe

    I remember debating this (on USENET) over a decade ago when digital sharing was starting to take off. There is a segment of society that believes that information–ALL information–should be free. At the time, I argued on the side of copyrights and royalties, but ever since then I’ve pondered the “free information” model.

    It may be that the digital era means the end of copyrights or, at least, of royalties. The model the “free information” people suggest involves a one-time payment to the artist for their work. More popular artists would be able to command higher payments. Thing is, I’ve never really seen where those payments would come from if the information becomes free thereafter. Perhaps from a distribution company that gets tiny payments from its users?

    Bottom line, to me, is that the digital era seems certain to change our ideas of intellectual property rights. Whether the change will be good or bad is anyone’s guess.

    FWIW, I’m in my upper 50s and have followed music from vinyl to cassette to 8-tracks (shudder) to CDs to iTunes. Other than copying a few friends’ CD, I’ve paid for every note (I wouldn’t have bought the CDs, if that matters at all). I’ve bought a number of albums several times now… the greatest line from MIB was, “Now I have to buy the White Album again!”

  • http://lablemming.blogspot.com/ Lab Lemming

    For artists, a more important distinction is that contracts for legal, paid electron ic distribution are generally much less favorable than the contracts for physical media distribution. So, for example, a person who had been getting a percentage of gross on movie or DVD sales might be getting nothing on iTunes downloads.

    So it is not a question of legal vs illegal downloads. It is a question of competition in the marketplace. Online sales are generally done through a few very large distribution networks, so there is very little bargaining leverage for artists wanting their work distributed there. This is why Amazon and iTunes are so profitable, of course.

  • http://swingthebat.net Phil P

    I have a baseball website and I offer a number of free downloadable documents that I wrote. One day I got an email from someone who wanted one of the documents. Apparently he had found it on DocStoc.com and they wanted a fee for him to download it from them. Apparently, docstoc scours the internet for free stuff which they assemble into a database. Users can query the database and if they find something they want, they can download it for a small fee. I guess they are providing a service, but the documents are the intellectual property of other people, even if they give it away for free. I’m not trying to make money from my stuff, so I was a bit incensed that they were trying to make money from my stuff.

  • Meh

    I’m all for downloading content which can’t be bought. There is plenty of music I’ve downloaded that can’t be bought anymore, the same can be said of books. I think once nobody is TRYING to make a profit, then by all means, download as much as you want/can.

    I worked in the music industry before foolishly going back to school for physics. I can tell you exactly the cost you pay for downloading music for free. The result is, less original content. And when there is some original content that’s actually good, they can’t make any money, so they eventually get out of the game. Music labels continue to produce the same lame music that we’ve heard time and time again. Not only that, but these same record labels will place a good group/person under contract and never allow them to release a single song, just so that they don’t take away revenue from a group/band they’ve already put a lot of time and money into. Record companies can’t afford to take chances, so they don’t. Original musicians can’t get their music out there, because they make no profit once it hits the internet. you’re left with nothing but the safe, lame formula for pop music.

  • Ysa

    Indeed Meh. It’s something that several people have been telling but the consumer doesn’t really realize, care or believe it.
    I myself have been writing, performing, recording, mixing and mastering music so I know the business a little bit. I’m not naive, I know people will download. I mean, it’s not like I have never done it myself.

    But people don’t realize how much work and money actually go into an album. Even on lower levels, regardless of genre, it’s more than you think. One time we worked on a project for a year due to some issues which forced us to buy new equipment and almost start all over. When everything finally is done it gets sent to a magazine for review. This one turned out positive and the SAME day there were requests for a torrent on download sites :P Nice that they care but it also made you think of the work before.

    About downloading because musicians are rich anyway, a standard deal in our genre is about 10% of the sales. But they deduct “risk costs”, some percentage because cd’s “will get” damaged during transport, some for promo’s which they then sell anyway. Then costs if your tour didn’t bring in enough etc. etc.

    Playing live instead of selling albums as some suggest isn’t really a money maker for most bands. Most do it for the love of playing since the pay isn’t that amazing if you don’t have a company pushing you. Some more wellknown band in our genre got about 300$ royalties for a whole year of touring. The company just deducted “some” touring costs since the band didn’t sell enough merchandise per night. To be honest, some have indeed quit making music due to situations like these and focused on doing some things on their own. But less frequent since it’s hard to get seen when the companies have huge PR machines drowning out lesser known talent.

    @Phil, I had something similar. We found some Chinese site that had our music and whole discographies of thousands of bands for sale. They also had books, movies etc. And they actually downloaded illegally and then provided a service where you could pay a small sum per month which let you download as much as you could.

  • floodmouse

    I don’t know much about the economics of the modern music scene. Reading these posts provoked more questions than answers.

    In reading people’s posts, one thing I didn’t see addressed was satellite radio subscription service. I have subscribed to satellite radio for several years. It costs about $40 per radio per quarter-year, and you get unlimited streaming. You can also download music onto a temporary storage device on your satellite radio. I’m not sure how copyrights apply in this situation, or if the musicians benefit. The electronic-dance music channel has a lot of one-hour DJ mixes that are released weekly or monthly. Do the DJs get paid when their shows are broadcast on satellite, and do these DJs pay the artists they sample? I’d be interested to know how my music buying choice is impacting the market. I never really thought about this issue before.

    Another thing I wondered is this: Since the musicians apparently get much less than half of the profits from marketing, why don’t a bunch of musicians get together, form a co-op, and sell their music electronically? Selling electronically has much lower admin costs than old-fashioned record & CD marketing. Also, I suspect people might be more inclined to pay the artists directly than to pay a record label or a corporation. Paypal and low-cost web hosting services make this a real possibility. It seems like the only people the musicians would need to pay would be the web administrator, and possible a publicity agent. If enough musicians banded together this way, they could spread the costs of hiring these people. I’m not sure if it would work, but I thought I would toss it out there and see what people thought.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    The response is indeed completely level-headed. The only difference is that, if I lived in the same jurisdiction, I would file charges against Emily if she didn’t issue a public apology within, say, two weeks.

    There are Hell’s Angels who have symbols (tattoos, things sewn onto their jacket) which indicate what crimes they have committed. Admitting on the internet to being a thief is little different.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “And the recording industry’s fabricated piracy numbers are fabricated. “

    Do two wrongs make a right? Even if the recording industry are the evil guys, what right does that give anyone to deny the artist due compenstation?

    “Perhaps you will recall how your labours generated private profits for others, for nothing but additional cost to yourself.”

    Again, anyone who draws a false parallel between scientific publishing (where Sean rightly supports open access) and internet piracy either does not understand the issues or is intentionally setting up a smokescreen.

  • PL Hayes

    @Phillip Helbig

    On the other hand, asserting a false equivalence between copyright infringement and theft is indicative of at least as serious a failure of understanding of the issues (or as dark an intention).

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    Consider the following: These days, various knock-out drops and other date-rape drugs are freely available. Slip it in her drink, rape her and on the next day she won’t remember anything. It is technically possible so it is immoral to forbid it. The current law stems from the time when such means were not available; it needs to be updated to be more modern. Since she doesn’t remember, one hasn’t deprived her of anything nor caused her any stress. And, hey, while we’ll take it if we can steal it, we wouldn’t pay for it anyway, so it’s not even lost income.

    If the supporters of internet piracy do not support the above, why not? Is there some “higher moral law”? If so, why doesn’t it apply to people earning money to support themselves and their families?

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    @38: Presumably robbery is “property infringement”?

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “A system where the consumer pays what the consumer deems is fair won’t work.”

    I’m fairly certain that it will. Different people will be paid different amounts from now, there will be much complaining and lying from those no longer useful, but if we can’t trust ourselves to do well then there is really no point in anything.

    Let us know how you earn your money and we’ll start there.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “That said, the abolition of copyright is not going to cause a worldwide meltdown. Look how well open source software has done, it has allowed for an ever increasing number of people to gain more value in their lives “

    Irrelevant, because here the people agree for it to be freely available. That’s the point; freely available stuff is not bad per se; what is bad is not letting those who create something make the decision.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    @27: If you read this, you see that, while it sounds OK at first (even to me), it depends on some sort of official decision on whether the person involved is really engaged in the activity in question. So, someone has to officially decide what is art and what is not. I don’t think we want to go down that road.

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “The model the “free information” people suggest involves a one-time payment to the artist for their work. More popular artists would be able to command higher payments.”

    Who makes that one-time payment, who determines how large it is, who determines how popular artists are?

  • Stolen Dormouse

    Sean, VDM isn’t the only company that makes money by reprinting public domain material (see Wikipedia’s article on Books LLC). In many cases these companies print “books”-on-request by running Wikipedia articles through optical character recognition (OCR) software. However, to save on their costs, they don’t bother with the copyediting that is needed to clean up the results of OCR, so what buyers often get is incomprehensible.

    Alternatively, they will sell you a “book” on PDF that you could download for free.

    Even without these pirates, reprinting something that is in the public domain can be tricky. Some U.S. government publications, though not protected by copyright, may be protected by other laws requiring written permission to reprint public domain materials for profit. And a public domain document that uses copyrighted figures (with permission granted, for example, to a U.S. government agency) can’t be reprinted without the new publisher going back to each copyrighted figure’s original copyright holder for permission.

  • http://sievemaria.com sievemaria

    Getting compensation for something you love doing – – is Wonderful ! ( and allows one to do more ! ) Getting something you love for free is also Great – there lies the paradox .

  • http://logosconcarne.com/ Wryd Smythe

    @43: If you had also quoted the three sentences that directly followed the one you did quote, you would have your answer:

    “More popular artists would be able to command higher payments. Thing is, I’ve never really seen where those payments would come from if the information becomes free thereafter. Perhaps from a distribution company that gets tiny payments from its users?”

    There seem to be two distinct issues here: Copyright and Royalties. The former is about who can use your work (currently: no one without your permission). The latter is about continuing to earn from your work as it is used and re-used. I can see the idea of royalties falling easier than the idea of copyright, but for me the bottom line is that the digital era changes the equation in ways we haven’t figured out, yet.

  • Kaviani

    “There is a huge contradiction in the middle of this issue: intellectual property rights are always defended in the name of rewarding the creative individuals who produce the content, but the larger beneficiaries are the corporate interests that control the content in practice and are simply engaged in rent seeking. It has always been thus.”

    BLESS YOU. I know I’m totally taking the “wrong” side here (amid a blog forum of nothing but authors who plug their books here), but I dismiss the alarm. Ms. NPR does not merit that scorn.

  • Craig McGillivary

    Your ignoring the fact that your intellectual property rights are created by the government with the hope of increasing creative stuff. However often times your property rights limit the ability of other people to create creative stuff based on your works. Also because you have been given monopoly rights there is a huge amount of dead weight loss. That’s what economists refer to the situation where you would be willing to pay $10 for a book, but it costs $15 so you don’t read the book and the author doesn’t get your $10. Alternatively you could send the author a $10 check and then download a bootlegged copy of his book. Thus both of you are better off. Better enforcement of IP laws or stronger social norms against breaking them could actually harm creativity and make us all worse off, so there is a difficult tradeoff.

  • PL Hayes

    @Phillip Helbig

    Robbery is an infringement of tangible property rights, yes. What of it? The libertarian, Stephan Kinsella ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephan_Kinsella ), has devised a suitably ironic counterargument for those who insist on maintaining absurdly crude equivalences between tangible and intangible property in their ‘arguments':

    “Prima facie, therefore, IP law trespasses against or “takes” the property of tangible property owners, by transferring partial ownership to authors and inventors. It is this invasion and redistribution of property that must be justified in order for IP rights to be valid.” –Against Intellectual Property.

    (The argument actually retains considerable weight in /sensible/ debate about patents because of the lack of an independent (re-)invention defence in patent law.)

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “why don’t a bunch of musicians get together, form a co-op, and sell their music electronically?”

    Presumably because, despite various problems (which even I acknowledge exist), they think traditional record companies are better. No-one is stopping them from doing so, some people have. Again, the point is that it should be the artists’ decision whether or not to go this route, not yours.

    The latest CD by Judy Dyble is fantastic. However, not many people bought it. An email list which I subscribe to related the following story (which happened on another email list): Some folks mentioned the new album, others offered it for free digital copy. Others criticized these, speaking as I do. Then came the standard bogus argument that it is really free advertising etc. Then Judy Dyble herself, a lurker, chimed in and told everyone what her yearly income is (not much) and how much of it comes from the sale of CDs (a big chunk). This episode makes it clear that unauthorized digital copying is “intellectual rape” (with the added insult of “she actually wants it but is too stupid to know it”).

  • MKS

    universe bless America in its continued efforts to deal with its anxiety (which is an STD – a Socially Transmitted Disease) by trying to control the world

    (and bully to the RIAA in trying to deal with failing revenues not by finding a better business model but by creating new criminals and bypassing IP law…tho it has had interesting results, like the iPod…)

    Lovely movie, this — F For Fake http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2EZ9rFBRlI

  • Anon

    This episode makes it clear that unauthorized digital copying is “intellectual rape” (with the added insult of “she actually wants it but is too stupid to know it”).

    Despicable.

  • prasad

    Wow, someone drawing in honest to goodness analogy between copyright infringement and rape. And here I thought the ‘piracy = theft’ analogy was daffy.

  • Brett

    No kidding prasad. Somebody up there needs to take a good look at who they are and if this is really that serious of an issue. Apparently he must have really gotten screwed over while working in the music industry.

  • MKS

    things are going to get even more surreal when Fabbers/Replicators/3-D printers become a household item…who can own an idea? and for how long? ;3

  • MKS

    here’s a nifty talk by Corey Doctorow on the issues with IP, Copyright, computers and human freedom http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYqkU1y0AYc

  • http://www.astro.multivax.de:8000/helbig/helbig.html Phillip Helbig

    “No kidding prasad. Somebody up there needs to take a good look at who they are and if this is really that serious of an issue. Apparently he must have really gotten screwed over while working in the music industry.”

    No, I didn’t get screwed over while working in the recording industry. However, it would be a sad world indeed where only victims see injustice.

    Serious issue? Copyright is the basis for the democratization of creative work. Take it away and you have a system like in the Middle Ages. It is one of the most serious issues in the world at the moment. Sad is that people will throw out 400 years of progress to avoid paying for the latest Lady Gaga song.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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