Friday, February 17, 2012

Thoughts on Copyright

I was just reading a thread on DakkaDakka about 3D printing and how it might affect GW's business in the future. As forum threads are wont to do, this one ran off on a tangent, this time about copyright in general.

My view on copyright, in short, is that it's horrible and shouldn't exist. I don't say this as a grubby consumer who just wants music and movies for free; I say this as someone who's been in bands and written [terrible] music, and knows plenty of creative types.

People seem hung up on the notion of paying artists for their work, saying that if there were no copyright laws then there could be no art because no one would pay for something they could get for free, and no artists would produce anything if they couldn't sell their work. Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, and recently Louis CK have all shown that people will pay for art that is readily available for free, but these artists have already established themselves and their art as worth supporting. Copyright supporters claim that these are irrelevant examples because less known artists would be unable to market themselves as well. And honestly, they're right. However, that's a strawman argument.

One thing anyone involved with a local music scene knows is that there's absolutely no money in it. I've been to countless local concerts and seen hundreds of bands, few of whom have made any real money. Some are chasing the dream of "making it," but most know they're never going to go platinum and end up on Cribs showing off their Scarface posters. Regardless of profit motive, musicians will always exist. We make music because we love it. We make music because we have to. And just as there will always be a community of musicians in bands making music and putting on shows, there will always be an audience interested in their art and willing and eager to support them.

(Quick aside on the Record Industry: they inserted themselves between the musicians and the fans, paying the musicians for their music in exchange for the fans paying them for copies of that music. It costs money to record music, so the record companies would pay those upfront costs and then recoup them from sales of the recordings. That worked when recording costs were out of reach of most bands, and consumers couldn't readily acquire and reproduce the recordings themselves. Today neither of those conditions hold: recording is cheap and easy, and digital distribution is practically free. There's no need for a Record Industry; technology has usurped their role.)

In a world without copyright, I imagine new artists working much like they do today - making very little money and paying their bills with side jobs. Established artists, on the other hand, would make money not by selling already completed works (because they'd be readily available for free by download, print, etc.) but by commissioning their future works. An artist or band would state that they need a specified amount of money to make it worth their while, and fans would put money into an escrow account that would pay the artist upon release of the new work to the public domain. If the work was great, the process would continue; if the work was poorly received perhaps the artist would have to ask for less for the next project.

There's no need for copyright. The problem is that our society is stuck trying to pay artists in perpetuity for work they've already done. As soon as we can get past that, we can get past copyright. (And yes, I can make this apply to GW. Imagine how  much money people would throw at them if they thought it would result in a new Tyranid Codex? Imagine being able to democratically dictate the priorities of the design studio?)

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