Steal This Blog

Have You Got What You Paid For?

Is ©opyright dead?

    Will free culture kill creativity?

The story goes like this:

1. People are not paying for Art any more.

2. Artists will not produce new Art if they don’t get paid.

3. Art will die.

Well, this logic is a load of bulltish, since a lot of Art is done as a hobby anyway. But it points to a broader discussion of copyright.

Before you begin, watch this ad by one of my heroes, Jack Black:

Sorry Jack, I’m about to disagree, but you still ROCK!!!

The history of copyright is ironic.

Way back in the 16th Century in Europe they created this law (the Statute of Anne 1710), which meant people were not allowed to copy material like the Bible, the first book to go to print.

In England, the Catholic Church actually burned people alive for making copies of the Bible. Of course now they churn them out to slip into every hospital and hotel drawer possible. Go figure.

So the little copyright symbol © (ok they didn’t have the symbol back then) was used to protect knowledge from spreading to the peasant class.

But soon it became futile. People were printing Bibles in other countries and selling them for cheap.

Copyright was becoming obsolete…

Skip forward a couple of hundred years and we hear the same cries from those with the most to lose.

New technologies have always been opposed. The cassette was going to ‘kill’ the record industry. The VCR was going to ‘ruin’ Hollywood (funnily, it did wonders for the porn industry).

It all comes down to copying. In this age of intellectual property, it would be hard to make any money from your ideas if people could copy them willy nilly. If I wrote a book which people sold without giving me any of the profits, I’d be a tad cheesed-off. After a while, you’d stop writing books. And on the Internet, things get even more difficult…

Sharing music on the Internet has profoundly changed how music is produced and consumed. Sites like Napster, Gnutella, BitTorrent, Kazaa, Limewire, openly allowed users to share music files without paying for them. This means that artists are no longer getting paid for some of their work. Now, some argue illegal file sharing increases the artist’s exposure so they can make money from tours (Lily Allen, Pink). But this argument is rarely heard from people trying to sell their music!

Dmytri Kleiner, a far-left Canadian/Russian hacker, has a different view on the music industry:

“So long as the owning class wants to have music, they must allow musicians to make a living. They do not require intellectual property for this purpose.”

He also says that:

“Intellectual property is no friend of the intellectual, or creative, worker.”

What does he mean by this? As an anarchist, Kleiner does not like the idea of the erosion of ‘use value’ of art. While Copyright is an attempt to commodify something which is already useful (art),

“It is no surprise that the idea of copyleft grew to prominence in software development, in the rise of the free software community.”

This movement is built upon the idea that content should be produced only if it is useful, not just because it can be sold. Equally, Kleiner would argue that selling music by means of copyright is against artistic principles.

On a related ‘economical’ note, this phenomenon could build ‘parasitic economies’ that feed off this massive increase in data sharing. People will need an Mp3 player to listen to all their new songs, computers to store them on, TVs to watch them on. Creating closed-source software has worked for Apple, maybe it could work for the music industry?

The ‘creative industries’ includes non-physical entities, like music, ideas, novels. To protect them, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act was adopted into law by Bill Clinton in 1998, but it is international in scope. It functions as a copyright law for all ‘digital media.’ But as it will not stop file sharing. As our good friend Kleiner would point out, the Internet is anarchic. There is nobody controlling it.

Mega Nerds (Stalman on the right)

Following this trend, FLOSS  (free/libre/open source software) was created by a dude called Richard Stalman. His idea spawned things like ‘CopyLeft’ by the GNU project, which aimed at preventing people from taking your work and ripping it off as their own.

The last person I want to talk about is Lawrence Lessig.

His book ‘Free Culture’ is appropriately available for free here. But in the spirit of creative commons, feel free to send him a donation. Unless you’re on iTunes, that’s the way it works these days!

While on the subject of the music industry, he sums up users into four categories:

A. There are some who are using sharing networks as substitutes for purchasing CDs.

B. There are also some who are using sharing networks to sample, on the way to purchasing CDs.

C. There are many who are using file-sharing networks to get access to content that is no longer sold but is still under copyright or that would have been too cumbersome to buy off the Net.

D. There are many who are using file-sharing networks to get access to content that is not copyrighted or to get access that the copyright owner plainly endorses.

The point of any copyright or creative commons licence is to eliminate A but encourage moving towards C and D. This will encourage musicians to create more music.

I decided to CC my blog because I don’t need to make money from it, but I don’t want others making money from my work. It is in the public domain, for all to read, so long as they attribute my name to the work. The Australian Government uses it for a lot of its publications now, and so do some artists. I think it’s a great way to share new things without having to worry about whether they will sell.

I’ve also put a CC licence because I realise trying to stop people sharing things is futile. Peter Sundle from Pirate Bay (the enemy of content producers) told us in ‘Steal This Film’ (see bottom) that

“people don’t care what copyright is.”

And I have to agree. Artists should focus on ways they can sustain themselves instead of whinging when people find a way to undermine traditional means of controlling culture.

For my niche, I cited New Matilda as a model for this blog in my earlier post (‘You Call That a Niche?’). It has since gone under because their business model wasn’t working. If I were to start charging subscriptions or putting up ads, this is something I’d have to consider. Similarly musicians/artists/newspapers have to decide how they licence their work in order to make a profit.

‘Use value’ only gets you so far in this world! But for now, I’m happy to let people share stuff. It satisfies my inner-net hippie.

Resources and links:

Steal This Film II is polemic and funny, but leaves open a lot of questions about how to sustain an industry where everything is free. It’s very long too, so be careful.


If you are a musician, how do you make money when people can share your songs for free?

If you run a newspaper, how do you balance content with advertising/subscription cost?



Filed under Net Communications

3 responses to “Steal This Blog

  1. Pingback: To CC or not to CC? « A view on Thai politics

  2. ahhhh the issue of copyright (I am about to let loose my inner-Marx)…

    Essentially what the internet has done for the music industry is completely flip the structure governing distribution and production.

    Historically, the forces of production favored record labels considerably, or what Marx would refer to as the ruling or capitalist class. Many artists’ were willing to sell their labour, however due to the control of mass production of records and distribution, the music industry was characterized by its very high barriers of entry. Therefore record labels owned and controlled the means of production by essentially purchasing labour off the artists, in return for their marketing and distribution powers. The said music became economic entities with a direct role as creators of surplus value.

    With new technology the forces of production were altered significantly, with affordable home computers and internet connection, users were now able to familiarize and experiment with digital sound files, a domain of knowledge held previously by record producers and others in the ruling class. Now individual users went through the labour of converting CD’s to MP3 files and uploading them onto file-sharing networks such as Napster or Gnutella . All labels’ owned was their copyright; it was their only asset and legal tool to control the potential exploitation of their products.

    Ok but what is my point?

    I think its bullshit that Record companies earn so much money and they disguise illegal downloading behind ideologies of ‘Supporting The Artist’ but in reality most artists only earn 10-15% revenue from sales.

    The problem for me with Creative Commons, is that it stands to acknowledge fundamental flaws of copyright, but is essentially there just to make the law appear as though it is adapting to issues, rather than addressing them properly.

    It’s like – we know you’re going to infringe copyright law anyway, so here, we will create these licenses to make it legal.

    (sorry really long comment and I will probably use it for half of my blog post on this issue…)

    P.s It was a great post!

    • Wow you have a big inner-Marx. I have to say I’m more a fan of Groucho Marx!
      I think CC is just about building a brand on the internet so you can sell yourself in another medium.

      So if you develop a reputation online you get a readership, then you can write a book or make a movie. I think this is a good because you can’t force it on people – if you’re any good they’ll just come back.

      (I love rants, especially lefty ones!! thanks mate)

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