Sunday, September 11, 2011

How the Artists Shall Get Paid

I have a fundamental disagreement with Rick Falkvinge. Don't get me wrong, I respect him heaps for founding and promoting the Pirate Party, but there is one thing that I have heard from him a few times with which I just cannot agree: That it's not up to us to answer "How shall the artists get paid?"

He makes some points with which I agree, such as:
  • "Entrepreneurs will be entrepreneurs": Once an artist tries to make money from their art, they are not just artists, they are business people, with the corresponding responsibilities of running a business.
  • "My fundamental rights go before your profits": It's not ok to invade people's privacy and take away rights to due process in order to protect a business model that just doesn't work anymore.
  • "It's not a problem in the first place": The movie, music and games industries have been making more money due to more content, wider distribution and fans who want to support the artists.
Where I disagree is that it's not up to pirates to tell artists how they can earn a living doing what they love. We can't just talk about the problems. We have to talk about the solutions, even if it is not up to us to implement them.

If someone is asking the question, they are not necessarily asking for a handout. They are often asking how they can see a radical idea in a positive light. They are asking because they really want an answer. A good answer will get them on board as a supporter. To just say "not my problem" is to ignore the genuine concerns of real people. This is the opposite of how politicians should act. It's also self-defeating because it makes it sound as if there is no answer, whereas there are plenty of ways that art can be commercialised.

It's like Linux in its first decade: Software designed using a pure philosophy without giving thought to the users. Make it hard to understand, and few will bother to understand. That can work with software where you don't need a high proportion of the general population to make it a success, but in politics, that's asking for relegation to the sub-1% group of parties about which only humorous articles are written. The Pirate Party does not belong in that category, and I want to make sure it doesn't end up there.

So while I wouldn't dream of dictating to people how they must earn a living, I think it is worthwhile to at least make a few suggestions in order to paint a picture that people will see is not the doom and gloom that the creative cartels would have people believe would exist were it not for strong copyright laws.

Here are many answers to the question "How shall the artists get paid?", all of which already exist, and account for Rick Falkvinge's answer "It's not a problem in the first place":
  1. Live performance: Starting with the obvious, live concerts are where musicians already make most of their money. The movie industry might complain about copying of DVDs (most commonly annoying the people who actually buy them), but profits from DVDs, streaming and cinema releases have meant record profits for that industry. Expanding on that, there are cases of successful transitions between stage and screen, and vice versa. I could see a world with more stage adaptations.
  2. Integrated stores a-la iTunes or Steam: I've never bought a music track from iTunes (though my wife has bought a few songs). I have, however, spent hundreds of dollars buying apps and games from iTunes and Steam. Sure, I could pirate the stuff, but why bother? I'd have to jailbreak my iPod and search for warez that I trusted. I'd have to download cracks or serial files to my computer to break games, only to get keys for the wrong version, or more likely, a virus.
    I'd much rather pay a premium to know that I'm getting what I think I'm getting, and that I'm getting it quickly and easily, with good editorial. DRM's clearly an issue among services like these, but that's a different battle to be fought, and won, like with music on iTunes.
  3. Subscription: Online games with a subscription model, such as Everquest or World of Warcraft, have been shown to bring in far more money than normal games purchase off the shelf. Artists in the music industry can also utilise this model by allowing subscribers to interact more closely with their favourite artists, either through the release of special tracks or by webcasted concerts. It doesn't matter if other people eventually download this stuff for free. People pay hundreds of dollars for grand-final tickets for the AFL when they could watch it on TV. Sometimes, seeing something live, or getting it first, is enough to create value.
    Got a favourite author of music or books? How many people would pay to see their notes or short writings? Enough, I would bet.
  4. Freemium: This is similar to subscriptions, but where something is offered for free to get the customers in. Last I heard, Zynga was worth more than EA. This is because Zynga offers games online that are free to play, which gets them a massive audience. From there, they have upsells (usually coins or something equivalent) within their game to advance players along. Evernote is free to use, with limited bandwidth each month. If you love it, then you pay $5 per month for more bandwidth and advanced features.
  5. Signings: In the era that intersects both cult-like following of celebrity and the existence of eBay, imbuing something with the authenticity of a real signature creates value that cuts across all creative industries. An author is unlikely to sign your PDF. It's a motivation to buy physical goods.
  6. Advertising: Nobody likes it, but if you're not selling your product, you're probably selling somebody else's. When it's done tastefully, and respectfully for the audience, it's not bad. Computer games that aim for realism seem a whole lot more real when there's a Coke vending machine or a McDonald's billboard.
  7. Patronage: The oldest way for governments and private citizens to fund the arts. Traditionally, it was an investment in an artist, for art's sake, rather than for the pursuit of profit. Today, it need not be so altruistic, as despite what the copyright cartels claim, music, movies, books and games are all still profitable industries. Even if they weren't actually profitable, that doesn't mean the debt is the entire cost of production. It's a wide spectrum between making a profit and making nothing.
  8. Commercial Licensing: Legalising the free, commercial exploitation of copyright is not one of the goals of the Pirate Party. The aim of the party with respect to copyright is to enable people to share culture non-commercially.
As necessity is the mother of invention, I'm sure that more creative folks than me will think up many other ways to continue the development of art within a society that has weak copyright. Many of the above were developed, after all, because in practice, and despite lots of draconian laws being passed, we do have weak copyright. This is because strong copyright laws just don't work without a fasict, iron fist to back them up.

Even when there is an iron fist that kills copyright infringers, it still doesn't work, so it's good that there are all these ways to make a living producing art.

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