Monday, June 13, 2011

Copyright: Won't someone think of the artists

Helienne Lindvall has filed for the Guardian from the World Copyright Summit.

First up, EC commissioner Neelie Kroes gets a bit of a kicking:

Kroes said she believed in supporting creators, and that she had a vision of a Europe where artists could really make a living from their art – a dream that would apparently come true if we were more like the US where, she pointed out, 50% of record company revenue in 2010 came from digital sources compared to a mere 20% in Europe. I don't think music creators give a hoot if their royalties come from digital or physical. In fact, many American artists and songwriters envy the fact that people in the UK still buy physical records.
Do they? Really? Surely Helienne doesn't believe this is going to remain the case forever?
"Technology gives us a global audience but not yet the means to support the creation of it," said Maureen Duffy. "Instead it is in danger of encouraging an amateur or cottage industry, leaving the professional practice of the arts to those who get financial support from the state, or those with private patrons."
Is that true? Has there ever been a point in human history where creativity hasn't either relied on being a spare-time endeavour, or else upon the support of a patron, state or corporate? Authors have relied on publishers handing out advances, a few lucky musicians have clutched contracts from Capitol or Go Discs. The pretence that, up until Tim Berners-Lee spoiled it all with his computers, artists were able to take their wares direct to the audience in the way prelapsarian artisans sold their baskets and home-squeezed ciders.

If anything, digital makes it easier for smaller artists to sell direct, as they no longer need to pony up for record pressings, or deal with numerous retail outlets.
Robert Levine, author of the forthcoming book Free Ride, subtitled How Digital Parasites Are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back. He compared the internet's open distribution system with cable television's closed distribution. "Cable encourages quality competition while the internet encourages payment competition. Cable channel AMC produces quality shows like Mad Men and creates jobs. The internet, on the other hand, has the Huffington Post, where authors have to write for free," he explained. It was clear which one he preferred.
Robert Levine clearly doesn't own a TV, if he believes that American cable channels are full of Mad Men type programmes. And, erm, aren't TV programmes the sort of thing that can be easily distributed through the internet, which is killing creativity? And doesn't TV have acres of programming where the contributors do it for nothing, while the internet has at least a few companies where people are being paid for producing content?
Levine also criticised those claiming piracy was a matter of free speech. "Taking something without permission is not an example of freedom of expression." In fact, he said, copyright is the engine of free expression. "It's an economic issue in ideological drag."
Well, yes, he's half right - it is an economic issue, and the basic lesson of economics is this: No matter how much you might wish it otherwise, the value of a product which is endlessly, flawlessly, reproducible will tend towards zero. Sure, if you can find a cheap way of protecting that product, you can stop that happening.

But there isn't one. The costs of trying to protect individual files of music from trading at a modal price of zero are way too high.

There are things you can do: charge for ease of acquisition. Rely on goodwill and people's desire to chip in. Find people who need large swathes of music and charge by the yard.

If you don't understand that, you're going to find yourself going to events year after year where you try to think up ways to pretend its still 1954. You're standing in the forest, smelling the flames, and wondering if you built an extra wooden wall between the fire and your cabin, you can save your house.

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