Just as the economic collapse was the result of cannibalistic, blind greed driven by a demand for profits, so to will be the coming collapse of the community of content creators, of the artists. The shake out is already beginning.
ROBBING AUTHORS 1776
Publishers were exploiting authors in England and the colonies. Thus our founding fathers in their wisdom allowed those who create to own their works, enshrining those rights in our founding document. Copyright and licensing creative content was born. Was this unwise? Do we really want to change the US Constitution? Because new technologies enable the easy rip-off of content? Because you can steal you should be able to steal?
So let’s settle the question of whether using a photograph or text or music outside of “fair use” without permission is stealing. It is. Period. Look it up. It’s illegal. Whether you think it’s morally ok to steal is your problem and karma. If you want to roll through stop signs, cheat on your taxes, or avoid paying sales tax in your home state by buying online, that’s your choice.
But just because a misguided groundswell that began in the 80’s and 90’s out of an idealistic dream driven by new technology we should erase Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 from the US Constitution? Because millions of kids started downloading music because they could? And now they think it’s a right? I forcefully disagree. Just because it’s socially cool to steal my photographs does not mean I have to give up my only way of making a living, granted to me by the Founding Fathers no less. Socially cool behavior has never made a good basis for legal or social policy as far as I know. Gimme a break.
“Information wants to be free…” is the rallying cry for free content supporters. It actually comes from an comment by the brilliant technology observer and writer Steward Brand in a speech in 1984 and later from his book “The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT,” Viking Penguin, in 1987. The problem is Mr. Brand’s comment is almost never quoted in full. The second half of his observation is very important: “Information also wants to be expensive…” and he goes on to describe the tension between the push to distribute free information over the ever cheaper distribution platforms and the extremely valuable nature that the right information for the right person at the right time can have. It can be life changing.
The tension between the public benefit of free information versus the benefit bestowed on the artist creating the content has always existed, and in fact tends to be settled in favor of the public in most cases. There is remedy for the public with “fair use” interpretations of copyright law. I personally support fair use and have donated my work to librarians, students and teachers for education, non-profits and various causes over the decades. Most photographers do, it’s just common sense. Taking away our rights is mob rule, common madness.
And the mob can be quite innocent. It is disheartening to see the NY Times publish a misguided and seemingly harmless suggestion to download Flickr photos to decorate your home. See: Flickr as an Interior Decorating Tool – Gadgetwise Blog – NYTimes.com By SONIA ZJAWINSKI. While certainly creative and well-meaning the effect is to continue the social trend to denigrate and rationalize stealing images. Which is why I was so happy to see Malcolm Gladwell’s new review of the Chris Anderson’s new book “Free.” Malcolm Gladwell reviews Free by Chris Anderson: Books: The New Yorker. Mr. Gladwell points out that the arguments Mr. Anderson and other advocates of free content have put forth are based on false assumptions.
What is particularly insane is this veneer of new age humanism that coats the hollow arguments against copyright by painting this free concept as beneficial to humanity. There is also a specious line of propaganda that blends copyright protection with the interests of big corporations, thus pairing artists with corporate desires. In fact, big corporations recognized early on the importance of intellectual property and were fine with trade practices that respected the intellectual property of their vendors as they respected their own. For decades. Once upon a time even GM once respected photographers rights in the same way, in exactly the same way they protected their design center trade secrets. It made sense. It was fair play. It was American. That was then…
Corporations are not inherently evil. Some even have codes of ethics and support social causes and do good in the world. They employ people who live in cities and towns and villages who pay taxes that support the police and fire and school services in those towns. In other words they are a big part of the fabric of our country. Yet as we’ve seen with the economic collapse some regulation is a good idea. Even Greenspan to his chagrin admitted he had not realized the degree to which human beings would fall and need to be regulated. Big surprise: markets are not rational. Humans are flawed. Greed takes over and corporations, big business, and Wall Street will eat it’s young and itself. The crisis was a giant orgy of cannibalism.
In the 80’s and 90’s the growing insatiable demands made by Wall St. for quarterly profits, fueled by waves of mergers and acquisitions and taking on of massive debt, ran parallel to this populist rise to steal content on the internet. Corporations needed to save money at the same time as technology was turning analog to digital and teens were saving by downloading music. A nice dovetail evolved to ultimately serve the same master: get as much content as you can for as close to free as possible. It’s not random that more and more corporations are pushing to do buy outs without paying for those rights. Yet they will fight to the death to protect their own intellectual property, I assure you.
So the very idealistic young people who distrust and criticize big business and large corporations are on the same team as these corporations they purport to hate. Together they are working to destroy the fundamental rights of all artists enshrined in the Constititution. Let me be clear: If you think it’s ok to download photos or music or content for free you are on the same side as the large corporations now pushing to crush copyright so they can get cheap or free content for their ads or marketing materials. They have the same goals. How ironic indeed. Yet people love the work of the artists they steal from. Where is the culture going with this thinking?
WHEN ARTISTS ARE PAID EVERYONE WINS LONG TERM
Who benefits when copyright goes away? Basically the same people who download images to decorate their homes or dormrooms, or music, or corporations seeking cheaper ads. But it’s short term gain people, a false utopia. In fact, the counter-intuitive reality is that copyright laws are good for everyone. What is in the long-term best interest of corporations, and of the music, photo, content loving public that steals, is a vibrant community of artists getting paid enough to keep food on the table so they can keep creating the work that everyone consumes and needs.
Just as the economic collapse was the result of cannibalistic, blind greed driven by demand for profits, so to will be the coming collapse of the community of content creators, of the artists. There is already a shake out beginning. No one sees it yet because along with the rise of this new easy tech the barriers to entry fell so low there are more creators than at any time in history. So we think there is an unlimited supply, and there is a lot of content now for sure. And most of it is crap. It’s been proven that crap does not sell. That fact, just like the fact that regulations work, will be re-learned. Soon enough the economic impact of stealing content will swing like a scythe, slicing through creative lives until a tiny group is left to supply a giant demand. Guess who will have the power again then? If they can hang together with similar trade practices then content creators will rise again.
Why go through this chaotic, stupid mess? Let’s instead embrace the laws that have worked so well for so long. Of course libraries, students, schools, educators, and researchers should have access to cheaper or free content. Of course photographers and musicians should support non-profits, within reason. But those specific interest groups should not drive the last nail in the coffin of the creators who barely get by. Check out the Orphan Works bill and who is behind it.
Please, those who agitate for free content, just show me how writers, musicians, photographers and all who create can support their families when their sweat and labor becomes free and I will drink your Kool-Aid. Until then, your brand of Kool-Aid looks to me the suicidal variety gulped by the poor, bullied cult followers who took their lives at Jonestown. They stood in line to take their poison while Jim Jones booming voice commanded his followers to drink so they could be “set free.”
KILL COPYRIGHT = KILL ARTISTS. That’s a fact and the reality, and all the rest is bullshit. Have a nice day.