Getting rich without copyright (was Napster...)

From: Lee Daniel Crocker (
Date: Tue Jul 11 2000 - 22:49:18 MDT

Since I've been asked to give some ideas of how artists
might go about making money in the absence of copyright,
which makes the old business model of selling little
disks of information obsolete, I'll lay out a few ideas
here. I'll limit the scope of discussion to musicians,
which is what brought up the subject (different models
might work better for things like books and software).

- The most obvious: live performance. Music can be copied.
  People can't (yet). Your physical presence is therefore
  unique and valuable. Back before FCC-monopolized radio,
  this was how most musicians made money (even some of us
  on this list are old enough to remember when it was the
  height of crassness to have recorded music at a party).
  The Grateful Dead--the most financially successful musical
  group in history--proved that this model works.

- The second most obvious: work for hire: write songs for
  people who pay you to write songs. Folks like Mark
  Knopfler and Jon Williams get millions for a movie
  soundtrack. Write commissioned pieces for commercials.
  Sell product placements in your lyrics. (Neil "Ain't
  singin' for Pepsi" Young contributes to the poverty of
  musicians by giving them an idiotic ethic that making
  money is bad).

- Personal appearance: even non-performing appearances can
  be a revenue source for someone well-known enough. Famous
  musicians make money endorsing products, appearing on talk
  shows, speaking at conferences, etc. You can even sell
  small bits of personal access to fans, say by charging to
  answer email or phone calls about your music.

- Merchandising. Just as your physical presence is unique
  and valuable, so is your name and reputation. Sell T-Shirts
  and mugs and posters on your website. Sell memberships to a
  fan club with benefits like a newsletter, entry to private
  clubs or special seating at performances, limited-edition
  and autographed merchandise. Sell "authorized" recordings
  that come with autographs or extra perks like discounts on
  performances, access to private clubs, etc. Sell autographed
  pictures and lyric sheets.

- Hipness/Timeliness: Even if the music can be copied, it can
  only be copied /after/ it is released, and there is value in
  being first on the block or "hip". Even an album that every-
  one knew would be downloadable from the net January 2 would
  sell copies on January 1, especially if it were arranged as
  a premiere event, or as a perk for club members.

- Adaptation: Don't forget that without copyright, artists are
  also more free to draw upon previous work to create collages,
  adaptations, and other derivatives of other work. Specialize
  in doing Disco or Reggae versions of pop tunes. Make MIDI
  transcriptions of other tunes. Translate lyrics into other
  languages. Make new arrangements for small bands to perform.

- Convenience: Even when information is cheap, /finding/ it is
  not. Consumer attention is valuable, so make the most of that
  by making it easy for people to buy authorized recordings on
  the authorized site and other easy-to-find locations. Give them
  lots of versions of everything at good prices. Capitalize on
  their attention by selling advertising on the website and in
  your liner notes and on your merchandise.

- Voluntary contributions: I don't personally think much of this
  method, but a lot of people seem to so I'll mention it: solicit
  contributions based solely on goodwill. Things like "Street
  Performer Protocol" make this easier. This is the business
  model for public television, for the most part.

That's a pageful off the top of my head; I'm sure there are more.
So the next person who brings up the "artists will starve without
copyright" meme will be fined the total of Micheal Jackson's
interview fee, Barbara Streisand's performance fee, Jon Williams'
movie soundtrack fee, and the total revenues from Back Street
Boys' merchandise.

I'll anticipate a few possible counter-arguments:

- "Those methods won't work/won't make enough money"

  They'll make different people different amounts of money, that's
  true. I am indeed proposing a major change in the laws, and
  that will affect a lot of people; some worse, some better. But
  the same can be said of any change in law or technology. Some
  people will be better off and some worse. Machines put a lot of
  people out of work, as does ending a subsidy program. But the
  benefits to the economy and society as a whole weigh strongly in
  favor of ending subsidies and automating production. For every
  one put out of work, two or three get hired in other jobs by the
  new expanded economy. The benefits to the economy and society
  as a whole of totally unfettering all communication of information
  I can't even begin to calculate, but I can't imagine a greater
  single thing we could do to encorage development of culture and

- "Artists shouldn't sell out"

  Tough. Snobbery costs money. If you don't want to do what it
  takes to earn money in the free market, you deserve to starve.
  In a free market, money is earned, by definition, by doing things
  /other/ people want, and will pay for. Some of us are lucky
  enough to do things we also enjoy doing, but that's a luxury.
  People want music around, so they will figure out ways to get it
  and ways to pay for it. But if that way is to offer a songwriter
  money to do a commercial, and ey turns the offer down, ey has no
  right to complain that ey is poor, or that ey can't make enough
  money doing what ey wants.

Lee Daniel Crocker <> <>
"All inventions or works of authorship original to me, herein and past,
are placed irrevocably in the public domain, and may be used or modified
for any purpose, without permission, attribution, or notification."--LDC

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