Re: Getting rich without copyright (was Napster...)

From: Emlyn (onetel) (
Date: Wed Jul 12 2000 - 00:25:07 MDT

----- Original Message -----
From: Lee Daniel Crocker <>
To: <>
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2000 2:49 PM
Subject: Getting rich without copyright (was Napster...)

> 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.

Performance, yeah performance. You can assume people are doing this already.
Problem is, it pays squat. It will continue to, because recordings compete
in the same marketplace as live musicians, and they are much cheaper. Free
recorded music is not going to help.

You can make lots of money from performing if you are already famous. Anyone
famous can make money by standing up in front of people.

Performance at the moment is restricted by audience sizes; you've got to
actually go around and do lots and lots and lots of gigs. Maybe as bandwidth
on the net improves, something new will become possible; performing live on
the net. I know people already do it, but it's pretty shite and not
interactive; Need More Bandwidth (there's a mantra for you all to recite)

> - 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).

Work for hire, yes, that's ok, it's currently available, it works. It's a
pretty damned small market though (unless you count the stupid jingles and
crap that pervades our media, then maybe you can say it's big). But this
defeats much of the purpose of the work of many musicians; I might as well
write software, because it really pays.

> - 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.

As above, yes, if you are famous you can make money from your personal fame.
Standard approach for aspiring musos with any sense:
1 - Get Famous
2 - Get Paid for being Famous
with the caveat
1b - Stay alive whilst getting Famous, without overly impacting on the core
business of Get Famous.

1b is the hard bit.

> - 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.

Merchandising is good, yet again it already exists. If I wanted to make
money from merchandising, I wouldn't go into the music business and make
t-shirts with my ugly mug on them. It's just a tack-on tactic to try to
scrape together a few extra bucks.

> - 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.

This relates to Hal's excellent post on waiting for a certain number of
pledges before releasing.

This is basically swapping information ownership with information hiding.
This is a sticky point. Say you have already produced a work, and there is
no information ownership. Is it actually legal or moral to keep that work
hidden, until such time as you decide to release it? It looks almost like
extortion; you are holding something which is not rightfully yours, until
you are paid a certain amount of money.

A related problem is that someone can steal your work, and pre-release it.
Happens now anyway I think. In a world of free accessible full quality
recordings, this is a major, major problem.

> - 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.

So I can take other people's work, adapt it, and also make no money from it
just like them. Aw, shucks, that's just too generous.

> - 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.

This is why the big companies will stick around; see the reply to Hal's post
for my rave about this.

> - 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.

Unless you peg releases against donation thresholds, this has got to be a
pretty marginal tactic.

> 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
> technology.

Unless no one can afford the luxury of producing anything anymore.

> - "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.

 That's an opinion, which only serves to justify the fact that if you don't
do what it takes to earn money in the "free" market, you will starve.

Also, you must always qualify this statement with another truth: if you
already have money, this doesn't apply to you.

> 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.

Ey should be soundly flogged!

I've got no problems with selling out, I just want to own what I produce.

Or not. Actually, I agree quite strongly with you on this Lee; information
should be free. But I think this is only half the picture, because I think
everything should be free.

Seriously. To be more precise, I think that ownership is a seriously flawed
concept that damages freedom, and has created the massively unjust world in
which we now live, with a small minority of people making up the very rich
(that's us westerners), and the large majority of people belonging to the
legions of the mindnumbingly, incomprehensibly poor. This, because people
own things, which means that others in turn are excluded from their use.

I detailed in a recent post one idea for a future market economy which did
not include a concept of ownership (or more correctly, included the concept
that everyone owns everything). In that scenario, I would have absolutely no
problem with taking away copyright; it becomes meaningless.

In our current economy, however, taking away ownership from musicians is not
reasonable. The only reason it can be done is because music resembles
information, and can be transmitted as such. It's not really information; it
takes sophisticated hardware to turn that music into information, and then
back into music. Nanotech general assemblers are touted to do the same thing
with material objects; it doesn't mean such objects are information, they
just resemble and are encodable as such.

At such time as full nanotech arrives, then good, no more copyright. But
now, it just damages the ability of people who create original knowledge
objects to profit from that creation. I think people just see what they have
the ability to get away with, and pick selected bits out of personal
ideology to support that activity. It might help them sleep at night, but
that doesn't make it ok.


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