From: Jason Joel Thompson (
Date: Wed Jul 12 2000 - 23:49:26 MDT


This is my first post to the Extropians list and it's a big one.

I've considered joining for quite some time-- when I read Lee Daniel Crocker's forwarded post on the transdot site, I regret I could not restrain myself.

Hello all, and off we go:


Lee Daniel Crocker writes (to the Extropians mailing list): 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 ideas that Mr. Crocker presents here are fairly flawed for lots of reasons. Before I address them individually, I think a few general observations/comments are in order.

Essentially the discussion regards whether or not individuals should be able to have ownership over information (images, sound, etc.) We seem able to grant thus far that we should continue to have ownership over property, cash, material goods, energy production, etc.

The first question I would raise is really the most significant: what is it about information that certain people believe makes it different from other commodities? We can agree that information is currently incredibly valuable and people are willing to pay billions of dollars for it in its various incarnations. The entertainment industry is a prime example and represents a booming economy. The only reason we should deflate that economy is if there is some good reason why information should no longer command a material value.

So what makes it different?

Well, for one thing, it's easy to steal. Or rather, it's easy to copy, to transmit, and to manipulate. It is very fluid.

Is it's fluidity a good reason to seperate it out from the other things on which we place value?

Let us grant the same fluidity to another commodity and see if it then should be free:

Suppose that computer processors were easy to copy and transmit. It still takes 5 billion dollars to build a factory to make them, but now, once built, you can just copy them and send them to your friends. Is this a reason they should be free?

Clearly not-- elimination of ownership over technology gives little incentive to those who might want to make it. No one is going to go out and build a 5 billion dollar factory in hopes they might get famous as a chip builder and get lots of donations.

Indeed, if it was totally legal to copy and distribute chips, people would just stop making them. Chip builders wouldn't start making them again, despite incredible demand.

So, is there another reason that information shouldn't have direct monetary value? Again, there is clearly a market for it-- people want it and are willing to pay for it. So why should it be free?

I won't go further with this, because although these are important points, I'd like to address the specific ideas that Mr. Crocker profers:

The first:


"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.


Hang on a sec... isn't a live performance just another form of information? You don't walk away with any material goods... no property, no energy. You've just received a bunch of sensory data. You're saying that the CD representation of the data should be free, but getting into a concert shouldn't. Why? Because it's harder to sneak into a concert than to copy a CD?

Also, what you're -really- rewarding here is fame. You're selling 'see me in person-ness.' As someone wise once said: "Making a career on getting famous is like making a career on winning the lottery." There are hundreds of thousands of working actors on this planet and, at any one point in time, approximately 100 stars.

This is an indirect income stream. This is money that I can (possibly) make as a side effect of doing a particular thing. The feedback loop is not direct-- you won't make money on making popular music, just in being able to get big crowds. Spectacle bands would become quite popular I imagine. And hey, why bother even playing your *own* music.


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).


Hmm... okay, so I write a movie soundtrack. You're making a movie, so you pay me lots of money for my music. Wait a minute-- how are *you* going to make money off my music, if I couldn't? Ah, okay, you're going to sell it in a different format... in -movie format.- But that's just another type of information. Are you saying that music should be free, but movies shouldn't? I didn't think so.


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.


Ah, okay, now here we go... something *real.* Make music, become famous, sell t-shirts. This is not only indirect income, it's 2nd order indirect income. That is to say, you can't just make music and sell t-shirts-- you have to become famous as well.

Merchandising is a big one, because it's a tremendous money maker for certain Hollywood movies. Of course, some movies are good for this, and some... aren't. Big spectacle movies with animated monsters and robots would really prosper.

Certain movies just wouldn't get made-- because the criteria for making them would be different. The production will follow the reward: if I make money if people come to see my movie, then I make movies people want to come and see. If I make money by selling kids plastic dinosaurs, then I make movies that sell kids plastic dinosaurs.

All this is the long way around the barn to say that -no one- is going to get into the music business because they think it's a better way to sell t-shirts.


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.


Well, this is probably not really a significant source of appreciable income at all. Okay, firstly, this is only going to work for the really really famous musicians, if at all. Secondly, saying you can sell music for a short period of time is not a good way to argue that we don't need to sell music anymore. Why just be able to sell for one day? Why not two days? Ah, because people won't be able to easily copy it on first day-- another argument from fluidity. Basically you're suggesting that someone try to make money on the music before it becomes fluid-- that somehow once it's fluid, you should stop charging for it.


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.


This is not a way to make money.


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 a very good idea about how to make money, and likely a persistent future paradigm. Again, unfortunately, it's a 2nd order reward scheme-- the money is going to go to the person who makes the information easiest to find and there's no good reason to believe that the artist is going to be the best at doing this! What value does 'authorization' have in this context?


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.


This method is the only direct income stream you've mentioned, and that's because its about people paying for music again. It's just that they don't have to. If this was a good way to make money, public television stations would be rich. And they'd have good content.


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 doubt there's any more that are not incredibly tenuous, although you did didn't really hit on the biggest and best one: advertising. (Probably one of the few good working models of indirect income streams that we have. The commodification of attention is going to be a very important future market.)

Also, again, for every Michael Jackson, there's hundreds of thousands of struggling, working musicians.


I'll anticipate a few possible counter-arguments:

---->I didn't use any of these counter arguments, but I'll respond to this one:

"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.


 Exactly. And currently we want, and will pay for, music. The demand is there. Why, oh why, would we want to destroy this market? It makes billions of dollars, employs lots of people and is working quite fine thank you very much.

Despite the length of my rant, the issue is really quite simple in my opinion. If we want something, we have to arrange for selection pressures in the environment to create it. Money may not be the best selection pressure for good music (or anything else for that matter,) but we have shown consistently that it is one of the most effective we have. The pursuit of wealth is a tremendous motivator and enabler.

Mr. Crocker realizes this, and thus this posting-- an attempt to find alternate ways in which music can continue to make money. My question is, why are we looking for alternate ways? What huge untold advantage is there to removing copyright on music?

Personally, if I had my way, I'd go in the opposite direction. I'd look to find a way to make information totally attributable to it's author. Not even necessarily for direct payment-- as I mention above, I believe that the commodification of attention is going to be an important market, but I can't make any money advertising on my webpage for people who listen to my music if anyone can host my music.

Frankly, if I write a book, I don't want anyone else saying they wrote the damn thing. I think there is a bias against intellectual property-- as if it isn't "real," or time consuming to produce or valuable to this planet. Yes, it is very fluid. No, that is not a good reason to eliminate ownership.


::jason.joel.thompson:: ::wild.ghost.studios::

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