Re: copyright

From: Lee Daniel Crocker (
Date: Thu Jul 13 2000 - 19:13:16 MDT

On Wed, 12 Jul 2000, Jason Joel Thompson wrote:

> 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.

No, we don't agree here at all. Information has no inherent value at
all. Bits are just bits. Value is created by the act of people /wanting/
the information, in a certain form at a certain time for their specific
purposes. It is not the labor of creation that makes value, either in
material goods or information: that was Marx's flawed premise. All the
labor in the world is worthless unless it produces something someone else
/wants/ to have.

> 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?

No, that's not the difference at all. The essential difference is
that freely-copied instances of the same piece of information can
be used to serve two people's goals simulatanously. This is not
true of even the cheapest, most fluid physical commodity. The air
I breathe cannot simultaneously be breathed by you. Nor the water
I drink, the money I spend, the space I occupy. Some allocation
strategy is necessary to determine who uses these things. For some
things, "property" is that method. For things like air, it isn't
necessary (though it might be in different conditions, like on a
moon base). But information is fundamentally different: it's not
just that copying is cheap, it's that copying actually does double
the utility (not value--utility, though utility may lead to value)
because my use of the information does not in any way interfere
with your use of the information (of course it does interfere with
your attempt to treat it as property, but whether or not that's a
legitimate thing to do is the issue here).

The rest of this argument proceeds from your flawed assumption, so
I won't address it more specifically.

> "The most obvious: live performance."

> 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?

(1) No, a performance is not "information", it's a unique event
in time, and as such, cannot be duplicated. It's value (and
remember, value is created by comsumers, not producers) might be
in some small way the information presented, but it is also in
the sensual experience, the gathering of friends, the building
of memories, "hipness", and many other things.

(2) CDs most definitely should /not/ be free and I never said
anything of the kind. What I'm saying is that Metallica should
be able to sell CDs of their music, and I should be able to buy
one, press my own CDs of their music, and sell them too. It is
the music itself that shouldn't be ownable.

> 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.

Exactly. This method works best for the famous--the less
famous will have to use other methods, or find ways to make
themselves famous enough to fill concert halls (like using
the net to distribute their music). The not-so-famous may
have to use other methods as well, and actors generall use
work-for-hire (but that's off topic here).

> 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.

If you can fill stadiums playing someone else's music, you
deserve the money. Somehow, I suspect authenticity will be
a selling point. Otherwise, why did Milli Vanilli drop out
of existence when it was revealed they weren't singing? The
music didn't change any. Well, their value wasn't just in
the music, was it?

> 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.

Popular movies make millions of dollars on ticket sales in
theaters, which are basically live performances (copying
among the theaters themselves can be managed by contract).
Then, they make millions more with merchandising. Finally,
they make more millions with copyright--by licensing to
TV and video rentals. This last revenue stream will be
bitten into without copyright, but the first two won't. I
won't be weeping for Paramount if Star Trek XXI makes only
$100 million instead of $200 million. Jon Williams will
still have been paid up front.

> 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.

You don't have to be very famous at all to make a living.
Even a fan base as small as 50-100,000 (small potatoes for
any group with an Internet presence) should be able to earn
a decent living on merchandise if it's sufficiently "hip"
to generate demand, and if the music is good enough to
maintain the fan base.

> 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.

Yes. And your point is? If what people /want/ is to go to the
theater and see a good movie, that's what they'll pay for (and I
for one quite enjoy that, and don't blink for moment at shelling
out $8 for the prospect). If people want plastic dinosaurs, then
that's what they'll pay for. What's the problem? If a movie
with no merchandising prospects can't cover its production costs
on ticket sales alone, then I don't see any reason why it /should/
be made.

Take, for example, "Titanic"--the most expensive production of
all time. The story was about two kids, so they couldn't use
big stars. Everyone knows how it ends, so there's no surprize,
and no possibility of a sequel. They destroy the set. There's
little prospect of merchandising. Yet it got funded, and it made
back millions more than its production costs on initial-run ticket
sales alone, for which copyright is of no use. Yes, the millions
more it is making now on licensing would be cut into without
copyright, but I don't think that's a problem for getting movies
made. Clearly, a good movie that people go to see makes money.

> 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.

Where there is demand, people will fill it. If selling T-shirts
is what you have to do to be able to afford the luxury of making
music, then that's what you have to do. I have no sympathy at
all for art snobs who think it's demeaning to earn a living.
Let 'em starve for their "integrity" if they want.

> 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?

Please pay attention to the argument. I never said, and never
will say, that I don't think people should sell music, or books,
or other works now traditionally covered by copyright. What
I'm saying is that we should eliminate the one-track mindset
that this is the /only/ way to make money from them, and that
copyright is necessary to protect the market for them. Neither
of those things is true: there are lots of other ways to make
money, and you can still sell books and records without copyright
(which is manifestly true from the simple observation that
people still make money selling Shakespeare and Mozart). This
is an entirely consistent point of view.

> Adaptation:
> This is not a way to make money.

True: it's a way to reduce production costs, after which you
need to use the other methods to make money. I include it
here as just another way to debunk the "ending copyright will
cause artists to starve" nonsense by pointing out that there
are /benefits/ to the artist as well.

> Convenience: Even when information is cheap, finding it is not.
> 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?

That's true, but that's also the way it is now: most of the
rewards of copyright, /by far/, go not to the artist, but to the
company that makes the artist popular by controlling marketing
and distribution. One should not overlook that the primary
economic input of a "publisher" even today is /selection/. The
publisher chooses what to print and distrubute and advertise,
and that affects demand and sales. This will probably still be
the case without copyright, only their revenue sources will
change a bit, and will depend on artist authorization /more/,
because they won't be able to collect as much from past works.
They'll have to work harder to be hip and timely and selective.

This, by the way, is another way to make "work-for-hire" more
profitable. A publisher, for example, might become the famous
entity rather than individual artists (Motown records, for
example, got pretty close to this in the 60s). If consumers
come to trust and value a certain publisher, that publisher can
do things like make advance sales on albums with unspecified
artists, who are them paid on a work-for-hire basis (and whose
works are protected from the publisher by NDA rather than

> If [voluntary contribution] was a good way to make money,
> public television stations would be rich. And they'd have
> good content.

I don't like the method either, but it's a living. PBS
does stay in business, and there is the occasional Red Dwarf
to balance out all the crap.

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

Those who absolutely cannot make a living by /any/ of the
methods here or others I haven't thought of would really be
doing better for themselves and us by earning a living in
some other way. Doing what you want is a luxury--just
because someone wants to be a musician doesn't mean I should
pass laws to help him. The people who make music I /want/
will get my money, and they'll survive. The rest might not,
but then they don't deserve to. Though, but that's life.
Should we pass laws to make sure I can make a living playing
poker, just because that's what I enjoy doing?

> 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.

I don't want to destroy the market--I want to fundamentally
change it in a way that will probably put some of them out
of work, and employ 10 times as many in the new economy of
unrestricted information. Demand is there, and will always
be met, so there will always be people making music and
people willing to pay for getting music they like. The
industry will never go away. It will just change the way
it does business, and eliminating the last shackle on the
free exchange and use of information will unleash a flood
of new industries and opportunities that have never existed.

> 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?

I am advocating the removal of copyright, period. On everything.
Absolute, 100% free flow of information everywhere with no
restrictions. I want every book and article ever written to be
on the net, searchable and cross-linked to every other. I want
artists to be able to freely create a culture from everything
they can find--a movie maker should be able to use that old
song he likes, even if it's author is jerk. I want to see X-Rated
Mickey Mouse cartoons without Michael Eisner getting in the way.
I want rappers and others to sample and remix and modify old
tunes in new ways for new audiences. I want schools across the
country to pay $5 for textbooks instead of $50, or to print them
from freely-downloaded PDFs. I want a there to be translations,
adaptations, abridgements, parodies, unauthorized sequels, and
other derivative works of all the others, regardless of what the
originators want or would do themselves. I want the scriptures
of Scientology published for ridicule without getting sued. I
want all this freely flowing information to inspire more artists,
inventors, teachers, and businesses to do things they might not
have imagined in a world with copyright restrictions.

> Frankly, if I write a book, I don't want anyone else saying
> they wrote the damn thing.

Neither do I; see my other message on this thread about the
confusion among copyright, trademarks, and fraud. I totally
support both trademarks and criminalization of fraud.

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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