Re: When is an MP3 file like a lighthouse?

From: Miriam English (
Date: Wed Oct 24 2001 - 17:41:36 MDT

Wow! A wonderful, insightful post Eliezer.

At 04:44 AM 25/10/2001, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:

>I think that the age of downloading will probably reduce the total amount
>of money that goes to artists, and will certainly produce at least a
>temporary reduction in quality until a new generation of topnotch artists
>willing to work for free arrives to replace the current cream of the crop,
>who have grown up expecting payment.

While I agree that it may reduce the total amount of $$ going to artists, I
don't think it necessarily entails a lowering of standards. Many of my
musician and artist friends have found that they can live for their art
without the requirement of earning much from it. Some of the musicians I
know make their money from live performances and give away the rest.

I was at an alternative art festival recently where many artists and
musicians were of the opinion that they had little to gain from the
standard star-maker industry anyway so the give-it-away model has little
adverse effect on them, and a very positive effect of widening their
audience way beyond what they could ever have afforded before. Advertising
and distribution have traditionally been horrendously expensive... suddenly
that has changed.

>Now [music is] an informational good and can be copied....

>Each additional download creates wealth, because information is an
>infinitely duplicable good...

>Whether money gets transferred, and where it goes, is almost a
>side issue compared to downloading; money is conserved, but downloading is
>infinite... each additional download creates new wealth; money
>doesn't care whose hands it's in because that doesn't create wealth one
>way or the other.

Your point about money having a static value whereas copied information
increases wealth is a very important one. I had never thought about it in
quite the way you put it in this post. It makes me wonder if perhaps money
is coming to the end of its usefulness. What would a truly
information-based economy look like and how would it work? Interesting stuff.

>If tipping infrastructures can break
>the stranglehold of the current power structure, then the choice of how
>much to pay the middleman will shift from the middleman to the artist.
>The latter effect will reduce the amount paid to middlemen - and the
>former effect will reduce the total amount paid to artists, at least on a
>per-work basis; even if people are willing to spend the same total amount
>as before, cheap artists and free artists will still tend to drive out
>expensive artists.

Your point about tipping is very good. It's a model which is already in
place where people give feel-good money to other people even though they're
under no compulsion to do so.

>There are various things that can be done about the probable decrease in
>artist revenues. Eliminating middlemen will increase the amount that goes
>to artists. For those who are willing to put effort into this, I think
>the most leveraged approach is to create tipping infrastructures, with
>tips going directly to the artists, despite the screams this will cause by
>the RIAA and MPAA. But in the long run, even that is doomed. Content
>that doesn't request tips will drive out content that requests tips.

Yes, we are seeing the bottom fall out of the middleman market, and I see
this as a *Good Thing* -- too many middlemen makes the market very
inefficient. However a tipping infrastructure might not be doomed. Free
downloads are not necessarily preferred over paid ones. My own personal
experience is that I do use shareware and when I am satisfied with it I pay
for it. If freeware is superior (and in defiance of market "common sense"
it quite often is) then I use it. If the program I need can only be bought
then I obtain a cracked copy to test out first. If it is truly suitable
then I do buy it. I am not rich... in fact I live pretty-much at or below
the poverty line.

There are many things we do because they are sensible rather than because
we'll get busted if we don't. I would be delighted to see an age where
being a good citizen is the result of seeing that it makes good sense
instead of doing it because you'll get nabbed.

When I managed Awaba, a virtual world for kids, I didn't impose strict
rules, and, unlike many other virtual worlds that had tightly enforced
rules, Awaba had very few problems with antisocial behavior. It is
interesting that the few that did act disruptively seemed to come from very
strict backgrounds, with parents who were in the military (I am thinking
particularly of a couple of individuals here). It may just be that they
were having trouble adapting to the lack of external constraints, having
developed few internal constraints.

Maybe this is the beginning of a future where the focus is on voluntarily
sociable behavior rather than enforced social behavior. I sure hope so.


         - Miriam

To the optimist, the glass is half full.
To the pessimist, the glass is half empty.
To the engineer, the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
Virtual Reality Association

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