Re: When is an MP3 file like a lighthouse?

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Wed Oct 24 2001 - 12:44:13 MDT

Lee Daniel Crocker wrote:
> > This blithely assumes that the only negative consequences will be on the
> > people everyone loves to hate, the marketers and publishers. Somehow the
> > negative impact on the artists is overlooked here. It would not suit
> > the political purpose of this essay to dwell on reduced revenues to
> > the creative people who make music and other content.
> The negative impact on artists will be primarily to those artists who
> presently can earn a living _only_ because of excludability, because
> their work isn't good enough for the other revenue models.

It seems to me that there's an improper linkage here; people who argue
that the age of downloading hath come feel obliged to argue that the age
of downloading is good; people who argue that the age of downloading hurts
the artist feel obliged to argue that the age of downloading is a
temporary effect of improperly encrypted media. These two issues are not
entirely orthogonal - if the age of downloading is bad, we might want to
do something about it, thus reducing the probability of the age of
downloading continuing - but the two issues are orthogonal to a much
greater extent than the correlation of presented arguments would seem to

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. But I also think that the age of
downloading has enormously powerful forces behind it, verging on
inevitability. Music as material good, as tape or record, is dead. Now
it's an informational good and can be copied. I don't know that
information wants to be free, but information certainly wants to be
downloaded. In the new world, people who want information download that
information. If prices are set too high, they will download without

Information wants to be downloaded. How much to pay for downloaded
information, or even whether to pay at all, is a choice that has shifted
from the provider to the consumer. 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.

Each additional download creates wealth, because information is an
infinitely duplicable good. If we all paid exactly the same amount to
artists and middlemen, but got ten times as much content at one-tenth the
price per unit, the net effect on industry revenues would be zero, and yet
an enormous amount of wealth would have been created. That's why
information wants to be downloaded. I don't say it wants to be free, but
it definitely wants to be downloaded, because each download creates
wealth. Whether money gets transferred, and where it goes, is almost a
side issue compared to downloading; money is conserved, but downloading is
infinite. Information just wants you to download it - it doesn't really
care whether downloading ten times as much information costs you ten times
as much money, or twice as much money, or the same amount of money, or
half as much money, just so long as you download. Information wants to be
downloaded because 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. But, in real life, I think that this effect will tend
to reduce total industry revenues - regardless of whether that's good or
bad for the individual artists, or for the art - because it puts control
of wealth flow in the hands of the downloaders, and shifts the payment
motive from "pay for what you take" to "pay for what you copy", two
entirely different ethics.

So I understand that the artists are upset, and that the middlemen are in
a state of crazed fear, but whatever solutions they try are going to have
to fit with the two new facts: first, information wants to be downloaded;
and second, whether information is downloaded is a choice that now lies
with the downloader.

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. I
don't download shareware anymore because there's almost always an entirely
free alternative at CNET downloads. I don't know that this decreases the
quality of software, but my guess is that it does - although open-source
may make up for that, and too little time has passed to tell in any case,
and it was just a guess to begin with.

But the age of downloading is here, regardless.

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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