The Copyright Folly: Making A Living As A Creator Has Always Been Difficult, Stronger Copyright Doesn't Fix It
from the a-trick-by-the-industries dept
Dan Hunter and Nicolas Suzor (two Australian academics) have a great article for The Conversation, which officially is looking at the latest copyright reform proposals in Australia, but makes a much bigger point: Making a living as a content creator has always been massively difficult, and it’s foolish to think that stronger copyright will change that. Unfortunately, in a campaign driven by the legacy gatekeepers (who often do benefit from stronger copyrights), many artists (especially independent ones) have been misled into thinking that the internet is the problem and stronger copyright laws will fix things. What’s left out is that it’s always been difficult, and the internet has actually made it easier to build a successful independent career. That doesn’t mean it’s easy and many will still fail, but it’s not the problem of the internet and copyright laws being too weak.
First, a reminder that it’s always been difficult for artists to make a living — even when it came to famous and “major label” musicians, approximately 90% of them flamed out and didn’t turn music into a career. Only the very top of the top in the old system were able to make a living as musicians.
Artists and their representatives are right, of course: it is unfair that artists and creators can?t make a living from their art. Society probably would be a better place if creators could spend all day writing great novels and great songs, and not have to support themselves in other ways.
But it?s always been like this: Beethoven taught piano to the children of nobility, Bach earned his keep as an organist and choirmaster, not as a composer. The old joke about barkeeps and waitstaff being mostly underemployed actors and authors is a cliche because it has always been true.
But does stronger copyright solve this? The evidence certainly suggests no:
Since the 1990s the copyright system has been made more and more onerous ? but most artists haven?t been getting any richer. Each one of these reforms has failed, and the new proposal is almost certainly going to be a bust. The government could impose the death penalty for copyright infringement and it still would not create a future where the bulk of people who want to be independent artists can reliably make a good living from their work
Instead, stronger copyright seems to help the traditional gatekeepers, but doesn’t filter down to the actual creators:
Copyright helps large producers and distributors in film, television and publishing industries. An individual artist is still more likely to win the lottery than make the big time. Those artists who do win the lottery win big ? and those who don?t have to take other jobs.
But the internet — despite all the blame being placed on it — has enabled many more creators and artists to make money and build careers. That doesn’t mean that every artist can be successful because of the internet, because that’s just not true. It’s still a very, very difficult world in which to make a living. But that’s because of the nature of the market for creative works, not the internet or the state of copyright laws. But if you look and see how many artists are making a living today because of the internet, who never would have gotten anywhere under the old system, you realize how much more opportunity there is today.
The internet makes it easier than ever before to be a creator and to build an audience for your works.
Some of these creators are being paid for their efforts ? and some aren?t in it for the money. It?s not an exaggeration to say that we?re living in a Golden Age of Creativity, even if creators who won under the old media model are suffering.
As they note, it’s still tough to be an independent artist, but there’s much more opportunity than in the past:
Becoming a successful independent artist is still a worse bet than the lottery. But for the much larger group of artists working in arts industries and the even larger group of creatives working in other industries, wages and job satisfaction are actually substantially higher than the national average.
And thus, proposals like the one in Australia by Attorney General George Brandis get the equation entirely backwards. They attempt to make the internet worse, by imposing onerous restrictions and liabilities on the internet providers, thereby setting up barriers to the tools that are helping artists.
At the same time, the current proposal will impose costs on communications providers like ISPs, search engines and cloud computing providers, as well as the everyday consumer.
Compliance costs and liability risks will drive some providers offshore. They will also increase the cost of internet access for everyone.
Harming the communications infrastructure is a bet against the future ? and against those newly emerging creators who don?t follow the model of the past.
It’s unfortunate that so many have twisted the fact that it’s always been hard to make a living as a creator into an attack on the tool that has provided the most help to many of those artists… and as an excuse to ratchet up laws in a way that will make the internet worse.