Is Uncompensated Commercial Use Of An Artist's Content Really That Bad?

from the free-promotion dept

We've discussed a few times how the whole distinction between "commercial use" and "non-commercial use" can be somewhat arbitrary. Even though many Creative Commons supporters insist that a "non-commercial" license is the way to go, there are some good arguments as to why such a limitation isn't a good idea either.

Long-time Techdirt reader SteelWolf sent in a blog post he recently did on the subject, where he makes the argument that uncompensated commercial use of an artist's work isn't something to worry about. The idea that some company will come along and "profit" from your work without giving you a cent is misguided, because there are all sorts of opportunities for you to take advantage of such a use directly yourself:
A budding musical artist writes and records a song, putting it into the Public Domain/copyleft on his website for his fans to share and enjoy how they wish. Somebody from a major television network finds the song and use it in a new show without even giving credit. The show goes on to become a hit, making the network millions while the musician remains poor. How should he respond?

First of all one has to understand that it is highly unlikely that the show was successful solely because of the inclusion of the song. Commercial success does not suddenly mean money is owed. While it may have been nice to get free money (royalties and the like) from repeated airings of the show, it is not that but the lack of proper attribution that is the real cause for frustration.

Assuming the network will never deign to correct its mistake, I think one of the most important things to do is use the internet connect the song and show back to the artist. If the song really brought that many people to the show, they are likely to start searching for it online. Something like a post on the artist's website will show up clearly in search results, and it gives the artist an opportunity to direct new visitors to free downloads of the song, concert dates, and his other reasons to buy (perhaps tweaked to appeal to fans of the show). It's also a good idea to have a way for people to send donations.

Granted, these things aren't going to make you rich, but then neither are royalties. What it does do is save the artist tons of money in legal costs trying to fight the network, and help build his name as somebody who creates quality music and expand his fanbase -- all despite the network's "oversight" in crediting the person behind the work.
On top of that, we've seen over and over again, that when a company makes use of someone else's work for such uses without properly crediting the artist, it usually doesn't take much for that word to spread, and get more attention drawn to the artist. The artist can put up a blog post, noting that the TV show didn't credit him or her, and that even helps the story spread as well. It's yet another case where social mores work better than not just copyright, but non-commercial Creative Commons license as well.

And, with that, we'll leave the last word to Nina Paley:
non-commercial

Filed Under: commercial use, noncommercial use


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  1. icon
    Karl (profile), 3 Oct 2010 @ 8:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: While we're saying "it's not so bad..."

    Service is the key word here, those Club Goods are for the most part always services

    They don't have to be. Any good that is excludable, but non-rivalrous, is a club good.

    In any case, so what? Your question was why companies should pay more than once, and the answer is because those companies, themselves, get paid more than once. If it is a service, that means that your labor is continuously generating new income for that service. The monetary value of your labor is increasing, so your compensation should also be increasing.

    Compare it to a sales job. Once a salesman lands a client, he gets a commission of that client's sales, for as long as he's their sales rep. What you're essentially saying is, "that's not fair, he should only get paid once, when he lands the client."

    how that compares to writing music and trying to take ownership of that group of sounds?

    We're talking about permission or compensation for commercial use. That's very different than outright ownership.

    People should get pay when they go to a concert, that is a service, but people shouldn't have to pay for making their own concert with their own resources.

    You're right, they shouldn't. Nobody should have to pay royalties to perform their own songs.

    How would you feel to have to pay a fee everytime your radio plays anything,

    Um, every time a song is played on the radio, the songwriter gets paid (in theory at least). I have no problem paying the same amount as I've always paid, which is zero.

    But other people have no problem paying a fee every time the radio plays anything. It's call Sirius. They're also willing to pay every time they watch television (cable TV) or stream movies (Netflix).

    Are you saying that none of these entities should pay for their content?

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