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:

Filed Under: commercial use, noncommercial use

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  1. identicon
    Jose_X, 2 Oct 2010 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Get real

    >> There is no justifiable reason why large extremely wealthy companies would fail to compensate the people who produce the content they use.

    Are you saying companies prefer to pay or have no preference paying Americans $20/hour rather than shipping work across seas for $1/hour plus shipping and handling, given the choice?

    Yes, there is a reason a company would hold back compensation. It's called maximizing profits, and it is the explicit goal ("bottom line") of most for-profit corporations. In fact, law actually pushes them to think first of their investors and later of society + dog.

    This is why they want monopolies and as much control as possible in as many areas as possible.

    A key point is what about the rest of society? What about the many that can do great work by leveraging others (ie, copy X% and add their own spin Y%)? How should copyright law be written if at all?

    Another key point is that if no one owns the music, is this better for those that create a work or not, and are they more likely to create more and better works or not? How about those that add on to existing works but would borrow more than a token amount? How do these affect the dynamics?

    Fact is that if you have skill, there will be demand. One thing that is almost sure is that those with money will pay if only to have you host an exclusive event where they can hear new stuff not generally heard elsewhere and of decent quality. Those of large size wanting to sell something will pay you something for various reasons if they don't already own the music. Companies will pay employees to use others' material and add their own spin. Those that like breaking new ground will attract teaching and speaking positions and awards (and further fans afterward). So point is that whether you prefer to stick with the most original stuff or are versatile and prefer to use existing material, there is money to be made if you develop skills.

    Hey, why should a company pay someone to push buttons, talk to customers, etc? And why would they pay some more than others?

    In any case, I am not libertarian because I think there are many imbalances and network effects that can lead some to acquire lots of control and hang in there for a long time to the frustration of many more. I find value in having a government that tries to represent the people (and there are better ways to execute in that department). So I accept imperfect laws. But our current copyright system and supporters have gone too far and are in denial.

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