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
    Jon Lawrence (profile), 2 Oct 2010 @ 9:15pm

    Context, Context, Context

    What if the Artist WANTS the art to be free?

    Case in point. I put over $40,000 in materials, and 50K in labor into something I produced. It was all donated, granted, but it was my work that got it all donated. And the content I wanted created, I wanted to be free.

    Another producer has taken that work, and is now trying to sell it online.

    I put the time and energy into it because it was important to me that people got access to a part of my business they don't usually get to see. Now it's tied up in legal limbo and even I can't release it myself at the moment.

    I'd be happy for people to have it for free. But stealing what I want to be free, for commercial purpose... well...

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