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
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Oct 2010 @ 1:20am

    Re: Commercial vs. non-commercial

    CC (and other licenses) have a big advantage in that they put the power of copyright back into artists' hands (where I think they belong), while also guaranteeing the public's use of copyrighted material (which should be a condition of copyright existing in the first place).

    Licenses, in general, do not guarantee "the public's use of copyrighted material".

    Here's the rub: the most popular CC license is a non-commercial license. That makes sense, frankly, from an economic perspective, and I have no objection to it.

    Why? Just because you say so?

    One of the most lucrative ways to make money is (and always has been) licensing your work for commercial use.

    The available evidence says otherwise.

    Given the fact that the difference between an "artist" and a "citizen" is becoming smaller everyday, perhaps you might see my point.

    Considering that there never was a difference, no, I don't see your point at all. I do, however, consider it to be arrogant snobbery to posit, as some do, that "artists" are some somehow "special" and should be granted privileges and protections above that of common "citizens". People who think that can fob off as far as I'm concerned.

    If you, Techdirt reader, made a YouTube video, and GM used that video to sell cars without paying you a dime or even asking permission, would you be OK with that?


    If you are OK with that, then how can you criticize Universal (for example) when they don't pay artists any royalties?

    If they aren't violating their contracts, then I don't. How about you?

    Why forgive car commercials, when you won't forgive the RIAA?

    Umm, you do realize that the RIAA isn't a record company don't you? It's a "club" that record companies belong to. Therefore, artists don't sign up with "the RIAA".

    However, artists do sign up with RIAA members. And I do criticize those members for using fraudulent accounting practices. But beyond that, I say that any "aritsts" that get into bed with an RIAA member then get screwed without fraud being involved are just getting what they deserve. Sometimes I help but snicker at their stupidity.

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