Getting Past The Myth That Copyright Is Needed To Produce Content

from the simply-not-true dept

Glyn Moody points us to an excellent article at Eurozine, by Felix Stalder, about the myths of copyright today and how weaker copyright actually can increase cultural output. It starts out by showing that the standard claims behind copyright are simply not true. It's based on an assumption, implicit (and sometimes explicit) in almost all pro-copyright arguments, that copyright is the sole source of income for content creators. But this is false.
This simple assumption, however, is incorrect. First, copyright as the basis of artists' income is just one of many cultural economic models, namely that in which the "first copy" receives substantial investment that has then to be recouped (and more) through the sale of specific usage rights (licenses) to the users of further copies. This model is by no means applied across all domains of culture and, even where it is, it generates extremely unequal incomes. By and large, copyright-centered business models generate blockbuster economies, in which very few people earn very substantial incomes while the great majority of producers receive little to nothing for their work. Thus, the argument that copyright generated income works well only for a few, highly visible artists and their supporting industries.
This is a point we've discussed before, but which often gets ignored. When you look at the historical evidence of monopolies, you see the same thing. While it can create a few giant businesses, it actually harms the wider market, decreases competition, and cuts out any chance of a "middle class" in the market. It's entirely "go big or go home." Culturally, we may be losing out in such a market, because your choices become limited mainly to the major blockbuster artists. If you remove, or weaken, copyright laws, you open up the opportunity for many more artists to make a good living by employing other business models.

The article notes that, in fact, copyright "is simply not very relevant for many forms of cultural production." And for many areas of content, weak copyright protection likely increases output, because it lowers the "cost" of the raw materials (other parts of culture). But, on top of that, weaker copyright opens up all sorts of new opportunities. The article discusses things like YouTube's setup for monetizing videos, which simply creates tremendous new opportunities to make money where none would have been made before.
Given that most independent videos on YouTube would have received no revenue at all under the old copyright regime, the important thing to recognise is that it is possible to gain some revenue by providing free access to one's material. A such, it represents a functioning, if limited, commercial opportunity enabled by a weak copyright environment.
It also discusses totally new opportunities, like Flattr (of which we are a happy user -- which we'll be discussing more about soon) and Kickstarter. Basically, into the void new and interesting business models emerge (as some of us at Techdirt have been predicting for over a decade). And the nice thing about those new business models is that they rely less on gatekeepers and more on people to support what they like, with more of the money going directly to the content creators. It may not create the same blockbusters (and even that I'm not sure I believe), but it creates a much wider spectrum of people who can make a good living. All in all, a great article.

Filed Under: copyright, creation, myth


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  1. icon
    jilocasin (profile), 26 Jul 2011 @ 11:37am

    O.K. I'll bite

    If we are talking about culture or creativity, and you are looking for examples of how it flourishes _without_ copyright....

    Fashion - the biggest one that comes to mind.
    Food (i.e. Recipes)

    both evidence a phenomenal amount of creativity and neither are covered by copyright.

    Copyright was originally envisioned as _a_ incentive, not the _only_ incentive to creating works. Originally most of the works that people think about when talking about copyrights (music, movies) weren't even covered.

    Unfortunately, never content to pass up a profitable government monopoly, more and more things became _protected_ for longer and longer periods of time with larger penalties. Were things produced _without_ copyright protection? Of course, look at Mozart, or Plato, or da Vinci. Copyright just locked up more and more culture into fewer and fewer hands.


    From the US Copyright office:
    ( http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1a.html )
    "May 31, 1790 ...Books, maps, and charts protected."

    "April 29, 1802 Prints added to protected works."

    "February 3, 1831 ...Music added to works protected against unauthorized printing and vending. [note performance not protected]

    "August 18, 1856 Dramatic compositions added to protected works. "

    "March 3, 1865 Photographs and photographic negatives added to protected works."

    "July 8, 1870 ...Works of art added to protected works. Act reserved to authors the right to create certain derivative works including translations and dramatizations."[first time derivative works protected]

    "January 6, 1897 Music protected against unauthorized public performance." [Performance rights not protected until 100 years after copyright established]

    "August 24, 1912 Motion pictures, previously registered as photographs, added to classes of protected works."

    "January 1, 1953 Recording and performing rights extended to nondramatic literary works."

    "February 15, 1972 Effective date of act extending limited copyright protection to sound recordings fixed and first published on or after this date."

    "March 10, 1974 United States became a member of the Convention for the Protection of Producers of Phonograms Against Unauthorized Duplication of Their Phonograms, which came into force on April 18, 1973."

    "December 12, 1980 Copyright law amended regarding computer programs."

    "October 4, 1984 ...Grants the owner of copyright in a sound recording the right to authorize or prohibit the rental, lease, or lending of phonorecords for direct or indirect commercial purposes." [the start of prohibiting people from doing what they want to with what they have legally purchased]

    "November 8, 1984 Federal statutory protection for mask works became available under the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act...."

    "December 1, 1990 ...Grants the owner of copyright in computer programs the exclusive right to authorize or prohibit the rental, lease, or lending of the program for direct or indirect commercial purposes."[even software isn't safe from after sale restrictions]

    "December 1, 1990 Protection extended to architectural works. ...Grants to visual artists certain moral rights of attribution and integrity."[who says we don't respect _moral_ rights?]

    December 8, 1994 Uruguay Round Agreements Act restored copyright to certain foreign works under protection in the source country but in the public domain in the United States [removing works from the public domain? presently being fought in court]; repealed sunset of the Software Rental Amendments Act[copyright restrictions always go in one direction]; and created legal measures to prohibit the unauthorized fixation and trafficking in sound recordings of live musical performances and music videos. [now even _your_own_recordings_ of live events are punished]

    November 16, 1997
    The No Electronic Theft Act defined “financial gain” in relation to copyright infringement and set penalties for willfully infringing a copyright either for purposes of commercial advantage or private financial gain or by reproducing or distributing, including by electronic means phonorecords of a certain value. [Now commercial penalties are levied against non commercial personal use copying]

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