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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jul 2011 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Re:

    Let's take your examples one at a time Mike, and see where we really sit:

    Fashion: No current copyright on fashion, but since most of the styles and designs have been done before in the past, they are just using what would be the public domain. The real action in fashion is in the patent area, where developments like combed cotton fleece and such is key. So sorry, not a good example of copyright areas.

    restaurants: Similar to fashion, the food has pretty much all been done. Much of the action in the food world is in trademarks and appearance rather than the food itself, as there really isn't much new under the sun. We are talking about riffing off of the public domain again. Another poor example.

    sports plays: What is a sports play? If you are talking purely sports, there isn't much there. I can't think of any truly new sport developed that wasn't "football on steroids" or "baseball with a twist". Both of those sports, of course, have been around for 100+ years, and would all be in the public domain by now. So another dead end example.

    Do you have any example of areas where there is actual activity that doesn't involve things hundreds of years old already?

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