Free Culture does not stand for Zero Income

“You really ought to familiarise yourself with the ideologies of the people you’re condemning before you tear into them. I don’t agree with everything Chris Anderson says, but he hardly tells people to give their stuff away: mostly, Chris talks about how different pricing structures, loss-leaders, and sales techniques can be used to increase the bottom lines of creators, manufacturers, publishers and inventors, and he cites case studies of people who’ve made this work for them.”

The above quote is from Cory Doctorow’s answer to Helienne Lindvall, part of a rather systematic campaign that equates the free culture movement as advocating zero income for artists, which is of course a travesty of the truth. Nevertheless, this argument is peddled again and again even by people who should know better (Geert Lovink comes to mind). It’s part and parcel of a campaign that aims to justify a unwinnable war on internet freedoms, and a continuation of a system of monopolies that failed long before the advent of the internet.

Read the whole, quite brilliant, column here.

Excerpted from Cory Doctorow:

“Assuming that copyright holders will never be able to stop or even slow down copying, what is to be done?

For me, the answer is simple: if I give away my ebooks under a Creative Commons licence that allows non-commercial sharing, I’ll attract readers who buy hard copies. It’s worked for me – I’ve had books on the New York Times bestseller list for the past two years.

What should other artists do? Well, I’m not really bothered. The sad truth is that almost everything almost every artist tries to earn money will fail. This has nothing to do with the internet, of course. Consider the remarkable statement from Alanis Morissette’s attorney at the Future of Music Conference: 97% of the artists signed to a major label before Napster earned $600 or less a year from it. And these were the lucky lotto winners, the tiny fraction of 1% who made it to a record deal. Almost every artist who sets out to earn a living from art won’t get there (for me, it took 19 years before I could afford to quit my day job), whether or not they give away their work, sign to a label, or stick it through every letterbox in Zone 1.

If you’re an artist and you’re interested in trying to give stuff away to sell more, I’ve got some advice for you, as I wrote here – I think it won’t hurt and it could help, especially if you’ve got some other way, like a label or a publisher, to get people to care about your stuff in the first place.

But I don’t care if you want to attempt to stop people from copying your work over the internet, or if you plan on building a business around this idea. I mean, it sounds daft to me, but I’ve been surprised before.

But here’s what I do care about. I care if your plan involves using “digital rights management” technologies that prohibit people from opening up and improving their own property; if your plan requires that online services censor their user submissions; if your plan involves disconnecting whole families from the internet because they are accused of infringement; if your plan involves bulk surveillance of the internet to catch infringers, if your plan requires extraordinarily complex legislation to be shoved through parliament without democratic debate; if your plan prohibits me from keeping online videos of my personal life private because you won’t be able to catch infringers if you can’t spy on every video.”

Cory concludes with specific messages directed at Helienne, about who are the real enemies of artists and their sustainability:

“You know who peddles false hope to naive would-be artists? People who go around implying that but for all those internet pirates, there’d be full creative employment for all of us. That the reason artists earn so little is because our audiences can’t be trusted, that once we get this pesky internet thing solved, there’ll be jam tomorrow for everyone. If you want to damn someone for selling a bill of goods to creative people, go after the DRM vendors with their ridiculous claims about copy-proof files; go after the labels who say that wholesale lawsuits against fans on behalf of artists (where labels get to pocket the winnings) are good business; go after the studios who are suing to make it impossible for anyone to put independent video on the internet without a giant corporate legal budget.

And if you want to find someone who supports artists, look at organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who have advanced the cause of blanket licences for music, video and other creative works on the internet. As a songwriter, you’ll be familiar with these licences: as you say, you get 3% every time someone performs your songs on stage. What EFF has asked for is the same deal for the net: let ISPs buy blanket licences on behalf of their customers, licences that allow them to share all the music they’re going to share anyway – but this way, artists get paid. Incidentally, this is also an approach favored by Larry Lessig, whom you also single out as “ironic” in your piece.

It’s been 15 years since the US National Information Infrastructure hearings kicked off the digital copyright wars. And for all the extraordinary power grabbed by the entertainment giants since then, the letters of marque and the power to disconnect and the power to censor and the power to eavesdrop, none of it is paying artists. Those who say that they can control copies are wrong, and they will not profit by their strategy. They should be entitled to ruin their own lives, businesses and careers, but not if they’re going to take down the rest of society in the process.”

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