What is it about people that they can only seem to think in extremes? Is it a lack of imagination? Of vision? I don't know.
I'm fascinated by Ernest Adams' "The End of Copyright" over on Gama Sutra. Because he makes some good points, most of which I agree with.
The business model that the movie and music industries are clinging to is most certainly out of date. Instead of flinging themselves headlong into the 21st Century and trying to make money off of it, they're going to be sucked under by market forces. People have the tools now to remix, to mashup, to rip. They want to. And they will. And there ain't shit anybody can do about it. People will buy the stuff that lets them do what they want to do, and shun those who try and restrict them. Look at all the artists who are panicky about the Sony Rootkit "taint" hurting their sales. So the choice is simple, to anyone with any sense–and sadly, a lot of business executives are so far removed from reality that they have a running deficit of it–evolve or die.
He states that the file-sharing model is going to get more and more decentralized so that there's no one left to sue. I've been saying that for forever. The last chance the industries had to put the genie back into some semblance of a bottle was Napster. Napster was, to my knowledge, the last major centralized file-sharing service. Instead of embracing what their fans wanted, Metallica attacked. And the fans scattered. And the rest is history.
The time to have gotten in front of this and tried to stop it or slow it down is long past. In fact, I came to respect Hilary Rosen, head of the RIAA, because she understood this. I remember reading an interview with her where she said that all of her machinations were simply to try and buy time for her industry to catch on so they could survive. She knew the inevitable was coming, she was just trying to get as many women and children off the boat before it sank as she could. So I can deal with that.
But a couple of problems with Adams' article and then we'll get to the bigger picture. Adams says:
There’s no intrinsic reason why someone should continue to get paid for something long, long after the labor they expended on it is complete. Architects don’t get paid every time someone steps into one of their buildings. They’re paid to design the building, and that’s that.
This is a really bad comparison. For the most part, as I understand it, architects are paid to design the building, true enough. They work for hire. But they're paid by somebody else, and that somebody else then owns the building once it's erected. That someone else can then pay for admission or use of the building. Been to a museum recently? A cinema? A gym? You could, in theory, have an architect who designs a building for himself, builds it, and then charges for anybody who wants to go inside. It's not the designer of the thing, it's the owner of the thing that gets paid. Now, obviously, if you don't have anything inside anybody feels like paying for, no one will pay you to go inside. But there's nothing saying an architect can't get a cut of the door. Comparing an architect to a musician or a writer isn't a good idea, because I didn't need anybody's help or money to publish the screenplay I just did. No one paid me to write it, so I still own it. An architect probably isn't going to be able to pull off a skyscraper single-handedly. And if I wanted to get paid before people looked at the screenplay, that's my business. And if twenty, fifty, seventy years from now, I wanted to get paid for you to read it…that's my business too. It might be an impractical business, but that's still my business.
The other problem is that Adams seems to equate "copyright" with "getting paid." I've often said that there's no money in writing. You don't do it to make money. If making money is your aim, you should go do something else, because there's lots of stuff that's easier and has a better return on investment. So as long as you're not worried about nickling and diming everyone to death, and we can agree that copyright is ownership…what's wrong with actually having a copyright and owning what's yours? And having some say in how it's treated?
Anyway, here's the bit where he really pissed me off:
Part of the issue is related to the question of how much money it took to create a copyrighted work in the first place. With books and music, the answer is simply, “not that much.” Forget notions of what their rights may be in law; the idea that a band or an author should be paid millions upon millions over the next several decades for something that it cost them at most a few thousand dollars to make, just feels silly to most people.
Wow. Why not just call my mother a bitch and slap her across the face next time? Not that much? Spoken like somebody who's never created a book or some music. Yes, if you only count the amount of dollars that go into creating a piece of writing, sure, that makes sense. With Mystics, I needed the use of a computer to type on, whatever costs went into the hard copies I printed for review, the postage I spent sending it around places, then what I paid to get it typeset, the money spent on the ISBN, the use of the digital camera for the cover art, and then the costs of publication itself. Throw some miscellaneous expenses in there was well that I've forgotten. So considering I didn't buy the computer or the camera strictly to make the book–note I said "the use of," so whatever portion of the total cost you could figure up and assign to that particular book–yeah, if you look at just out of pocket expense, it's probably not that much.
But Mystics took me five years to write. Granted, my wide ass wasn't planted in a seat for that whole time, but I should think that my time is fucking worth something. All the hours I spent typing instead of with family or loved ones, all the hours in the middle of the night trying to get another page finished so I could actually sleep…Adams seems to think that wasn't worth a red cent. So to anybody who says that a lot didn't go into making a piece of art, you can all bite my offnut. That's frankly ignorant and insulting.
Now, look at it through that lens. I spent five years writing the book. Granted, I was going to school, going to work, not sleeping and other things during that time, but there were lots and lots and lots of hours devoted to getting that book out of my head. If you had spent that much time on something, would you not have any qualms about throwing it to the public domain? I know a friend of mine who's almost completely restored a 60s Thunderbird. You could fit a football field in the thing, it's huge. You really want to walk up to him after he's spent all that time on that car and tell him that he should just let anybody drive the thing who wants to?
Yes, I know…we're dangerously close to the architect comparison. My friend didn't create the Thunderbird. But a car is something a lot of non-artist types can relate to. Especially a classic car.
And where do the millions and millions come into this, anyway? My understanding is that the musicians and writers who actually do make millions and millions are few and far between. Yes, you've got your Stephen Kings and your Dan Browns and such, but for the most part, nobody's that huge anymore. Unless they're a J.K. Rowling and pull off a once-in-a-lifetime megamultiplatform phenom. And weren't there all of these studies that showed just how much musicians were getting screwed by the industry? Making twelve cents off of each CD sold? Something nuts like that. Yeah, you've got your Metallicas and Madonnas or whoever, but the majority of musicians are definitely not millionaires as I understand it. Books? Last I heard, the standard advance for a genre book was $5000. Unless Adams knows a lot of people who sell enough books to make that back and then sell enough to put another $995,000 into a writer's pocket, that's probably not happening. And if he does know a bunch of people like that I wish to God he would introduce me to them. Hell, most of the writers and musicians I know would just like to be able to quit their day jobs. That would be plenty for me, thanks.
I know Adams didn't try to piss me off. Adams, like everybody but the three people who read this site, has no idea who I am. He probably wasn't thinking about all that. And I'm only pissed because I've written books and I know what it takes to birth one of these troubled creations. I would like to think he just doesn't know any better, which is odd, because he's written two books himself. Granted, they're non-fiction and I don't pretend to know what goes into birthing non-fiction. Maybe he can bang out a 650-page book on game design in a fortnight. If that's the reason why he has no perspective on the time involved in writing a novel, then I suck and should be destroyed. Or I should just learn to type faster. Or both.
But regardless, here's what we all need to understand:
The industries want to control everything. People want everything to be free. Obviously, neither is going to happen. We need a middle ground. Lawrence Lessig's idea to reform copyright is the best one I've seen (and I've written about that earlier here) because the people who want to keep what's theirs can, and the people who want to let their stuff go PD can. I would personally want to keep my copyright and pass it down to my kids. Why? Not because I want to make money off of it…we've established that's not why I write. Hell, you can download two short story collections, my novel, two poetry chapbooks and a screenplay off this website for free. My business model must really suck if I'm expecting to make a lot of coin off of this. The fact is I made them. They're mine. You're welcome to go read them–because that's why I wrote them. I'd love it if you would like them enough to buy a hard copy. Or throw some coin at my head. But just because somebody wants to keep what's theirs doesn't make them a money-grubbing bastard. It just means that they want to hold on to what they built.
So that doesn't mean an end to copyright, it just means an end of copyright as we know it. And it doesn't, as Adams seems to imply, mean that everybody who wants copyright is trying to prevent people from copying their stuff. We've got to quit thinking in extremes and work together to ensure that the old paradigm gets buried. There's plenty of room in the middle to have a big, nice party.
Overall, I think Adams' points are valid, I just think he's looking at something ending when it simply needs to change, and he needs to understand that it's not all about the money. There's a difference between ownership and a paycheck. I mean, I'm not getting the latter, so the least you could do is let me have the former. That's not too much to ask…right?