Creative Destruction

April 24, 2006

The Open Source of Art

Filed under: Art — Adam Gurri @ 3:52 pm

I've been browsing about Download.com, and the wheels have started turning in my brain again.

A third of Time's 2005 "Person of the Year", Bill Gates, once said:

I'd say that of the world's economies, there's more that believe in intellectual property today than ever. There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don't think that those incentives should exist.

This has come to be something of a mantra among critics of open-source: what, you want to starve out the artists?!  You selfish, soulless consumer!

Taking a step back, the focus on "incentives" is rather small-minded.  We have only recently become aware of just how much money people are willing to pay for boxed sets of their favorite shows, or more expensive television programs.  And yet, TV producers were not starving before this shift.

The form that internet consumption is taking can only alarm those who ignore the historic success of television, and the modern success of the Google business model.

Think about it.  When have you ever had to pay for every single show that you watch on TV?  The only difference now is that you can pay for things that TV doesn't otherwise have, but for the majority of its existence, the only thing that viewers had to pay for was the box.  Would we brand this extremely successful business model "communism"?

Likewise, Google gives just about all of its services away for free.  The search engine, the blogs, the e-mail accounts, all of it.  Then, it makes its money, as some have put it, by "selling the eyeballs"–utilizing several methods not too far removed from ones that have been used by TVs, radios, and newspapers for decades.

Now, I believe that the law is the law.  If you pirate something that doesn't belong to you, and are caught for it, then you don't have much of a case, in my view.

The answer, then, isn't in illegally downloading music without the consent of the musician, but in turning to Download.com and places like it where musicians voluntarily upload their music to be accessed for free.  More on the soundness of this business model for musicians can be found here

I think that people should be allowed their right to charge people in order to access their music or read their books.  But I also think that time will render those who choose to operate in that fashion unable to compete with the open-sourcers.

Because ultimately, clinging to monetary compensation for one's intellectual property rights is something you can only do if you're already an entrenched, well-recognized name in the industry.  For those up-and-comers, who comprise the vast majority of musicians of any sort, open-source websites are like free advertisement.  In fact, people are already moving up in this manner.

Download.com, Fictionpress, and deviantART are all outlets through which one's art, whatever form it may be, can be put out in public for free and to be accessed for free.  I believe that as the model is fine tuned, we will see more and more websites that work much like television stations, only without the constraints of timeslots and with a technology that makes storing and sharing your favorites much more convenient.

Then again, with Tivo and DVR taking off, we will probably begin to see television becoming more and more like the internet. 

Nothing "communist" about any of this, just good old fashioned entertainment business saavy working with groundbreaking new technology. 

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6 Comments »

  1. You don’t have to pay for TV or Google, but using them does lead to other people (advertisers) paying for them (which in turn leads you to pay the advertisers back when the ads influence you to buy their products). You can only make a profit if either you charge people directly for your product, or charge them indirectly through advertising. With the latter it also helps if you’re getting something else in addition to monetary profit (eg personal satisfaction or status) out of the deal.

    Comment by Stentor — April 24, 2006 @ 9:39 pm | Reply

  2. You’ve touched on a hot button topic for me. Your arguments fail for lots of reasons that take much more space than a comments response allows. However, I’ll say this much at this point.

    You write from the perspective of an end user, as opposed to a copyright owner. End users typically see no problem with owners giving away their intellectual property rights to gain a toehold (not a foothold) in the market. However, that’s a weak way to establish a career, though it has been known to work on occasion.

    The times are indeed changing. The ease of copying technologies (photocopiers, CD burners, file-sharing software, etc.) make infringing a copyright push-button simple to the end user, but it defies centuries of legal precedent going all the way back to English common law. I don’t expect the typical 13-year-old to know or care about that, but there are excellent reasons to protect intellectual property rights beyond enriching rap artists. I’ll have a post a fuller response in time.

    Comment by Brutus — April 25, 2006 @ 1:14 am | Reply

  3. The difficulty, Brutus, is that the same push-button technologies that make it easy for copyright to be violated also make it easy for people to put their IP out into the public sphere. That competition from free amateurs inexorably reduces the market value of what many professionals do – I suspect to the point that the economic basis for a lot of professional intellectual activity will go away, to be replaced by amateur hobbyists and collections of interested people (via the wiki model, among others).

    Note that I said “many professionals” – not all. The professionals who are still creating original work of genuine merit will do better under the new regime than they did under the old one. It’s the professionals whose contribution consisted of organizing and finding information who will suffer. The economic value of that contribution (which was real) is rapidly approaching zero, and with it, their ability to extract payment for their services. I won’t pay Joe to do what Google does for free.

    I’ll look forward to seeing your substantial post on this topic, however, as we’re both in the IP business.

    Comment by Robert — April 25, 2006 @ 1:32 am | Reply

  4. that’s a weak way to establish a career, though it has been known to work on occasion.

    Compared to what? Just how many musicians actually manage to establish a career the old-fashioned way?

    I’ll have a post a fuller response in time.

    I’m glad to hear it 🙂 I love this sort of disagreement. I’ll be looking forward to your post.

    Comment by Adam Gurri — April 25, 2006 @ 10:06 am | Reply

  5. You don’t have to pay for TV or Google, but using them does lead to other people (advertisers) paying for them (which in turn leads you to pay the advertisers back when the ads influence you to buy their products). You can only make a profit if either you charge people directly for your product, or charge them indirectly through advertising. With the latter it also helps if you’re getting something else in addition to monetary profit (eg personal satisfaction or status) out of the deal.

    Right. All of which makes a strong case for the kind of website I’m talking about

    Comment by Adam Gurri — April 25, 2006 @ 10:12 am | Reply

  6. […] I apparently touched a nerve, and Brutus has responded, not once, but twice. […]

    Pingback by Creative Destruction » Kill the DJ — May 3, 2006 @ 11:36 pm | Reply


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