In re: Where Will All the Artists Go

[Note:This is a little essay I wrote a few weeks ago, when the ideas started to mush around. I haven’t really put much time into it, so errors are likely to be abundent, also the argument isn’t really one I believe, but it was merely an attempt to think about the issues in different ways]

Where Will All The Artists Go If We Fail to Implement DRM and End the Scourge of Piracy In The Music Industry: An Examination Using The Lens Of Incentives.




It is possible to argue that economics is all about incentives, from this perspective we only do and don’t do think depending upon a push/pull mentality. An incentive is any factor, financial or non-financial, that provides motivation for a course of action, or counts as a reason for preferring one choice to alternatives. Incentives can be classified as remunerative (a financial or material reward), moral incentives, and lastly coercive incentives. To make a basic and possibly stupid example I’ll look at the act of stealing a loaf of bread, you have incentives, one of these would be to end your hunger at a cost of $0.00, the counter incentive (morality being one we’ll leave out) would be either a fine or jail time, which we will assume is greater than $0.00 to such a degree that even if relatively risk free, the percentage chance of being caught factored to the penalty outweighs the cost, so therefore, assuming again that we are hungry and we have the incentive to eat, we will value eating more than our $1.00 for the loaf of bread and we buy it instead of stealing it. Of course this is a real simple, basic level incentive idea, but sometimes when you start viewing situations such as the bread one as only being bound by monetary incentives we start to wonder would anyone do anything if they weren’t receiving monetary incentives, essentially what is the value of in the bread case your ethics, or in the case of anything else how much do the non-monetary factors cause you to show up at work.

Some in the media are awed and amazed when the movie star Julia Roberts who commands millions for a movie normally agrees to do a small role for free in a movie (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind). Well here there was an incentive, an attraction to the role, the cast, or the producers, which made her choose to do for free what she clearly could have found alternative employment to maximize her profit.


So at this point half of you are saying so what, how does this apply to copyrights, digital rights management, or music? The other half have wisely stopped reading this and are probably already on to something worthwhile.


The point is just this, how much incentive is necessary to have people create intellectual property, without rights protection the argument is that people will just copy and that nothing new will be created and we will have our intellectual commons dry up. (How many movies come out of China, versus US? is this really all due to IP protection though?)


Ask a musician what they would do if they couldn’t earn money being a musician and some might decide to be an attorney, but some might wait tables, and play music in their evenings, some might upload their songs on the internet as they hope to have people listen to them. It’s not clear what an artist would choose, (this being the mythical average creator) if they were offered a lucrative lifetime stipend but their music would be never let out to the public ever, or to live more modestly able to share their music with the world. At this point, we often confront the issue of the sell out artist? What is the sellout artist, one who chooses commercial riches over their art? In this case, and if we truly deplore this why would we care if we lost this, or are we worried that no one would really be singing or creating new music without.


Great artists come out of societies without compensation for such musicians (no evidence here), it isn’t clear there is an inherent right to control the sounds you make after you release them out into the world (they are vibrations, moving through the air no less)


A recent article in Wired -“The Year of Living DRMishly” warns that if DRM is taken too far, removing functionality from media then “It’s inevitable that some people are going to make really good monies for a little money and distribute it on their own,” Searls said. “There is too much talent out there that is going to take advantage of lower and lower threshold of production.”


So to briefly sum this all up, maybe we don’t need to protect musicians, maybe copyrights (they were neighboring rights in some countries) were a fun idea for a while and now we can move along and pirate (oh wait no copyrights, I mean legally copy). This also doesn’t mean musicians can’t make money from selling concert tickets, CDs with nice packaging.


Ok so there are a lot of problems with what I have just argued, it goes against a lot of the ideals of IP rights in general and the droit d’auteur ideas. I just thought I’d think about what would happen with no such rights, as we get a little bit wrapped up in the whole need to protect music from illegal copying argument sometimes.



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