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So how DO we balance the need for creative people to get paid for their work with the ideals of a creative, sharing culture?

I'm reading the debates on SOPA and the comments of some its defenders with great interest.

I am eager to protect the free exchange of information as necessary to democracy, and I also think that YouTube and similar sites are actually greatly enriching to our culture.

I'm also a part time musician. I understand the desire of musicians and performing artists to get paid for the time, energy, and creativity they put into their work. I know full time musicians, excellent performers, who are getting paid the same amount for club gigs today as they did in the 1980s. Their bills haven't stayed the same. I think the American Federation of Musicians is wrong to defend SOPA, but I agree with their commitment " to protecting our members' ability to create and to earn a living while doing so." How can we/they structure things so creative performance artists can earn a fair amount for their work?

Does the answer lie with those performers who have chosen a form of "online busking" -- "download what you want, pay what you see fit"?
Does it lie in fan-funding projects on sites like Kickstarter -- "hey fans, pay us now, get the recording later?"

What do you all think? How do we balance these two ideals to keep creativity flowing -- for the largest number of people?

  • Jan 26 2012: Probably the best way to balance sharing and artist profits is probably to go more toward the more typical shareware model of things that games use. I mean sure, that might need some interesting encrypting work in terms of music or a proper split, but having some songs in a release being completely free while getting the full product costs something. Think of it like a teaser or a demo. It is just an idea, but it is something that could actually work if it's done the right way.
  • Jan 24 2012: The responsibility is solely on the shoulders of the artists themselves. For thousands of years the arts have served the needs of the community. What the arts community seems to be demanding now is that the society serve the needs of the artists and that approach is clearly not working. Other than than egoistic gratification, there is no purpose to creating art which does not serve the needs of the community. In fact, that failure alone may be enough to disqualify a construct from being considered art. We spend too much time bemoaning the lack of appreciation for what we do and not enough time considering how to reach a community that has not and cannot lose it's needs for artistic input. The need is there. It is our failure to competently address it that is the problem. If no one wants to hear your music, then either change what you play or play for your own enjoyment. The audience is almost always right, by definition. Shakespeare wrote plays for his audience. Mozart wrote operas for his patrons. Diego Garcia painted murals when he was paid to paint them (even if his patrons didn't like the results). It is not the audience's responsibility to engage the artist.
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      Jan 27 2012: What cahnges now is the means.
      Over history, we used a vlaue exchange thing for what was scarce - more scarce, more price.
      WHat the internet does (for the first time ever) is make something infinitely abundant - ideas, and expression. SO .. in value terms it becomes without value. WHat do you do with that?
      Because .. obviously, there IS value .. but it costs you nothing!
      THis is perfect evidence that scarcity does not equal vlaue.
      How do you honour that?
      YOu honour it by turning your back on those who have conned us that things are scarce and we must, therefore, grant them advantage.
      THese con-men take waht is already abundant and free, they ring-fence it to extract advantage from os - then they utilise that advantage against our interests.
      We have been discussing the small artist here - and well done.
      But the issue does not lie with the small artist - it lies with the big advantage taker who has hijacked our systems of reward to concentrate them under his exclusive control.
      This man is my countryman - he is Rupert Murdoch.
      Now RUpert is in control of governments from all the advantage he has legally acquired from teh small artists all over the planet - and every government on planet Earth must do his bidding.
      He was admirably the master of our rules and beat us all - when he's in town he lives on his estate about 14 kilometers from where i live. The winner of the rule game of humanity.
      He's an old man - he will die soon. But his method will not.
      THe only way to beat him (and his kind) is to put all the rules second - and put the Earth first. It is in our faces now - put the Earth first or everything expires - including the old rules of humanity.
      Time to throw it all away and start again.
      But it cannot be done in a riot.
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      Jan 27 2012: I sugest this little shift - if any of you worked for a company, you will understand that all that you produced became the IP right of that company - you were merely paid for your time and you were happy to sign-away your IP to the company.
      SO - how about we extend that practice for a company called "Planet Earth"?
      You don't change anything that you are not already doing .. but what happens is all the companies lose the advantage they are using to suck all the value off of us, and it returns to the Earth that sustains us.
      Consider that money(Currency) divides us from the Earth, because it is governments and companies that issue the currency which they have no basis for, because all value proceeds from the Earth. THe effect is to dissintegrate us from the Earth - it blows us to bits - we dissintegrate.
      I say - re-integrate.
      We kinda have no choice at this juncture, - and I advise you to begin buying real estate several meters above the waterline as Earth begins to reclaim the value we took for no return. Turn the tables - those rich climate-deniers, the vested interests, will be so taken by surprise as their waterfront estates drown, they will pay anything to retain it .. and thereby lose all their advantage.
      I only ask that we return it to Earth Bank.
      I will have it ready in about 2 years.
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    Jan 23 2012: This is how you do it:
    Live shows remain as they are - paid to play via a door-charge or investment of the venue recovered through bar-sales.
    Recorded works are paid for IN ADVANCE by subscription, patronage and donation.
    Once the target funds are raised, the project begins - movie or recoded album are made and released on the internet as public domain.
    Benefactors would receive a first-release CD/DVD/BR presentation set.
    Companies could be formed to manage contributions and pitch lobies for new projects. The same companies would then be able to monitor that the pitched product lives up to the promise through a user-posted ratings system.
    Doing it like this would give added incentive for the artists to deliver excellence because no one will be donating for rubbish.
    This way it is the artist that gets paid, not some downstream IP Shylock selling it over and over again for his own fat purse.
    THere are a few variations of the model - one could subscribe to a favourite artist via a regular subs payment. One could donate for an unstarted project, governments could weigh in as part of their arts programmes, companies could do philanthropic grants, or the artist could anounce a finished project and hold release until donations reach target.
    • Jan 26 2012: Mitch,
      Intriguing ideas - thanks! Who do you know that is actually doing some of these things?
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        Jan 26 2012:
        These guys use the "pledge" system .. which is a model that was used by TV phone-in fund drives.
        Problem with "pledges" is that the pledges are not binding and a large percentage of pledgers reneg. Promises are not secure.
        What I propose is exactly what is done in corporations today - funds are raised for worthwhile projects after the benefit has been argued successfully.
        THe funds are made available and the project proceeds.
        This can be done by any loby so long as a third party is used to secure the real funds (not promises) contributed by the investors - this is called "escrow" and is a common mechanism for funding where there is risk of under-shooting the budget or pending the evidence of success.
        Once a target bugdet is acheived (in REAL money), then the funds are drawn-down by the project and it proceeds.
        This would work OK for small projects where the result is easily quantified by due-dilligence.
        Another model might break the project into modules, where module results are funded in stages - it is the same as a "cashflow" funding model as is used in corporate large-project funding today.
        The project reports acheivement at the conclusion of each "module" the funders then get a chance to aprove or deny further funding based on progress - over-runs can be taken into consideration and the funders decide if additional funds are warranted .. or the project can be nailed with investment lost .. hey, big projects are big risk .. but mostly, the project advances with smaller benefit, so long as the result generates a net positive.
        In the case of the arts, it's all cost - the results will get evaluated according to the values of the contributors. In the case of inventions - the value to humanity can be seen as amortising the cost sooner or later .. and there's no risk .. so long as you see the value being enjoyed by your children. Think of all the useful technology that NASA delivered via the silly "Moon" thing .. not so silly methinks.
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        Jan 26 2012: AS an adendum - in the case of funding intellectual results - if a large, cashflow-funded, project fails to garner on-going public support, the lost investment is not actually lost - the developing artists have been kept alive and working in their art for that period and will carry their value forward into the next project .. this way, success is cumulatively garnered for the benefactors. Reputations in each project can be tracked by investors for consideration in subsequent projects. The internet makes this all possible.

        I am sure there will arise exploits. But that is why I am submitting thisto you now - please engage your wisdom so that we can get safeguards in place before we commit.
      • Jan 30 2012: I was involved in an alternative system of paying artists last year. The musician V/vm (AKA James Leyland Kirby, AKA The Caretaker) asked fans to pay a relatively small amount upfront, in exchange for digital copies of everything he produced in the following year, as well as a few subscriber-only bonus tracks as an added incentive.

        It worked because:
        The artist concerned had been around a long time and had an established fan base. We knew that we would almost certainly enjoy the quality of the content generated. We knew that the guy concerned was prolific (he had previously given away a new track every day of the year - 365 tracks for free in a previous year) and so we would get more content than we needed to feel we had our money's worth. Therefore, the risk was low and we gladly paid upfront, without seeing/hearing any content beforehand.

        The main hitch I can see is that someone new who wanted to try this would need to give away a lot of content first to get the "fans" before they had enough people who were prepared to donate. Perhaps this isn't all that new; musicians have often needed to give away content (be it via Radio or TV) that people don't directly pay for, or pay little for (label samplers) in order to get exposure to attract "paying fans" to make a living from.
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          Feb 10 2012: Thank you Ceri - this helps.
          When I was a fully professional musician (pre internet), we referred to a phenomenon called "ground swell" .. this was something the "industry" wanted us to have before they would consider distribution or publishing deals.
          Ground swell was generated by doing gigs. If you attracted enough people, the venues would support you and your reputation would grow to a healthy local support base. On the strength of that, the "industry" would start to take notice - and would look for ways to harness and exploit your support base.
          They were right in this metric - if your act sucked - no one would come.
          I can't see the internet being any different - if you get massive hits on your offering, then you have something worth paying for. There is no need for the industry because publishing and distribution are already there.
          If you are getting hits - then link to the donate button .. and don't release anything till you get your target budget.
          ANother model would be to set a time-limit on the patronage and just take what you get. It will be a good measure of how much you are valued and wether or not you need to generate more groundswell.
          The only drawback to all this is that only those acts that are really valued by the market will get paid. THe rest, unfortunately were not good enough and should look for some other living.
          As it stands, the "industry" is pumping out a lot of stuff that people don't really want as they support only "vehicles of highest return" - not artists. These "vehicles" are then asset-protected by agressive marketing, with the result that we get to choose "the least worst" not the best.
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    Jan 22 2012: If I ran the world, or even a country, for a year, my social experiment would be as follows:

    Basic food staples are free. Bread, vegetables, eggs, etc, so no one fears starvation.
    Basic housing is free. Small apartments mass produced so everyone has a place to live.
    Basic transportation is free. Buses, subways, etc are all free, so people can go wherever.

    These things would all be subsidized by the government, ensured as basic rights for all people.

    Everything else, however... the luxuries... still costs money.

    Want a TV? Work for it. Want a house? Work for it. Want a car? Work for it. Want steak? Work for it.

    With people's basic rights supplied, work is no longer a NEED, and so jobs lost to the advance of technology is no longer a tragedy. People who do any sort of work gain a form of civic prestige, and in addition are payed for the luxuries they desire.

    Now, what does this mean for artists? Simply put, artists can be artists. If you want to paint, save up some money for tools and paint. If you sell your products, great; you get money. If not, maybe painting's not for you, but at least you won't have to worry about starving.

    Everything else in society will more or less be the same; there will still be a great need for many types of workers and experts. But there will not be a need for every single citizen to have a job, and so bureaucracy will be lowered and more people have the freedom to pursue their own interests.

    The numbers are a tricky thing, I admit. Maybe incentives for small families, to ensure that feeding and housing everyone doesn't cause an explosive birth rate beyond our means to support. And other stuff. But I think it's doable, and I'd like to see how well it works, as well as how it might finally put an end to the myth that people who are given things for free won't work.

    Millions of people spend hours on work without pay. Just look at the internet. Create space and freedom for people to experiment in, and many will inevitably produce.
    • Jan 22 2012: I mostly agree.. but you basically just described what we have now--except you forgot the most important part is health care system that doesn't rely on a person without means going to the emergency room--where we all just pay anyway. The government already provides a place to live and food for most of the working and non-working poor. They are even trying to get it so food stamps only covers the basic and not pre-made items or junk food.

      When people lose their jobs-- except for the few with health problems-- they are bemoaning the loss of their nice TV, car and home that they no longer can afford. So nothing will change there. Everyone thinks the system doesn't work right now-- well it really sort of think it does. Of course there is abuse and some are getting left out of the system-- but the newer electronic food stamp card used at Walmart is a darned good value for the American taxpayer.

      For reasons of efficiency, I really believe the food and housing should stay privately provided with government subsidy. If the government is going to provide anything --I believe it is in health care makes the most sense. Yes, it is not perfect, but drive your behind up to Canada and ask a few random people what they think. Those with money and better insurance from there jobs can still get better health care, but that is the place where the government can really make a difference with peoples suffering.
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        Jan 22 2012: People do not have free housing or food in the US. Food stamps help a lot of poor folk, but we have thousands of people in every city without a place to live, who rely on soup kitchens to get their meals. Not even every person at the soup kitchens are homeless; many are just poor people who can't afford food.

        Meanwhile we have houses and apartments sitting empty all over the country, and farmers are being paid to let excess crops go to waste.

        Basic health care is important, but I still think food and shelter are the two major things people worry about when they can't find employment.
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          Jan 27 2012: Yeah - see what you are saying - and I agree.I have thought long and hard on this. I love poeple - even when they do evil things .. and though I get to know the mechanics and physics of their failures, I still honour the constant questing that we cannot help but do. I have a few answers, but no one will listen .. one has to defeat one's assumptions first, and for most people, a lifetime is not enough to do that.
          I am resisting a big call at the moment .. because it will cost me personally, probably more than I have to give. It very well might kill me - and there is no guarantee that I will die for anything at all.
          What is drawing me now is to begin the "Earth Bank" .. this will go up against every power on the human Earth .. they will kill me very quickly the minute they see what I am doing. SO I have to do it in a very circuitous way. If only to stay alive long enough to get it rolling beyond what anyone can stop.
          I do this by sowing memes.
          Meme #1 - i set this one loose 2 years ago - it is "Intelect is the property of a species - not an individual".
          Meme #2 - "The Earth is the only true bank".
          SO here I go starting the Earth meme - god help me. It challenges all money and all society.
          Wish me luck!
    • Jan 26 2012: Damon,
      Your dreams are wonderful, and I would love to put you in charge of the U.S. right now (we have to make sure that the "for a year" part stays in though, so you won't become a despot!)

      But given that we live in a capitalist, commercial society, in which people need to earn money to provide themselves with all these basics, how can we help the arts survive?

      (Your post does point to how some overall social policies affect the arts. A sane national health care system, for example, would be a big step forward from the current situation in which artists who need treatment for cancer or other health problems have to rely on other artists throwing a benefit for them to help pay for treatment, since they haven't been able to afford insurance.)

      Thanks for taking up the topic!
  • Jan 22 2012: It pretty much just boils down to the artists putting out the best products possible and being willing share their work. Are there people out there who are just looking for something for nothing? Yes. Are there people who might want an easy buck and they might sell someone's work illegally for their own profit? Yes. However, if you look at the trends of artists, writers, musicians and developers who ended up either supporting the free sharing of previously released products or actually just released free projects at the start, their overall sales of paid goods ended up increasing. In fact, their careers were made off of sharing.

    Is there a way to block out the people who just want something for nothing or who would try to profit off of someone else's works? That's the question that should really be answered rather than if there's a balance that can be struck up.
    • Jan 26 2012: Jonathan,

      I'd love to hear more specifics about artists you know whose careers were "made off of sharing." How have they done it?
      • Jan 26 2012: In terms of writers, John Scalzi's first two or three books were actually released for free through his blogs before he actually got a book deal.

        Paulo Coehlo has been gaining a profit off of sharing free versions of his own work on different filesharing and torrent sites.

        Neil Gaiman's sales of paid material ended up going up when he willfully re-released one of his books in a free e-format.

        The anime market in the USA would not have been opened up when it was if it wasn't for people sharing stuff that they might've found while abroad.

        Multiple game developers, specifically independent ones, often release games, at least for a limited time, for free as either gifts, thought experiments and reputation builders to show what they're capable of making. Counter-Strike before it became a fully-fledged game was actually just a free shared mod based off of the Half Life engine and it actually lead to the hiring of the team that made it. The original Doom games were free modifiable shareware that actually made the reputation of iD Software. MMORPGs that went into a format that people would not have to pay a penny to get or even play the game ended up getting more paid subscribers than they had when they were solely a subscription based product.

        These are just some examples of where sharing has actually either improved careers, bridged gaps, created careers, created a reputation for artists and/or developers, etc.
      • Jan 26 2012: Then there are the bands that might decide to give free concerts or actually put up music and videos on things like myspace, facebook, youtube, etc. Sure, they might be getting a percentage of ad revenue off of it or they'd be getting money off of merchandising, but the consumer still isn't paying to listen to it unless they decide to buy it.

        As I said, even though I have nothing against sharing in itself, I've got issues with people trying to illegal profit off of someone else's work. If there's a way to cut out the people trying to illegally profit, then sharing really wouldn't be a problem as it's perceived to be, especially if the final product is good.
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          Jan 27 2012: Great stuff Jonathan!
          You have concern with hijackers and pirates. But if the result is available for free, no one will pay a pirate. You see, it is the practice of artificial scarcity (hiding a product with fee for entry) that gives rise to the market for pirates - in effect, the exploiters create the market for other exploiters. I am in awe of these creative people who have not waited for the means to do what they do to be provided by "society" - they just go ahead and find the way. THese people are far ahead of the game - pioneers. Before the internet, it took years for people and law and customs to catch-up, but now there is no denying success - we can see it straight away (if we care to look).
  • Feb 6 2012: The nature of internet is spreading of information. It is impossible to prevent. We have to adjust to that, not put users in jail. Creativity and spread of ideas is not going to be killed by internet. It will multiply it.
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    Feb 6 2012: one option is to make the trading of copyright illegal for anyone not directly involved in the intellectual process,

    that way you would do away with much of the fluff automatically.
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      Feb 11 2012: Yes,
      That is one model. THe apologists for copyright tend to point to a compramise of reducing term of copyright - it is currently set at 70 years after the death of the author. THey say that perhaps it should be set to 1 year after publishing. But then, it's still a false model that generates the motive for "piracy" .. once something is uttered, it is uttered. ANy other beleif is an exercise in deceit .. we are not served by un-truth - no matter what laws try to make it truth - and un-truth will always be open to exploit.
  • Feb 4 2012: I think Larry Lessing has it entirely wrong. First, owners of work product have a right to their works. His example about air space does not apply. (and maybe the Supreme Court got it wrong... do we legislate because the laws are inconvenient for the prosperity of some over others? Did the farmers get the shaft because they couldn't buy as much influence as the airlines of the day?) Larry is wrong because people today do not have a right to my work just because technology makes it easy to steal it. And profit is not an issue. Let me ask you: If someone stole your car just to go joy riding would you not file a police report because they didn't intend to make a profit from reselling your car? Copyright laws need to remain on the books. Artists/owners of artistic and intellectual work product should be protected by law. However, the government should not be the policemen of the internet deciding whom to prosecute. They should merely enforce the contracts between parties and adjudicate copyright claims. Whether to seek civil or criminal prosecution should remain at the discretion of the owner.
  • Feb 1 2012: The key for artists to get well payed is, ironicly, in the sharing capacity that comunnities have. Big companies know this and that's why they're promoting laws like SOPA, ACTA and PIPA.
    A perfect example of this is this tedx talk: - turn in captions to read in english.
  • Jan 30 2012: Considering the artist only gets $1 out of the $30 I pay for a cd/dvd I would have no problem paying this dollar directly to the artist. Even Itunes, which is widely used,charges more then that.
  • Jan 27 2012: Modern technology is allowing for direct contact between producer ( including the arts) and consumer, restricting the need for the middle men. Yet as a society we have not adapted to this and the middle men is fighting tooth and nail to hold on to their turf instead of adapting. This especially applies to the arts, as most of it can be digitally recorded and transferred all over the world in seconds. The consumer is no longer willing to pay the middle men, knowing that the artist only get a tiny amount of such payment, but rather invest in better computer systems and faster broadband connection. Most consumers would be more then willing to pay the artist if systems enabled them to do so. It is up to the artist however to make sure that such systems are developed.
    • Jan 30 2012: "Most consumers would be more then willing to pay the artist if systems enabled them to do so."

      I like to think this is true, though I know that it's only true if the price paid to the artist is low enough (for the consumer). If the price gets too high, even though the consumer appreciates the artist, he/she will find ways not to pay it.

      I'm neither a computer programmer nor a marketing expert (nor a copyright lawyer, for that matter) but if I had any of these areas of expertise, this is a problem I'd love to work on. I'd like to hear from those who are working on it!
  • Jan 23 2012: To start, you must have a goal in mind.

    Consider the musicians you describe who are getting paid the same for club gigs that they got paid 30 years ago. Is the internet to blame for that, or is it that the demand for live music in clubs has fallen to the point where the demand can be filled by those musicians who are willing to work at 30 year old wages? Is that the result of terabytes of playlists on DJ's computers and better playback and speaker systems, or is it the result of club owners moving to DJ's because they're cheaper. Do the clubbing community flock to live music, or are those clubs weak income sources?

    If you're committed to making a living by playing your instrument -- which is a trade which has always been a hardship through most of history, oversupplied and underpaid -- then like any other professional you have to position yourself in the market so that people want to pay you to play. That might be as a session musician, as a club gig player, as part of a recording group, as a performer who does the kickstarter-like pre-funding thing, or some combination of the above, but whatever you choose, you have to have market appeal, and you have to market yourself so that people know you exist and can choose to pay you.

    This is ultimately no different than a designer or a painter or a programmer.

    People can, and will record and reproduce art. People will share. Once Edison let the recording genie out of the bottle, there was no putting it back.

    It may turn out that the actual physical number of professional musicians who can be full time was at some sort of peak in the 1960's or 1970's and that the number will now go down.

    Professions come and go. There are fewer saddle makers these days. There was a time that every town had TV repairmen.

    There's a substantial difference between "keeping creativity flowing" for the largest number of people and "being able to make a full time living performing"
    • Jan 25 2012: James,
      The reason I put that in about the low pay of club gigs is that too many people glibly assume that "live performance" is the way for musicians to make a living. (All the factors you listed are part of it.) The people I know who make a living as musicians all put together a hodge-podge of things: teaching their instruments, recording as studio musicians, live shows, producing their own and others' records, performing both as band leaders and sidemen -- some spend half the year touring with more "commercial" artists and try to come home for the other half of the year to be with their families and play the kind of music that actually feeds their souls (and they do have fans and followers whose souls are fed as well.) In this context, being paid royalties when their compositions are used and being paid some portion of the sales of those recordings can make a significant difference in what they are able to do in their lives.

      The fact is, the best, most interesting, and most uplifting music isn't always the most commercial. I personally would rather spend time listening to my performer friends in the genres of Latin Jazz, Timba, Forro, Fado, and various mixed-up hard-to-label genres than listening to Justin Bieber or Katy Perry, but I know that it's Bieber or Perry who are making the big dough. I think the world would be much less rich, though, without these other genres of music and those who spend years of their lives learning to play them well. The ways we have of sharing music now help musicians expand their horizons and become better in lots of these genres, so I'm not with those who whine a lot about sharing. But I'm interested in how dedicated, interesting artists in genres that might not be the most commercial actually make it work. Who do you know that is making it work?
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        Jan 27 2012: Nice observations James and Laura!
        For me .. well, being the "out there" kinda guy I am. Well yes - I did the whole pro muso thing through the 70's and 80's .. as just a simple country boy, I started running my own gigs - postering the community and doing the gig Saturday night in a sports-club hall.. Hired martial arts friends for security and another friend taking door fees, selling chips and coca cola we bought form the supermarket and playing al lthe pop stuff that we knew the kids all loved - never paid a royalty - we were kids doing kid stuff for other kids, because all the rest of mainstream economy was based on alcahol - which excluded the kids. We did well - our band was called "Spam" - and we always walked away with a couple hundred in each pocket - including the martial arts guys, the door person, the chip/drink seller, the sound-desk operator and the fee for the venue owner. None of us were older than 17. ANd all the songs we played were by someone else. I defy you to find a single one of those authors who would deny what we did.
        LIfe is life - it is not any rule or law.
        My dad was an accomplished jazz musician, he decided to be our "manager" he tried to inflict on us the system of "show business" to invite al the vested interests into our self-made cultural expression. He particularly stressed my bass-player friend, who had recently held his father in his arms as he died of lung/throat cancer with the blood spurting out of his father's mouth .. in my friend's arms in the back yard of their house. Covered in his father's blood, my friend had no room for another father - by blood it was now his heritage .. and all my father's experiance counted for dick .. no blood, no reality. And so I lost the most beutiful bass player I ever knew. Spam died - 2 of my brothers scatered to the ends of the earth and I stayed with my bass man and defied my father. We started another band called IX and went on to play songs of death and callenge - and stil the punters came