Monday, 16 March 2009

Copyright and the Internet

An interesting analysis on why the newspaper industry is doomed.

Obviously file-sharing and free distribution of copyright material if taken to its extreme will mean that there's no money to be made in copyrighted works (unless those works can be produced in a format that prevents copying and free re-distributions (such as sculptures - I'd like to see one of those on Pirate Bay)).

Which will leave us with only the enthusiastic amateurs able to produce work - or the publicly funded bodies such as the BBC (assuming the licence fee hasn't been abolished by then).

In the short term, the convenience of the portability of books and newspapers (until/if ever e-readers take off in a big way) and the spectacle of big screen projection (until home cinema can match it) give a certain amount of protection to written works and film - and the fact that not all of the world's book/music/film consuming population practices file sharing. But as the technology continues to expand and as file sharing continues to gain in popularity, the current models for rewarding the creators of copyrighted works are going to become less and less effective.

So what are the options?

More public funding following the BBC model - perhaps some sort of entertainment tax - if you own a computer/digital reader/DCD burner you have to pay a licence fee to pay for the creation of content to watch? That was after all how the BBC's licence fee came about - to pay for programming on that newfangled device, the radio.

Plenty of problems evident with that model, but I do think it's a good argument for not abolishing the BBC's current funding just yet.

More product placement - or films entirely sponsored by companies. Certainly one way to increase the amount of commercial interference with art - and if the economic model is viable, I can certainly see this happening. It already has with various mini films produced for the Internet - so why not full length commercials with the likes of Indiana Jones and the Temple of McDonalds, or Star Wars VII: Attack of the iPhones?

An increased interest from artists in live shows. Although you can record theatre, concerts, etc, you can't reproduce the experience (yet). As a writer isn't it better if I earn a fee per performance of my play rather than getting no royalties from the illegal sharing of my book?

Public sponsorship - you want the next JK Rowling - well she's not going to publish it until enough people pay her upfront for it. Similar to the BBC licence fee, except here the money's going direct to the creator of the work. There will still be people getting it for free, but those who really want to read it (who would have bought the book in a non-file sharing world), will presumably still be willing to part with the cash. Of course this relies on having a significant enough readership in the first place.

Artists don't get rewarded and only create works of art for the sheer joy of it. Which means a lot less stuff from your favourite author who now has to work at the local supermarket to put bread on the table rather than being able to devote the whole working day to producing the next Discworld/Kay Scarpetta/Jack Ryan book.

None of those are solutions that I'd be happy with as they're either putting the patronage of the arts within the control of an even smaller group of people than we have currently, or they're introducing a fairly severe form of artistic Darwinism that selects work that best appeals to the lowest common denominator, not that necessarily encourages good work (although the two are not necessarily different).

I think it'll probably take much smarter people than me to come up with something that works. The fact is that as file-sharing increases, we're probably going to see an awful lot of different models tested. Most of them won't work. Some will, but we won't like them. Eventually we will find a new equilibrium, but without a doubt we're going to see sustaining a career in the arts become more difficult than it is now.

Why couldn't I have just wanted to become a plumber?

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