I can’t claim to know all of the backstory, but this blog post came through on my Twitter feed yesterday. Its content matter—the morality of acquiring copyrighted material without paying for it—of course caught my attention.
Not only am I a photographer with quite a few friends and acquaintances also involved in creating and selling visual art, I used to be a singer before becoming ill; therefore, the issue of making sure we don’t muzzle the ox that treads the grain (a Biblical exhortation) is important to me indeed. As most of us sell our work online, we’ve all had our work stolen—used without our permission. This even happens to jewelry artists and others making handcrafted goods; they find their own photos used on other websites. Finally, we’re all familiar with cases where a large company steals the idea of a small artist—Urban Outfitters is particularly infamous for this.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter who does the stealing, or why: it is the artist—musician, designer, painter, photographer—who is hurt, and it is the artist who has indeed been denied payment for genuine work, labour, and talent. This, my friends, is simply not right (particularly when so many independent artists, myself included, are more than happy to consider swaps of goods in kind
Menaced, Route 66
instead of cash). We all wish to be paid for our work, no matter what it is we do—and if we do work, we have earned payment.
Anyhow. The Trichordist says it really marvellously in a post directed toward NPR intern Emily White. White proclaimed to the world that despite only paying for 15 CDs in her life, she has 11,000 songs in her music library. I heartily encourage you to read the entire post, but I want to share a few excerpts with you, my readers, here (mostly to whet your appetite for the rest; please note that I’ve added any bolding to the text in order to emphasize things that struck me). Though the post mostly concerns musicians, it could very easily apply to creators in all facets of art and entertainment.
Rather than using our morality and principles to guide us through technological change, there are those asking us to change our morality and principles to fit the technological change–if a machine can do something, it ought to be done. Although it is the premise of every “machines gone wild” story since Jules Verne or Fritz Lang, this is exactly backwards….The fundamental shift in principals and morality is about who gets to control and exploit the work of an artist. The accepted norm for hudreds of years of western civilization is the artist exclusively has the right to exploit and control his/her work for a period of time. …By allowing the artist to treat his/her work as actual property, the artist can decide how to monetize his or her work. This system has worked very well for fans and artists. Now we are being asked to undo this not because we think this is a bad or unfair way to compensate artists but simply because it is technologically possible for corporations or individuals to exploit artists work without their permission on a massive scale and globally. We are being asked to continue to let these companies violate the law without being punished or prosecuted. We are being asked to change our morality and principles to match what I think are immoral and unethical business models.
There are, of course, people behind these machines: ripping music, stealing artwork. Few of us blame the spoon for making us fat, after all. Continue reading