Another Argument Against The “Artist Must Get Paid” Nonsense

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One of the most common (and false) arguments against sharing culture is that "the artist has a right to get paid when you enjoy something". This is totally false.

copyright-brandedWhen I was travelling recently, an interesting point came up. A colleague of mine didn’t mind buying copies of culture (games, movies, etc.), but always bought them second-hand – specifically so the copyright industry shouldn’t get any money.

I realized immediately that this point torpedoes the most common fallacy against culture-sharing completely: that of the artist having some sort of “right to money” when you enjoy work that they once created. There are many ways to show that as a complete fallacy, some more convoluted than others (planned economy, libraries, market value, street musicians…) but I realized this is one of the most straightforward yet.

Nobody, especially not technophobic dinosaurs, object to second-hand book and record shops. And yet, when somebody buys there, the author or musician doesn’t get a cent – and we think that’s completely in order, just as completely without question.

When this sinks in, you realize that it was never about the money at all in the first place. It was merely about what the self-appointed cultural elite saw as their territory and their habits, where they can allow others to tread or deny them the privilege. Second-hand shops have always been a central part of a cultural rich life. The Internet is something completely new (well, perhaps not anymore) that denies the old elite the privilege of having their established ways remain the norm.

And yet, there it is in black and white. There is no connection at all between “you enjoying a fine work” and “the artist getting paid”. None whatsoever. When you’re buying something at a second-hand store and enjoying it, the original writer doesn’t get a cent, and everybody thinks that’s okay. (Even if a few people in the copyright industry are trying to outlaw second-hand sales, they’re not being very successful at it.)

So try this conversation the next time a self-appointed Guardian Of The Ways criticizes the good art of sharing culture and knowledge:

– You shouldn’t enjoy somebody’s work without paying them for it.

– That’s nonsense. Second-hand bookstores and record stores are the backbone of a rich culture, and people are enjoying fine works there without the artist getting a cent.

– But, but, the artist got money when somebody originally bought it!

– Yes, maybe so, but that’s not what you said. You said that somebody must pay the artist to have a right to enjoy their work. That’s clearly not true.

At that point, the argument is derailed, and they will probably talk about how the Interwebs should be outlawed instead. Try it, it’s fun!

About The Author

Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist on TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at focuses on information policy.

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