We’ve all heard the objection to sharing culture and knowledge many times – “How will the artists get paid, if you manufacture copies of their creations without paying them?”
This question is delusional on so many levels I’ve lost count.
First, artists that are copied do get paid, only not by a per-copy sale but in other ways. I encourage copying of my leadership handbook Swarmwise, for example, because I know the book promotes other avenues of income. The average income for musicians has risen 114% since people started sharing culture online on a large-scale, according to a Norwegian study. Other studies agree with this observation.
Second, even if they didn’t get paid, people who share still don’t carry any kind of responsibility for the business models of other entrepreneurs. Because that’s what artists are once they go plinking their guitar in a kitchen looking for sales: entrepreneurs. Same rules apply to those entrepreneurs as to every other entrepreneur on the planet: nobody owes an entrepreneur a sale, you have to offer something which somebody else wants to buy. Wants. To. Buy. No excuses, nothing deserved, just business.
Third, we don’t live in a planned economy. Nobody is held accountable to the question of where somebody’s next paycheck is going to come from except that very person. In Soviet Russia, you could tell Vladimir Sklyarov that his guitar plinking was highly artistic (meaning nobody liked it) and that his next paycheck would therefore come from the Bureau of Incomprehensible Arts. But we don’t live in a planned economy, we live in a market economy. Everybody is responsible for their own paycheck – of finding a way to make money by providing value that somebody else wants to pay for. Wants. To. Pay. For. No excuses, nothing deserved.
Fourth, even if this set of entrepreneurs magically deserved money despite not making any sales, control of what people share between them can still not be achieved without dismantling the secrecy of correspondence, monitoring every word communicated – and fundamental liberties always go before anybody’s profits. We never determined what civil liberties we have based on who can profit and who can’t.
But let’s go to the root of the question. It’s not a question, it’s an insult. One that has stuck around for as long as artistry itself, for it implies that artists need or even deserve to get paid. No artist thinks in these terms. The ones who do are the parasitic business people middlemen that you find defending the copyright monopoly and then robbing artists and their fans dry, laughing all the way to the bank while exploiting a legal monopoly system ruthlessly: the copyright monopoly.
Meanwhile, among artists, there is one insult that has remained consistent throughout artistry in history. An insult between artists that rips somebody’s artistry apart, that tells somebody they’re not even worthy of calling themselves an artist. That insult is “You’re in it for the money”.
“How shall the artists get paid?”, implying artists won’t play or create otherwise, that they’re doing it for the money, is a very serious insult.
There’s a reason “sellout” is a sharply negative word in artistry. The large majority of artists aren’t happy at all when you’re asking them if they’re playing to make money; it’s a grave insult. The frequently heard notion that you don’t create culture if you’re not paid for it comes from those who exploit artists, and never from artists themselves.
After all, we create not because we can make money off it as individuals, but because of who we are – how we are wired. We have created since we learned to put red paint on the inside of cave walls. We are cultural animals. Culture has always been part of our civilization, rewarded or not.
If an artist wants to sell their goods or services and become an entrepreneur, I wish them all the luck and success in the world. But business is business, and there is nothing that entitles an entrepreneur to sales.