It’s Time To Debunk The Myth That Copyright Is Needed To Make Money – Or That It Even Makes Money

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One of the most persistent myths about the copyright monopoly has been that it's needed to make money. This assertion turns out to be false for a very large number of observed cases, but the plural of anecdote is never statistics. So let's look at some sound statistical evidence for policymaking on this issue.

Since the copyright monopoly is primarily an economic construction, there is a chasm in public support between its abolition for noncommercial activity, and its abolition overall.

In the population, there is a strong majority for reducing the monopoly so that it doesn’t limit noncommercial sharing of knowledge and culture between family, friends, and strangers; when concentrating on the younger half of the population, that majority shifts from strong to overwhelming.

Needless to say, that younger half of the population – now stretching up to people in their early 40s – will neither change their habits nor values about this, regardless of any fever-induced wishful thinking on behalf of the incumbent copyright industries. (Add another two or three decades, and they’ll be pulling all the strings in policymaking, and the executives of the incumbent dinosaurs will be dead.)

When it comes to the commercial parts of the monopoly, however, there are a number of myths flourishing that keeps public support for an all-out abolition in the “unlikely” part of the Overton window. Let’s see what these myths are, and how they stack up against facts:

Myth: If you take away the copyright monopoly, there’s no way for artists to make money.

Fact: This is a very odd myth, given that the old gatekeeper system was the poster child of keeping skilled artists away from any form of income. Under the “sign-a-record-deal-or-remain-poor system”, 99% of artists didn’t get record deals with the abusive record industry – and out of those who did, 99.5% never saw a cent in royalties. Thus, we are moving away from a system that deliberately kept 99.995% of artists without any form of regular income for artistry.

Observing that, I find it preposterous to claim that any shift towards a more inclusive system without those gatekeepers will somehow “take away the possibility of making money for artists”, especially given that the now-obsolete gatekeepers took 93% of the cut, on average, for the 0.005% that did make money in this system. Eliminate those gatekeepers and those 93% of the money go to artists instead – or at least, a significantly larger portion of it.

Myth: The copyright monopoly is an essential source of income to artists today.

Fact: Out of the money spent on culture, a mere 2% (yes, two per cent) make it to individual artists through mechanisms of the copyright monopoly. This was studied in-depth in Sweden by Ulf Pettersson in 2006 (link to article, direct link to study, both in Swedish), who concluded that the vast majority of artists get their income from other means – everything from a day job to student loans.

Myth: The copyright industry is vital to the economy overall.

Fact: The “copyright industry” is deliberately measured in a thoroughly deceptive way that borders on ridicule. According to WIPO’s guidelines as to what should be included when calculating the size of the “copyright industry”, we find everything from paper pulp manufacturing, to kitchen appliance retail sales, to shoemaking (WIPO 2003, via Pettersson’s paper above). If you include practically every part of the economy in group X, and then claim that group X is a vital part of the economy, then it’s going to look like you’re right. Just don’t get caught looking silly when it turns out how you selected that X, and that there’s no correlation at all with what you’re really talking about – the industries benefiting from the copyright monopoly, which are about one-tenth the size of those being held back by it. Want to create jobs? Kill the monopoly.

Myth: With free sharing, nobody will spend money on entertainment.

Fact: The household expenditure on culture has increased, year by year, since the advent of large-scale file-sharing with Napster in 1999. (According to some reports, it’s constant – but none claim it’s falling.) It’s true, however, that record sales are slumping and falling through the floor. This fact is excellent news for musicians, who don’t need to rely on middlemen who take 93% of the cut, and have instead seen their own income rise by 114% in the same time period.

Myth: Without the incentive of possibly getting money, nobody will go into artistry and create.

Fact: People create despite the copyright monopoly, not because of it. YouTube sees 72 hours of video uploaded every minute. Arguably, most of it will remain unseen, but there are certainly gems in there. Also, the argument is bunk from the simple observation that there is a vast oversupply of artists compared to what the market will hold: you can easily find a professional accountant who picks up an electric guitar in their spare time for a bit of relaxation, but show me one single professional guitarist who relaxes with a bit of bookkeeping in their spare time.

GNU/Linux and Wikipedia are two excellent counterpoints that shatters this weird myth. The dominant operating system and dominant encyclopedia was created by unpaid volunteers. (When I say that GNU/Linux is “dominant”, I include the Android derivative, just for the record.)

We have created since we learned to put red paint on the inside of cave walls, not because of the possibility of making money, but because of who we are, because of how we are wired. (Usually, people who are into life for the money don’t go into artistry in the first place. They go to law school or medical school. There’s a reason for the parents’ face of despair when their child says they’ve decided to be a poet for a living.)

The myth that the copyright monopoly is needed for any kind of artistry to make money, or even to happen in the first place, is an obscene myth perpetuated by those who have something to gain from skimming off 90% of the artists’ money by denying them an audience in an old-style racketeering.

Can we please move on now?

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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