Mike Masnick on Kroes’ speech on copyright reform

In an article published on TechDirt, Mike Masnick analyses the speech that Neelie Kroes gave on July 2 at the Institute for Information Law. Throughout the piece we can find a good point on the rational of the copyright system and of the incentives it has to provide (bold lines are mines):

Unfortunately, Kroes’ next point seems a bit off to me, though I understand why she’s making it:

Second, it must remunerate and reward creators. That’s not just about fairness. We expect creators to invest their time and talent. Of course reward, recognition, remuneration are essential: without them, the creative tap would fast stop flowing. I have always believed that.

But the current copyright system does not do it well. Not nearly well enough. Many creators scrimp by on a pittance, unable to find their full audience, unable to share or sell their works as widely or creatively as they want. Limitations and obstructions do nothing for creativity.

A few points on this. First, it seems to come from the incorrect assumption that copyright is a sort of “welfare” system for artists. That’s not its purpose, nor how it was designed. Copyright itself has never “remunerated or rewarded creators.” You can create all you want, and if no one likes it, all the copyrights in the world won’t get you paid. It’s the market that decides if you’ll be rewarded for your creativity, and sometimes the market is cruel. It’s possible that copyright can, in some cases, help create such a market, but to argue that copyright’s job, alone, is to help get artists paid is misleading, as it leaves out the basic fact that that’s never been the job of copyright. It may be an offshoot of the first point — creating the incentives for creativity and innovation — but to elevate the “help people get paid” point, dangerously positions copyright as more of a welfare system for artists, rather than as a tool for incentives in the market. 

At the same time, the argument that “the creative tap would fast stop flowing” also does not seem supported by the data. At a time when artists keep complaining that it’s harder and harder to get paid, we’ve seen an astounding explosion in new content being created. Part of the issue is, in fact, that the money being spent today is spread much more widely — thus you have a lot of artists making that said “pittance,” but it does not appear to have resulted in any decrease in creativity.

That said, I’m all for figuring out more ways for there to be more creativity, and if we can figure out ways to get more artists paid, that’s a great idea. It’s why I’m excited about new innovative services that helps drive that process forward. Platforms like Kickstarter, Patreon, YouTube, Bandcamp and more have created entirely new ways for artists to make money from their artwork. But, there’s something important to note in all of that: almost none of those really are reliant on “copyright,” and pretty much all of them would function in nearly the identical fashion without copyright.

Again, this is not to say that copyright is not important. It’s to point out that it’s faulty and dangerous to assume that copyright alone is the tool by which to get artists paid. It leads to poor policy choices that often ignore more interesting (and potentially lucrative) methods being developed in the market.

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