Vi riporto la trascrizone dell’ intervento di Stallman alla biblioteca Berio di Genova nell’ambito del 12° Festival Internazionale di Poesia.
COPYRIGHT VS COMUNITY – GENOVA – 15/06/2006
The reason people invite me to give speeches is because of my work in the free software movement. In the 1970’s there was no free software movement but there was free software. I was part of a community of programmers who wrote software and shared it with everyone. I learned in that community a way of life based on the freedom to cooperate and I learned to appreciate it as a good and ethical way of life. That community died in the early 80’s and in 1983 I decided to launch a campaign to build a new community to replace it. And in 1984 to make a new software sharing community a reality, I started developing the GNU operating system. GNU which stands for ‘GNU’s Not Unix’. The idea was that by developing a free operating system we would make it possible, once again, to use a computer in freedom.
There are four essential freedoms which are the goal of the free software movement. Four freedoms that every software user should always have, and these are: freedom 0 – the freedom to run the program as you wish. Any program that you have, you should have this freedom. Freedom 1 is the freedom to study the source code and then change it so that you can use it to do what you wish. Freedom 2 is the freedom to help your neighbor – that’s the freedom to distribute or republish copies of the program when you wish. And freedom 3 is the freedom to help your community, which is the freedom to distribute or publish your modified versions when you wish.
All these freedoms are necessary, essential, and when you have all four these freedoms for a certain program, that program is free software. So the idea of the free software movement is: all the software you have should be free software so that you always have these freedoms. What we set up to do was to develop free software for every job, for everything we want to do. We write free software and that way we, including you, can live in freedom.
Freedoms 0 and 2, freedom to run the program and to copy and distribute it, these are things every user can directly do. Freedoms 1 and 3, the freedom to change the program and then publish modified versions of it, only a programmer can do that, but when programmers do that everyone benefits. So all of society depends on these four freedoms.
As the GNU system became popular – although people mistakenly call it Linux most of the time – people started asking me to give speeches. Before that is was every year or two. But afterwards, in the 90’s, people started asking me to give speeches and they would ask me at the end of the speech: do these same ideas apply to other things? What about hardware? Should hardware be free?
Well, they were just confused. They weren’t thinking clearly. Remember the definition of free software, that you – the user – have these four freedoms. Well, what does it mean for hardware to be free? That would mean you have the same four freedoms. But there’s no such thing as the freedom to copy hardware because there are no copying machines for hardware. It’s a meaningless, purely imaginary question whether you are free to copy your car, copy your computer, copy your microphone, copy your chair. Maybe some day there will be copiers for all these things but today there isn’t.
And what about modifying hardware? Well you are free to do that but it’s difficult. Usually you’re free to do it when it’s possible. So hardware is more or less as free as it can be given the reality is that there are no copying machines. You can’t just write changes in a piece of hardware and compile those changes into a working machine. That’s what you can do with software. That’s what makes software so useful. So they were trying to ask silly questions.
But the question does make sense, for a certain distance. It makes sense for other kinds of works, especially for works that could be represented in digital form in a computer because those can be copied and in many senses they can also be changed. So the question of whether you are free to do those things becomes a real, meaningful and important question.
To think about this question is mostly thinking about copyright law. You see, for anything except software, almost always, if you are not free to copy and change it – the reason is copyright law. So the question of whether you should have the freedom to copy and change works is the same as the question of what copyright law should say. With one exception, and that is software. But now we are not talking about software so the question is really about copyright law.
To think about copyright law is to think about copying technology because the history of copyright law is tied up with the history of technology. They developed together. Now a change in technology cannot alter basic ethical principles. Those are too deep for mere technology to reach them.
But when we apply our principles to a question we do so by considering the consequences of each or the alternatives, and these consequences can be changed by changing context, such as a change in technological context. So changes in technology can change our ethical conclusions. If we could bring people back to life easily then killing somebody wouldn’t really be so bad because really they wouldn’t be dead. It would be like dumping somebody in the water, it wouldn’t matter much. We’d have totally different conclusions about a lot of activities if we had that new technology.
Copying started in the ancient world. Work was done with a pen on some sort of writing surface. Now that technology has certain consequences. First of all anyone who could read and write could copy pretty much equally well. It’s true if you spend all day copying you get better at it but you wouldn’t have to copy for very many days before you got reasonably good.
Another consequence is: there is no economy of scale. Making ten copies took ten times as long as making one copy. Another consequence was it did not require specialized, expensive equipment. It required the same equipment as writing anything else. That was somewhat expensive back then but it was not more specialized than any [skills a] literate person would normally have. The result was that people made copies of a given book anywhere that there was a copy and someone wanted another copy. So as far as I can tell there was no such thing as copyright in the ancient world. If you had a copy you were free to copy it.
But copying technology was tremendously improved by the revolution of the printing press. The printing press was important because it made copying more efficient but not uniformly more efficient. Some kinds of copying became much more efficient and others were not affected at all. Because, you see, the printing press had certain limitations. First of all it was specialized, expensive equipment. Most people that could read and write did not have printing presses. Second, there was an inherent economy of scale because it took a lot of work to set the type for something. Probably more work then writing it by hand. But once you had set type you could quickly make many identical copies.
So the result was that the printing press was only efficient if you were making many copies and since it needed specialized, expensive equipment this led to a centralized system of mass production where copies of given book were being made in substantial quantity in a few places and then they would be carried to people who wanted to buy books.
For the first few centuries of printing many copies were still made by hand. Copies were made by hand either for rich people to show how rich they were or by poor people, because – as the song goes – time made money if all you’ve got is time. Poor people couldn’t afford printed books but they had the time to sit and copy one.
Copyright began in the age of the printing press. The earliest reference to copyright that I’ve found is from the 1500’s in Italy. Italy was a major setter for printing at the time and I believe the custom was that princes would give out monopolies on all sorts of things as expressions of their favor. One thing they would do, when they felt like it, was to give an author a monopoly over printing his book, if the prince liked that one.
Copyright in England began as a system of censorship. In order for a book to be published someone had to get the copyright, meaning royal approval, for publication of the book and this was given to a particular publisher and it was permanent. The result was to hold back literature quite a bit.
But in the early 1700’s the system was reformed. Copyright was given to authors – I think it was for 28 years. At this time the idea developed that copyright as a system could be used to benefit society by encouraging people to write and publish book. When the US constitution was written, that was made explicit. If you hear the US media companies they’ll speak as if copyright was some entitlement of theirs, a natural right. They are trying desperately hard to make people forget the wise decision of the US constitution, which says that copyright is not required – it’s and optional system – and if it exists its purpose is to promote progress, and copyright is only allowed to exist for a limited time. Perpetual copyright is unconstitutional in the United States.
Now copyright in the age of the printing press was effectively an industrial regulation. It didn’t restrict ordinary readers. In fact until the early 1900’s copyright didn’t cover copying; it covered printing and publication. If you were a poor person writing a copy by hand, that wasn’t even copyright infringement.
Around 1900 presses became faster and more efficient and even poor people could afford paperback books, so the custom of copying by hand was forgotten and most people didn’t do this any more. But nobody ever thought of enforcing copyright against somebody who made a copy individually, one at a time, because people understood copyright was supposed to be an industrial regulation. It was supposed to regulate publishers, on behalf of authors, for the benefit of the general public.
And because copyright was an industrial regulation it was uncontroversial, easy to enforce and arguably beneficial. It was uncontroversial because the readers were not restricted so they had no reason to complain. It was easy to enforce because it was only enforced against publication and if someone was selling books it was easy to find out where they came from. It wasn’t necessary to invade everybody’s home or computer in order to enforce copyright. And it was arguably beneficial because public traded a freedom it could not exercise – a purely theoretical freedom – and in exchange got the benefit to society that more books were published.
The public traded away the freedom to copy and republish books but if you didn’t have a printing press you weren’t really losing anything. And in exchange they got a benefit. It you produce a byproduct in your life and someone want to buy it from you, you can’t lose. It’s worthless to you so you sell it. At least you get something that way.
But the age of the printing press is gradually giving way to the age of the computer networks. Another revolution in copying technology. The benefit of digital information technology is that it makes it easier to copy and modify information but this benefit is not uniform. Just like the printing press, digital technology makes some kinds of copying much more efficient and is less effective for others. In fact, where the printing press made mass production of identical copies very efficient and had no benefit for anything else, digital information technology provides most of its benefit over there.
It brings us back to a situation somewhat like the ancient world, where making copies one by one is almost as efficient as mass producing them. So yes digital technology is helpful for mass production but it is even more helpful for one-by-one copying. And even though today one-by-one copying is still not quite as efficient as mass production, it’s efficient and cheap enough that hundreds of millions of people can do it. So now we’re in a situation more like the ancient world where everybody that can use digital works can also copy them.
The result is that the effect of copyright law is totally different. It is no longer a restriction on publishers on behalf of the authors for the sake of the public. Now it’s a restriction on the general public for the sake of the publishers in the name of the authors. And this is why we see the political results we do. You see, copyright is no longer an industrial regulation. Today it restricts each and every one of us. Everyone that has a computer is being restricted by copyright law, supposedly for our own benefit.
As a result copyright is no longer easy to enforce, no longer uncontroversial and no longer beneficial. It’s not easy to enforce because copyright today requires invading everyone’s computer, requires draconian punishments. It’s no longer a matter of simply stopping certain businesses from making money in certain ways.
Nowadays people are not just copying to make money, they’re copying because it’s nice to share with your friends, because sharing is social solidarity. And in order to stop people from helping each other, great fear is [?]. That’s why we see proposals to put people in prison for years for helping their neighbors.
Copyright is no longer uncontroversial: over a hundred thousand people in France signed a petition against the law that the government wishes to impose for the sake of the media companies. Copyright is now becoming a clear example that our governments don’t represent us, they only represent business and their ambition is to keep us under the power of business.
Copyright now is not beneficial. The reason why copyright was beneficial in the age of the printing press is that we had something – a theoretical freedom – that we couldn’t exercise, so we traded it away in exchange for a benefit, promoting the writing of works. Well that was a good deal because the freedom that we sold was purely theoretical. We could not exercise it, but today we can. That freedom is no longer theoretical. It’s real. Millions of us use it illegally every day and it should therefore be legal.
If our governments were democratic what they would do is: they would re-negotiate this deal on our behalf. They would say: sorry, the public doesn’t want to sell all of this freedom anymore. The public wants to keep it and use it, exercise it and share copies. The fact that governments do exactly the opposite shows who they really represent.
In France now I’m told Vivendi and Universal are making an enormous pressure campaign on the deputies, who realize that this law is bad – the law they’re considering now. It’s hard for them to resist and the this fact shows that democracy is sick.
What have governments been doing? Governments have been extending copyright in every direction. One direction is the length. Copyright has been extended to a ridiculous length of time. Copyright under today’s laws can last for 150 years. The works that are written today – none of them you will see them going into the public domain. It takes too long. You won’t live that long.
In the US, since perpetual copyright is illegal, the movie companies can’t really demand it. They want it, they’ve said so, but since it’s unconstitutional they have to get it indirectly. They’ve established perpetual copyright on the installment to plan. Here’s how they did it. Every 20 year they extend copyright for 20 more years. So if you at any particular work today, there is a date at which that work should go into the public domain, but even if you’re immortal don’t expect to see it because by the time you reach that date they will have postponed it. And when you reach that date they will have postponed it again and again and again. It’s like tomorrow that never comes.
The other direction where they’ve extended copyright is the direction of what it covers. Copyright was never supposed to cover all use of a copyrighted work. Copyright is a limited exception of the broader space of unregulated use that people are simply free to do. It’s their natural right.
Publisher and media companies were not satisfied with that, so in the US they passed a law in 1998 called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which gave publishers a way to write their own copyright laws. Publishers can control anything and everything. They just have to implement their control in a program and whatever that program does to restrict you has the force of law. The restrictions in that program are called digital restrictions management. Digital restrictions management means designing the software and the hardware that you can get so that it limits what you can do. They are massive conspiracies of many companies. They’re not secrets. I’m not speculating when I say these are conspiracies. They have web sites. They’re saying what their rules are.
For instance anyone that wants to make a DVD player has to agree to certain rules in order to receive detailed specifications of the DVD format. For instance the player is not allowed to skip the advertisements. I believe the player is not allowed to hold multiple DVD’s. The person has to put one in at a time. You can get multiple CD’s juke-boxes but they don’t make them for DVD’s because this conspiracy that has total power prohibited it. Now in fact the format of the DVD is not a secret anymore. A few programmers in Europe figured it out and wrote free software to play a DVD. That software is censored in the United States. A court officially ruled the publication of that software is illegal. Even making a link to a site oversees that has that software is illegal. It’s so dangerous – this knowledge – that even telling people where they can find it is illegal.
You may remember a few years ago there was a powerful campaign to convince us to buy ebooks. I was in a domestic airliner in Brazil. I pulled out the in-flight magazine. The editorial talked about ebooks. It was a discussion of how long it would take before we were all reading ebooks. Now they don’t publish anything unless they’re paid to. So it was clear this was an organized campaign to convince us all to use ebooks.
Why? I think I know why. The book publishers had a two-step plan to take away certain freedoms that book readers have traditionally enjoyed. These freedoms include the freedom to borrow the book from the public library, the freedom to lend it to a friend, the freedom to sell it to a used books store, the freedom to buy it anonymously by paying cash, even the freedom simply to keep the book perhaps for decades and read it again and let their children read it again and maybe their children.
These are the freedoms publishers want to take away and they have made an attempt to taking away part of this freedom legally in Europe. It’s really disgusting. People can’t run libraries anymore unless they have a special exemption from the government or unless they paid for the permission. But for the most part these freedoms are intact. There are too many readers who would get angry at any proposal to take them away.
So the publishers conceived a two-stage plan. First they would take away these freedoms for ebooks, and that’s what they did in the US with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Second they would convince people to switch from printed books to ebooks, and of course ebooks would already have taken away our freedom. People would switch to ebooks and they would think that’s what they [?] with ebooks. You just don’t have freedom. Who ever heard of having freedom with ebooks? So it’s a very good thing that ebooks failed but I’m sure they’ll try again. They’re nothing if not persistent. They will keep on attacking our freedom until we organized to the point where we can crush their power. That’s what we must do. We have to defeat their power to the point where they can’t threaten us anymore.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act doesn’t affect you. It’s a United States law. It has no force to you. But Italy has a similar law. Just about all countries in the European Union have similar laws because of a directive that was adopted a few years ago and the controversial law in France, although this tremendous battle is being waged, is the French implementation of that directive. I think France is perhaps the last country – maybe there are one or two others – that have not yet implemented the directive. All the countries that have implemented it have gone much further than the directive in terms of attacking the freedom of their own citizens and given power to the media companies.
Of course the media companies, when they ask for more power, they don’ say it’s for themselves. It is mainly for them but they say it’s for the artists. They like to call those people creators. The reason is that’s the same word that they use for gods. They want to suggest that an author is somehow semi-divine and deserves to have special power over mere mortals, like readers. That’s why they call them creators. It’s a propaganda word.
So they bring out a few famous authors or musicians who are getting rich and these people say: “how dare society not make me so rich, that would be terribly unjust, I deserve to have tens of millions, not just millions, so throw people in jail, give us more power.” And we’re supposed to believe that all the authors, all the musicians are on the same boat. It’s not true. Because the same media companies that ask for more power to restrict us in the name of those authors and musicians are simultaneously treating those authors and musicians like dirt, most of them with the exception of the superstars. The superstars have so much clout that they can demand to be treated well. All the rests have very little clout and the companies can do whatever they want. The superstars write their contracts. With everybody else the media companies write the contracts and pretty much dictate to the artists what contracts they can get, so the contracts are very unfavorable to them.
This is a crucial point and I’ll explain its consequences a little bit. So this is what governments have been doing and it shows how non-democratic they are. The United States extended copyright by 20 years in 1998. The reason was the character was going to go in the public domain soon. It had first appeared in a film called “Steamboat Willie”. And if that went into the public domain Disney would have less power, so Disney bought a law to stop it from happening.
But what would our governments do if they represented the people, if they wanted to adjust copyright to serve the public interests, which include our interest in our own freedom to use published works and our interest in encouraging the writing of new works. What they would do is they would reduce copyright so it no longer caused harm, so that it did not unacceptably restrict our freedom.
There are two dimensions where this can be done. One is the length of time. Today’s copyright is absurd so we should shorten it. As copyright has been getting longer the publication cycle has been getting shorter. In the US books typically are remainder within two years. That means they’re sent to discount stores to get rid of them and within three years they’re out of print.
So I suggested 10-year copyright, ten years starting from the date of publication. That’s comfortably longer than the publication cycle. Only a small fraction of books remain in print longer than that.
I made the suggestion in a panel discussion with some science fiction writers and the award winning writer sitting next to me was rather angry. He said “ten years, that’s intolerable. Anything more than five years, I can’t live with.” I was surprised. Maybe you are surprised too. Maybe you believe the lies of the media companies that they are speaking for all the artists. Why did this award-winning author want copyright to last only 5 years? It’s because he didn’t think longer was going to do him any good.
He was in a dispute with his publisher. You see, these publishers that say that they demand power in the name of these authors and artists of all kind are driving them into the ground with their heels. His contract said that when his book goes out of print the rights revert to him and he can then use and publish the book however he wants, like putting it on his web site so people can read it. And that’s above all what the authors want [?]. He thinks: I want people to read this, I want people to be moved by this. But his publisher had let the book go out of print and refused to admit it. He was therefore in a legal dispute with his publisher in order to get the rights to distribute copies of his own book.
He had concluded from his experience in publish – after all he was not a super star – that long copyright was not going to do him any good. That’s the first thing we should do, reduce it to ten years, and then we can see what things are like and then we can adjust it.
The other dimension is: what does copyright cover? Which activities should be regulated by copyright and which activities should everybody be free to do. First of all, I don’t think the answer has to be uniform. We don’t need the same answer for all kinds of works just as we don’t have to pay the same price for everything that we buy. The publishers ask us to assume that copyright rules have to be uniform and that it would be impossible to administer rules that made any distinctions. This is nonsense. Law is about making distinctions. In fact copyright is not uniform. There are already plenty of exceptions.
I recommend that we distinguish three broad categories of works. Not according to the medium but rather according to what kind of use the work has. How it’s useful to society. These three categories are: works that serve a practical purpose, works that state what certain parties think, and works whose purpose lies in their impact – in other words works of art and entertainment.
Works of practical use are the works that we use in our lives to to a job. This includes for instance software, recipes that we use to cook, educational works and reference works. My conclusion is that these should all be free. Every user of these works should have the four essential freedoms, including re-publishing the work and publishing modified versions of the works. Because if you use the work in your life and you don’t have these freedoms then you don’t control your life and you can’t be part of a community of people who use these works and control their own lives.
So we have software – in the free software movement we campaign for these freedoms in software. We have recipes and guess what – if you cook and you use recipes you’re already accustomed to the same four freedoms: you can cook the recipe when you wish, for whoever you wish to eat it, you can study the recipe and change it, you’re free to distribute copies of the recipe – the text may be copyrighted but the actual instructions and steps in the recipe are not copyrighted, and if you change the recipe and cook it for your friends and a friend says “that was great, could I have the recipe?” you could note down your version and they can copy it for their friends or publish it. The same four freedoms. This is not a coincidence because because recipes are works of practical use that the public is accustomed to use it.
We need the same four freedoms in reference works. Today we have wikipedia, the free encyclopedia which is the biggest encyclopedia in history, which gives you these four freedoms. And there are three other encyclopedias as well and three dictionaries. Reference works should all be free.
In addition, educational works should be free. Around the world there are various projects to develop free curricula for schools, free textbooks for the students to use, because schools should not be held back by the need to pay companies that profiteer of schools and education.
One might ask if these works are all free, if everyone can freely republish them, how would there be income to pay people to write them and the answer we now know is: we don’t need that. There is more work going into free software than there is programmers working for Microsoft. There are over a million contributors. Some of these people are being paid. Some people do make businesses based on free software and they pay programmers. Many of them are volunteers. What they have in common is that they don’t depend on restricting the users to collect money from the users. Whether the programmers are paid of not, they are not being paid by restricting the users – that is unnecessary.
So let’s look at the second category: works whose purpose is to say what certain people think. This includes memoirs, autobiographies, essays of opinion, scientific papers which say “we did the following things, here is how we measured the results and this is what we got”. The observations of specific people who put their names on them.
For these works my conclusions are different. Changing somebody else’s work that say what he thinks means misrepresenting her. That’s not a contribution to society. So there is no reason, no imperative that people should be free to publish modified versions of these works. Quoting is another thing. Quoting is useful but just modifying the work is not.
We could envision a compromised copyright system for these works that permits for everyone the freedom to non-comercially distribute exact copies but commercial use and modification would be covered by copyright and would require permission. And this compromised copyright system could work pretty much like the present copyright system to provide income to the authors and artists, much as it is today. Of course today it’s inadequate for most of them, but that’s not the fault of legalized sharing. You have to realize that today’s copyright system doesn’t do a very good job at supporting the artists.
The argument made by the media companies – if you let people share they won’t support the artists – this argument is fallacious because the existing system for most of the artists doesn’t support them either. There’s no reason to criticize these – the freedom to share – for a problem that the existing system already has.
The third category of work is that of artistic works and works of entertainment, whose purpose lies in the impact they make on the reader or viewer or listener. For these works the question of modification is very difficult because there are arguments on both sides.
The artists argue against modification because that their work has artistic integrity and modifying it could destroy that integrity. Sometimes I think that’s true but it’s less true that they would have us believe. Look at rapidly most authors permit Hollywood to botch their work because they’re getting a lot of money. That leads one to suspect it’s not much a question of integrity.
Meanwhile modifying artistic works could often lead to something of tremendous artistic value. Consider the full process where works get modified by one person after another after another and the result could be very beautiful. If we want to consider only named authors, consider Shakespeare. Shakespeare borrowed stories from other plays written just a few decades before, in several of his plays. If today’s copyright law was in effect then, Shakespeare could not have presented or published those plays and they would have never been conceived. If Shakespeare had complained or Henry Neville had complained – but he wouldn’t have because he didn’t want people to think he was the author – if the author had complained, the copyright law would have said “you just want to rip off my work. This will be a piece of junk and it will just show how little originality you have. Why don’t you write your own play”. We would have had no reason to disbelieve because we would never have seen the play that would never have been written and never have been performed. We might believe that accusation. But because we didn’t have today’s copyright laws then, those plays were written, were performed, were published and today we say they are masterpieces of human literature.
So there are arguments on both sides. It was hard for me to come to a conclusion, or to find a way to reconcile them. Modifying artistic work could be a contribution to art, but it’s not urgent. If you’re using a program or recipe or some other practical work in your life and it’s not right for you, you must be free to modify it today or you don’t have control over your life. But art is not used for a practical purpose. Maybe you could modify a work of art to contribute to art but if you had to wait ten years that would be ok. You’d still contribute to art with a certain delay.
So what I suggest for art is: ten years of a compromised copyright system, where everybody has the freedom to redistribute exact copies non-commercially but commercial use and modification require permission. Then, after that, everyone could be free to publish modified versions and thus contribute to art.
We could have rule about giving credit in such a way that the artist that made the earlier version also gets credit for it, and let the people know it’s a modified version so he [the other author] doesn’t get the blame – these things could easily be arranged.
That is my answer to the question people used to ask after my free software speeches: to what extent do the ideas of the four freedoms extend to other things? For works of practical use, they extend completely. Those works should be free with the same four freedoms. For the other categories of work I say that they don’t have to be free but there is a certain amount of freedom – the freedom to share, including on the Internet – that cannot be denied to the members of a community. Sharing is friendship. To prohibit sharing is to prohibit friendship. It is to attack social solidarity. We must make our governments respect social solidarity.
Since sharing music is so fun I’d like to say a little about that. The record companies like to pretend that the musicians will go broke if we share music because when we’re sharing music we’re not supporting the musicians. Well I get my music by buying cd’s and every time I buy a commercial cd I’m ashamed because I know I’m not supporting the musicians.
The major record companies pay 4% of their incomes to musicians. But this is not uniform. It’s not as if each musician got 4% of the sales figures of that musician’s records. No. The superstars get more than 4% of their large scale figures and the other musicians get less then 4% of their smaller scale figures. This is because the superstars that are established for long enough that they are out of their first record contract, they can dictate the terms, the can get a better contract which actually pays them money every time you buy a record. But almost all of the musicians with record contracts are in their first contract. The first contract is terribly unfair to them.
In fact, when you buy their record what they get is nothing. The record contract says a certain amount of the record price goes to the musicians but the musicians never get it because the contract also says that the production and publicity expenses are treated as an advance. That means that the musician theoretically has to pay them back and hardly any records sell enough copies that they start to pay back. A record could be gold and still not start to give the musician any money when you buy it.
This is the falsehood when the record companies bring out superstars who say “Don’t you let anybody share because if they share my music they’re making me less rich.” And meanwhile most of the musicians don’t get anything from the current system so they wouldn’t lose anything from legalized music sharing. The superstars would be less rich but they would still be comfortable. So there’s no problem at all. Not only that. The record companies might get a lot less money and they would be unable to lobby our government to take away our freedom and that would be a tremendous permanent difference.
However, although they are hypocritical when they talk about supporting musicians, supporting musicians is still a good thing to do. You might ask: if we want to start supporting musicians how could we do it? I propose two methods that could work.
One method is based on tax. Suppose we put a tax on blank disks, Internet connection time, whatever, and the government distributed all that money directly to musicians, all people involved in making the music, but none of it going to companies. That amount is just a few percent of what people spend on music now. The tax would not be a lot of money and it could support those musicians better because ever the non superstars would be getting something.
In addition we could distribute money based on a non-linear function. Of course the amount each person gets has to be based on that person’s popularity, not some bureaucrat’s arbitrary decision. It has to be based on measurement through polling of popularity but it doesn’t have to be a linear proportion. If somebody is twice as popular, that doesn’t have to mean that she gets twice as much money. If a superstar is a thousand times as popular as some other fairly successful musician that doesn’t mean the superstar has to get a thousand times as much money. The function could taper off, so that the superstar gets only ten times as much money. This way the same amount of money would adequately support a lot more musicians. Because instead of paying most of it to superstars inefficiently making them rich and then not having enough to even barely support most successful musicians, we would make the superstars comfortable but not rich and we would have enough to support the fairly successful musicians too. So with this system we would pay much less money and we would support the musicians better, especially the musicians who are fairly successful. We would support them a lot better.
But some people don’t like tax. I don’t agree with them. I think taxes are ok if they go for important purposes but people might prefer a totally voluntary plan. Here’s one. Suppose every player has a button that shows a dollar sign or euro sign and when you push it send one dollar or one euro to the group. And you could push it when you feel like it. You could push it once a year, once a month, once a week. Every time you push it you send one dollar or one euro. If you push that button once a week you’d never notice but that would be more money than the musicians get now.
In the US, I read, the average American spends 20$ a year on recorded music. If 4% of that is going to musicians, that’s one dollar a year on the average, going probably to the superstars. If people pushed that button once a year on the average they would support musicians generally as much as they do now. If you could convince them to push it once a month they would be supporting musicians a lot more than they do now.
I think that would be easy because instead of vicious, cruel propaganda campaigns trying to tell people that it’s wrong to share, that sharing is stealing we could have a friendly campaign that says “have you pushed the button this month? Why not? It’s only a dollar or only a euro. You like their music? send them something once in a while. It costs so little. Why not?” I think this would work tremendously well as a way to support musicians. We just need to make it easy to do. That’s the challenge. It’s not really a technical challenge. The technology for doing this kind of thing is already known. It’s more of a social business challenge to arrange a system of digital cash so that people could easily, anonymously send one euro. We need to do it. This is how we could support the artists and have freedom.