Reading on William Tully’s blog about Canadian copyright law changes in the making, I felt that maybe one of the discussions I had time and again with some friends1 might make for a good topic. It also ties in well with some of my recent posts here.

Note that I make no claim that the opinions voiced here are shared by my friends. There is some overlap, but there’s also points we strongly disagree on. With that said, hit the jump to read more.

Tully’s own comment to one of my comments serves as a good starting point into the topic:

On one side of the argument there are those creating the “stuff” for profit and would like to protect their work. Yet on the other hand, sorry, the world is changing.

As far as I can tell, that sums the situation up beautifully, but let me go into more detail here. The motivation for people to create art differs between individuals, but there are three very common themes:

  • The love of creating art.
  • The attention they get when presenting or performing their art.
  • The wish to be able to finance a life dedicated to art2.

Of these, it’s the third that copyright is concerned with. It’s intended to protect the creator of a work of art from plagiarism, and thus enable more people to fulfill their wish3.

What I find interesting is that historically very few people created art for a living. As Souza4 said, culture was being kept alive by people re-creating existing art, at least where music was concerned. The creation of new art has for hundreds of years been limited, for the most part, to people privileged enough to find a sponsor — be it a wealthy noble, the church, or an established artist that schooled apprentices5. One could argue that only in the 20th century, with the emergence of artists such as Elvis Presley or The Beatles, the goal becoming somebody because of a signature haircut and the ability to strum a guitar has been impressed on the masses of people who for generations would re-create culture, but not create it.

It’s a theory, and one that mixes different art forms as if they all shared a common history. But it does bear questioning how a massive surge of new artists can be supported by society, from a purely financial point of view. The handful of people in each generation that was paid for creating art previously are easily financed — how do you do that in a world where everyone is an artist? If your answer is “you can’t” — does that mean that there is simply no justification for so many people striving for that third goal, to get the financial backing required to dedicate their life to culture?

Well, one way of answering this question would be to introduce a filtering technique, to weed out the better of the aspiring artists from the worse. You’d keep down the expense, while proactively supporting the development of culture. You could, perhaps, achieve this filtering by having each artist perform for an audience, measure the audience’s response, and finance only the most successful of them.

In a way, that is exactly what publishing houses do. The reasoning is seductively simple: people buy what they like, so what people buy a lot must be of higher value than what people don’t buy much. Let’s finance those artists that people buy most. Publishing houses may take a risk with an initial publication, but are sure to only offer substantial amounts of money after artists have a proven trackrecord for producing the sort of art that earns income.

  1. Most notably Norman. []
  2. A variation of the theme is the wish to strike lucky, become financially independent, and declare everything you do to be art. []
  3. Though in today’s world, it’s worth pointing out that it was mostly intended to protect authors from publishing houses, who had adopted such exploitative practices that authors were wont to call them “pirates”. That’s irony for you. []
  4. See my previous post. []
  5. Images of the impoverished poet both support and contradict that view. On the one hand, some few people created seminal works of art with little or no financial success. On the other hand, most prolific creators had some form of sponsor. []
  • William Tully

    “The wish to be able to finance a life dedicated to art” – good distinction.

    • unwesen

      Well, there are types who want to sell their artwork for gobs of money, because they think it’s worth it. Then there are those who just want to create art, and don’t want to be bothered with earning an income. Quite often it’s lumped together into wanting to earn enough money with their art to be able to create more. I thought the above was the most accurate, but I may be wrong.

  • Norman Liebold

    See at I don’t know, make your WordPress automatically an Trackback, if i linked to this page?

    • unwesen

      There’s a trackback link right above the comment form that you can link to. I haven’t seen an option to turn on trackbacks automatically.

  • Norman Liebold

    Oh, nothing happens, i think. By the way, you have so smart pictures for your subcribers. I want to have one, too, how i get it? I’ve make something like that for you, it’s here: Because this entry has no context to your post, get the avatar and delete this comment, if you want.

  • unwesen

    You sign up with gravatar, which allows you to link a picture with an email address. Whenever you enter that email address on a blog or website that displays gravatars, the picture will be used.

    • Norman Liebold

      Thanks, it’s simple, but you must know, how. I’ve make somethink equal for my own comments, it’s a nice extra for the eye, i think. Thanks for the suggestion!