Wednesday, May 04, 2005

another slightly revised cross-post

this was in a response to a post on my p2p/policy class about business models and the consumers relationship to products , can you call that "ownership?" Underlying my response is a basic discomfort - but more of a doubt- that "consuming" really describes what happens when people acquire music (whether they pay or not). What function does paying for it serve - do people's feelings about music change when they pay or not? Whoah a whole nother train of thought there..

Anyway, granting that you could maybe use the word "consumer" (I favor "fan," more because fans and fandom are totally ignored in discussions of incentive and contribution, but really there needs to be a better term).. ANYWAY, granting "consumer" (and "he"), the cat i'm responding to says that "Ownership has never been a part of a consumer’s relationship with the content he buys." This doesn't go far enough. The meaning of the word Ownership changes in various contexts, and can't be assumed.

“Ownership” is a confusing term - it seems to describe a relationship between you and an object, but it really is describing a relationship between you and other people - but it doesn’t reveal much about what is involved in that relationship. I want to know about the right to exclude, the right to include, the right to destroy, the right to manipulate, the right to copy, the right to distribute...

On the subject of artists, I seriously doubt most arguments about artists’ economic incentives for creating. When p2p and other art-sharing systems come up, someone always speaks up for how no matter what an artist wanted that was non-economic, they didn't make art as an altruistic gift to the world. Some do this. But there are more choices between charging by the piece for art (and breaking it into pieces to charge by) and pure altruism. there's fame, which can be converted into more than money, there's power, and reinforcing identity ("our music" "voices not heard enough"), and all kinds of other goals and motivations.

“Ownership” inadequately describes artists’ relationship to music, to the music they write, and the music they engage with. Some of what “ownership” means is that sense of identity, of connection.

And even more with consumers - here a sense of ownership could be partly about the relationship between the artist, other artists perceived as related, and other people who like that artists. ("our people" "*genre* fans")

I worry about the shorthand of economic incentive as used in copyright discussions -economic incentive as the mechanism by which copyright rewards creators, and the mechanism by which people value things (i.e. free automatically more desirable than pay). This masks the way that information and information-sharing is constitutive of many things, of identity, of culture(s), of democracy, of political plurality, of knowledge…

Ownership, for artists, is discussed in copyright terms as creating a situation where artists profit from their work. But the moral arguments behind it tend to shade into moral rights of authors to control how their work is framed (which our law basically doesn’t recognize) --artists see someone making use of their work and profiting by it which seems unfair or inauthentic-- and then usually follows a kind of statement that “people have a right to make a living.”

So, ownership is seen as the way for artists to make a living. But I think this is a false link. I agree that everyone wants to not be broke - everyone wants to have some level of material comfort. But I don’t see that as automatically tied to the incentive for music making. That’s just survival in general.

Folk may really mean that people have a right to a decent quality of life, but it’s not necessarily helpful to assume the best way to get to a quality of life. Maybe there’s a better way to get there than a metering system that parcels out money based on atomized bits of information.

for example, if we had a more generous welfare/dole system and free health care and education, would artists be so concerned about making money off of copyright? Especially the artists that gets everyone’s moral dander up - the small, struggling, independent artists? I don’t think the answer is clear. People make arguments about incentives to create art, but I don’t think being starving or living hand-to-mouth is that good for creativity.

For many other informational ‘goods’ there are network effects that are not captured by the concept of “ownership” - like the scientific article or software interface that is more useful the more people have it.

I’m not necessarily advocating a socialist system or welfare state.. I’m trying to emphasize that the current “business models” and to a great extent our copyright system itself assumes things about people’s engagement with information that may not be accurate.

There may be other ways to ensure people make a living (if that’s what we’re concerned about) than by atomizing information and charging per piece. And if we are concerned about all the non-economic, social values of easy transmission and transformation of information, there may be other ways to capture more of them as well.

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