Why Artists Share

All creators get to decide what happens to our work. We can keep it secret, and not show it to anyone. We can keep it private, and limit access to private parties. Or we can make it public, by publishing it.

Once you've made a work public, it is public. So if you don't want people sharing your work, please, please, keep it secret or private.

I've often wondered why "creators" (or corporations) get so upset when the public accesses their work, after they've made it public. If you can't stand people looking at it without your permission, why not keep it locked up in a vault somewhere? No one's forcing you to publish; why insist on doing so, and then claim to be victimized by your own audience?

The answer is that a work has little or no value unless it's shared. The more people take it in, the more valuable it becomes. A work has no cultural value except what the audience gives it. In other words, A WORK'S VALUE COMES FROM THE AUDIENCE.

Sita Sings the Blues is tremendously valuable now, and its value increases every time someone watches it. Back when I finished the film in 2008, and hardly anyone knew about it, it wasn't worth much. The very worst thing that can happen to a film is nobody sees it: that makes it worthless. Lots of people seeing the film make it valuable.

Artists make an enormous mistake when they believe a work's value comes from themselves. Some of it comes from the artist. Most of it comes from the audience.

Most filmmakers get paid on the "front-end," for their time (by investors, patrons, grants, etc.), and even with strict copyright and commercial distribution, make almost no royalties on the back-end. The audience isn't paid for their time at all.

I contributed about 7,800 hours to making Sita. That's a lot of time, and every hour I put into it makes the film more valuable. I conservatively estimate the audience has contributed at least 300,000 hours to Sita, probably a lot more. Every hour they put into it makes it more valuable too. They've put a lot more hours into it than I have, and I haven't paid them a dime. Yet I enjoy attribution for the film, and all this value accrues to me! Sweet.

But if you still don't believe that the value comes from the audience, and is instead inherent to the work itself, then by all means please keep your work safely locked away, and don't publish it.

11 Comments

“Look at”?

What do you mean by “look at”? The issue here is “copy without authorization,” keeping in mind that such authorization does not always have to come from the artist or involve payment.
Joe Clark

digital age

In the Digital Age, to look at something is to make a copy of it. That's how the Internet works.

"keeping in mind that such authorization does not always have to come from the artist"

Usually it comes from a Distributor.

Untrue. You do not need a

Untrue. You do not need a local copy to watch something streamed.

Whatever - you guys are deluded into thinking that artists should just create films and throw them out there to be consumed without the artist being able to be compensated as they see fit.

How you expect any producer to create something of worth while being able to support themselves and their crew has never been spelled out. How about you guys take a crack at that one.

Oh yeah, as for your plan of letting people pay as they see fit - I can't help but notice your graph has been stuck at 38% for ages.

Guess what - given the choice of paying for a ticket or watching for free, people will watch for free. No wonder you guys are struggling artists lol.

Pathetic.

Please look around Questioncopyright.org

You do not need a local copy to watch something streamed.

Your computer is making a copy of the streaming work as it streams. That's how the interwebs works.

How you expect any producer to create something of worth while being able to support themselves and their crew has never been spelled out.

We have spelled it out quite clearly:
http://www.questioncopyright.org/understanding_free_content
http://www.questioncopyright.org/creator_endorsed

given the choice of paying for a ticket or watching for free, people will watch for free.

And yet, we've sold over $16,000 in pre-downloaded DVDs in the last two weeks. These don't show up on the donations graph because they're purchasable items - packaging. The film contained in the packaging is free. Yet people are buying the physical DVDs. The more the film is shared freely online, the more money we get. The content is free; people pay for the container.

People are also paying to see the 35mm prints in cinemas. The cinemas share revenue with me via Sita's endorsed distributors.

For more information, please read the rest of this web site.

Re: "Look at"?

I think the point is also that the only reason someone makes an unauthorized copy is so that they and others can look at it (or listen to it, in the case of music). Those others might be friends, or customers, or might be the same person in a different context ("I want my music collection at work as well as at home, but I don't want to have to carry CDs back and forth all the time").

Or the other person might be an artist themselves, who wants to "look at" the original work in order to make a derivative work.

Nina's right on about this: "looking at" and copying are the same thing, in the end. Artists who don't want their stuff looked it shouldn't release it in the first place.

-Karl Fogel

the other reason you fail to

the other reason you fail to mention in regard to why someone would create an unauthorized copy -- is to distribute it to millions of people they don't know and will never meet.

while it is true that a work has little or no value unless it's shared it's also true that if everyone "shares" it, the work is robbed of its(monetary) value.

"looking at" and copying are the same thing

you did not prove this. you said nothing to back this statement up. when someone buys a ticket to see a movie they are not copying that movie.

there is also a big difference between being inspired by the artists who've come before you and making a "derivative work" based entirely on a particular artist's accomplishments. if fan fiction and youtube mashups are anything to go by, i see far less reason to preserve their usurpers rights then i do the natural rights of the ORIGINAL authors who tackled a blank page and created something from nothing.

the two choices for content creators should not be keep it locked up in a vault or release it to the unprotected fate of illegal, immoral, worldwide distribution between millions of strangers and hope that a tiny fraction of them will care enough to flick a few coins your way if they happen to look down and see you wallowing in the gutter.

i find nothing chic about the mythos of the starving artist. if enough people enjoy someone's work, that person should be paid appropriately. it should not be based on charity...unless that's something they choose for themselves. i have no problem with the creative commons people, but i have a huge problem with them trying to impose their neo-socialism dogma on everyone else.

one need look no farther than nina paley to see that there's not enough good intentions to fund even a 290k feature. it's been out for fourteen months. how much of her investment money is recouped? until her revenue becomes proportional to the amount of people that have seen and enjoyed it, your hypothesis might as well be "unicorns run faster than horses".

Re: the other reason you fail to

If copyright is so important for supporting artists, who have been around for millennia, why does its invention coincide so perfectly with the appearance of the printing press?

Copyright funds centralized distribution, not creation. Follow the numbers, they do not lie.

i don't deny it was born out

i don't deny it was born out of response to the printing press -- that's a reputable fact.

do you deny the proverbial "big bang" of inventions and artistic works that coincide with the creation and enforcement of intellectual property rights?

i would love to see you tell a group of professional authors/filmmakers/video game makers that copyright doesn't help them. i would love to see you tell them that they haven't clothed, fed, or housed their families directly or indirectly from copyright. their responses, should they ever regain their shock at being confronted with such an asinine statement would very likely be hilarious.

and as i said before, if an artist does hold such asinine opinions as to the relative merits of copyright, they are free to pursue a number of other open licenses and distribution models. i have no problem with them and i wish them all the "success" in the world -- whatever that term actually means to them personally. it's too bad very few of these people seem to subscribe to a "live and let live" philosophy. most of the creative commons websites and communities are full of folks soap-boxing their utopian agendas and gnashing their teeth for the abolishment of copyright even though it's a voluntary system that they can opt out of at anytime. it's not enough that they're allowed to distribute their own creations however they wish, they want bring everyone else down to their hobbyist, poverty-chic-artiste (note the 'e') level.

and while it's also true that big corporations, middle men, and distributors are more often than not, completely guilty of exploiting the artists, that exploitation does not even begin to compare to the kind of general and widespread exploitation that would occur by THE PUBLIC should the protections of copyright be selfishly stripped away. and until a business model comes along to prove otherwise i will continue to defend myself from your imperialistic idealism and staunchly defended certainty that unicorns exist and are in fact faster than horses.

Re: i don't deny it was born out

The problem with your "live and let live" idea is that that's exactly what copyright doesn't do.

In a "live and let live" world, you could do what you want with your copies, and I'd do what I want with my copies. But with copyright monopolies, I can do what I want with my copies, and I get to tell you what you can and can't do with your copies too, if I am the copyright holder.

That means it's not a "voluntary system". You're simply discounting all the volunteerism out there that is stifled by copyright: all the translations that never get made because they are prohibited (and the explosion of translation in the open-source world and of public domain works is proof that they would be made otherwise); all the new works that would build on previous works if they were allowed to (again, the many works that build on the public domain are proof that people want to do this); the huge amount of cultural sharing that is suppressed (the fact that pretty much everyone illegally downloads videos and songs is all the proof you need that the desire is there -- and the squashing of services like Napster, etc, is proof that it would happen a lot more if we didn't suppress it).

For some reason, you regard the author (or, realistically, the publisher) as the only party who should get to make a decision about whether to opt in or opt out of this system. That's as blindered as us discussing slavery in terms of whether only slave owners should get to "opt in" or "opt out". In copyright, everyone's freedom is affected, and that's why everyone should get to decide whether to opt in or not.

I don't know what kind of exploitation you're referring to when you say "the widespread exploitation that would occur by THE PUBLIC should the protections of copyright be selfishly stripped away". I'm an author who has released all his books under freedom-friendly licensing terms, and I haven't been negatively exploited at all. In fact, it's been groovy. That's also the experience Nina is having. Actually, I don't know any stories of authors who release their stuff under free licenses and then feel exploited due to people taking advantage of those licensing terms. Maybe you could help by gathering some counterexamples?

(You're probably thinking "Yes, but they chose that!" Sure. But remember, right now, everyone in the world is "exploited" every time a work is restrictively licensed, because our freedoms to use that work in ways the author didn't anticipate are being infringed. So whatever exploitation of the author you had in mind, you need to explain how it's worse than the wider exploitation that's already going on.)

hyperbole, much?


the unprotected fate of illegal, immoral, worldwide distribution between millions of strangers and hope that a tiny fraction of them will care enough to flick a few coins your way if they happen to look down and see you wallowing in the gutter.

That's some very creative writing right there. Yet you've chosen to publish anonymously, for free on the internet.

it's been out for fourteen months.

Sita Sings the Blues was released March 2009; 3 months as of this writing. It started playing festivals February 2008, but couldn't be released until the song licenses were paid, hence March 2009, when I placed it on archive.org under a Creative Commons Share Alike license, legally.

If "Sita"s distribution model looks awful to you, please don't follow it. But your publishing fanciful creative writing online for free isn't helping your case.