“Artists Should Be Compensated For Their Work”

(Translations: Polski.)

Nina Paley

Nina Paley is the author of the freely-licensed hit animated film Sita Sings the Blues, among many other things, and is Artist in Residence at QuestionCopyright.org. She is also a committed Free Culture activist who writes frequently about copyright and how the permission culture affects art and artists.

This phrase comes up in many discussions of copyright: “Artists should be compensated for their art.” It is assumed that a) Artists are inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their Art, and b) copyright is a mechanism for this compensation.

I challenge both assumptions.

Of course, what people actually say is usually “Artists should be compensated for their work“. Below I’m going to distinguish between Art and Work, because confusing the two is exactly the problem.

a) Artists are inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their work.

I agree that artists are entitled to payment FOR THEIR WORK.

WORK is labor exchanged for money. Employer and worker negotiate a fee, the labor is performed, and the worker is paid. Many artists are workers: they are waiters, baristas, truck drivers. They should be compensated for their work, and they are, which is why they work.

Some artists perform a kind of skilled labor for money. This type of pre-negotiated labor is called a commission. Commissioned work is work, and artists are compensated for it, which is why artists take commissions.

But artists are not inherently entitled to monetary compensation FOR THEIR ART.

Art is a gift. An artist creates Art (not to be confused with skilled labor) on their own initiative. An artist “labors” in service of their vision, their Muse, the Art itself. The Muse alone is the Artist’s employer. It’s debatable whether the Artist can negotiate with their Muse before performing the labor — I certainly try to — but like most labor, terms are dictated by necessity. Just as economic necessity forces many workers into hard labor for low wages on their employer’s terms, so does suffering force many Artists into labor on the Muse’s terms. But unlike corporations and human employers, the Muse turns out to always have the artist’s best interests at heart. I’d much rather serve the Muse than an employer; but the Muse doesn’t negotiate a moneyed wage. Monetary compensation is not part of the deal.

The Muse “pays” me in Life. “Do this,” she says, “and you will Live. Turn away, and at best you will only survive.” I do have a choice: I can make the Art, or not. I accept the Muse’s terms. I perform the labor, and receive my “payment”: Life.

ART is negotiated with the MUSE. The “payment” is LIFE.
WORK is negotiated with an EMPLOYER. The payment is MONEY.

If artists want to be paid in MONEY, they should negotiate a fee before performing their work. That is the proper condition for payment. Or they can create work with no pre-negotiated payment, without demanding payment after the fact. That’s fine too. But to then demand payment after voluntarily working on your own terms — that is extortion.

Consider the Squeegee Man. He wipes windshields unbidden, then demands payment. He did the work; does he “deserve to be compensated”? Most would say no; if we wanted our windshields cleaned, we would negotiate this service in advance.

If I decide to sit behind a desk, take calls, devise flawed business plans, and lie, do I DESERVE to be compensated like a bank CEO? No. The bank CEO’s work was pre-negotiated. He gets $25 million in salary and bonuses because that was the deal BEFORE he sat down at his desk and did the work.

Does the bank CEO deserve his compensation? Well, most people are questioning that right now. I’m surprised it’s taken a massive financial crisis for that to happen, but at least folks are asking.

Since we’ve been in a massive artistic crisis for decades, maybe people have given up on asking whether the top .5% of artists deserve their monetary compensation. If I sing and prance around on stage, am I entitled to $110 million a year? It’s the same work Madonna does, and that’s what she makes. But Madonna arranged to be paid in advance of the singing and prancing, and performed it as work.

And if artists deserve to be compensated, then how much do they deserve? Isn’t art priceless? How do you determine how much it’s worth?

We could let the market decide. That could work… IF WE GET RID OF MONOPOLIES. The Free Market only works without monopolies. Information monopolies like copyright destroy that system. I’m all for allowing the Free Market to function, but it can only function without copyright.

Indeed, Madonna is not compensated as an artist; she is reaping profits from her information monopoly — that is, the copyright that restricts her Art. So if Madonna is your model, you aren’t rooting for artists; you are rooting for monopolists. If your mechanism for “compensating” artists requires them to become monopolists and to grow and position their monopolies as monopolists do, then you are championing monopolies, not Art.

Art is not a commodity, it is a gift. If you want to produce a commodity, negotiate its worth in advance. Art is made on the initiative of the artist. Otherwise, it’s commissioned work, which obviously compensates the worker. But the the commissioner is often a corporation or investment group, who will expect a monopolist’s return on their investment. So the pro-copyright argument is simply in favor of maintaining the oligarchy whose elites happen to be the main patrons of art in our age. It’s like supporting monarchies because kings and queens patronize artists.

This may be hard to hear, but: many artists who claim they just want to eat and pay rent are lying (perhaps to themselves). Most artists don’t want a living wage — they want to win the lottery. Suggest to most filmmakers and musicians that “success” is about $75,000 a year, and they’ll turn up their noses. You call that a jackpot? They’re only in it for the millions, baby. If that means working a day job and remaining obscure, so be it. Millions need to be poor so that one can be rich; they’re willing to do their time being poor, so that one day they can be rich at the expense of others. Their turn will come, they think.

I suggest playing a different game entirely, because the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. But those kinds of artists want to play the lottery more than they want their art to reach people.

I do not mean to suggest that all artists have this attitude. There are also those who would be quite happy with a living wage; this is good, because that’s a much more realistic expectation for even a very talented artist. The problem is that our copyright discourse is dominated by the lottery attitude, such that when people say “Artists should be paid for the work” what they really mean is “All Art should be monopolized, so that some Artists can have a tiny chance of maybe getting rich one day.”

The best way for art to “compete” in a “free market” is to flow freely. The Internet makes it easy for an artist to give their work to an audience. It also makes it easy for audiences to return the gift. Giving is quite different from paying or being extorted. Money given is different from money coerced. It is a free transaction.

Not everyone will like a particular work of art. I don’t think people who dislike a work should be obligated to pay for it. Certainly works that offend, nauseate, or bore me, don’t inspire me to support their creators. But works that move and inspire me also move me to support their creators. I am touched by the Artist’s love, and want to offer something in return. Money is an obvious choice: the Artist can almost certainly use it. But it’s not always the right choice. I’m moved by many Beatles tunes, but I’m not inspired to send a check to Paul McCartney. He doesn’t need the money (not to mention he’s a big time monopolist). However, money is almost always an appropriate gift for a non-rich (read: typical) artist. It will be appreciated, and it’s not so personal as to be disturbing or threatening.

The Internet makes it very easy for fans to voluntarily send money to artists.

It’s really simple. Art competes with other art on the basis of quality. The Internet allows it to spread, to reach as many people as possible. Those who enjoy it have an easy mechanism to give back to the Artist if they are so moved. Not everyone will be so moved, nor should they be. Not everyone has to like everything. Not everything can touch us.

In conclusion:

Artists are NOT inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their Art. However we as a society can decide to support the Arts. The problem with this is that 95% of the Arts sucks. Most of us don’t want to be supporting artists that suck, nor allowing government committees to determine what is and is not worthy of support. My NYSCA grant rejection and its attendant comments have taught me never to trust government arts agencies. I’ll gladly accept funds from them, but I’m acutely aware that they aren’t reliably competent to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The best way society can support the Arts is to allow Art to spread, and to continue to encourage giving money to artists. That seems pretty natural to most people anyway, and it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s freedom.

57 Comments on "“Artists Should Be Compensated For Their Work”"

  1. People who search for alternative music sites should have a look at Jamendo.

    The problem with this is that 95% of the Arts sucks.
    Well, that’s true there, too. But you can also find lots of pearls there. (Check out JT Bruce)

  2. Thank you for sharing this refreshing take on the copyright debate. I think you hit the nail on the head here. Keep up the great work! -Andy (@stpaulcraft)

  3. Jamendo looks very interesting, but yes, I too was disappointed to see that they advertise the music there as “free, legal, and unlimited” when in fact some of their music is under licenses that do limit what people can do with it. Not all Creative Commons licenses are alike. A comment I made on another article goes into more detail about that.

    Also, Jamendo makes it very difficult to see what the license is — you don’t really know until you go to download something what the restrictions are going to be.

  4. Hi Nina,

    Fantastic article. I totally agree with your stance on compensation for art. I’m wondering if you’re familiar with the project I started, Musicslu.com. We aim to compensate artists in exactly the way you described: for their work. Music is bought 1 time, through a community donation system, after which, it’s free to share forever. The twist is that the music is not released before the donation goal is reached, and each donator only pays his donation if the entire goal is reached.

    Check us out and let me know what you think!


  5. Hi, Andrew. It sounds great — how is it working so far?

    I’m curious: had you read about the Fund and Release system before (also called Threshold Pledge), or did you come up with the idea independently?

  6. If a wall street executive is allowed to make money from their talent, why not artists? i am an artists and I deserve to be paid for what i do. why is art not considered a paying talent but say something like carpentry is, when carpentry is a talent too…just like most jobs people are good at.

    I think you confuse expression with art……art is just the form of an expression and if people get something from it, then so should you!

  7. Just as Nina said, Wall Street executives are paid according to pre-arranged contracts — in fact, that’s where the current raging controversy over their bonuses comes from: the so-called “bonuses” were in fact contractually obligated payments, and so even when the firms took government aid, they still retained (or claimed they retained) those obligations.

    Nina’s point is precisely that copyright is not a contract. You can tell it’s not a contract because you don’t sign something whenever you listen to a song. Artists are already “allowed to make money” in exactly the same way that carpenters and Wall Street executives are: by pre-arranged contract. This may or may not have any connection to their art; most commissions result in forgettable works, but some — no one can predict which — result in masterpieces.

    In addition to doing work for hire, like carpenters and Wall Street executives, there are other ways for artists to make money. In theory, one way is by having monopoly powers over the art they create, so that other people can’t share it with each other nor make other works based on it without getting permission first. We recommend against that method, for reasons already explained in Nina’s article and on the rest of this site: it doesn’t actually pay for the majority of art, and it ends up looking a lot like a lottery system, which is hardly a stable economic basis for creativity anyway.

    Another method is to make it easy for fans to connect with and support artists, such as Nina has been doing very successfully with the Sita Distribution Project. That way doesn’t require any stifling monopolies, it pays reasonably well, and it treats both fans and other artists with respect and freedom. However, it’s not a lottery system. Those hoping for a small chance to win big would do better to go into investment banking.

  8. Great post, Nina. Thanks. I’d be quite happy with making $75K per year for my art. 🙂

    For “fund and release,” I recently discovered http://www.kickstarter.com through Robin Sloan’s project:


    Looks nicely geared towards creative work:

    “Kickstarter is a funding platform for artists, designers, filmmakers, musicians, journalists, inventors, explorers…”

    Keep up the great work, guys.

  9. I too had a similar run in- where ITVS staff fully wanted to fund my animated project, but it wasn’t politically prudent for them to because of (at that time) the fear of a backlash from the Bush Administration that was already attacking the CPB (my project is sex positive and has lesbian protagonists)

    BUT As I commented on an early draft of this article, the line “The problem with this is that 95% of the Arts sucks.” I think the article would be stronger without this line entirely – The enjoyment of art is very personal. Some art or music might appeal or inspire only 1/10 of 1% of the population- does it make it ‘suck’? What makes art ‘suck’? I was there when you could see Nirvana play with 20 other people because most people thought they sucked. My girlfriend thought they sucked (she still thinks Sonic Youth is way better which is cool by me). Need I write more to explain myself?

    -GB Hajim
    Director of ‘strange frame’

  10. But to then demand payment after voluntarily working on your own terms — that is extortion.

    Hmm… is someone who builds widgets and then sells them extorting others when he builds them in advance then offers them for sale? If so, we have different ideas of extortion. If not, how does that differ from making a work of art then offering it for sale?

  11. There is nothing extortionate about offering a work of art for sale. But that’s not what the copyright-restriction-based industry does. Instead, it prohibits everyone from using their copies as they want, and then sells the selective removal of that prohibition. This is a profoundly different thing. It’s one thing if I build a widget and you buy it from me. It’s entirely different if I build a widget, and then prohibit everyone (including those who have bought copies from me) from building their own, even when they have the materials, the capability, and the desire.

  12. Thanks GB. 95% of the Arts sucks, but it’s not the same 95% for everyone. No one can or should say which 95% it is – certainly not a corporation, institution, or government agency. And yet we allow them to determine exactly that; under conventional funding structures, a handful of gatekeepers determines what everyone else gets to see. The internet is awesome because it allows all 100% of the arts to circulate.

    It might be better to say something like, “only a small percentage of the arts can move us, and what art is moving is different for each person.”

  13. i have to totaly disagree with this assumptions. its not true , and also forget the main things…

    yeah lets not write about the COSTS of making good art. its minor detail no? 🙂

    it takes ALOT ALOT of TIME and MONEY to record a good album

    you all dont want sound quality of the 60’s right?????????????!!!!

    so what to do buy good equipment is SO SO SO expensive . and its just your home stuff nothing fancy enough to rent so it can pay itself.

    and then pay 20$ per hour for reharsle , and close to 100$ per hour recording.
    how many hours you wish band will practice before recording?
    (oh yeah when recording you pay 2 hours on drum settings and 2 hours general before even started playing how is that?)

    so i can work 10 hours weiter (oh did i mention im from 2nd world countries and that would hardly do my rent and food??) and never have money nor time to just start.
    as much im talented on my guitar and my friends on their instruments its NOT helping cause we need MONEY to make it REALITY.

    so your theory leads to great music stay in my mind and will never get out of there. too bad. it could be just that 5% you actualy like.

    so stuff your theory in garbage please. art is in your soul , its 24 hours thing. madona would NEVER make such great music and show after working 10 hours as weiter you know?? LOL

    Artsy Fartsy thats what this article is. bollocks. in the real life if “averege” artist would make 75k$ a year then life was REALLY GOOD. HEAVEN.
    its not even close , if i make 750$ a month from it then its good month for me. and yes life isnt that beautifull asking your parents for money when you are 30. but for the sake of keeping doing the art (which is my life and soul) i have to not go to idiotic work that takes all my time and inspiration.


    if there wasnt the ‘monopoly’ part then i would say maybe… but not pay band you like cause they “allready have enough” is arrogant and stupid. who are you to decide? they have money case they are TOP 5% that everybody enjoy. its BIG BIG BIG gift to the world and deserved to be paid for it. if you only sell 100 cds then maybe its worthless but if you sell 100.000 u can assume that PEOPLE ENJOY IT , PLAY IT , USE IT , DJS MAKE MONEY OUT OF IT, PEOPLE USE IT FOR SOUNDTRACK , RADIO AND TV EXIST CAUSE OF THIS ART!!!!!

    so yeah artists created mechanism that makes shitloads of money but not deserve their payment? you are rude… and lucky the world doesnt listen to you and have copyright companies.

    p/s only artists can make art but anyone can serve drinks.
    you dont see the “small” point here then too bad. you just have 0 appreciation for real talent i thing.

    and that iPhone App is just the same , if i make my own thing and people want to use it they should pay. even that i did it in my own time without contract with the final customer. its not good argument cause people listen to radio and the copyright companies just help us not being ripped off. maybe you want to wait for “good people” that will pay you from their heart but me as long people want to use my music to make money i want my share. thats it. its on radio and on tv people enjoy and commercials pay LOTS to the media so yes its my share and copyright company makes sure i get it. thats it. no monopoly.

    1. Since the entire rest of this site answers your comment, I won’t go into detail here, except to say that copyright is not how most artists make money, and that the way to support artists is not to restrict the fruits of their hard work from finding appreciative audiences.

      See this article for more, if you’d like.

  14. So many young and unexperienced people start to compose and release just for pleasure, just to be present on the forums, whatever… and there is nothing wrong with it except you connect this fact with money income from such releases. They dont get half penny back from it. Parallely, all of them growing up, getting older, life goes on, having children. There is a moment in their lifes, obviously, that they realize need of money to live. Because this music is not a good source, all of them have to find regular job to earn. in best situation music become only kind of hobby for them and they never reach professional level, never develop his artistic skills as they should. Many of them abandon music making knowing that no money will finally come to them as payment for their effort. being involved in real mature life they dont see future, dont see reason to develop musically… unless its passion of their life.

    please notice, all known and really good artists are profesionals living for the music and copmosicn for living, present on the scene for many years.

    have you got my point?

  15. This is total BULLSHIT! Your entire argument is based on defining art in YOUR terms, which are erroneous from the start. Art is NOT a gift, the end result chopped off and separate from the work. The work part itself is also art. Art is discovery. The artist has a murky vision and takes paint to blank canvas. He or she improves upon the splatters until it resembles something. Art is like story in that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I am an artist. The copyright laws grant me a monopoly. Otherwise hundreds of artists would steal my idea as their own. It is MY idea not theirs and I deserve to be compensated on bringing that idea from beginning to end, to the consumer of my product. I worked hard on developing my own UNIQUE idea, discovering that idea, and others DID NOT. They did not develop the idea. They did not work on the idea. They did not discover the idea. They put in 0%. They deserve NOTHING and I DESERVE 100% of the profits. That is why copyright laws were created, to justly reward someone for bringing a UNIQUE vision to this world and improving society with that vision. For artists that want to involve the public in their discovery there is the option of using the creative commons licensing. That also is a good tool if used properly but ONLY if the artist wants to use that tool. Many prefer the copyright, which is fine. For you to suggest that I should labor for nothing, to become a nice little communist, and just work and slave so that others – who do NOTHING – should also benefit is saying you approve of both communsim and legal thievery!

  16. Actually, that’s not “why copyright laws were created”. (Have you read any of this site?)

    Restrictive copyrights force everyone to define art on the same terms: monopoly terms, in which one party — more often a publisher or a record company than an artist — gets to decide what everyone else can do with their own copies.

    If that strikes you as an obviously good arrangement, this might not be the web site for you.

    Why do you think Nina Paley was suggesting you “labor for nothing”? She said exactly the opposite in her essay.

  17. I totally agree with the anonymous artist. I am an artist(sculptor). I work hard and for years without sales. Yes, one becomes an artist because they love what they do, so do stockbrokers who get paid handsomely. Yes, this is total bullshit what the author of this article wrote. She lives in some kind of “airy” world of nonsense.

    Jerry Harris http://www.harrisculptor.com

  18. The entire thesis of this cobbled-together bit of socialist nonesense is based on Nina’s wide-reaching OPINION that “art is a gift”.

    But like anything else man-made, it’s only a gift if the creator in question CHOOSES it to be.

    Nothing is inherently a “gift”. A “gift” is a CHOICE. By its very definition: “something VOLUNTARILY transferred by one person to another without compensation”.

    Nina is a victim of her own hubris. She believes that her PERSONAL OPINION about EVERYONE’S art should be MANDATED, and forcibly ADHERED TO by EVERYONE whether they want to or not. She wants to take CHOICE away from artists. She doesn’t care that some of them want to keep their copyright, she doesn’t want them to have that choice. She wants them to adhere to HER will.

    The reverse of course, isn’t true. There is no pro-copyright, “monopolist” movement looking to monetize and commercialize everyone’s art against their will.

    I don’t want to take Nina’s rights away, I just want to preserve my own. Nina, on the other hand wants to take MY rights away. That is the difference between us.

    WORK is labor exchanged for money.

    Please cite which IMAGINARY dictionary you got this ridiculously NARROW and erroneous definition.

    Here are some ACTUAL, FACTUAL definitions from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/work

    1 : activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform something
    A: sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result
    B: the labor, task, or duty that is one’s accustomed means of livelihood
    C: a specific task, duty, function, or assignment often being a part or phase of some larger activity

    Anyone with eyes will immediately notice NONE of these definitions are predicated upon a “for hire” situation which means Nina’s definition of “work” just like her definition of “art” is based on exactly zilch and is nothing more than the sole opinion of a single woman who believes her opinions should be treated as gospel.

    Work is work. Making art can be work or it can be play. Just like anything else.

    But artists are not inherently entitled to monetary compensation FOR THEIR ART.

    No one is inherently entitled to monetary compensation for ANYTHING. What’s your point? It’s only when someone decides they want your product or service that you are entitled. If a lot of people want an artist’s WORK than yes that artist is then entitled to compensation in exchange for that WORK. What there legitimately ISN’T is an INHERENT ENTITLEMENT to that artist’s WORK for free unless they so CHOOSE to make art as a GIFT…that word, again, is “CHOOSE”. Please read it until you understand its meaning.

    But to then demand payment after voluntarily working on your own terms — that is extortion. – Nina

    There is nothing extortionate about offering a work of art for sale…” (after voluntarily working on your own terms) – kfogel

    According to Nina, there is. You are not replying to the widget guy’s post. Instead you attack the straw man of making illicit copies which has nothing to do with Nina’s “if it wasn’t a work for hire, it’s extortion” line. And even for a straw man, it’s a poor one, since the widget maker could still sue anyone who made exact copies of his widget. So no, there is NO DIFFERENCE between the artist and the widget maker according to Nina’s logic even if she (and you) refuse to acknowledge the comparison.

    The word “extortion” is also a nice bit of Fox-News worthy hyperbole, in this case. There is no possible extortion (legally or linguistically) in regard to non-essential luxury items like Hollywood movies and big label albums. No one is putting a gun to anyone’s head and EXTORTING money out of them. If a consumer CHOOSES to watch a Hollywood movie or CHOOSES to listen to a big label album then they are legally expected to pay for it. That is “commerce” not “extortion”. And it is no different than a widget maker expecting consumers to pay for his widgets.

    Like Nina said, art doesn’t really work through pre-arranged contracts…

    And yet that is exactly what she wants MORE of! Consider: “If artists want to be paid in MONEY, they should negotiate a fee BEFORE performing their work.”

    IE a “Pre-arranged contract”…


    How is it that you two are at such odds this time around? None of what you’re saying (kfogel) is corresponding with what Nina said. Is it that you aren’t understanding her, or is it that she doesn’t doesn’t understand herself? I’m guessing the latter.

    Consider the Squeegee Man. He wipes windshields unbidden, then demands payment.

    There is no reason to consider it as it’s a completely disingenuous analogy. It is a straw man. And it is an outright LIE. There is no “Squeegee Man” artist. It doesn’t exist and you are a LIAR for asserting that it does. No one has EVER…FORCED…ANYONE…to take their art and then charge them for it. Please name even ONE (1) example of this. I dare you.

    Does the bank CEO deserve his compensation? Well, most people are questioning that right now. I’m surprised it’s taken a massive financial crisis for that to happen, but at least folks are asking.

    I’m always surprised at people’s apparent comfort in asking such a loaded, long reaching question. Nina, did you deserve the hundreds of thousands of dollars you spent to make Sita? Don’t you realize that there are people starving all across the planet? RIGHT NOW, at this VERY SECOND, there are mothers who are so malnourished they don’t have any breast milk for their newborns and can do nothing but cradle them until they die? And yet you had no qualms whatsoever in spending HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS on your silly little cartoon? Do YOU deserve it, Nina? Is it fair that you should have so much extraneous income to make silly cartoons when millions starve to death every year? How exactly, are you different from that fat cat CEO? Because he has MORE extraneous income than you do? So what? What does that make you, the lesser of the two evils? Well congratulations! So that sound you’re hearing now? That’s the sound of your glass house crashing down into 290,000 little pieces. Great question!

    We could let the market decide. That could work… IF WE GET RID OF MONOPOLIES.

    No. It still works. If people aren’t willing to pay the cost of a theater ticket, the film is ejected from the theaters and rushed to home video. If people aren’t willing to pay the price of the DVD, the price goes down and/or the DVDs are sent back to the manufacturer. If the movie didn’t do well in the cinemas or home video, than the cable companies won’t pay very much for the rights to air it two years later.

    I’m all for allowing the Free Market to function…

    You are? Then why were you bemoaning the Bank CEO’s compensation? His compensation is a product of the free market, after all. I hope you don’t mean to imply that his salary should have been regulated? That wouldn’t be a very free market positive stance. The fact is, the free market can only function with varying degrees of regulation. With lax regulation, we have depressions and recessions. The founding fathers knew that the arts needed to be protected in the free market and that’s why the copyright clause was included in the constitution from the very beginning, predating even the bill of rights.

    Art is not a commodity, it is a gift.

    Again, that’s YOUR opinion which happens to be based on NOTHING factual. Art can be a commodity or a gift or a commodity AND a gift. It all depends on what the author CHOOSES it to be. According to the doomed idealist you resemble most (Karl Marx) a commodity is “any good or service produced by human labour and offered as a product for general sale on the market”. That definition obviously does not exclude commercialized art.

    Millions need to be poor so that one can be rich; they’re willing to do their time being poor, so that one day they can be rich at the expense of others.

    That has nothing to do with copyright and everything to do with capitalism and you are the worst kind of hypocrite for trying to use the disparity of wealth as a rationale for abolishing copyright. How many people had to be poor so you could make your $300,000 cartoon, Nina? How do you live with yourself having made your little vanity project at the “expense” of so many?

    The best way for art to “compete” in a “free market” is to flow freely.

    The founding fathers disagree. So do the majority of economists.

    The Internet makes it easy for an artist to give their work to an audience. It also makes it easy for audiences to return the gift.

    It may make it easy but it doesn’t make it realistic. I notice you’re little bar is STILL at 46.5%…

    It’s really simple. Art competes with other art on the basis of quality. The Internet allows it to spread, to reach as many people as possible. Those who enjoy it have an easy mechanism to give back to the Artist if they are so moved.

    Yes, if you want to be poor, it really is that simple. I agree. Take Nina’s advice and turn your dollars into quarters!

    My NYSCA grant rejection and its attendant comments have taught me never to trust government arts agencies. I’ll gladly accept funds from them, but I’m acutely aware that they aren’t reliably competent to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Man, those are some sour, sour, grapes. It’s easy to see where this whole anti-copyright, commercial vendetta of yours was given seed. I just wish you’d put your efforts toward a more creative end, assuming, of course, you ever make back the money you lost on “Sita”.


    1. well it’s ridiculous straw-man to say this is all “sour grapes.”

      if you’re going to call nina’s ideas “socialism,” it’s just as easy (though perhaps almost as inaccurate) to call the (constitutional) roots of american copyright “socialism” as well. of course, in america we don’t like the word “socialism” (too close to “communism,” which is our word for totalitarianism,) so when we socialize something we call “subsidized” instead. american copyright was about subsidized work.

      but the work was for the advancement of public wealth (sounds like “communism,” i know. but only because it’s term humpty-dumptyized into meaninglessness) and if you can’t see that in the modern free culture movement, you can see it in the constitution and in the rules regarding “fair use.” to be fair, the term “fair use” is also unintelligible at this point. redefining it, liberally or conservatively, is vital because the landscape is incredibly different. the need for fair use as a freedom remains, the ways that it benefits society are well documented also.

      but the most ridiculous thing about calling nina’s ideas “sour grapes” are that they’re not really nina’s ideas, any more than “freedom” or “capitalism” are your ideas. fortunately, we haven’t expanded trademark law to the point where concepts are so controlled that we can’t debate things without permission, but nina is mostly expressing her thoughts about an increasingly large movement- not a vendetta.

      for those who see it as a vendetta i can’t very much blame them. copyright has been abused to exploit people for a long time. some vendettas would be excusable. but sour grapes can lead to good ideas anyway, even though they often lead to a waste of time, like your post. any revolution could be called “sour grapes,” but until the 1980s or so, americans were very proud of the concept of revolution. since then they’ve mostly worshiped centralized power in a way even loyalists to the crown couldn’t hope to understand- so long as the central power panders to them.

  19. Great article, but I think it’s useful to remind the FSF’s remark on the term “compensation”:

  20. “To speak of “compensation for authors” in connection with copyright carries the assumptions that (1) copyright exists for the sake of authors and (2) whenever we read something, we take on a debt to the author which we must then repay. The first assumption is simply false, and the second is outrageous.”

    “Getting paid for your work” is probably a better term.

  21. I know plenty of authors whose copyrights enable them to have a home and a family. To call it “simply false” is outrageous.

    1. No,the statement is true: copyright wasn’t invented to provide an income for authors. That was not the purpose for which it was designed. This is simply an historical fact; even if copyright later did end up providing a steady income for every author who wanted it, that wouldn’t change copyright’s original goals.

      But it doesn’t provide an income for most artists and authors anyway. I’d love it if you could quantify “plenty of” there, and tell us how much of their income actually derives from copyright-based sources. If you truly know a lot of people whose home and family are supported by copyright royalties, then you’re probably working as a publisher or artist’s agent, because making that kind of money from copyright is pretty rare.

      1. copyright may not always produce income… but it has an important role in protecting the value of the work for the artist and the community now and in the future.
        oh, and please note… by value I dont just mean monetary… it is also a question of a broader impact of the work artistically, technically, culturally, pedagogically etc

        I like to believe that it is critical for communities to produce ART regardless of it’s perceived monetary value at the time of it’s production… ART has a vital role in documenting and communicating the human experience (good, bad, indifferent etc)… and a vital role in being part of an ongoing conversation of significance, meaning, empathy…

        To control expectations/motivations/evaluations of ART is just another way to dilute our experience and expression.


  22. “i am an artists and I deserve to be paid for what i do. why is art not considered a paying talent but say something like carpentry is, when carpentry is a talent too…just like most jobs people are good at.”

    a carpenter gets paid to work, not create art. every carpentry job is commission with a pre-arranged payment BEFORE the work is done. if a carpenter isn’t going to get paid, he has the option of not doing the work.

    i can tell you now that you aren’t going to get paid for your art, so quit making it and get a real job. if you want to make money, you have to do something that people are willing to pay for. people don’t pay for content anymore so you’re going to have to sell something else that people are interested in buying.

    if you want to make art, then STFU and make art.

    if you want to do both, then build a community around your art so your fans can support you.

    1. Couldn’t have said it better myself :-).

      (I try to maintain a decorous style in my own replies, but every now and then a commenter says what I’m really thinking. Thanks, Anonymous.)

  23. As an independent musician, I have to express my relief that I’m not the only person with this attitude. For artists to expect MONEY as payment for their work, while also expecting their “profession” to somehow transcend the supply-and-demand protocol that dictates how much every other worker gets paid in every other profession – is one hundred percent hypocritical wankery, and something that I’ve had a problem with for years.

    I physically tremble with rage when able-bodied musicians and artists complain about their poverty, while there are plenty of well-paying construction labour jobs available right in front of them.

    If you want to create something on your own terms, that’s called a hobby. If you want to make money, you have to arrange with an employer to perform a service he/she is willing to pay you to perform; you can’t just perform a service that YOU expect to BE paid for performing.

    Artists who create original work outside a brief and then expect money for it need to either stop calling themselves artists or get a job. If you can’t support yourself, you can’t afford to be an artist. Why does everybody expect to be treated like Motley Crue just for being an artist? The world is oversaturated with music and art. Do something else. Nursing, maybe.

  24. Thanks anonymous independent musician!

    I don’t think art is a hobby – it’s a calling. I respect art and its makers very much. But that respect is not measured in money; as you point out, it simply has nothing to do with money, or commodity markets.

    I only recommend “get a job” to people who want money. For those like me, who really need to make art or die, we have the choice to accept poverty, or support from friends/family, and try to let go of the humiliation a commodity culture projects on the poor and dependent. Shame seems to be the biggest obstacle facing artists; we’re supposed to be ashamed of not making more money. But actually we can survive or even thrive by accepting support wherever it comes from. That includes crashing on friends’ sofas.

    I recommend reading “The Gift” by Lewis Hyde for more on separating shame from the kind of gift exchange artists have always survived on.

  25. Hey! I assumed I was late to the discussion and everybody had left, so I was surprised to get a reply.

    I guess the hobby/calling distinction is mostly a philosophy/semantics debate, but the main point I was stressing is that people have no right to complain to other people about their own choices. A lifestyle centred around creating your art will obviously be at the expense of making the same kind of money a person with a paying job makes. Whether an artist realises this before consciously deciding on that lifestyle (and he/she would have to be a complete imbecile not to) is irrelevant – it’s his/her responsibility to deal with the consequences of that conscious choice.

    I see so many artists (mainly musicians) that harbour this ridiculous sense of entitlement to money for basically doing something nobody asked them to do and nobody would actually PAY them to do in a million years. On an episode of SBS’s “Insight” last year, Australian musicians were up in arms about having to pay session musicians on tour (Mahalia Barnes – ignorantly assuming hiring professional musicians is a normal expense for all artists, not just for silver-spoon brats), labels taking a big cut of their record sales (The Audreys – whining about the fact that they CONSCIOUSLY SIGNED a recording deal with a major and are being held to the terms of that deal), and not getting paid for illegal downloads (Phrase – godawful aussie rapper pretending he didn’t know about filesharing before he embarked on his very recent “career”).

    The only reason these idiots think they should get paid is the same reason they got into pop music: they have romantic fantasies about being rock stars in the ’80s (when most of them grew up and learned to idolise famous people and rock hedonism), and they want to be rich and famous. But the market has changed: there’s no money in it anymore, and it WILL NEVER BE THAT WAY AGAIN because the actual music has no value without a secure medium in which to package it. The sooner every self-absorbed wanker with a guitar comes to realise this, the sooner the novelty will wear off, the overexposure of pop music will subside, and the quality of music overall will maybe start to improve a bit.

    Anyway, it’s past my bedtime. I have to go sleep like a baby because I have a fucking job that funds my life, and I only make music because the process itself pays me and a few others untold dividends that money never could.


  26. Piracy retards investors expectations, so it is an easy target, an enemy. But investors are taking a risk with their investment, and the outcome could go either way. Patrons of the arts are what we need. Patrons do not demand a return on their investments financially, only culturally. Capitalist maximalists and art should not mix. Capitalist maximalist’s money is poison (called “bad money” in VC/entrepreneur circles), patrons money is not poison. It is no longer as easy for monopolists to exist without criticism when a parallels world of patronage exists.

  27. Indeed. Patronage never went away, actually — it continues to fund a huge proportion of artistic activity. It’s hard to measure exactly how much only because it’s hard to define “artistic activity”. Rather than saying “patrons of the arts are what we need”, I’d say “we need people to understand that patronage has always been a primary means of supporting the arts”. (Whether one likes this fact or not is a separate question; it is still a fact.)

  28. I assume you gave Sita Sing The Blues away to every venue that screened it then right? Actually I know for a fact you didn’t, but hell, let’s not let reality intrude on your magical world.

    I also can’t help but notice your fund drive has just ticked over 50%. It’s been how many months? Good luck paying your phone bill.

  29. Huh? Well, it’s nice to know we can still get comments that surprise us, I guess.

    Yes, she absolutely did give it away to every venue that ever has screened it, and ever will screen it. Total freedom. You could hold a screening right now yourself, and charge admission, and Nina Paley couldn’t stop if you if she wanted to (but she wouldn’t want to anyway). Details about it are all over this site, so I’ll assume you can find them if you want them.

    The fund drive only counts donations. She’s made about the same amount in DVD sales; see here for detailed numbers.

  30. What an incredible number of words to say nothing. Anyone with the audacity to state “Art is a gift” with so little explanation of what is truly meant by that loses all credibility.
    As an artist, I don’t “deserve” any compensation for what I make unless someone else deems it so by exchanging their money for the work. It’s only value is determined by what it means to others.


    @Nina Paley

    You present monopolies as absolutely wrong. But note that workers have monopoly over their own work and this is a good thing. If they didn’t, they couldn’t fight for their rights through unions – unions depend on monopolizing the work force. If work was free, the workers wouldn’t get paid. So even though generally monopolies might be bad, in some cases, they are necessary.

    Art, as well as other creativity – ideas in general should perhaps be free, and you say people shouldn’t expect compensation for them and should share them freely. That should be helpful for the economy – ideas wouldn’t be selfishly kept in hope of future profit, or sold (ie patents). However, into your animated film you’ve put a lot of *actual* work – you drew those characters, you directed the film, cut the scenes etc. What you have to show for it is the content. You have no employer to pay you for this work, and your “clients” are viewers – the end product for them is content. So is the concept of selling content so bad? Perhaps you shouldn’t be allowed to set an unfair price, but you should be entitled to setting some price on your own content – as it is a direct product of your work. I’m happy you made it with donations alone, but I’m not sure it’ll always work. Bear with me, I’ll come back to it later.

    Let’s take an example of a logo designer: You say the idea of the logo in his mind is worthless (or shouldn’t be monetized, whichever), but his work is valuable. So he draws out the logo, and that act is work. Good, he’s done the work. However, once it’s drawn, the logo is “content”. That means that asking money for is wrong, isn’t it? But whoever hired him, naturally, doesn’t care about the work itself. He wants to buy the end product – the content. If the author drew hundreds of logos for various companies, and then burnt them all, did he fulfill his contract? He did the work, but should they pay him? I submit to you, content is applied work. And we agree that *work* should be compensated.

    Also, keep in mind that I’m overlooking the fact that the said company really wants the idea, not really the act of drawing the logo out. All designers are hired for their creativity, not the act of drawing, and are paid for the end product… Had I not overlook this fact, perhaps I’d draw another, frightful conclusion out of the whole story. So let’s just get back to content. 😛

    Let’s consider now content that’s not meant to be exclusive, like media. These, unlike the logo, could be freely available. But only once they are paid for (or a guarantee is made that they will be). If I bought a book, and found that it was bad, then I shouldn’t have to pay for it (perhaps the “container” only if there is one). But if I find it good, or if I use say, some research found in it as basis of my own work, then I should pay. Not the hundreds of dollars because I want to make money on the derivative, and I’m forced to pay (even though some would say that’s how capitalism works), but certainly because the author deserves a small fee from me and any other “user” for his work. In the end, the author is more important than the idea. The payment could be in form of donations, but if that’s not enough to compensate for his work (yes, compensate), and we get a starving artist, then we need something more. And paying for content is a most logical concept – or at least paying for it to become free content (see CC+ – “Creative Commons plus” protocol).


    Not a simple issue….

    –Luka Marčetić