Questioning Copyright

The points below are a quick guide to what we’re about. For a more detailed explanation, see this article.

Myth: Copyright was invented by writers and artists, to protect themselves.
Copyright was invented by the publishing industry, to subsidize distribution, not creation.

Myth: Musicians, writers, and artists depend on copyright to earn a living.
Most creators do not support themselves from copyright-based earnings.

Myth: Copyright is about protection from plagiarism.
Sharing someone’s work is different from pretending you wrote it.

Myth: Copying is like stealing.
When you copy something, the original remains untouched.

Myth: Creativity would dry up without copyright.
Most creativity takes place outside copyright, and always has.

2 Comments on "Questioning Copyright"

  1. There is a fairly large number of authors and musicians that use (C) to help them earn a living. These are the people that live as freelancers: writing articles, doing speeches, and live performances. They are not well-known, but the income from the (C) is a part of their income. The part is different from person to person, but 10-30% of the yearly income is not uncommon.

    These people seem to be ignored in

  2. Some thoughts in reply:

    Of the three activities you mentioned, two are not based on copyright
    royalties — speeches and performances are paid per event. Writing
    articles is generally paid per piece, and there is often little
    connection to copyright-based royalties. For example, much piecework
    is written for magazines, whose income comes mainly from advertising,
    plus some from subscribership. The subscribership money can be called
    partially copyright-based in some cases, perhaps, if some percentage
    of the subscribers would unsubscribe if they thought they could get
    the same thing for free.

    However, note that even though virtually all of most major newspapers’
    content is available for free online now, many people still subscribe
    to them — and newspaper publishers generally do not ascribe
    subscriber loss to the fact that the publishers are making the content
    available for free online, but to other factors.

    Another example: I have an offer in my email inbox right now to write
    an article (for a few hundred dollars) to be released under an open
    copyright. This is paid writing: if I did enough of it, I could make
    a living, yet clearly my fee is not truly royalty-based.

    Despite the examples you chose, what you wrote is still true: there
    *are* some creators who earn a living from copyright royalties, or
    earn at least part of their living. The important question is not
    whether there are such people, but whether there would be a *shortage*
    of creativity without copyright. Based on what we’ve seen so far on
    the Internet, and in the arts in an increasingly post-copyright world,
    I think it’s pretty clear that creative production is in no danger.

    We do not consider it a tragedy today that no one is paid to do
    cashier calculations in their heads. There once were such people. It
    was a prestigious position, in fact: highly skilled labor, and for
    obvious reasons much in demand. The invention of the cash register
    (and later the calculator and the computer) made this job completely
    obsolete. Presumably the people who would have been doing that are
    today doing something else instead.

    It’s true that some people earn money through royalties today, but
    they are not even a majority of creators. asks:
    is this minority enough to justify a system that prohibits people from
    sharing freely with each other?

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