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 on "Why Artists Share"

  1. 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

  2. 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.

    1. 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.


  3. 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

    1. 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”.