Don’t kid yourselves, artists, authors, and other creative people: charging money to access your work is morally reprehensible. You can argue semantics all you like, and call it “selling” to “customers” who “buy” your “product”. But the rest of us know that it’s nothing more than oppressive, tyrannical despotism.
The views expressed in this article are intentionally absurd, and not intended to be taken at face value. I have to say this, because this is the Internet.
In the ancient world, a despotic king from a distant land might demand tribute from his conquered people in exchange for the “valuable” service of neither raping nor pillaging them. This is in contrast to the fact that normally, the conquered people would naturally have the right to live their lives rape-and-pillage-free. Similarly, when you publish a digitized cultural work on an online “store” such as iTunes or Amazon, you are demanding that people give you money in exchange for the “valuable” service of accessing a non-scarce, non-rivalrous, infinitely redistributable collection of data. These two scenarios — ancient and modern — are perfectly analogous, and are just as morally reprehensible as one another.
Therefore, it is in no way an embellishment to call a creative person who charges money for digital distribution a “despot”. You dirty, reprehensible despots, you. There is nothing hyperbolic about comparing a brutally violent relic of history to the modern-day idiosyncrasies of MP3s and stuff.
You despots have no regard for all of the hard-working people who made your creative output possible. If you’re an author, how could you write your novel if nobody ever invented the word “the”? Or the idea of paragraphs and sentences? Or the narrative and literary tropes which you used or self-consciously subverted (because you’re so postmodern)? You drew all of these things from the cultural commons, and the cultural commons is made up of everybody’s freely accessible, freely modifiable work. If everyone demanded ritual sacrifice of money in order to access and transform their work, then nobody would ever add anything to the commons ever again. What, do you want it all to just stop? Forever?
Now, given how undeniably right I am about all of this, you’ve probably realized that I’m a smart enough guy to be realistic. And I am. I’m extremely intelligent. I have unrestricted posting rights on the blog of one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, so I’m obviously better than you.
Thus, I understand human nature. I’m not saying all of this to try and stop anyone from being evil, black-hearted despots who demand monetary tribute from innocent aficionados of culture. If a human being can ruthlessly extort money out of someone else, they will. That’s just common sense, and no amount of the ever-increasing biological and anthropological evidence to the contrary can change that. But don’t ask me to like it. Don’t ask me to be your friend if you demand money to read your book, watch your movie, listen to your music, or whatever it is you do.
Fortunately for basic human decency, I know that it’s a myth that demanding money for culture is a particularly easy process. For now, it’s a nontrivial exercise for people without access to conniving legal or PR teams. That’s why, despite the fact that most of the art and culture I enjoy is behind a paywall somewhere, I’ve still experienced a shitload of it with no obligation to pay. Most normal people (as opposed to petulant divas or pro-copyright lobbyists) can’t be bothered faffing around with self-aggrandizing whiny blog posts or suing their enthusiastic fans. They’d just like people to enjoy their work.
But the grand-scheme-of-things irrelevance of all of you malevolent, contemptible despots does absolutely nothing to quell my undying rage against you, which is not petty at all. I don’t care that your despotic demands for tribute have no discernible impact on anyone’s lives at the end of the day. If you charge money to access your creative output, then you are committing a crime against humanity.
You might say, why Zacqary, that’s a bold statement. To which I’d reply, no: it was an italic statement. This is a bold statement.
If you want to talk about cold, hard economic realities, let’s talk. But don’t try to argue semantics. Don’t try to gain the moral high ground. No matter what you say in a semantic or moral argument about these issues, you’ll always be wrong.