There Will Never Be A Shortage Of "Content"

Lawyers who advocate maximization of the copyright monopoly can sometimes be heard complaining that if the monopoly is abolished or weakened, there will be no culture or knowledge to fill our precious gadgets with. Derogatorily, they call this culture and knowledge “content”.

Claiming that there will be a shortage of culture if the copyright monopoly is weakened is so definite a state of denial, going way beyond a dimension of mere faith, that it probably deserves its own psychological diagnosis.

People create more than ever. All of us create so much culture and knowledge — text, music, images, video — that there is more created now than at any time in history. And this doesn’t happen because of the copyright monopoly; it happens despite the copyright monopoly. The growth is not in the previous elite; it is with everybody else.

How much more do we create now compared to before, you ask?

The numbers boggle the mind. In two days, we create as much culture and knowledge as we did before 2003.

Let’s take that again.

Last weekend, on that Saturday and Sunday, people created the same amount of culture and knowledge as had previously been created in total in the time span from the very dawn of mankind until January 1, 2003.

And people do this entirely without consideration of the copyright monopoly. The culture being created is, as they say, “user-generated”. If the copyright monopoly is anything, it is an obstacle and annoyance (video).

To claim that there “will be a shortage of content” is not just out of touch with reality. It really is deserving of a psychological diagnosis.

But on the other hand, people have been known to claim preposterous things when business interests are at stake. Worded another way, people have no trouble lying for profit with a smile until their hair falls out.

It is interesting to compare current events with the advent of the public library around 1850, when the same lie was claimed. If people holding the copyright monopoly wouldn’t get paid every time a book was opened, no culture would get created ever again, the copyright monopolists said.

The claim was as bogus then as it was today. And as a final touch, to really point out how the copyright monopoly is harming culture, consider how millions of creators — literally millions — are explicitly rejecting their already-awarded monopoly and publishing with Creative Commons. This ties in with my open letter to the music industry after they wanted to burn me at the stake at a conference (yes, really).

At the heart of the lie, there seems to be a misconception among publishers and distributors that nobody will create culture unless a middleman can make a profit distributing it. And thus, we have come full circle from the deception of the British Parliament in 1709.

Rick Falkvinge

Rick is the founder of the first Pirate Party and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. He lives on Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, roasts his own coffee, and as of right now (2019-2020) is taking a little break.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Falkvinge, Ann Markström, lillebrorsan, Razor, Doktor FrankenTan and others. Doktor FrankenTan said: RT @Falkvinge: on #infopolicy: There Will Never Be A Shortage Of “Content” […]

  2. jeffer

    “Burn at the Stake” Sounds like Bloody Mary and Bishop Boner who tried to force fanatical catholicism on the English people. The present copyright regime is a fanatical religion. But you should never force religion on other people. It is a private matter. Let us hope the politicians will awake and wipe copyright out of the lawbooks. To follow one or the other religious belief of copyright is up to the conscience of every single individual and no business of the state.

  3. NingúnOtro

    Dear Rick,

    The problem for the publishing industry is not fear for lack of present and or future content. It is the fact that abundance of post-copyright content from the past and non-copyright content from the present, that will not be encumbered by their control, will make it almost impossible for them to continue selling their content with the benefit margins they got used to.

    What the internet changes dramatically in this situation is the fact that with printed books, the logistics of the printing process and the fact that books have a physical presence both cooperate to give anyone a limited supply of choice within reasonable reach, and pricey books make a big chunk of the offer on display, so the business thrives. With the internet, while the pricey local books offer remains the same (at the beginning)… they can not compete with the digital catalogue of quality, non-copyright encumbered books that comes from the whole earth because the physical limitation has been lifted.

    They do not fear as much the fact that their actual copyright be infringed… but the fact that we have yet too much choice without needing the books they print. They have slayed costs by mass printing, and now, as the people find alternative readings, they do not sell enough anymore to pay for the fixed costs of their oversized production capacity. The printed press is having the same kind of trouble with the present crisis… less paying readers and less advertising revenue… but the fixed costs of their now oversized production capacity drive their business into the negative results no matter what they do (ask subsidies and reduced tariffs, mainly).

    A very graphic similar situation is that of on-line porn. While with classical printed porn you had to choose to pay for some of the limited offer on stock at your local dealer 😉 … on-line there are thousands of sellers that show at least one gallery for free to convince you of the quality of the rest of their wares. Of course, many smart people consume the one free gallery from every supplier, and that gives them funny pics for a lifetime without ever have to pay any of them for the content they have for sale.

    It is nobodies fault, and certainly not pirates, that the different logistics of internet trade ruins old-style business.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      This is an excellent and insightful comment that I’ll probably need to write a reference blog post out of once I’ve thought it through once or twice more.

      One problem certainly is that the price point used to be set by the lack of shelf space, so that each unit needed to be sold at a high price to pay for the rent. When shelf space is no longer limited, it changes the dynamics entirely, but the copyright industry hasn’t changed to reflect this.

      1. NingúnOtro

        The shelf space issue is a wrong one… each book needs mostly the shelf space of one time its back cover. It can be sold 200 copies a month if it is refitted in the same space 200 times that month. It will certainly occupy that space with one single copy if it does not sell, and only then the allotted shelf space will be too expensive, no matter what the selling price.

        Of course, the argument goes for a book one looks for by author or theme, already being known… if you have to display them with merchandising to publicize it, no space is big enough to do that for more than a few books.

        If you sell quality books… you won’t find enough to fill your shelves, if you sell pulp, you can never have enough shelves (and you have to sell fast, to make place for the next truckload, because pulp is like virae ;)..

  4. Per "Wertigon" Ekström

    The thing I find most interesting is that the record industries keep feeding their consumer with, excuse the language, pure and utter bullshit. And I’m not talking about the actual content, which in many cases are decent, but the things that come with it.

    Buy a DVD or a Blu-Ray, you have to watch through five minutes of warnings and commercials before finally being able to navigate the movie and hit play. And don’t even get me started on CDs – you never know when a rootkit hits you (though, to be fair, that hasn’t happened since the major Sony fiasco).

    When I can go out and watch quality entertainment for free on Youtube, why do they think I’ll put up with that crap? When I can listen to many talented artists on Jamendo and Magnatunes, why put up with buying CDs? It’s not as if their content is in any way better than the content I enjoy.

    And that is why they, ultimately, will lose this battle. They refuse to adapt in a world overflowing with content, and they put off their users by behaving like utter morons. Meanwhile I’ll grab a bag of popcorn and watch the empire crumble. Will happen within a decade. 🙂

  5. Rev. Smith

    I know, do not give advice, unless asked for. But this very sentence “There Will Never Be A Shortage Of “Content”” would be a perfect series, not unlike the history of copyright you write last week (?).

    There is much evidence – history (how did it look like in western Europe before monopoly, Geography – how does it look in the movie industry in regions with weak/no copy right (e.g. India and Nigeria), the actual effect of music industry pre- and post napster. The evidence is there – the essence of why copyright does not increase the cultural content, some just needs to sum it up in popular scientific way in order to show the masses… But it is perhaps better suited for a book.

    1. Rick Falkvinge

      You may have a good point there, I could write a lot more on this subject.

      This post was actually just a precursor to what I really wanted to write about: how copyright is destroying jobs and how the industries that gain from a weaker copyright far, far outrevenue and outtax the copyright industry.

      The copyright industry usually responds with “yeah, but there would be no content for all of those gadgets if it weren’t for us. So all of those depend on us”.

      I wanted to call bullshit on that right away and have another post to link to on the subject.

      So, tomorrow’s post will link to this one. 🙂


  6. Rev. Smith

    the only trouble you will end up with is the word quality. And when it comes to quality and culture content, there are no exact definition (and hardly any vague) and there is in no way possible to measure quality, since it has (according “the business”) nothing to do with amount of audience, they are mathematically independent (compare with most known (until the 20th century at least) composers, painters etc who all got their fame after their death), But that has probably to do with logistics.

  7. NingúnOtro

    Dear Rev. Smith,

    The biggest trouble is still not understanding the difference between what quality stands for from the creators point of view, excellence in content, and the industries point of view… maximal profit margin.

    Excellence in content gets rewarded with an increased audience of admirers willing to pay whatever they deem fair from their point of view and proportional to their personal pockets availability. Sometimes you get rewarded for doing things the right way under adverse conditions, with independence of the contents quality, because ordinary people appreciate guts.

    Have a proof of concept:

    Of course, variable retribution adapted to the end consumers spending margins does not marry well with standardized business practice and the inertia of the established simplification and standardization needed to mass produce and sell.

    But why has culture to remain hijacked because of the logistical constraints of actual middle men that we actually have the technology to bypass altogether?

    The industry is wrong abusing statistics of dwindling sales and supposed piracy (equating one realized copy to one lost sale). First, this equating is wrong. Second, cultural and entertainment sales are not to be seen as a percent of total sales (which include non-avoidable essentials like food, energy and shelter with little flexibility, and thus with the increasing crisis it is normal that that the biggest crunch is on non-essential spending, and even logical that people fill up the spare time they have no longer a budget for with whatever they can get for free, be it “legally” or “illegally” 😉 ), but its evolution should be measured against its % among the specific group of non-essential sales. Of course, statistics should also be inflation-corrected, at standard constant prices, not absolute values.

  8. Sven

    But what kind of information is created? Or “culture and knowledge” as you call it…

    The real issue is user-generated content,” Schmidt said. He noted that pictures, instant messages, and tweets all add to this.”

    In other words – information that not even the creator wants a week from now. Ask me in a week if I even remember this comment…

    1. Scary Devil Monastery

      You mean the sort of comment most of us won’t even remember ten minutes from now since it doesn’t even rate enough to submit for “Art of trolling”?

      Honestly, no. I’ve heard some idiots in my day but…no. If 99% of what content generators generate is actually pure crap but they produce it in quantities exceeding the paid industry by a factor of 10000, then you will still find 100 times as much “worthwhile” content in the “free” sector than the “closed” one.

      Which is no doubt what SCO’s chairman was afraid of when he tried to have “Open Source” declared “unconstitutional”.

      The fact of the matter is, even within specialized fields such as computer science, the open source has provided everyone with high quality tools and finished products which compete excellently with the closed license versions. See OpenOffice, for instance, or Ubuntu.

      But fair enough, Sten. Impotent frustration requires release, i suppoose, and we shan’t think too unkindly of that spastic “putdown”. 🙂

  9. Putte

    The publishing industry shoot themselves in the foot, again. I would possibly be willing to pay for a book about my favorite interest if – IF! – it was a masterpiece, with impeccable editing, layout, illustrations, expert authors who spent time writing a clear and insightful text.

    However, the falling fixed costs of producing a book have just flooded the market with generic, me too, books with sloppy editing. Instead we get a race to the bottom. Partly driven by the authors need for self-promotion, in addition to the profit motif of the publishers.

    1. NingúnOtro

      Maybe you do not understand the industries situation. Do not look at the facts from the one-time effort of the reader and/or the consumer, but from the industries point of view…

      To obtain economies of scale they have heavily invested in big, mammothlike printing presses, and lately CD/DVD/BR production facilities. They suffer from the ever faster technologic obsolescence of the production technologies in such a way that the newest technologies arrive BEFORE they have finished paying for the investments made in order to support the previous wave.

      That is why they want to preserve the printed books… because they have not yet recovered their investments in the printed presses and they need the benefit margins that go with printed books to do so.

      All right, digital books are much cheaper to produce… but selling those does not make the benefits needed to continue paying what is still outstanding debt on the printing presses, and streaming and downloading of audio or video content does similarly not for the CD/DVD/BR presses.

      Put this all in a context of economic crisis where from the consumers point of view the first things to be dropped from expenses are non-essentials…
      … and it doesn’t take unlawful pirates to understand that:

      1) many people that once did buy books, CD, etc. now do not have the budget anymore to do so.

      2) many people that loose their job not only can not buy anymore… but they also get enormous amounts of “free” time they have to try and fill up with something meaningful to do… on a very low budget.

      They will download whatever is available to fill up the ever longer time periods of non-productive inactivity, be it copyrighted or not, if they can get their hands on it.

      Those who fight downloading do not do so only to prevent copyrighted work top be downloaded… they fight downloading any kind of alternative to their paying content. For music, video and text, they fight P2P, bittorrent, etc. that serves also free available content without restrictive licences. Fighting and outlawing P2P and Bittorrent… they shut down also legit distribution of free software such as GNU/Linux, BSD, etc., free alternatives to Windows, OSX, etc.

      The markets are dwindling… and all these moves intend is to preserve for them as much as they can, as long as they can.

  10. Takako Dockwiller

    I like the valuable information you provide in your articles. I’ll bookmark your weblog and check again here regularly. I’m quite sure I’ll learn many new stuff right here! Good luck for the next!

Comments are closed.