When Did It Become Our Job To Fix Their Business?

I was arguing with someone on Reddit recently over monopoly reform, and instinctively, I started to say “There are a whole galaxy of other business models than selling undifferentiated copies and precluding anyone else from undercutting you.” The key word here is instinctively. If you support reform to current copyright monopoly laws, you spend a lot of time saying that there are other business models.

The Techdirt crowd, for example, embraces the message of “Connect with Fans and Provide a Reason to Buy”. Falkvinge.net is also filled with posts about people embracing “alternative business models” and succeeding. However, is this where we want to keep the discussion at, forever?

  • If we propose specifics, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the “but what about A or B? Those couldn’t work with business model C!” It’s an unending cat-and-mouse game. The classic example is the old “How to finance a blockbuster-caliber movie?” trope. Nobody ever considers that maybe the current system is the reason movies have to cost that much, do they?
  • If we offer generalities, like “Merchandise and sell experiences instead of commodities”, they tend to be shot down in snarky sound-bites, like “So bands will have to sell T-shirts instead of records?”
  • It keeps the conversation on the content industry’s terms. They can be the “victims” needing a “rescue” strategy. It’s sure a great shift of attention from the rest of society being denied access to information and the natural rights to communicate and share.
  • It’s needlessly speculative. Indeed, it reminds me a lot of the earliest “home computer” books dumped out by the thousands in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The authors spent hours arguing that we’d all be managing recipies or doing computer-driven teaching, and then VisiCalc happened and people forgot all about recipe-management. No doubt it will be the same. Someone finds the “killer model” for post-monopoly revenue generation, but it’s probably not gonna happen until there’s no other choice but to find one. And much like the cuddly toy in the caption image, some of the suggested models aren’t gonna fly in the real world.
Admit It
You opened this article to figure out what sort of point I was making with that picture. That shows a viable business model there– weird, custom images to be used as teasers on blogs. Oh, great, I’m starting again…

Let’s stop playing defense.

It’s not our job to figure out how to fix their business models, especially when said business models are based on faulty or untenable assumptions. If you’ve been trying to grow oranges in Alaska, and make up the difference with farm subsidies, the end of subsidies is not a punishment, it’s well-deserved justice.

Instead of answering the same question every third discussion, it’s time to turn the moral argument on its head. “Is it worth it to deny us every piece of art since 1923 to ensure Lady Gaga will be able to get five Bentleys instead of three?” I’m waiting for an answer…


  1. Aaeru

    The problem is in the fight against disinformation, is that you can either win people, or they label you an extremist, they ridicule you, and then you drop them and move on (as I often do).

    Because the heart of the fight is a war of information.

    Remember, they are in the upperhand. They’ve sold monopoly like it’s a a MORAL thing, that it is a human right, that it is PROPERTY. The only way to show people that their government is lying to them, is to Ease-Them-In on the truth. (I know…)

    The real problem in the discussion of copyright and intellectual property, is that too many people are too committed to a vision (or to lack of a vision) to allow Mere-Facts to interfere with their beliefs or the sense of superiority that those beliefs give them.

    The only way to win an information fight is to have better information and more convincing information than the propagandist.

    And while I understand what you are saying in this article, to move onto the offensive, I think that offensive might not necessarily completely exclude an explanation of different business models.

    That’s why I boiled it down to a formula, in such a way that it has general applicability to ALL artful creations here: http://fuwanovel.org/faq/2

  2. steelneck

    We can draw many paralells to earlier revolutions of disruptive technology, and nobody knew then what the future would hold.

    When the wind of change is blowing, the concepts of radicals and pragmatics get turned upside down. When everything just goes about as usual those who achieve something is looked upon as pragmatics, while those who let their fantasy go wild are radicals. But when disruptive technology drives the wind of change it is the opposite. Those who look out the window and just state the fact of what they see, are looked upon as radicals. But those navigating by the old map and propose things based on that are regarded as pragmatic. In the mirror when the revolution is over, we can see how foolish it was.

    Those saying that it is acually hppening, outside that window, get pushed into small development groups with scarse influence, often close to ignored. A cheap price to get rid of those saying such uncomfortable things. It does not matter if we talk about industry, politics or services, the same modus operandi repeat itself.

    Often those in power see the change coming, early. But that the new really will take over, as they have nightmares about, get sorted under the heading unthinkable. It hits way to close to home. Kognitive dissonce works like that. We all look for arguments that fit with our previous backpack of thing we know, that is hov we intuitively sort true from false.

    We can see how small council groups and strategy groups get put together to question all the the new things, come up with new ideas, strategies and so on. This is not part of a solution, it is a symptom. We can also see it when solutions are asked for. Those who ask for alternatives, from those who actually look out the window, demand that we lie for them. The change will not happen until there is no more people who can lie believable. We have never ever before been able to predict the future in a disruptive change that precise, never. Internet is not that old, not counting from when we more generally had access, it is something quite recent. Not even the most technical inclined knew how the future would look like when the combustion engine was invented. No one knew what all those people delivering ice would work with in the future when the refrigirator was invented. No one knew what what all those working with horses would do when the automobile got a bit more common. We can all go on with endless examples like this.

    What is important is to not get stuck mentally in the old ways and see realists as crazy radicals.

  3. Anonymous

    the problem is on multiple fronts, and only one side is listened to, the one that refuses to change but can shout the loudest because it funds the ones it wants to do the listening, ie, the politicians and the law makers. as long as the entertainment industries have the ear of those in power, of those that can change existing rules and make new ones, no one else has a hope in hell of being listened to. if that option were there and being taken up by those that can make the differences, there would have been no need for the extremes that were taken to have been taken over ACTA. look at the punishments that are being dished out for file sharing? 40 months in prison. 3 years in prison. millions of dollar fines. these punishments are getting totally out of hand and lets be honest, is there a single government, a single court, a single law enforcement officer of single politician saying anything in condemnation of these punishments, punishments that are not only ridiculous and really beyond belief for the so called ‘crimes’ committed but far in excess of REAL crimes, like robbery, rape and assault. how can anyone of a public position justify letting this happen and say nothing? they all know what is happening but sit behind their polished desks, with mouths shut, shit scared of doing anything these industries dont like because they would lose their cozy position, huge salaries and fat brown envelopes of encouragement. and when will this all change? never! because no one is prepared to try. even ISPs cant join together to fight on a united front, each being picked off one at a time. and it doesn’t matter what concessions are given or by whom. they are never enough. RapidShare being a perfect example of this. now the added kicking is that the EU have basically given the USA ICE carte blanche to shut down web sites wherever they are registered. how stupid a move is it to give the USA more power over the Internet, when there has just been a resolution passed to stop the ITU from taking more control? seems to me to be ‘out of the pan and into the fire’ and i bet it comes back to bite us in the arse! there needs to be serious change but it has to come from politicians with the balls to do what they were elected to do, REPRESENT THE PEOPLE, not from millions of people marching in protest of something that would benefit big business and no one else, particularly when that big business is on another continent!

  4. Anonymous

    If you say that in an argument everyone will assume that there is no other way, because that’s the mindset they’re in and you won’t convince many others.
    Posts like these makes me wonder if we’re just hive-minding here.

  5. Zacqary Adam Green

    This may be the most reasonable argument, but it’s not a winning argument in my experience. It upsets artists, and when artists get upset, their fans get upset. Nobody likes the copyright industry (especially not artists if they’re being honest), but compared to a bunch of pirates saying their struggles to create their art is “not our problem,” the industry seems downright angelic.

    I’ve had the most success making the “if people like you, they’ll give you money” argument. The copyright industry wants us to believe that accessing the work and supporting the artist are one and the same, but psychologically they’re completely distinct. People will listen to/watch/read/play your thing the cheapest, most convenient way possible. This has nothing to do with their desire to support you.

    Essentially what I’m saying is that all of these record sales, streaming fees, and so on and so forth are basically elaborate forms of busking.

    That’s not an immediate answer, but at least it’s a starting point to get an artist’s entrepreneurial wheels turning. It also makes the copyright industry into the bad guys, pointing out their shameless attempt to turn the warm, human relationship between artist and audience into a cold market transaction.

    So, no, it’s not our job to fix an industry’s business model. It is, however, our job to fix our society and our culture. That’s why it’s good to avoid the language of “fend for yourselves,” and focus more on the golden rule.

    1. Dave

      > That’s why it’s good to avoid the language of “fend for yourselves,” and focus more on the golden rule.

      Unfortunately, the Internet has taught us that the golden rule is actually “he who has the gold makes the rules.”

      1. harveyed

        Not really. TPB is still up and running, although censored in some legislations, such as the United States and United Kingdom for instance.. But that’s only gonna make those countries economies stagnate even worse…

        Copy-right dependent “publishing” industries are already going down. They can try and throw any amount of money at it… won’t help at all. They will be broke, and probably in the retrospect be ridiculed to no end for their actions. Just as any obsolete business in the past has for their unforgivable protectionist lobbying.

    2. harveyed

      “That’s not an immediate answer, but at least it’s a starting point to get an artist’s entrepreneurial wheels turning. It also makes the copyright industry into the bad guys, pointing out their shameless attempt to turn the warm, human relationship between artist and audience into a cold market transaction.”

      That’s a very good one. I will copy it. 🙂

    3. CobardeAnónimo

      Nice straw argument there – we don’t care about your struggle to create art? No, that’s not even close to what we’re saying. You’re free to create art any time you want. Your struggle is to make money off what you love doing. That’s a very big difference. We all need to figure out how to make money. You don’t care if I make money or how I make money. It’s not your problem. Well, the feeling is mutual.

      In a free market system how you pay the bills is entirely your problem. If you can’t create art and need to get an 8-5 nasty job – your problem. Let’s not forget the same applies to the rest of us. Basically you don’t get preferential treatment just because you’re an artist.

      A robot replaced a worker in a manufacturing line. No politicians were bribed, no laws were created as a result. Internet (computers/software/etc) is the robot killing your “manufacturing line”. Why does it need to be any different to you than the poor guy who was sent home? No, it doesn’t. You need to go home and start looking for another job or business model. Just like everyone else. And it’s nobody’s problem. Either that or we change free market rules (or move to Socialism). Nowhere in our current economic system is written that if person A has ability to create art, person A should be paid to do so by someone.

      If, as a result, only amateurish crap art is created then so be it. But let’s not forget there’s zero evidence on what kind of society/art we will have if that happens. Ultimately those who want art of a “higher” order are free to fund it. Personally I wouldn’t mind if part of my taxes were devoted to fund art creation. But that’s entirely another matter.

      1. Zacqary Adam Green

        Yes. Yes yes yes to all of that. But when you put it that way, it really pisses people off. For every person I’ve said that kind of thing to who nods their head, I’ve had ten who’ve all but spit in my face and called me a heartless bastard.

        Which is maybe fine if you live in a proportional representation country and only need 10% of the vote. But I’m in the US, so it’s not gonna fly for us here. We have to be more kumbaya about it. (Which, really, honestly, isn’t the worst thing in the world)

  6. printersMate

    The discussion about copyright should be focused on the main danger that it poses, rather than that of business models. The problem is that the legacy industry is seeking powers to support its business model that are a direct danger to society. To be able to stamp out the perceived problem of piracy the legacy industries, and in particular the music and film industries, are seeking the ability to control all content on the Internet, and the operation of personal computers. This is situation is doubly dangerous as the means that they seek align with those of governments seeking powers to deal with the terrorist threat and to protect the children.
    Digital systems allow easy copying, and the only ways to control this copying is by establishing a regime where all traffic on the Internet is monitored to detect infringing copies in transit, and all personal computers are locked down so that only authorised software can be run. This latter protects DRM measures, and to prevent copies being made of files protected by DRM. These measures would be supported by the ability of the legacy industries to remove any page from the web, shutter any site or block payments to any person or company in the name of preventing piracy. The measures would be available without legal oversight, and would be difficult to challenge after the event. Unfortunately these powers align with those that many governments are seeking to deal with the perceived terrorist threat and to protect the children.
    Artists have various options for connecting with fans, and making money. However it is worth pointing out that it is not necessarily the same artists that thrive with new business models as thrived under the legacy publishers. From the perspective of society, the question has to be what is the best option for a thriving culture. It is not a culture based on very strong copyright and with works locked up forever. Because of the nature of physical copies, publication if new works in physical copies is limited by the production and distribution capabilities.
    On the Internet, the problem is one of getting the works of an artist known to a large enough audience so that they earn a reasonable income. An artist should not assume that any work will earn them an income, but that they have to develop their own abilities as well as finding an audience. Making a work available and listening to reasonable criticism can develop an artist, and build an audience that will start to support the artist.
    The real problem that the Internet brings for the legacy publishers is extreme competition in that the number of works that can be made available and find a market will swamp their publishing abilities. There will probably be fewer people that become excessively rich by publishing their own works, but probably more that make a reasonable living, and many more that simply meet their own costs of production.
    These new business models are only weakly dependant on copyright, with free file sharing acting much more as a means of creating an audience than being a drain on income. Free file sharing plays a role much closer to that which radio used to play for music. That is it get a work known to more people, some of whom become fans and support the artist by purchasing the works or other means of payment.
    It is worth pointing out to the sceptics that under the legacy system few musicians made a living from published records, but mainly relied on concert performances, and even fewer authors that make a living from their own books. A few famous actors make a fortune as stars, while many struggle to make a living in theatres and with bit parts.
    Culture is more of a participatory activity, and the Internet is enabling much more participation and co-operation in the creation of a broader range of culture. It also makes it easier for an artist to find an audience that will support them by being world wide.
    The current approach of the legacy industries to dealing with piracy seems to be aimed at scaring the vast majority of people away from seeking the works of independent artists on the net by threatening draconian measures for any infringement. They are putting out the message that any downloading of files from other than mainstream sources is a risky operation, by demonizing the use of torrents and file lockers.demonizing
    Copyright needs to be modified to enable this to continue, and avoid the establishment of control over the Internet and computers that suite totalitarian regimes. The ability to exercise arbitrary power sought by the legacy industry would enable them to attack and damage Internet based competition given the slightest hint of piracy or derivative works. It would also establish within the Internet industries the tools that governments could use for censoring opinions they did not agree with.
    The job is much more one of preserving a free and open Internet, along with the open politics and diverse culture that it enables.

    1. Ian Farquhar

      PrintersMate has hit on a very good point here: the infrastructure needed to “police” (aka. socialize private enforcement costs) of private copyright holders is a very, very dangerous infrastructure to create.

      I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the capabilities vs. intentions strategy, whereby nation states seek to control (minimize) the capabilities of even close allies. This is simply because intentions are fluid, and can change quickly with an unfavorable election or a coup d`etat. An ally with nuclear weapons is a small risk, but can quickly become a foe with nuclear weapons. Consequently, the safest strategy is to prevent allies as well as enemies from obtaining the capability in the first place.

      The same content policing capabilities which detect copyright “violations” are incredibly powerful tools for detecting other things as well. Think fair use/fair dealing, political dissent, or pretty much anything you care to name.

      And that’s a huge risk.

  7. steelneck

    The large threat to an artist has never revolved around the issue on how to get paid, never, not really. The big overwelming threat has always been about staying in the dark shadows of obscurity, or fade into it. Now is internet a threat or a possibility looked upon this way?

    Tim O’Reilly wrote about this already back in 2002: Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution

  8. Anonymous

    let’s face it, they dont need us at all to fix ‘their business’. they have just about every government, politician, law enforcement agency and court on their side. when it comes to sorting out the problems they have, the losses they are supposed to be making every one of the above listen to the bull shit told by the industries and then act on it in whatever way they can that assists them. the ones that have to spend the money to keep the businesses profitable, the ones the industries rely on every single minute of every single day, THE CUSTOMERS are totally ignored, ridiculed, prosecuted and fined at the drop of a hat for monies that amount to 100s of times what anything the industries sell is worth. they then wonder why THEIR CUSTOMERS are so pissed off with them. i just read where a guy in, i believe Maryland in the USA has just been fined by some completely idiotic judge 1.5 million dollars for sharing 7 porn movies. regardless of whether you agree/disagree with porn, that sort of fine is outrageous! how can it ever be looked on as him having received ‘JUSTICE’? but as i said above, when those that have the stick use it in this way, why would any of the entertainment industries actually want to produce anything new and then cater for their customers in the market place by a competing with a free society?

  9. Ras B

    I still dont see what taking copyrights away from artists will benefit the artists ?!? Or where is the alternative to the current system ?! Ill go with ther person that asked SHOULD WE SELL TSHIRTS TO PAY FOR OUR MUSIC THEN ?!

    1. harveyed

      File sharing is free commercials for your (future) work. That is much more cost efficient than having whole businesses to do commercials for you. You just can’t depend on “selling” records anymore because they can be copied for free.

      However you can reach fans cheaper than ever before… and if they like what you do they will be willing to pay you for it in one way or another. Live performances, investments such as donations, crowd funding, commercial sponsors and so on.

    2. printersMate

      Assume that he copyright maximalists get their way, then the only route available for an artist to gain an audience is via a publisher. Because of this, the artist has to give most of their rights in a work to the publisher under the terms that the publisher offers. This limits the works available to the public to those selected by publishers, and is not that great a deal for the few artists that are accepted by the publishers.
      It is worth noting that most authors have another job that provides most of their income, the J.K. Rowlings of the book world are very rare creatures. Most musicians make most of their income from live performances, As various people have demonstrated a strong fan base brings in the money for works made available over the Internet without and DRM, Louis CK, Jonathan Coulton, Cory Doctorow amongst others. A strong fan base requires getting an artists works known, by getting them into the hands, (eyes and ears), of many people. This can be achieved by allowing works to freely circulate on the Internet.
      It is also worth mentioning that culture is based on people sharing and building on each others works, and is much more participatory than the copyright maximalists would have people believe.The The internet makes participation easier for people, so long as strong copyright enforcement, and in particular the blocking of derivative works, is not used to stamp this out.
      Also as pointed out in a post above, the real question is do we want a rich and participatory culture, or a totalitarian state, with copyright enforcement leading to the latter. Under a totalitarian regime, on;y artists that support the states viewpoint prosper. Looking at the efforts of the copyright industries to get laws passed by influencing treaties, such as ACTA, and allowing that many politicians instincts are to control Information, the choice seems to be between freedom of expression, or a totalitarian system to protect copyright.

    3. steelneck

      Exactly who want to take away copyright? The Pirate party do not want to do that.

      1. harveyed

        Most Pirate Parties want to restrict the economic monopoly of copyright. However no pirate party ( that i’m aware of ) want to remove the “credit” part of copyright.

        It should still be illegal to claim you’ve done something that you haven’t. Plagiarism should not be OK for instance.

        1. Zacqary Adam Green

          If I get my way in the US Pirate Party, I’d like to see us campaign to cover plagiarism with existing laws against fraud or libel. Copyright is completely unnecessary to establish whom the author of a work is.

  10. Mattias

    “Is it worth it to deny us every piece of art since 1923 to ensure Lady Gaga will be able to get five Bentleys instead of three?”
    With this argument you are basically saying that Lady Gaga will make less money, so for artists just making it today that means they will not make any money at all.
    The argument should be
    “Is it worth it to deny us every piece of art since 1923 to ensure Lady Gaga will be able to get five Bentleys instead of three, because she uses the wrong business model?”

    1. Anonymous

      …for artists just making it today that means they will not make any money at all…

      No, it does not. Smalltime artists (the ones I know) make their money playing in their near surroundings and if the money is tight they get a day-time job – just like small-time anything else I might add, just to name one: Wozniak developed the Apple I computer while working at HP.

  11. passstab

    i think a better line is
    “what do you think would happen if we got rid of copyright? “

  12. […] another industry for their failing business plan. “I’m not against evolution of […]

  13. William Lee

    Seriously. When confronted with this kind of question, (which given our day and age), should I not ask of them, “Well, how’s your current business model working out for you? Failing? Ah, ok then…”

    If they can’t figure it out, then let them die. I’m not going to tell them how to get rich. Unless of course they hire me as a consultant… OPEN FOR BUSINESS

Comments are closed.