Creative Workers Need to Be Paid, the Question Is How

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Tuesday, 19 June 2012 19:23

There is a lengthy and painful debate over at the Trichordist over whether young people are being immoral when they listen to music that they didn't pay for. The lead piece "letter to Emily" explains to a young woman how she has an obligation to pay for the music she listens to. The piece accurately documents the dismal economic plight of most musicians. It then throws in the statistics that are familiar to those of us who follow the issue closely:

Recorded music revenue is down 64% since 1999.

Per capita spending on music is 47% lower than it was in 1973!!

The number of professional musicians has fallen 25% since 2000.

Of the 75,000 albums released in 2010 only 2,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. Only 1,000 sold more than 10,000 copies. Without going into details, 10,000 albums is about the point where independent artists begin to go into the black on professional album production, marketing and promotion.

All of these facts are right. That should tell us that we have a system that doesn't work. We can harangue Emily about being an immoral person, but that is not a serious response. The copyright system might have been fine for 16th century Venice but it is not a viable way to support creative work in the Internet Age and we are not going to change that by preaching to the heretics.

The serious route is to find an alternative mechanism. I have proposed one, an Artistic Freedom Voucher. This is essentially an individual tax credit, modeled on the charitable deduction, that would allow everyone to give a certain sum (e.g. $150) to the creative worker(s) or organization who they most like. The condition of getting the money would be that a creative worker register with the I.R.S. just like a charity or non-profit must register and give up their ability to get copyright protection for a period of time (e.g. 5 years). 

It is a simple, low-bureaucracy way to get tens of billions of dollars a year to support creative workers. I am sure that there are other better ways to do this, but the point is that copyright is dying fast.

Creative workers can get upset about that fact and scream at the Emilys of the world for being immoral or they can try to think of a way of developing a model that works in the Internet Age.