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Stephen Fry speaks on the history of copyright, his thoughts on file sharing and the future of entertainment.
It strikes me that the real issue here is the question of how we, as a society, will continue to encourage the development of new talent and the creation of new art.
As you rightly point out, it is absurd to portray copyright infringement as stealing. The self-righteous, moralistic verbiage of a group of people known for their questionable business practices has, predictably, had absolutely no effect on altering behaviour. If you can get something for free, why pay? Well, did you like that song? Would you like to hear what that band can do in the future? Then you need to pay, because otherwise the band members will be too busy with their day-jobs.
The entire notion of copyright as a *property* right is self-defeating and arbitrary, and as long as those in the creative industries keep banging on about property they will continue to fail to win people to their cause. We don’t pay for art because it belongs to someone, we pay for art because we want *more* art, and that’s not going to happen if the artist needs to flip burgers to pay the rent.
Art is founded on the notion of patronage. For thousands of years this patronage was the preserve of the wealthy and art was reserved for the rich. The (partial) democratisation of art has brought with it the democratisation of patronage. We now have the chance to find the artists that we like and say to them, ‘Hey, good work, here’s a fiver to help you make your next album.’ Paying for art is not a commercial transaction, it’s not the purchase of a licence, it’s an investment in the future of art itself. As long as art is portrayed as a commodity subject to property rights, people will continue to engage in the act of mass civil disobedience that is piracy. This attitude needs to change, and that means the industry needs to change.
Yes, there are a lot of issues that I’m glossing over. The industrialisation of art and all the problems surrounding the fabrication, promotion and distribution of large-scale art-works still need to be seriously addressed, and it will take a long time to work out solutions.
But the fact remains that the reason to pay for art is because we want *more* art. This is the foundation of current copyright law, both in the US Constitution and in the Statute of Anne (“for the encouragement of learned men to compose and write useful books” – but what about Britney?) The current attempts to pervert copyright and twist it into a version of material property will fail and merely act to delay the adoption of a fairer, freer, and ultimately more productive and liberating relationship between art and society.
What a change of heart 20 years makes.
You heard it here first, folks: If your plane has been hijacked by a gang of terrorists and their leader, a rather desperate character called Miguel, threatens to shoot all the passengers unless someone can perform the `Haircut’ sketch in the Club Class lavatory… Stephen now interprets this to be fair non-commercial use.
My tendons twitch in anticipation.
I worte on my blog how Copyright infringement could be made a thing of the past – Read it here @ http://vextortv.blogspot.com/2009/08/how-online-tv-and-movie-copyright.html
Great blog, you truly are a British Treasure! Keep up the good work, and I hope to see Q.I. for many more years – you have got the alphabet to do at the end of the day.
Having just seen your inspiring video “Happy birthday to GNU”, and hoping to find more the like here, I admire the irony of finding only iTunes-bound material.
So in essence, once I follow your advice from “Happy birthday to GNU” and check out gNewSense, I will be absolutely unable to hear more inspiring stories/and or hilarious other content (since this is an iTunes free computer, I most assume the content to be hilarious, or at least entertainng).
Sorry, but I couldn’t resist on that one. Nice page though.
Spotify British? In the Nordic countries we believe it’s Swedish.
I am a big fan of Pixar animations. A few months back I remembered the song from the end of Wall-e. It’s called “Down to Earth” by Peter Gabriel. I went on to iTunes Australia to legally download the song but it was not available at the time (it now is). I searched and found the song was available in the US iTunes store.
This all happened months after the movie had come and gone. Like in other countries, it was a big hit in Australia too. We are not taking about an obscure song – it was nominated for a Grammy.
So why was this song not available on the Australian iTunes but available in the US iTunes. It wasn’t because it was obscure or a just released song. I think that is was because of the archaic system of record companies and regions. Back 50 years ago, a record was recorded in the US and it took six months or so to send it by ship to Australia. Record companies were set-up by geographical regions, and there was a different company in the United States to had the rights to release a song in that region and another company to has the rights to release a song in Australia. In fact, there are hundreds of these companies around the world. Fifty years ago, the model of different companies handling song rights from different regions worked fine. But today where people can hear a song released in the US in just minutes.
Imagine some hears this great song and they want it. In todays society, people want it now, so they visit iTunes or their local legal music download store to try and purchase the song. But what happens if there song is not there? The person still wants to download the song and now. This person could then try to download the song for free.
My point to this ramble is the structure of the larger record companies is causing some people who wanted to buy the song legally to source it illegally.
I’m not saying that this would solve the free download problem, but the fact that some record companies have not adapted to the global digital market place means that they and the artists they represent are missing out on revenue from customers who are trying to do the right thing but cannot download that new song because they live in the wrong region.
When record companies see what they are doing and remove these barriers to customers from legally purchasing the songs; the customers, artists and record companies will be better off.
And, yes, I did legally purchase Down to Earth.
Can’t you buy direct from Amazon America?
The case for non-Draconian copyright protection of content creators. (Can I use the phrase non-Draconian? I am only an American reader, so, not sure.) Since the recording of this lecture, there has been the Radiohead release: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/markets/2816893/Radiohead-challenges-labels-with-free-album.html. Strangely, this seems to have *increased* their artistic reach and landed them in the filthy lucre. Hope the ‘labels’ noticed. Me? I don’t think we should violate our own laws in a democracy -better to change them. But, even if that never happens, I expect that RIAA will wind up giving the little people their money back or be cast into Niflheim. Well, time to lift my drawbridge.
Half of the problem is that the record/movie companies are so arrogant, that they actually think I am a non-person because I don’t live in the US or EU. iTunes is not availabe. Amazon is not available. I don’t count to them, they don’t supply legit product to my home, so it’s a free for all for me.
Thank you Stephen for that lecture and I do so agree. When I look for things on the net it is only to try them out. If I like what I see, hear or experience my immediate impulse is to buy an original good quality copy. Being gay here in Paris I have bought ‘untried’ various films, hugely overpriced and which turned out to be rubbish. My motto now is, if I can’t try, I won’t buy! Thanks to illegal uploading of people on various sites I have discvovered a great many titles I would not otherwise have known about. Surely the industry is overlooking a very powerful and cheap way of advertizing?
Love and adore your work Stephen.
There is a twist and turn of the history of music transmission you did not cover in your entertaining iTunes lecture.
I believe that in the early part of the 20th Century, recorded music began to threaten the careers and livelihood of instrumental players, with recorded music being used in place of a live band at plays dances and other venues. As well television for a while threatened to close cinemas. This is a dog eat dog world, but dogs seem still to be extant.
One thing that music downloads may accomplish is to promote artists and probably to inspire people to attend live performances.
I wonder if there could be a way to reinforce this principle. As a fan of classical and operatic music, I spend more money attending live events than may people spend on recordings. I’d love to see some way of linking the promotion of my local opera company to file downloads: what if there was a pool of recordings posted on the internet from many of the smaller companies who do not have recording contracts. Perhaps with each ticket purchased one could get some download points to be able to download a performance from that company or even one from one of the other companies in the pool. Perhaps seeing the best that another city’s opera house has to offer, I might plan a trip and earn yet more download points.
I always feel better about putting cash down that goes more or less directly to the artist (because she or he is performing live), than to the multi-layered corporate maze from which the artists gets only pennies on the dollar. Moreover I’m sure most artists get a greater intrinsic reward from having live eyeballs hovering above live bodies in the audience. And no recording can beat the sound and sight of a live-performance.
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