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Artists are not inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their Art

This post by Nina Paley originally appeared on under the title “Artists should be compensated for their art.“  With Nina’s permission, I am publishing this post under her name as a Music Think Tank author.  Nina may not be able to respond to comments.

Before you post a serious comment, consider watching this video on Derek Sivers last MTT post.  Both Nina and Elizabeth Gilbert raise interesting points about where art comes from.  For me, the question of where art comes from (and who in fact owns it) is one of the most interesting perspectives in which to frame the copyright debate.



“Artists should be compensated for their art.” is a phrase that often comes up in discussions on copyright.  It is assumed that a) Artists are inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their Art, and b) copyright is a mechanism for this compensation.

I challenge both assumptions.

Of course, what people actually say is usually “Artists should be compensated for their work”. Below I’m going to distinguish between Art and Work, because confusing the two is exactly the problem.

a) Artists are inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their work.

I agree that artists are entitled to payment FOR THEIR WORK.

WORK is labor exchanged for money. Employer and worker negotiate a fee, the labor is performed, and the worker is paid. Many artists are workers: they are waiters, baristas, truck drivers. They should be compensated for their work, and they are, which is why they work.

Some artists perform a kind of skilled labor for money. This type of pre-negotiated labor is called a commission. Commissioned work is work, and artists are compensated for it, which is why artists take commissions.

But artists are not inherently entitled to monetary compensation FOR THEIR ART.

Art is a gift. An artist creates Art (not to be confused with skilled labor) on their own initiative. An artist “labors” in service of their vision, their Muse, the Art itself. The Muse alone is the Artist’s employer. It’s debatable whether the Artist can negotiate with their Muse before performing the labor — I certainly try to — but like most labor, terms are dictated by necessity. Just as economic necessity forces many workers into hard labor for low wages on their employer’s terms, so does suffering force many Artists into labor on the Muse’s terms. But unlike corporations and human employers, the Muse turns out to always have the artist’s best interests at heart. I’d much rather serve the Muse than an employer; but the Muse doesn’t negotiate a moneyed wage. Monetary compensation is not part of the deal.

The Muse “pays” me in Life. “Do this,” she says, “and you will Live. Turn away, and at best you will only survive.” I do have a choice: I can make the Art, or not. I accept the Muse’s terms. I perform the labor, and receive my “payment”: Life.

ART is negotiated with the MUSE. The “payment” is LIFE.
WORK is negotiated with an EMPLOYER. The payment is MONEY.

If artists want to be paid in MONEY, they should negotiate a fee before performing their work. That is the proper condition for payment. Or they can create work with no pre-negotiated payment, without demanding payment after the fact. That’s fine too. But to then demand payment after voluntarily working on your own terms — that is extortion.

Consider the Squeegee Man. He wipes windshields unbidden, then demands payment. He did the work; does he “deserve to be compensated”? Most would say no; if we wanted our windshields cleaned, we would negotiate this service in advance.

If I decide to sit behind a desk, take calls, devise flawed business plans, and lie, do I DESERVE to be compensated like a bank CEO? No. The bank CEO’s work was pre-negotiated. He gets $25 million in salary and bonuses because that was the deal BEFORE he sat down at his desk and did the work.

Does the bank CEO deserve his compensation? Well, most people are questioning that right now. I’m surprised it’s taken a massive financial crisis for that to happen, but at least folks are asking.

Since we’ve been in a massive artistic crisis for decades, maybe people have given up on asking whether the top .5% of artists deserve their monetary compensation. If I sing and prance around on stage, am I entitled to $110 million a year? It’s the same work Madonna does, and that’s what she makes. But Madonna arranged to be paid in advance of the singing and prancing, and performed it as work.

And if artists deserve to be compensated, then how much do they deserve? Isn’t art priceless? How do you determine how much it’s worth?

We could let the market decide. That could work… IF WE GET RID OF MONOPOLIES. The Free Market only works without monopolies. Information monopolies like copyright destroy that system. I’m all for allowing the Free Market to function, but it can only function without copyright.

Indeed, Madonna is not compensated as an artist; she is reaping profits from her information monopoly — that is, the copyright that restricts her Art. So if Madonna is your model, you aren’t rooting for artists; you are rooting for monopolists. If your mechanism for “compensating” artists requires them to become monopolists and to grow and position their monopolies as monopolists do, then you are championing monopolies, not Art.

Art is not a commodity, it is a gift. If you want to produce a commodity, negotiate its worth in advance. Art is made on the initiative of the artist. Otherwise, it’s commissioned work, which obviously compensates the worker. But the the commissioner is often a corporation or investment group, who will expect a monopolist’s return on their investment. So the pro-copyright argument is simply in favor of maintaining the oligarchy whose elites happen to be the main patrons of art in our age. It’s like supporting monarchies because kings and queens patronize artists.

This may be hard to hear, but: many artists who claim they just want to eat and pay rent are lying (perhaps to themselves). Most artists don’t want a living wage — they want to win the lottery. Suggest to most filmmakers and musicians that “success” is about $75,000 a year, and they’ll turn up their noses. You call that a jackpot? They’re only in it for the millions, baby. If that means working a day job and remaining obscure, so be it. Millions need to be poor so that one can be rich; they’re willing to do their time being poor, so that one day they can be rich at the expense of others. Their turn will come, they think.

I suggest playing a different game entirely, because the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. But those kinds of artists want to play the lottery more than they want their art to reach people.

I do not mean to suggest that all artists have this attitude. There are also those who would be quite happy with a living wage; this is good, because that’s a much more realistic expectation for even a very talented artist. The problem is that our copyright discourse is dominated by the lottery attitude, such that when people say “Artists should be paid for the work” what they really mean is “All Art should be monopolized, so that some Artists can have a tiny chance of maybe getting rich one day.”

The best way for art to “compete” in a “free market” is to flow freely. The Internet makes it easy for an artist to give their work to an audience. It also makes it easy for audiences to return the gift. Giving is quite different from paying or being extorted. Money given is different from money coerced. It is a free transaction.

Not everyone will like a particular work of art. I don’t think people who dislike a work should be obligated to pay for it. Certainly works that offend, nauseate, or bore me, don’t inspire me to support their creators. But works that move and inspire me also move me to support their creators. I am touched by the Artist’s love, and want to offer something in return. Money is an obvious choice: the Artist can almost certainly use it. But it’s not always the right choice. I’m moved by many Beatles tunes, but I’m not inspired to send a check to Paul McCartney. He doesn’t need the money (not to mention he’s a big time monopolist). However, money is almost always an appropriate gift for a non-rich (read: typical) artist. It will be appreciated, and it’s not so personal as to be disturbing or threatening.

The Internet makes it very easy for fans to voluntarily send money to artists.

It’s really simple. Art competes with other art on the basis of quality. The Internet allows it to spread, to reach as many people as possible. Those who enjoy it have an easy mechanism to give back to the Artist if they are so moved. Not everyone will be so moved, nor should they be. Not everyone has to like everything. Not everything can touch us.

In conclusion:

Artists are NOT inherently entitled to monetary compensation for their Art. However we as a society can decide to support the Arts. The problem with this is that 95% of the Arts sucks. Most of us don’t want to be supporting artists that suck, nor allowing government committees to determine what is and is not worthy of support. My NYSCA grant rejection and its attendant comments have taught me never to trust government arts agencies. I’ll gladly accept funds from them, but I’m acutely aware that they aren’t reliably competent to separate the wheat from the chaff.

The best way society can support the Arts is to allow Art to spread, and to continue to encourage giving money to artists. That seems pretty natural to most people anyway, and it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s freedom.

Reader Comments (38)

Very insightful. And I agree that artists are only entitled to compensation for work under a prearranged contract.

But isn't the committing of an artistic idea to a medium a matter of work? And aren't touring & gigging very physically taxing? Isn't all the promotional work done by independent artists a lot of tedious work as well? Left to our own devices, don't the majority of people see "Pay What You Can" as just another way of saying "Free"?

The purpose of law is to protect the weak. Proceeding from this, copyright law should protect the work of independent artists. Like anything else, the artists created it and have every right to do with it as they see fit, right or wrong. Copyright protection allows us to negotiate whatever contract with the public we can muster. In the case of Madonna, she can negotiate $110 million a year because people have proven willing to fork over the cash.

You can't draw a line somewhere between independent artists and people like Madonna; that would defeat the purpose of having laws that apply to everyone equally. She doesn't have a monopoly on music; she just owns her own work. Nobody has a monopoly on music, or any other artistic medium for that matter. Madonna owns the publishing rights on what she writes, and really should own the mechanical rights on what she records.

And then an artist (Madonna or anyone else) can let it be known to all within earshot, "As owner of this piece of work, I say go ahead and copy/remix it any way you want." This will encourage people to pay attention, whereas the Metallicas and RIAA's will garner negative attention and become internet memes indicative of greed and evil, etc... until they either wake up and smell the propane or die of asphyxiation.

The point in all this is that art isn't necessarily some sacred thing handed down to prophets by some incorporeal entity to enlighten the masses. Sorry if that's what you believe. Art may be one of the highest achievements of the human spirit. I say it's work, and attended by even more work. The result of that work doesn't entitle anyone to monetary compensation, but it does entitle an artist to ownership of the work, so they can negotiate a contract with the public.

"The best way a society can support the Arts is to allow Art to spread, and to continue to encourage giving money to artists." Absolutely. In a perfect world it would be that simple. But we have to remember that there will always be people who are not interested in others, but only in themselves, and given to preying on the weak or taking without giving back. These people are the reason for the existence of the law.

God knows, I don't want the last word on this either. I realize my argument has a number of holes, and even find myself very logically agreeing with terms I find repulsive. I need to find a balance between the letter of the law and the spirit (or real purpose) of the law. Thoughts?

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterSDukeEllis

I'm sorry, but this is a crock. Monopolists? Muses paying you in life? What ridiculousness.

First off, let's take care of the rational argument. The monopoly. As the previous commenter has posted, copyright holders do not have monopolies. A monopoly by definition "exists when a specific individual or an enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it" (wiki). Madonna or any other copyright holder does not have a monopoly on music or art. It's like saying Kraft has a monopoly on macaroni and cheese. No they don't, they just own the right to one brand of macaroni and cheese. If you don't like paying Madonna $110M for prancing on stage, then go talk to Lady Gaga or the thousands of other competing artists in the same genre.

As for the muse paying in life argument, while it all sounds fine and dandy, it means that the commensurate fact is that the masses do not have a right to access art. This would be a pretty lifeless society if all artists worked their fingers to the bone doing menial labour to provide a living while their art stayed in their basements, attics, or other creative spaces. If you want to argue that art should be available for public consumption, then it is required that the public compensate those artists for the work that is consumed, regardless of whether or not the artist would have created it anyway.

Of course there is going to be art that you don't like, and you're entitled not to consume it. You are not entitled to consume it and then decide whether you like it or not. Do you go to a restaurant, scarf down a meal and then when the bill comes say "I'm sorry, it really wasn't that good, so I'm going to pass". If you're not prepared to pay for the art, then don't consume it.

Many artists will put their work out there for free, in the hopes of gaining interest so that they will be paid for the consumption of their work/art later. This decision should be left up to the artist. By saying that the artist is being paid "in life" by their muse, you neglect the existence of the real world and the need to survive. By taking art from people who have created it without compensation, and without their consent you are stealing from them. You are invading their privacy, and going against their wishes. That doesn't seem very humane does it?

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

By taking art from people who have created it without compensation, and without their consent you are stealing from them. You are invading their privacy, and going against their wishes. That doesn't seem very humane does it?

Alex, I'm sorry but what you're saying is rubbish because you don't even get basic economics. Music, literature, movies and other works that can be digitally reproduced hundreds or even thousands of times without affecting their quality are quite different from tangible goods like food, houses or cars. You can't steal a song because it's a non-rival and non-exclusive good. Don't use false analogies to equate things that are inherently different.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Caetano

i wonder what would happen if all artists suddenly removed all work they're not getting paid for. you'd probably be among the last standing few who haven't taken their own lives because there's so little man-made honest art left to admire. the problem with your article is that it pretty much supports the idea.

September 20 | Unregistered Commentereesn

Miguel, I actually was an economist for the Federal government, so I have a great understanding of how things work. We stick to old examples because people understand them. If you really want to get into it, taking music or movies and copying them isn't "theft" in the traditional sense because you're right they're not tangible items. If you want to make a more apt comparison, I suppose we should say that copying music without permission is more akin to breaking patent law. The artist who created the work developed the "patent" if you will, and those who copy it, are infringing on the originators rights to that "patent".

Of course we could also enter into the argument that theft or "copying" or whatever you want to call it (arguing about terminology is semantics), harms not only the artist, but everyone else involved in the recording process, from the manufacturers of recording technology to the sound engineer.

Yes, there is an argument to be made that Artists can decide to give out their music/art/whatever in order to reap the economic benefit of more tickets sold, higher merch revenues, etc., but that should be the Artist's choice, not the consumer.

By not providing monetary return to artists, people arguing for "free art" are essentially removing an incentive for artists to share their work. Surely if you understand economics as you claim to Miguel, then you'll understand non-material incentives rarely work in the real world.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Amen to Nina Paley. This was a good piece, thank you Bruce.

And @ Alex:

"Surely if you understand economics as you claim to Miguel, then you'll understand non-material incentives rarely work in the real world."

Non-material incentives actually drive most human behavior. Have you been checking out the work Dan Pink is doing? He's not very cutting edge but I mention him because he speaks your language. His TED presentation is worth checking out.

And honestly, saying you worked for the Federal Goverment doesn't really inspire respect for your knowledge or grasp of economics. That's one of the most spectacularly failed financial institutions on human record.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland


I'm not going to get into a discussion with you about the Feds and economics, because my disagreement with them and their methods is why I am no longer a bureaucrat with the title of "economist".

I'm not entirely aware of Dan Pink, but a quick google search led me to his homepage where guess what, he is selling his "art" on Amazon. He's not giving it away and hoping for nothing in return.

The problem with Nina's argument stems from the fact that she equates the labour of artists to a labour of love, therefore above the realm of the production consumption dynamic.

For example

"If artists want to be paid in MONEY, they should negotiate a fee before performing their work. That is the proper condition for payment. Or they can create work with no pre-negotiated payment, without demanding payment after the fact. That’s fine too. But to then demand payment after voluntarily working on your own terms — that is extortion."

This is incorrect. Many people who make products or make available services do so in advance of any contractual agreement. The widget maker with a new product does not get a zillion customers and then make the widget, he makes the widget and then attempts to sell them. Consumers then get to choose which product to buy. This is how our society works (whether we like it or not).

Music works in the same way. Ever since the early days of Sun, Chess, et al, records, music was made in the hopes that somebody would like it and buy it. Those who made music that people enjoyed bought the records, and those artists whose work was not to the public's liking (or more often not to the labels liking) was not produced anymore. This is a similar argument to what Nina makes later in the article:

"It’s really simple. Art competes with other art on the basis of quality."

I suppose I can agree with the statement that artists do not inherently have the right to be paid for their art. What I don't agree with is the mindset that consumers should be able to consume whatever they wish and pick and choose who they pay. Madonna, Still Life Still, or Jonathan Coulton don't have the right to be paid for the work, but if you decide to consume it, you should pay for it.

That being said, as I mentioned before, if an artist CHOOSES to make their art available to the public for free, then so be it, but that choice should be the artist's to make, not the consumer.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

In addendum to my last comment.

As an artist myself, I create because I enjoy it. I bring my music to the public in the hopes that they will enjoy it, and I hope they will pay for it so I can continue creating. However the cost of making a budget EP (and I've made a few in my time), runs in the neighbourhood of $3000-5000. $1500-2000 for recording time, $500-1000 for mixing, $500-1000 for mastering and then whatever cost to get any physical copies made (downloads have made this negligble).

So if I don't get paid for this "art", then it won't be made available to the public anymore, because I can't afford to make it.

Believe me, I would love to be able to create art, send it to the masses, and have them enjoy it for free, but all artists have inherent costs, be it recording studio time or equipment, canvas and paints, clay to sculpt, or whatever medium they work in -- sometimes it is just "time". These things cost money, and no artist can be expected to live without earning something from their art. If you don't like the art, you're not obligated to consume it, and the artist will likely stop creating it in a public form.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex


That being said, as I mentioned before, if an artist CHOOSES to make their art available to the public for free, then so be it, but that choice should be the artist's to make, not the consumer.

But don't you see that from the moment he releases his art to the world, he can't control it anymore because it's out on the Internet and anybody can create a copy from the original without any perceiving loss and without any cost? That's basic digital economics! If I was an artist and I was working on a professionaly-produced record, I would first make sure that someone would pay for all the recording, production and post-production. That someone could either be a corporation, a brand, a special fan or hundreds or even thousands of fans. That's how Jill Sobule, Marillion, and many other artists on Sellaband and Slicethepie made it.

Besides and returning to my first remarks, it's totally unrealistic to expect that everyone that listens to a record will pay for it. Art is not a necessity like bread, it's not even a commodity like water. Art is much more similar to religion because it doesn't fulfill any physiological necessity like eating or driking. On the other hand, it's not a futility. It's something that pleases the mind, gives you a meaning to your life and reality, that helps you to better understand yourself and the world. I guess that's the same role of a religion.

Now, do you think that the Protestant churches could have ever achieved the importance they have today all around the world if Luther or Calvin started to charge money for their sermons?

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Caetano

Miguel, please tell me that you don't think that church is "free". Tithing is as old as religion. If you didn't give what you could to the collection plate, you were at the very least made to feel guilty as hell (punny get it), or at the worst made an outcast, bullied, and possibly have violence inflicted on you.

I understand what you are saying about the internet, dispersal of distribution and lack of control. That doesn't make it "right". It may be unrealistic that people will pay for things they can get for free, but arguments like the original article that Artists shouldn't get paid for their labour are essentially attempting to justify downloading, sharing, etc., without providing the artist with any compensation.

Sellaband, and Slicethepie are interesting models of getting funding. Personally I used to raise about 1/3 of the money needed for my soon to be completed EP. The problem is that in order to get fans to start with you have to have produced art. In order to get shows, even "pay what you can" type shows, which is what I normally play, you have to have a product to show the venue owner. I would be very amazed if there are more than a handful of artists who have managed to raise funding from people unknown to them (friends, family, people who have seen their work in some venue), without having some art created first.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Another addendum to back up my previous post.

The artists mentioned above (Jill Sobule and Marillon) were initially funded by labels in the old school of music development. The only way that they would have achieved any success through modern funded by fans movement is by having fans that existed because of the early art they produced which was funded by labels.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Second addendum.

I'm not someone with unlimited time on their hands, the frequency of my posts is because this is an issue that I feel strongly about as a musician.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

In an ideal world an artist would be compensated for the costs of making their recording or performing their art and ideally they would be able to pre negotiate the rate for this work. And ideally consumers would happily cough up hard earned $$ in return for the art that they love and/or consume. But the reality is that just about everyone has at least one recorded casette tape, cd or mp3 which they did not pay for in their music collection. This is the reality of the situation and something that is not going to change in the near future.

No one on this site would argue that artists don’t deserve to be compensated for sharing their work publically. But I see that debating who should pay for what and who has the right to be compensated to pay for what is not productive. Shouldn’t we discuss how to make the best of the situation that we’re presented with? Trying to enforce people to pay can’t be the solution. To me that goes aginst the whole culture of creating and sharing music in the first place.

Our reality at the moment is that consumers are digesting more music than ever before and music has never been more accesible to the masses. Surely this must present opportunity for artists to generate revenue. Maybe we haven’t come up with the right business model or the correct strategy. If the demand for music is so high then there must be room for creative and entrepreneurial business ideas to generate income for musicans…. I’ll let you know if I figure out the solution :)

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterNathan.

Now we're talking Nathan.

If we're going to move forward we need to figure out the best solution for everyone, artists included.

September 20 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Alex, thanks for taking my snark in stride. I've been digging the points on all sides of the conversation so far.

Nathan, I think the system that's emerged is really clear. Despite the complaints about "head starts" that direct to fan NIN system, it really works. I also think it's really clear that it calls for a lot of work -- like a psychotic and crushing amount of work, really -- so artists are balking at that.

Yeah, IF ONLY there were a simpler way to break into a global entertainment market worth billions of dollars and screaming over instantaneous communication systems. No matter what "system" we work out, no matter what perfect platform Ruby on Rails developers can cook up, there's still way too many people trying to cram through that gate.

Personally, I feel that we've got the right system. It's chaotic and it's unfair and I love it.

September 21 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland


The problem is that in order to get fans to start with you have to have produced art. In order to get shows, even "pay what you can" type shows, which is what I normally play, you have to have a product to show the venue owner.

If you're really good you can still record a song in a laptop or even a tape recorder that out there in the world there will be hundreds or even thousands of people who will love it. That's how John Frusciante started. That's the roots of Punk and the Lo-fi movement. Since them, lots of fabulous acts kept raising the bar of doing the best with the minimum set of resources: Guided by Voices or even now Wavves, Ariel Pink Haunted Graffiti. Just because it wasn't recorded in a fancy studio, doesn't mean it sucks. As a matter of fact, I believe it's quite the opposite: if your songs don't sound good even in their raw condition, then I think it's better for you to choose another career...

September 21 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Caetano

Thanks for reading. The answer to the money problem is very simple: content is free, containers are not. See Understanding Free Content for an elaboration of this concept, and the Sita Sings the Blues Free Distribution Report to see it in action.

September 21 | Registered CommenterNina Paley

What a giant steaming pile of blithering idiocy!

Take the above crap and replace the word "Art" with "Flatulence" - it would make more sense and be a lot funnier.

Then replace the word "Art" with "Blog Posts" and it is easy to see the intense level of envy behind the music-should-be-freeloaders.

Then replace the word "Art" with "Farming", and see how stupid the whole "it's digital so it doesn't matter" argument really is. If 95% of music sucks then DON'T BUY IT. But if it DOESN'T SUCK then PLEASE PAY FOR IT - so that artists who don't suck can be fruitful and multiply.

September 22 | Unregistered Commentersacred cow dung

thanks, sacred cow piles..the "if it don't suck than pay for it" is about all there's a simple solution, and I have seen it work. It's the solution that allows artists to keep going. The fact consumers line up 10,000 songs on an ipod means nothing at all..the fact that a great group can play a few sets in a club, attended by a small audience that wants to be there to listen to them, and will buy their music because they want to and will listen to it as well means everything.

Humans being the scum we are..there will be people who like it and don't pay for what else is new?

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterJP

Miguel, please tell me your not serious. John Frusciante got started on basement demo tapes? Are you kidding me? Dude's been a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers since Mother's Milk, and it was his connection with the band, not his basement tapes that made him a member. His solo success can be attributed to membership in RHCP.

Yes, there are some bands who've managed to make it off home recordings (which also don't come cheap by the way, I've done it),and they are for the most part restricted to the lo-fi and punk genres. Try making it as a mainstream rock band, a pop group, jazz, or other genres with basement tapes and watch yourself get laughed out of every venue you try and book at.

Try and justify it all you want, but artists do deserve to be paid for their work if it's consumed, regardless of what the consumer would prefer. I would love to get my money back from those shitty movies I went to see, from the crappy meals I've eaten, or the art exhibits I didn't enjoy, but the fact is that I chose to consume them, and just because I didn't like them doesn't mean I should get it for free.

Now if you want to talk about other ways of making money as an artist, I'm all ears. The current post on MTT is an excellent idea that I might just have to try out.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

"I would love to get my money back from those shitty movies I went to see, from the crappy meals I've eaten, or the art exhibits I didn't enjoy, but the fact is that I chose to consume them, and just because I didn't like them doesn't mean I should get it for free."

- interesting that all of those things are actively consumed. You 'go' to the movies, you 'eat' a meal, you 'visit' an art exhibition etc. there are different levels of this sort of content consumption. these three things are experiential, and going to a gig is the same. you're right, it isn't about whether you enjoy it or not as to whether you pay because that would just be ridiculous...this then poses the issue of a need to find new ways for people to experience music so that they would be willing to part with their cash (like going to the movies, a restaurant, art exhibit etc). I find this whole debate fascinating and it's amazing that there are so many great points on both sides, but the thing that has really grabbed me by the bollocks just came in that last post. how can we get our audiences to experience our art in new ways?

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterAndy

I would like to also point out the purpose of copyright. Copyright was created to give artists an incentive to create. It gave them the exclusive right to profit from their work (not a guarantee of profit. They are simply the only ones allowed to collect money from their work). The idea is that, with this mechanism, artists will be encouraged to create original art in order to make some money.

However! This copyright was not created for the sake of the artist, it was created for the sake of culture and progression. There was a fear that without this sort of mechanism, people wouldn't have any incentive to create or innovate. Interestingly, the copyright reforms since then (extending the life of copyright for example) have slowly come to discouraged this. But, to reiterate, copyright wasn't created because anyone felt artists inherently deserve compensation for their work. Copyright was created to encourage culture to grow.

I personally am fully of the opinion that materials should go to the public domain very quickly. I think seven years is enough, but 10-20 might be a reasonable compromise. This would force artists and studios to move past old works and try to make money off new work, and thus keep the spirit of copyright relevant. I don't think anyone argues that artists have an exclusive right to profit from their work, but I also don't think they have a right to profit. That sounds confusing but it goes in line with what you are talking about. That is, they get exclusivity, but they aren't assured or guaranteed anyone will pay them. And personally, I think this idea is conducive to a vibrant creative environment.

People can say what they want, but George Carlin was right when he said someday everyone will be in a band. Sometimes I think there are more bands than consumers. There is no shortage of creativity or art these days. If somehow everyone quit making music or movies, then maybe we'd want to revisit "artist rights", but so far that definitely is not the case.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

This author spews BULLSHIT! Her entire argument is based on defining art in HER terms, which are erroneous from the start. Art is NOT a gift, the end result chopped off and separate from the work. The work part itself is also art. Art is discovery. The artist has a murky vision and takes paint to blank canvas. He or she improves upon the splatters until it resembles something. Art is like story in that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I am an artist. The copyright laws grant me a monopoly. Otherwise hundreds of artists would steal my idea as their own. It is MY idea not theirs and I deserve to be compensated on bringing that idea from beginning to end, to the consumer of my product. I worked hard on developing my own UNIQUE idea, discovering that idea, and others DID NOT. They did not develop the idea. They did not work on the idea. They did not discover the idea. They put in 0%. They deserve NOTHING and I DESERVE 100% of the profits. That is why copyright laws were created, to justly reward someone for bringing a UNIQUE vision to this world and improving society with that vision. For artists that want to involve the public in their discovery there is the option of using the creative commons licensing. That also is a good tool if used properly but ONLY if the artist wants to use that tool. Many prefer the copyright, which is fine. For this crap author to suggest that I should labor for nothing, to become a nice little communist, and just work and slave so that others who do NOTHING should also benefit is saying she approves of legal thievery! BULLSHIT!

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterKen D. Webber

Would you let a stranger take your son to a party? And do what he feeels like, talk to your son about sex and drugs, change his clothes, hug and kiss, beat him, make money by using your child or whatever, without your permission?

Copyright discussions are always emotional and controversial, but a lot of people seem to realize the whole purpose of copyright when relating Art to their own children.

If you want to bring a child to this world, it's totally up to you. Some people do it for love, others even do it for money, it doesn't really matter what is your motivation, at least for the law. Anyone can try and have children.

As anyone can make Art, no matter the reason. What really matters is that's YOUR child, you decide what to do with it and who can touch it or not.

Anyone can create Art and the creator (owner) DECIDES what to do with it. Wanna give it away? Do it. Wanna sell it? Do it and hope someone will buy it. Wanna charge a penny or a million? Wanna keep it locked in your bedroom? Up to the creator.

That's why we have copyright.. Now economics, ethics, crimes, culture, tradition, business model, culturally impaired consumers, hype - that's a whole different story.

No one is forced to consume Art or any product for that matter.

I just hope nobody will ever take my right of deciding what I do do my child.

September 22 | Unregistered CommenterDennis Zasnicoff

@ Dennis,

September 22 | Registered CommenterNina Paley

Doesn't this privilege artists who don't have to worry about covering their own costs? When both profit capitalist systems (like record labels, A&R, etc) and funding grants are skewed towards very particular genres and cultures, and many in the fringes or in between miss out, a system that demands that arists give it all away because they "love" it will just put people who are already underresourced at a greater disadvantage.

September 23 | Unregistered CommenterTiara the Merch Girl

Tiara, reality itself functions on the exact same principle. This is something Jesus also observed (repeatedly, 5 times in the New Testament) stating it like this:

""For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away."

So yes, if you're Edgar Bronfman's kid, odds are your experimental rock and electronic music will do better than a broke kid from Baltimore with no connections or equipment.

People with advantages tend to get more advantages. Those of us who are "already underresourced" are the food source of global capitalism and their outlook will not improve in 2009. I'm not looking to the music business to fix that...are you?

September 23 | Unregistered CommenterJustin Boland

There's just so much wrong with this post that I am at a loss where to begin. Fortunately, Alex has done a great job of tackling most of the issues.

What irks me most is that this is flat-earth economics through and through. Whatever the author's view of art, when she invokes economic arguments, I expect a modicum of adaequatio rei et intellectus.

The thrust of the argument seems to be that the creator is not entitled to compensation for the act of creation purely by virtue of having undertaken it. Agreed! The idea behind a free market, that seems so appealing to Nina Paley, is that trade occurs on conditions thought equitable by both the seller and the buyer. If the buyer can obtain a reasonable substitute at a lower price, he may well decide to choose this and as a result the price-giving power of the seller is limited.

So far, so good. This works great for undifferentiated commodities such as grain, so it should work equally well for undifferentiated commodities such as copies of the same track. In fact, it has resulted in a market price of zero (if we acknowledge P2P as a significant market segment), which is great for consumers. Why are we not laughing?

There's a catch. Two farmers growing grain have comparable production costs (yes, I know that there will be thousands of reasons why some will have an advantage over others - I really don't want to go off on a tangent). With producing digital copies (all copies to a lesser extent), this isn't the case. The artist (or the artists label) will be saddled with the origination costs, while the file-sharer's costs are effectively zero. Obviously the file-sharer is in a position to take the market price far below anything that the artist will consider economically feasible. Add to it the fact that most file-sharers do not consider their activities as a business, plus the fact that they are under "competition" from all the other file-sharers and we have the situation we see today. No surprises.

The "monopoly" of copyright recognises the fact that creating copies of a work is always cheaper than creating the work in the first place. If everyone were permitted to freely create and sell copies of a work once it had been produced, the creator would be at a distinct market disadvantage. This is not only economically disincentivising to the creator, but seems rather hard to justify morally. Ah, but the file-sharers aren't making any money from their activities, so it's okay, right?

Wrong. The net market effect is the same, regardless of whether they are or aren't. The price of recordings has become depressed beyond the point where creating them is economically feasible, other things being equal. That's okay - artists are stupid. They'll continue to shell out money on recording whether they stand any chance to make it back or not. That is, of course, until they are no longer able to.

All discussion of alternative income streams misses the point that previously the artist had all those alternatives plus recording revenue. Again, other things being equal, the artist will always be better off if she sells her recordings, rather than giving them away. I've yet to see conclusive proof that file-sharing substantially increases an artist's exposure (if only because no-one's going to be trading an unknown artist when there are so many cool new popular releases and catalog items up for grabs).

To sum up, if we want to see art competing with art on the basis of quality, we must ensure a system whereby the market provides rewards to those artists who produce better quality work. Copyright provides just such a system, because it forces payment for a desired work and indirectly provides a mechanism for customer discrimination. If I have to shell out some dough, I will definitely pay more attention to what I'm shelling it out on.

Abolishing copyright won't do anything to increase competition between artists, since they already compete effectively under its regime (once again, other things being equal). What it will do is lift the last vestiges of illegitimacy from people who aren't artists themselves, but are engaged in market competition with the artists whose fans they claim to be (through offering their recordings at prices far below anything that is feasible for the artist). I don't claim to know what the end result on music would be, but I am certain it won't increase the quantity or quality of recordings being created. Quite the contrary, in fact.

I notice some references here to the audience as "consumers," and their exposure to art works as "consuming."

Consume means to use up. You can use up containers - physical objects like DVDs, records, books, etc. - but you can't use up content (Art). Content is in no way reduced or diminished through audience sharing. I call it sharing instead of consuming because content is not, in fact, consumed.

September 23 | Registered CommenterNina Paley

@ Faza

Great comment. The entire argument is nothing more than very interesting to me. I am not taking a side. I don't think the debate is as important (to success or failure) as the debaters make it out to be.

The amount of people making music is going up not down.

Music consumption is going up not down.

Quality music is perhaps hard to find because the size of the haystack has grown tremendously.

Nobody can can provide proof that the quantity of quality has decreased.

Capital flows into anything or into any place where a profit can be made. There's still an amazing amount of money to be made in the music industry.

Incentives to participate in the music industry are growing not shrinking. If you are focused on the recorded music segment of the industry you have to adjust your expectations and your business model.

Incentives to produce the best music possible will always exist. I have yet to encounter a true artist that says: "ahhh, I think I will make a shitty album because it's just going to be shared someday..." This will never happen. It's not about stupidity either, it's about pride, art and other real (and economic) incentives.

People are far too focused on the sharing of digital music. There will be digital products that people will not want to share. I will bet my economic life on it.

Like I said, the debate is interesting to me. However I would never advise someone to let it occupy more than a few CPU cycles. Business is going to get done and it's going to be great irregardless of the outcome of the debate..


September 23 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila


We can argue semantics until the cows come home, but it won't affect the merits of the matter.

If your argument is that the production of art, or "content" as you put it, should not - on principle - be an economic activity and artists (as creators) should support themselves from other means or starve, then all is well. If, on the other hand, your position is that making art (meaning the act of creation) is a legitimate way of making money, then the people who acquire this art (in whatever fashion) will be consumers, as economics understands the term.


I'm glad you're willing to stake your economic life on it, because right now everyone seems to focus on staking the artists' economic lives.

Yes, capital is flowing into music-related services, but it seems rather unwilling to flow to the people creating the actual value. Quite the contrary - every single business I've seen emerge thus far seems to make it a point of honour to pay the creators as little as possible, if at all (this includes record labels BTW).

You wrote it yourself, a while back: you don't want to be investing in an artist, because the chances of success are slim. Yet, artists need to be invested in because there is no correlation between talent (and associated marketability) and resources available to nurture that talent. So the whole business revolves finding stuff that has already proven itself salesworthy and milking it for what it's worth, while paying as little as possible for the privilege.

The question isn't about making shitty albums, it's about making recordings at all. I find myself getting to the point where I wonder if I care anymore. I should probably steer clear of such debates, because they simply reinforce my view that publishing music (as in: making it available to the public) is a waste of time. I get the same satisfaction out of knowing that I wrote something good as having someone tell me so. Why should I care that someone likes my music when they aren't prepared to pay a buck to listen to it? If I don't get anything out of the public reception of my work (or not enough to justify the extra work involved), why should I make my work public?

Corollary: The life of the independent (especially DIY) artist is an endless struggle of "good enough". At some point you have to concede that your recordings aren't all they could be, simply because you cannot afford to make them better. Your decision comes down to releasing something you consider sub-par (or below it's potential) or releasing nothing.

The irony is that the people most likely to work for free are those who have least to offer. The less time, effort and money you put into your music, the less you worry about financial returns. The reason we see so much music out there today is that we are being flooded by stuff that would best be left unreleased. There will always be garage-dwelling hopefulls, who get a kick out of the odd fan on MySpace. The serious artists are long past that and they're looking for something more concrete. If they aren't getting it, they will give up eventually and do something more worthwhile.

Your optimism is, as always, heartwarming, but I'll take the grim facts over rose-tinted expectations anyday.

it's obvious that Miguel either just likes to argue, or is a moron with no common sense. Miguel, are you a politician, or a lawyer?

September 24 | Unregistered CommenterDave in L A

flip the stupid bit on this tripe and see how it sounds:

"Consumers are not inherently entitled to music they don't pay for"

make more sense that way!

September 24 | Unregistered Commenterhee haw!

No one ever seems to acknowledge that "copyright" does not equal "requires payment for." It simply puts the choice (in a legal sense) in the hands of the copyright holder. If you (Nina et al) don't think you should be paid for your art, then don't require payment. You already have that option, so what is the issue here?

September 25 | Unregistered Commenterbenbruce


About that word, "choice"...

The issue is that restrictive copyrights are not just the author's (or, more realistically in the long term, the publisher's) choice. When a copyright holder make the "choice" to distribute under a restrictive license, they are taking away everyone else's choices. That's why economists correctly put copyright in the category of "statutory monopoly". Copyright doesn't just tell me what I can do with my copies of something I wrote -- it lets me tell *you* what you can do with your copies of stuff I wrote too! In some sense, your copies aren't even really yours, under this system.

This system wasn't even designed to serve artist's needs. Iit was invented by the publishing industry, in the late 1600s and early 1700s, with the explicit goal of supporting the printing industry -- that is, copyright is for distributors, not authors.

Today we have a zero-cost distribution mechanism, a machine that makes perfect copies anywhere, anytime. Thus, the "opportunity cost" of copyright to the public has shot up dramatically, now that it's physically (but not legally) possible to copy and share and remix anything. At the same time, the need to provide a monopoly-based subsidy to the distribution industry has vanished.

If you want to say that copyrighting something is the author's choice, then don't leave out the other side: the choice by one party to restrict results in all other parties losing choices that they would otherwise have. That's why I view it as a civil right issue, much more than an economics issue (not that most artists make much money from copyright anyway). The copyright holder is "choosing" to take away my choices about what I can do with my copies, and can only do this because the government enforces a monopoly right that makes it possible. The total amount of choice goes down. (Remember, this isn't about attribution: we're not talking about plagiarism -- when people download songs illegally, they don't then replace the artist's name with their own).

A much simpler system, and more suited to the Internet age, would be: you do what you want with your copies, and everyone else does what they want with their copies. That way, nobody takes away anyone else's choices.

September 25 | Unregistered CommenterKarl Fogel

In my opinion artists are not inherently intitled to monetary compensation for their art.
Because artists do what they have to do and that is making art. And nobody asked them to, they just did it. And they will keep on making art even if nobody is interested, because they’re artists. It ads to their live. And I know there are artists who’ll never sell a thing they made.

Another thing is if they want to sell their art. They have to find someone who likes what they did. And how do you do that? They have to show what they made. And the customer looks at it or listens to it and then the customer decides whether he/she wants it or not.
So to me the customer consumes it at least once before a decision is made to compensate the artist. And in the case of music nowadays I never buy a CD before I listened to it several times. Because in my collection of 2000 LP’s and 500 CD’s there are quite a few I bought because I heard a single on the radio or read an article in a music magazine. And when I came home and I played it and thought “oh, this is a shit record”! But I could not give it back because it wasn’t sealed anymore. I consumed it.
So now I download mp3’s of a record or friends send them to me just to make the choice: “to buy or not to buy”. If I can’t hear it, I won’t buy it. And to me that’s not stealing, because I won’t consume it anymore. I delete ite it or use the (illegally burned) CD as a toaster.

And what I read in the comments here, that you have pay for a meal you don’t like. Sorry but if I get a steak that sucks I will not eat it. I call the waiter and tell him that I’m not going to pay for their “art”. Bring me a decent steak or I’ll leave. They will not get compensated for their work I don’t like.

Now about stealing. If I leave my notebook on a bench in Central Station unattended to go to the bathroom, would I be surprised that it’s gone when I come back? No but it is theft. But what can you do about it? Don’t leave it unattended.
If a known artist releases a CD would he be surprised if he found copies of it on the internet?
No but it is theft. And what can he do about it? He left it un……

What I don’t agree upon is that artists have to compete with other artists. Madonna does not compete with Lady Gaga or any other artist, because they sell their unique product even in the same genre. Every artist has his/her unique art and therefore has a monopoly on his/her art. Monopoly on music as a whole does not exist!

Last thing is that if you can’t live of your art, your marketing sucks. Because even if you record a fart in stereo, there are at least 10,000 people of the six billion who live on this planet that will buy your CD.

Don’t bash me. I was only thinking.

September 25 | Registered CommenterHarry D

That's why I'm a designer. People pay me.

November 21 | Unregistered CommenterDuncan

artists are paid for their vision not for their time/labor

October 30 | Unregistered CommenterGabe

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