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« Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey, and Copyright Lawsuits | Main | When A Crowdfunded Project Goes "Off the Rails" »

January 31, 2011

Artists Should Earn Money

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Posted by Alan Wexelblat

Boingboing and Kottke both pointed to a piece on by Francis Ford Coppola. As you'd expect of someone with that long a career he has a lot to say, but for Copyfight purposes let's focus on his discussion of copying, which comes off his response to the question about developing one's own style.

He notes Balzac's happy response to learning that someone had copied Balzac's writing and talks about how people start by stealing (or copying, in the art world) from the masters. Balzac, and Coppola, clearly care more about their legacy than the money they make right now. Coppola finances all his films himself and makes his actual money in the wine business. From this he branches off to talk about how modern our system of directly compensating artists is, and says "who says artists have to make money?"

Now on the one hand I agree with him - our current models are a recent blip on the historical radar. And it's true that creative people can keep their day jobs to pay for doing art that they love. Coppola also points to the patron model but as I mentioned when discussing Interfictions I don't think the model scales very well.

The other problem I have with Coppola's idea of disconnecting cinema - or other arts - from the idea of making money is that the ability to make a living doing one's art has enormous advantages. For one thing, it lures people. We all benefit from there being more art and though there are plenty of creators who will continue to create even when they have no hope of making a living at it there will be excellent creative people of all sorts who will be disappointed, hindered, or actively discouraged from pursuing their art by an inability to make a living at it.

Even if they are not completely turned off, there is a great deal of art that cannot be made part time, after hours, outside a work schedule, or under constant interruption. Much great art comes from the ability of a creator to lock herself away for an extended period of time and really focus on the creative work. Creative work is hard work, too. One of the greatest legacies of President Kennedy was his recognition that arts are worthy of support in the national sphere and the creation of the National Endowment. We live richer lives as a result, though I can't point to hard statistics to back that assertion up.

And likewise, my gut feeling tells me that we cannot simply dismiss the idea of artists making money from their art, no matter how much I respect Coppola and what he has done/is doing.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts


1. Jesse on January 31, 2011 7:24 PM writes...

Indeed, and this is a source of frustration for me. Few people on either side of the copyfight would disagree with the premise that artistic work is valuable. So why is there so much support for a system that doesn't pay artists to work as artists, doing the valuable work that only artists can do, but instead encourages them to do the artistic work for free and make their "real money" by distributing copies, which is something any trained monkey with a computer can do?

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2. DrWex on February 3, 2011 10:36 AM writes...

I sympathize with your frustration, but I think you may be oversimplifying. The current production and distribution system is not really very good for artists - a musician may get $1 or less on a CD that costs $10-20. So we can't honestly say that distributing copies is the way artists make real money, in general.

I think that for many artists touring and merchandise sales are important factors. But I'm not sure we can support every artist this way, either.

I'm still committed to the principle that artists should get paid for making art. I'm just not sure what the best model is for making that happen.

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3. Jesse on February 4, 2011 2:15 PM writes...

Well, my preferred model is one which is surprisingly rarely discussed as an alternative, but it's similar to what's being done on Kickstarter and Sellaband.

The idea is, you set up an exchange where artists and consumers can meet to discuss potential works and contribute money, and then subtract copyright and let the free market do its thing: if artists are unwilling to work for free, the only way to get new art will be to pay an artist to make it. Artistic labor becomes a service, directly funded by the people who will enjoy the finished works (or benefit from their existence in other ways).

One advantage to the artist is that the value of his labor can be discovered before he performs it, so if the market for his work turns out to be small enough that it would be unprofitable, he can choose to do something else instead. Contrast that to the copyright-based business model where he doesn't find that out until he's already done the work and he realizes his product isn't selling.

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4. DrWex on February 7, 2011 11:15 AM writes...

That's more or less the patronage model, with a pseudo-marketplace mechanism to help creators and patrons find each other. It's also not clear to me that production of private art conveys the same benefits as production of art for public (paid) consumption.

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5. Jesse on February 7, 2011 4:31 PM writes...

Ah, but this would still be the production of art for public consumption. Compare it to projects like Mozilla today: there are a relatively small number of motivated people who contribute (in the form of time or money), and the product is then made available to the public with essentially no restrictions.

The key is to break the connection between funding and access. My understanding is that most implementations of the patronage model don't do that: patrons are paying for some measure of exclusivity, not just for the benefit they gain from the existence of new works.

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6. Duncan on February 10, 2011 6:33 AM writes...

If some people wish to buy art for $10,000 or for $1 then its fair enough. Art should be sold on the value that the buyer put onto it moderated by the value the artist puts on it. A happy medium agrees the price. Now all we need to do is create a business model that helps facilitate this discussion.

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7. Dan Foresman on February 14, 2011 3:30 AM writes...

If artists can't make money, then neither should their copiers. Personally I think Coppola is a perfect example of someone who has no legitimate position in this topic, a favorite son speaking for the underdog staying under. If he thought no-one should have to pay for his wine either, then, accolades to the man! Meanwhile, until there are as many channels as there are artists, and a yellow pages solution besides Google, well, what can be said? Murder by the Middleman, it's in the non-fiction section.

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