This is part 2 of Big Fat Thieves, discussing copyright violations on the internet. You can read part 1 here.
Despite the law being on the side of copyright protection, I think the best argument to the law’s existing stance on copyright is that making a copy of something has always been about the importance of the inevitable ubiquity of works. But creating and distributing content to a massive audience has gone from an investment to something that can now be done nearly accidentally. Don’t conflate this with me saying that all content was trivial to make or that copying material is akin to competing with material, because I’ve never thought that. More importantly, much content can and is being created ever nearer to real-time.
In “If you want to get paid for your freelance work,” Seth Godin put it this way:
… access to tools is no longer sufficient. Everyone you compete with has access to a camera, a keyboard, a guitar. Just because you know how to use a piece of software or a device doesn’t mean that there isn’t an amateur who’s willing to do it for free, or an up and comer who’s willing to do it for less.
What I’m getting at with this quote is that information and content is getting easier and cheaper to make. Often, in the most recent few years, this information has not been created whole cloth, but cut together from existing works. The defense for this is traditionally that it’s shielded by fair use. And the concept of fair use has been broadening socially, while not judicially. In a couple of years, it is possible that social moires no longer present a stigma onto using someone else’s story to tell a slightly different story or a tweaked version of the same story. In short, it’s getting cloudy what is purely helpful and what is abominably thieving.
So, what can a content creator do about the enhanced “sharing” nature of the internet? More from Seth Godin:
…then you ought to find and lead a tribe, build a base of people who want you, and only you, and are willing to pay for it.
…then you need to develop both skills and a reputation for those skills that make it clear to (enough) people that an amateur solution isn’t nearly good enough, because you’re that much better and worth that much more.
…then you should pick yourself and book yourself and publish yourself and stand up and do your work, and do it in a way for which there are no substitutes.
Tom Naughton has been doing this very well, perhaps without even realizing fully what he’s done. I can tell by following his blog that he’s operating very cautiously, perhaps because he’s been burned so badly by his physical distributors (who are the only true thieves by the traditional definition). But he has built a tribe and those people are increasingly more passionate about what he’s been making.
At some point, I imagine he’ll quit programming once he has seen a couple of years of steady income from his documentary work. Jonathan Coulton followed a similar path, albeit with the accelerated help of several self-building geek tribes. Coulton has been quoted as saying this:
Now I sort of think of the whole engine as a special genetically engineered cow who eats music and poops money – I have no idea what’s going on in its gut, and I have the luxury of not really caring that much about the particulars.
If Naughton were fortunate enough to be discovered by the right few groups, I’m sure he’d be able to ride that momentum into the next stratosphere.
While it would be great in some ways if money always changed hands in these sorts of things, the silver lining is that the tools used for illegal copying is also used to spread meaning to others. The trick for those being ripped off is to use the promotion to boost the tribe’s aura and let the poop flow in.Source: sethgodin.typepad.com