Value

I am finally starting to recover enough from my recent wedding and honeymoon to start posting again. The June 2005 issue of Technology Review covers the topic of Intellectual Property. There is a debate between Lawrence Lessig who believes that new laws governing copyright known as “digital rights management” (DRM), will undermine creativity and culture and Richard Epstein who thinks we need strong copyright laws to protect creators who add value to society.

I think this issue revolves on how we should value things in our society. The music and film industry is very worried about digital piracy. CD sales have gone down since illegal downloading of music became prevalent. I think that it will be impossible to fully stop it. Will this be the end of music? No, but I think it will be the end of powerful record companies who restrict the supply of recording artists so the prices can remain high. The argument is that making a record is expensive and they prescreen for quality. However, with inexpensive recording software like Apple’s GarageBand and the internet, anyone can make a record now. The old model will become obsolete.

I can see two models for how artists might support themselves in the future. One is that they distribute their music for free or for a low fee and make money on concerts. The Grateful Dead has used this model for years. Classical and jazz musicians basically make their money from performances. The second is that we could re-establish a system of patronage for the arts. Artists would be paid a salary and their music would be given away for free. This last model is essentially the model for science. Scientists have jobs in research labs or universities and their work is given away for free.

In either model, the millionaire recording artist will become extinct. However, this won’t change the lives of that many people. In the current system, only a handful of lucky people “make it” and become incredibly rich while everyone else waits on tables. What separates the people often has little to do with talent. It always seemed rather unfair to me that the world’s greatest harmonica player is probably just getting by while a well marketed, lip synching pop star with little talent makes millions.

The motion picture industry does have an argument that films cost a lot to make and thus they need to be compensated. However, I think people will always want to see movies on the big screen. VCR’s and DVD’s have not reduced ticket sales. What will likely happen here is that more and more pictures will become digital and movie stars may become obsolete. Actors may only be necessary for live theatre.

Even in this world, I’m sure there will still be those that rise to be top and become stars. They may not be as well compensated as they are today but they will be as popular and probably a lot happier.

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