Let’s calculate our losses

note: If you are a Belgian, SABAM is very similar to the RIAA. Feel free to replace RIAA with SABAM.

RIAA recently showed the Americas and the world some interesting calculation magic. It wants to fine Limewire, a company behind a peer to peer sharing application, 1 billion dollar. In 2008 the RIAA was seeking 13 million dollars from The Pirate Bay, a file-sharing site, but for only 34 cases of copyright infringement (src: this image). That means per file, the RIAA fines $382,353. When we redo the math today (The Pirate Bay links to over millions of copyrighted songs, computer programs, movies, …) the penitence will be so big, there is not enough money in the entire world to pay for it.

I’m not a huge fan of “piracy”, like they tend to call it, though. An author is the first to decide what he’s going to do with his work. He has the copyright. He should decide whether others may use it, hear it, watch it, reuse it… and in what ways. With the current copyright system, anyone else but the author starts with no rights at all. If an artist decides his work should be under such license, there is nothing to bring against that. It’s his work, he is in charge and his choice should be respected.

That’s nice. In theory.

In practice big companies arose who asked artists to give them their copyright, in exchange for some money they would collect from people who listened or viewed their work. As you can see, many artists today don’t think about the consequences before falling for this Faustian bargain. So apparently today, it’s not the «artist» who owns the copyright or «artistsright» (that’s how we call it in Belgium) to their own work anymore. Companies claim to posses this «intellectual property». Any use should be paid for and the system has gone mad: 3 year old kids are criminals, you have to pay an absurdly high amount of money just to cover a song by a band, singing happy birthday is copyright infringement, sharing a song by sending it to a friend is considered highly illegal, etc…

Now it’s time to make a balance: what have we lost? As long as artists give away their rights to copyright firms, we lose the right to reuse that material, until 70 years after the death of the creator. If an artist dies at an average age of 70, and they create their best works at avg. 20 years old, we lose 120 years of culture per artwork. If we multiply this by all art created this century, we might end up with heaving lost 13.9 billion years of culture. Which is indeed how long this universe exists. Interesting theory huh? I think the math is not more absurd than RIAA’s overall monetary calculations.

The future

Fans do not only want to enjoy music. They want to share it with their friends, put it on their website, create derivative works, … Condemning every bit of cultural innovation (CC law: everything is based on something) is not how we want to experience culture in the future. Therefor we need «free artists».

Free artists are themselves free because they can do with their work what they seem is appropriate. They don’t lose their rights. On the other hand, consumers should be free as well. If someone bought your work in digital form, he should be able to use it in a presentation, send it to friends, etc… This can be achieved by a creative commons license.

This however is not a political decision. Artists should become a little more concerned about their rights. Therefor, in Belgium, I’m creating an NPO (vzw) to help such artists getting paid (should not necessarily be less than someone who lost his rights). Any help is welcome. Feel free to contact me in any way described on the about page.

I hope in 1 year our NPO for supporting free artists in Belgium will be able to go live.

-Pieter — follow me on identi.ca

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