Matter, Energy, and Life of Michael A. Castello.

The “Right” to Get Paid?


The concept of an artist’s “right to get paid” for their efforts inevitably arises in any discussion of filesharing and the future of the web. The thought is that artists have worked hard for what they’ve produced and as a result, should be guaranteed some kind of compensation. Following this is the idea that if this compensation is taken away, the artist will have no motivation to produce their creative works. Thus, if we want to continue to enjoy culture, we must expect to financially compensate these people. I think this idea is fundamentally flawed.

Simply putting effort into something is not sufficient reason to reap any kind of external reward, especially financial compensation. Most of us have had an experience where we worked hard on something but received little to no acknowledgment from others. A personal example: As a kid, my family was part of an organic food co-op that involved delivery and pickup of the food from our garage on certain months. A few days before one of these pickups, I had learned how to make origami rabbits from Highlights magazine. In preparation, I proceeded to make dozes of these rabbits on neon-colored paper and set them out on a table for our visitors. They could have one of their own for only 25 cents!

Needless to say, I didn’t get many customers. Aside from making a kid feel better, why would anybody want a simple paper rabbit? Even if somebody did, it would be easy enough for them to figure out how to make one of their own. At the end of the day, one person, a mother, gave me a few dollars and took all of them, giving them to her young daughter to play with in the backseat. The key here is that it wasn’t the effort I put into making the rabbits that gave them value, it was how much value the customer perceieved they had. To most of the potential customers, the rabbits were useless pieces of garishly-colored paper, but to one, it was an inexpensive way to entertain her child during the drive home.

What artists produce has no value whatsoever, except what a potential customer assigns to it. The artist Vincent van Gogh was hardly wealthy during his lifetime; his work didn’t achieve global renown until twenty years after his death. Now, his original works have fetched some of the highest prices of all time. What we are currently facing is the devaluation of media that can be digitized. As a “product,” why would I want to pay for CDs or DVDs when I could get an indistinguishable copy for free from others? It just doesn’t make sense; yet, ignorant artists and disillusioned executives insist that the financing of their sybarite lifestyle is somehow a “right.”

There are a number of ways to leverage the power of people-to-people (p2p) networking to make money from creative efforts that myself and others have discussed previously. Yet the bottom line is this: artists today stand in the same place as everybody else: if you are trying to make money for working, you need to provide something for which others will be willing to pay. If you are simply doing something you love, by all means enjoy it—but don’t expect to get paid.

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6 responses to “The “Right” to Get Paid?”

  1. Tasty Avatar

    I need to say that I feel your argument is pieced together in a way that neither truly reflects the actual opposing viewpoint nor brings to light the actual humanity of musicians and artists. I believe you just made up your own opposing viewpoint in order to fit your argument. I’m well aware of your stance on filesharing/downloading & compensation and I realize you will not be swayed, however…here are my thoughts. Beware: Wall of text.

    “The thought is that artists have worked hard for what they’ve produced and as a result, should be guaranteed some kind of compensation.Following this is the idea that if this compensation is taken away, the artist will have no motivation to produce their creative works.”
    – Well to start, this is the first time I’ve heard the motivation argument which is interesting, not sure where you heard that from or if its something made up to fit your argument. Considering all the starving artists out there that produce excellent work, I would say compensation and quality do not tie together for a majority of musicians or artists. Pay them less or pay them more, the quality will likely remain consistent. People don’t become more creative because they make more money.

    -My second thought here is that you need to confront the fact that being a musician is a job. Why do we have jobs? So we can put food on the table. How can you actually argue that someone should not be paid for a job they are doing? I’m guessing you wouldn’t appreciate if you created something for work, were selling it, yet most people were getting it for free. I can see the response now, “well, change jobs”. Thats like telling someone to “Move out of the country” if you don’t like the way its being run. Its just not that simple.

    -Lastly I hardly think musicians feel they should be “Guaranteed” compensation. They know if they put out crap no one will buy it. The problem is that artists are putting out things people DO want, yet aren’t paying for it just because they can.

    “As a “product,” why would I want to pay for CDs or DVDs when I could get an indistinguishable copy for free from others? It just doesn’t make sense; yet, ignorant artists and disillusioned executives insist that the financing of their sybarite lifestyle is somehow a “right.””
    – Well for one, its the right thing to do. I can’t imagine that a morally level person would say its just fine to take something someone is selling, and get it for free.

    • I wouldn’t be so quick to throw music executives and artists into the same pot. If you know how the music industry actually works, the artists themselves get a very small percentage (5-10% if they are lucky) of profit they make from CD sales. Most of the cash goes directly back into the record company for recording time, and paying employees to do a job. Not just the artists, but all the people that work at the studios as well down to the janitors.

    Fact of the matter is, by not purchasing music whether it is a physical CD, or a digital version, record companies don’t make money and therefore can’t sign more artists, can’t fund tours, or pay their non-musician employees.

    I’m not sympathetic for the music industry, I do think they are a bunch of arses, but the “us VS them” mentality is a joke as well as the arguments for why its okay to download music without paying for it. I used to think it was okay as well, but since reading much about the industry from the musicians themselves, I have changed my mind.

    “Yet the bottom line is this: artists today stand in the same place as everybody else: if you are trying to make money for working, you need to provide something for which others will be willing to pay.”
    – I completely disagree with this, they do not stand in the same position as everyone else. There are professions where people are paid a salary regardless of the quality of work, people that get paid hourly so its up to them how much they make, and professions where something is being sold and rely on consumers/fans to get paid. You’re essentially taking away one of their pathways to be compensated. Like I said, I agree if they put out crap, people won’t be willing to pay for it, and they shouldn’t. Again, the problem is they are putting out quality work, and people still aren’t paying for it.

    Bottom Line: They are selling something, and you taking it for free which is wrong. Period.

    <3<3 tasty

    1. SteelWolf Avatar

      First of all I appreciate the time you’ve taken to leave a well-thought-out comment, and I like to think that I hold my views on issues because of facts and logical thinking. I do try to keep an open mind about things which is why I am going to attempt to answer your comment point-by-point; I encourage you to do the same in the hopes that both of us may learn something new. If nothing else, I’ve realized that paragraph formatting and quote tags in my comments are horribly styled!

      All that being said, I think you’ve fallen prey to some of the tired arguments bandied about by industry executives and misguided artists who try to paint their fans as criminals and thieves. Since you’ve restricted your criticism to the music industry I will as well.

      “… this is the first time I’ve heard the motivation argument…[p]eople don’t become more creative because they make more money.”

      In his recent op-ed for the Huffington Post, Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton said, “How many people will be as motivated to write a book or a song, or make a movie if they know it is going to be immediately stolen from them and offered to the world with no compensation whatsoever?”

      Ellen Ratner, in an editorial on WorldNetDaily, said her musician friend is suffering because, “She can’t be guaranteed that what she records or performs will be compensated.”

      Marlize van Romburgh said in the Mustang Daily, “For most [musicians], their music is a livelihood and they expect to earn a living from it.”

      Pro-Music .org features a number of quotes from unenlightened members of the music industry.
      Peter Gabriel: “Some of the young and minority musicians we work with derive most of their income from record sales. If this is all taken away, most of them are going to have to look for other work.”
      Praga Khan: “If after 150 or 160 days work in the studio to make an album, people can download it for free, then all the work has been for nothing.”

      Finally, RIAA bosses Mitch Bainwol and Cary Sherman wrote in Inside Higher Ed, “College students used to be the music industry’s best customers. Now, finding a record store still in business anywhere near a campus is a difficult assignment at best.”

      These kinds of statements reflect what I feel is an assumption that merely putting in the effort to create something justifies financial compensation for the output. I do not think there is any correlation between the amount of compensation and the quality of the work, only that the assumption that work automatically equals compensation is fundamentally false.

      “My second thought here is that you need to confront the fact that being a musician is a job… How can you actually argue that someone should not be paid for a job they are doing?”

      Who, exactly, is able to say that “being a musician is my job, therefore I am entitled to receive money from you?” I have a number of friends who play in bands, but they still have “day jobs.” Musicians can move to making their craft a full-time occupation when they are able to earn enough money from it to support themselves. There is nothing that states that simply declaring oneself a musician guarantees that you will be able to support yourself. Like I have said, there are many ways to make money from creating music in this new world, but all of them require embracing our new connected culture rather than trying to fight it.

      So, you can make music, and you can make money from that, and many people will be able to make enough money off of it to support themselves. But there is no guarantee that going into music is going to automatically provide any form of livable income – as every local and indie band has known for years. It’s a risk to jump from doing something more conventional and getting a steady paycheck to creating art as a job, and it’s a risk that many people have taken and succeeded at while countless others have failed.

      This also connects well with your next point:

      The problem is that artists are putting out things people DO want, yet aren’t paying for it just because they can.

      Remember that one’s ability to remain viable in a commercial marketplace depends on producing something that has commercial value. If a store continued to exclusively sell cassette tapes when CDs started becoming popular, are they entitled to be kept in business? The fact is that people can and will obtain recorded music for free, giving it little to no commercial value. There’s no turning back the clock on that. People who want to continue to make money need to adapt to a changing environment, and in the case of music this means leveraging the online people-to-people network through recordings to build a fan base who will be interested in paying for a unique experience.

      As for the moral “it’s just the right thing to do” argument, somebody deciding to sell something or the fact that they have sold something in the past does not somehow create an unbreakable moral rule that this item must be purchased. In addition, by making a recording, a musician is releasing that work into an environment he has no control over. What we’re seeing is a bunch of people who are confused because we don’t want to pay extra for a BonusCard at Giant when Safeway is offering the exact same thing for free, or a street performer trying to extract payment for every pedestrian who passes by. The solution is not to get bent out of shape but to adapt.

      As for the recording industry, you’re absolutely right about artists only getting a small percentage of money from physical media sales. All of the rest of it goes to support the record label, but what exactly are they providing for the artist in return? Their primary function has been to promote artists, a function that is hardly necessary today. You can’t say their charges are necessary when the RIAA (the “Big Four” record labels) are making billions of dollars in profits every year. That’s after paying the artists, the songwriters, and every other person involved in the process.

      I thought the final conclusions that can be drawn from this and the related links were important enough to be given their own post. Sorry for making you click again. 😛

  2. SteelWolf Avatar

    These comments really look like poo; I’ve got to figure out why line breaks are being completely ignored.

  3. Charles H Murphy Avatar

    I have a concern here. What exactly does this mean? “In addition, by making a recording, a musician is releasing that work into an environment he has no control over.” By this logic, people could conduct illegal acts of any kind at will on the internet just because the internet is not “owned” by anyone. To bring this to light in a business sense, thousands of companies out there specializing in all sorts of products and services are exclusively online-based. Does this mean that we have the right to hire hackers to steal from these companies as well? No. So why does this make taking digital music accetpable just because it is accessible via a computer and, consequently, the internet? The law is the law, and whatever country you reside in, you have to adhere to the demands of the laws no matter if you’re using the internet as a means of commerce or not. Thus whether a product is deemed to be worth your money or not is irrelevant because the market sets the price, and the established price has to be paid to obtain the product. Otherwise, it is not a moral issue we’re dealing with. It is a legal issue. Period.

    Now to the comment pertaining to music being a guarantee for someone to be able to make a living. Nobody says that an artist is entitled to make a living off of music. But if the artist is signed to a record company and that company and the band work together to produce a product that is intended to be accessible by others for a fee, then that fee has to be assessed to the consumer if the ownership of that product is to be passed on to a consumer–or else it is stealing. Just because the price is too high according to one consumer again is irrelevant. Whatever people (which make up the market) are willing to pay is what the price is going to be. This is a somewhat naive statement because prices in some music stores are inherently more expensive than in others, but, on average, a more popular artist is going to have higher priced media than a less popular artist. Why is it high priced? Because those people are willing to pay a higher price, which to me implies that they perceive the product to be delivering them some level of satisfaction. If many people are in disagreement with that price because of opinions about its quality, then the masses will eventually catch on, the product will stop selling as much, and the price will drop. Still, whatever that price currently is, it must be paid now if you want to obtain it. With regard to revenue entitlement, nobody said that Bill Gates was originally entitled to make money off of Windows. But if the consumer says that they will pay a price to obtain this product or service, then the artist or Bill Gates then are legally entitled to make as much money as the consumer is willing to pay if that consumer wants to obtain the product.

    I’m not attacking the idea that artists and other businesses alike need to embrace people-to-people technology and strive to deliver a unique experience. I agree with this. But if this is to happen, then the market needs to show this by demanding less media in the manner that we know it today and demanding more of it in a unique sense. If demand declines, then this means that fewer people should have access to the current form of media in anticipation for this unique experience.

    I am, however, attacking the notion that it is OK to take a currently available product (be it obsolete or not) until this unique experience is available. If the market deems this unique experience to be a necessity, then we should no longer hear any new music coming out of anyone’s speakers until this experience is available since the market would obviously feel that the current way of experiencing music is unacceptable. So why isn’t this happening? Because people still want to hear the music exactly the way it is. Otherwise, why would piracy exist? People who are frustrated with this need to convey their messages in a manner that does not include taking ownership of a product without paying for it simply to send a message. That’s not how the commercial world was intended to work, and that is not a permissible act according to US laws. And as long as we’re living here, that’s what we have to abide by whether we like it or not.

    1. SteelWolf Avatar

      You’re confusing the ability to trade digital files online with breaking the law – a common mistake. There is no legal issue surrounding the sharing of digital files. Period. Citizens of countries around the world, the United States included, have been sharing content from books to recorded TV shows to CDs and cassette tapes for years. The digital age has given us the ability to digitize content, allowing us to make an infinite number of copies. It has also given us the internet, which makes the “neighborhood” of sharing not a small community, but the entire world.
      Sharing music online is not stealing. When I steal something, I physically prevent the previous owner from having that item anymore. It has changed possession from them to me. Sharing involves copying, which increases the number of items available to everybody. Now, instead of being exclusive, where only one of us can enjoy it at a time, it is inclusive, where both of us can enjoy it. This is by and large considered to be a good thing!
      I think you will agree that scarcity is a driving factor behind any economy. What we are seeing is that the scarcity of anything that can be made into a digital file (not a digital business, but a digital file) has approached zero. It follows that the commercial value of any digital file will also approach zero. This is what the industry has no control over: anything that can be made into a digital file will be made into a digital file, where it can be infinitely copied to anybody who wants it. This is the new digital economy that the content industry has been pathetically attempting to fight since 2001. Barring a world catastrophe that brings down the internet, it’s here to stay. The only solution to retaining relevance is to adapt.
      You go on to say that simply because an artist and record company have worked together to produce something they think has value, people are obligated to pay for it. This is simply not the case. People used to have expensive long-distance calling plans, pay for extra nighttime minutes, or subscribe to for-pa y webmail services. All of these things have become obsolete. You don’t see anybody yelling at Google for giving the people webmail with tons of storage space, and giving it to them for free. No, instead you have to provide a comparable or better service, especially if you expect people to pay you for it. Through Gmail, Google has eliminated the notion that webmail services can charge people for small increases in storage space, forcing services who considered these charges part of their business model to either adapt or become obsolete.
      The content industry has spent billions of dollars trying to convince the public that they are a special case. That even though they have spent the last five years suing the people who switched to Gmail instead of adapting, their customers are obligated to continue paying them until they decide to come up with something else. What happened with Napster in 2001 was that suddenly, the, music industry had a competitor. Today, there are two places to get music: at a record store, or from your friends online. Like it or not, there is no shutting down the “world’s largest digital record store,” as has been proved time and time again. You can argue for days, weeks, or in court for the past five years that having competition is wrong; that nobody but the recording industry should have control over their content, ever; that we need to turn back the clock and pretend that digital sharing through the internet is just a quaint idea. But that doesn’t change the reality: We the People have realized that music is no longer “product,” but a part of culture: free and available to anyone.
      Whatever people (which make up the market) are willing to pay is what the price is going to be…the masses will eventually catch on, the product will stop selling as much, and the price will drop.
      This is exactly what we are seeing today. Even if you buy whole albums from the iTunes store you are paying less than CD prices in conventional stores. A huge number of people only buy the “hit single” online, spending $1 per “album” instead of taking the whole thing. And a rapidly increasing population is only buying the CDs they want to own and getting the rest for free online.
      The mistake the recording industry has made and attempted to convince you is correct is that simply because they have made money off of something in the past, they are entitled to continue making money off of that, forever. This is not true, it has never been true, and it never will be true. The recording industry (and its counterparts) has a choice: they can either profit by this, or be destroyed.

  4. The Honorable Charles H. Murphy Avatar

    I hear your argument, but agree to disagree. <3 Steelwolf.

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