Napster

Richard Fidler rfidler at SPAMcyberus.ca
Mon Feb 19 18:04:24 MST 2001


Thanks to Maryann Bowers for approaching this question from the standpoint
of the creators rather than the recording companies/publishers, etc. This
perspective was largely missing from previous discussions of Napster on this
list.

Copyright is a property right, not in "music" or artistic or intellectual
"ideas" in the abstract but in the performance or form of representation of
the music or ideas. That is, the right attaches to the product of human
labour.

As Mike Alewitz put it, in a post last October,

>>Copyright laws provide some basic protection for artists and writers. It
is in the interests of the working class to defend those rights, as
intellectual workers are an increasingly large section of the working class.
The free interplay of ideas is essential to the education and empowerment of
our class.<<

João Paulo Monteiro said:

>>In the latest issue of 'Science and Society', David Laibman proposes
paying
musicians an annual wage from public funds. Above some basic minimum wage,
income of musicians could be increased, in proportion to the number of
downloads
of their stuff, up to a maximum limit.<<

Here, in part, is what Laibman wrote (Science & Society, Vol.64, No. 4,
Winter 2000-2001):

>>Now this is a particular instance of something ... profoundly subversive
of capitalist property: the existence of goods that can be reproduced at
zero marginal cost. For anyone other than the original producers of the
product (composers, musicians, owners of recording facilities), both average
and marginal cost ...are zero. In this situation, competitive pricing will
drive the price to zero, and the quantity to the point of saturation
(unconstrained maximum utility from consumption of the product). In
layperson's terms: the product is distributed free of charge, and
individuals acquire for consumption the absolute amounts they desire,
without limitation by prices and income. In Marx's terms: to each according
to need! Modern electronic technology is forcing a little bit of communist
distribution down the throats of its capitalist owners — who are, to say the
least, not ready for this eventuality. (It need hardly be said that Napster
is making money hand over fist from advertising and other fees, and has no
interest in promoting radical visions of unconstrained bliss from music
consumption.)

Now the question arises: how will the artists be compensated? (There is not
a little hypocrisy at work here. The music industry is about as concerned
for the fate of the "artists" as the wolf is concerned for the fate of the
sheep; but that is another story.) And once again, there is a radical
answer: don't "compensate" the artists; _support_ them!

If the industry tries to charge users, by exacting payment for downloads,
say, in a situation where duplication of the product is costless, it will
engender an "arms race" of bypass and circumvention technology, countered by
a welter of artificial protections — a bit like trying to build sand
barriers against the incoming tide. Instead, consider the possibility of
paying musicians an annual wage, from public funds. To acquire professional
musician status and access to this wage, individual artists must go through
a process of candidacy in some sort of Union of Musicians. (This again
involves democracy and the possibility of political abuse, but I never said
there were _ready-made_ solutions.) Above some basic minimum wage, income of
musicians might be increased, in increments, in proportion as downloads
occur, up to some maximum limit. The users, to repeat, get the music for
free; there is no direct link between user payment and producer income.

Question: would musicians continue to produce their music, given the
security of a guaranteed income, but absent the possibility of acquiring
vast wealth? (Do real artists need to be "compensated" for practicing their
art?) Another question: _how would the music itself be affected?_

Now think about the passage of time and the continued advance of electronic
technology: might not the sphere of production in which marginal costs are
zero (or, what is the same thing, close to zero) be gradually extended? Can
we foresee a time when _all_ labour has become like the "labour" of making
music?

Until we are able to break the link between labour and income, we will never
know what all of the products of human labour have the potential to
become....<<

* * * * *

There are a couple of programs in Canada that address the issue of
compensation (or "support") for creators — in this case, writers,
translators and editors who produce in print and digitally. One is
government operated and is independent of copyright; the other is
administered by a writers' copyright collective that is officially
recognized under the country's copyright legislation. As one who has
benefited from both these programs over the years, I think they reflect
innovative approaches that could be adapted and extended by socialists.

The Public Lending Right (PLR) program, administered by the federal
government's Canada Council for the Arts, makes an annual payment to
Canadian citizens and landed immigrants for books they have written,
translated or edited, based on the number of "hits" these books obtain in
representative library databases across the country. A fixed amount is paid
per hit, up to 10 hits per title. The amount per hit varies each year,
depending on how much money is budgeted by the government, but it is usually
in the neighbourhood of $40 per hit. Translators are credited half what
authors are, and editors 20 percent. At present, the total annual payments
(all titles included) are capped at $4,000 per individual.

CANCOPY, the Canadian Reprography Collective, represents both creators'
groups (writers' associations and publishers' groups) in English Canada (a
similar organization exists independently in Quebec) and is a member of the
International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO).

CANCOPY negotiates licences for most categories of users: comprehensive
licences for the educational and corporate sectors, commercial copy shop
licences and transactional licences for one-time users. Revenues are then
collected, based on the number of copies made, and distributed to the rights
holder(s). For all journal articles and books in print, the fee is 7 cents
per page multiplied by the number of copies made. CANCOPY also monitors copy
shops and has successfully sued some major copyright infringers.

CANCOPY has been very successful in signing up major users: libraries,
universities, government ministries, etc. Its overall distribution for 2000
was over $17 million, paid out to creators in two annual payments: one based
on actual use of the creator's titles, the other a residual payment based on
a per capita share of unattributed photocopying by registered users.

Of the two programs, the PLR more closely approximates Laibman's proposal in
that it is independent of copyright and does not "penalize" those who copy
works by charging them directly or indirectly for such copies. Although its
payments (max. $4,000) are small and, for many writers lacking an extensive
repertoire, largely symbolic recognition of their labour, it is an
interesting example of "socialized" remuneration of creators based largely
on the fact of publication and not on actual sales or market distribution.

Comparable programs exist in some European countries (e.g. the Netherlands),
I believe.

Richard Fidler
rfidler at cyberus.ca







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