Why Copyright Is Bad for Musicians

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What is Scarcity?

Property begins with one's ownership of one's body, and extends to all the resources one acquires through

  1. Trade (i.e. buying and selling)
  2. Manual labor (i.e. creation)
  3. Homesteading (aka "squatting" on a resource no one had yet claimed)

This can mean simply the clothes on your back, or a small ranch house in the suburbs on a quarter acre or, like Bill Gates, a 40% share in a $70 billion company. They're all property.

The one thing all physical property has in common is scarcity. Dirt, houses, livestock animals, software companies — they're all made up of physical matter that is in limited supply. How limited is relative — obviously a pound of dirt is much less scarce than a huge software company. That's why their market prices are so different. But there's a reason that, for example, air and light are free: they are not scarce at all and require no human labor to produce.

Scarcity is not some esoteric concept — its at the core of most economic theories. Economists and law philosophers write about it and its role in prices, competition, entrepreneurship and a host of other areas. Scarcity a basic reality of existence in human society. Stephen Kinsella has produced perhaps the greatest work in recent times lancing the idea of scarcity in context of intellectual property.

So Why is it Evil?

But the musical ideas on the CD are not scarce. If I share the ideas with my friends by playing them the CD, the original owner hasn't lost his own copy of them. I haven't "stolen" anything from him. Like air and water molecules, the sound waves that make up a musical performance are in such great supply that no one is made poorer if they are replicated ad infinitum.

So What's a Musician To Do?

Its easy to understand — just look around you now.

The music industry today is going back to the future — like Beethoven artists are now surviving by hustling the old fashioned way: boot-strapping public performances and touring. Or, like Bach, they're subsidizing their song-writing passion by taking side-jobs at the local church or school. Of course, they're also getting creative and using today's amazing technology to implement the business models like Connect-With-Fans+Reason-To-Buy.

Can musicians sit back and collect royalties and a share of the huge monopoly profits of yesteryear? Nope. But those were the days of the golden handcuffs and the chosen few. The only artists who whine and complain now about those "good old" days are either

  1. Old artists who came up in the old days and are wistful of the time when they only had to record an album every three years to earn 5 times what earn now, or
  2. Young artists who are too lazy to boot-strap things themselves and wish success was handed to them

But as Seth Godin has proved, these days you have to choose yourself to make your own success.

Ben Sommer [send him mail] blogs at http://bensommer.com.

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