Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Intellectual Property Ethics

If I'm a fan of something, I should pay for it.

Books, music, movies, TV shows, videogames, software, comics, blogs, podcasts. I feel passionately about a lot of them. How can I call myself a real fan if I'm not helping the people who made it to earn a living?

I want to participate in a system where people who make things I love can do that full time, and make more things in their lifetime. And not only that, but to think bigger: to potentially pursue projects that take bigger outlays of cash and time.

I want to take whatever I'm doing, as far as paying for media, and imagine that everyone else is doing that, and ask myself if that works as far as sustaining the art I want to exist.

The machine I'm writing this on gives me the ability to access most of the work by the artists I like for free. But it also allows me to instantly and almost effortlessly send money to them. I should use that second capability too.

This is my core idea, and it has some corollaries:

- Before I'm a fan of something, I don't have to pay for it. This can qualify as sampling. So a certain percentage of my media intake is sampling. But although I don't have a hard criterion for when I cross the line to being a fan, at some point I can't deny it. There's no point in being slippery or lawyery about your own moral intuitions. I already more or less live this way: maybe I'll listen to a song 2 or 3 times on youtube, but if I crave hearing it more I'll buy it on iTunes. You know when something has become a part of your mental landscape, and part of your identity, even in a small way. At that point the artist should get paid.

- I need to pay for things that the artists don't require me to pay for. For example, clicking on the optional donation button.

- Sometimes, paying the artist will take the form of paying for something that is not the primary thing I love. For example, I own the web comic Perry Bible Fellowship in book form, even though I still mostly only read it online. I will buy books by podcasters, and t-shirts at concerts. As long as it's part of a model that can pay their rent.

- If the version of something that's available to buy is crippled in some way I don't like, for example Amazon books that are blocked by software from being lent to friends in the way physical books can be, or iTunes TV shows that refuse to play on non Apple devices, I will pirate a version of it that is not crippled in that way. After I have bought it from one of those websites. (I actually do this! It feels weird!)

- Artists can't make a living from Spotify and other music streaming services, so that doesn't count.

- How much money the artist is already making isn't relevant. It's not up to us to decide when someone has been over-rewarded for what they do.

- The fact that the record company or other media industry is taking a cut isn't that relevant (and keep in mind that they do take risks investing in artists, and you probably only know about most of the things you're a fan of because the company paid to market them. They deserve to get paid too).

- That said, I feel the moral intuition more strongly with methods of support that are more direct. When I pay for a Louis CK special, the $5 goes right to him. (and he controls how he pays out expenses etc) If I have a choice, I'll choose a payment method where more of it goes to the people doing the imaginative work.

- In theory, you can "pay" for certain things with your attention to the advertising that supports them (ad-supported is not the same as free). I don't like to pay for things that way, so I have to use money. In the past I've watched streaming TV shows with an ad blocker, which is obviously not a sustainable model. At least for the ones I'm a fan of, like Parks and Rec, I plan to pay for it in the future, via buying it on iTunes. And if I am spending time on things that I'm not a fan of, just because it's streaming for free, why am I doing that? Time is more precious to me than money these days.

- For certain things, the payment that is desired is genuinely kudos and nothing else. In that case, I need to make sure they get those kudos from me. For example the free and open source software movement, such as the makers of scientific tools who ask only that they are cited (which is a form of currency in the scientific world). So I will cite them. Click to upvote, leave reviews, etc.

- Buying stuff used counts, as does taking them out of the library, because the used resell value of something and the library demand contribute to the original value of it.

- I should encourage other people who are fans of the things I'm fans of to also pay the artist. For example, I won't make copies of stuff I've bought for people, except as far as I can justify it as a sample. (that's how I can justify mix CDs - barely)

I've wanted to come up with some kind of consistent code for myself for a long time, as I've seen the harmful effects of pirating behaviour (like my own) on my favourite artists' ability to make a living. And I've seen how so many artists are making it easier, and more morally clear, than ever before to pay them, people like Aimee Mann, Radiohead, and Louis CK. It was also important that it be pretty close to my existing behaviour and intuitions.

Picture this: you randomly get a chance to meet someone who makes some of the art you have loved for years. That is for sure going to happen to you, and more than once, in a long life. You're going to be excited about it, right? Imagine how you will feel shaking their hand knowing that you paid for their hard creative work, vs. if you didn't. (did you know that people actually try to get musicians and comedians to sign burned CDs? Don't be that person!)

If I'm a fan of something, I should pay for it.

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