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Art Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

Coises’ response to Fair Play for Fan Sites?

When I was young, I (gasp! shock! horrors!) used to copy my favorites of my friends’ albums to tape. Know what I did with the money I “saved”? I bought albums by lesser known artists and expanded my musical horizon. The same companies still got my dollars, though more went to long-shot artists I wanted to learn about and less to the sure things. Is that something to be upset about?

Just about everyone in the “intellectual property” business seems bound and determined to force IP to behave like physical property. The wonderful thing about art (and knowledge) is that it’s not zero-sum. Eventually we’ll have to come to grips with the concept of a fundamentally non-zero-sum economy. I don’t think any of us have a clue yet where that might lead. A reality check might be a place to start.

Instead of asking “do we have the right to charge this guy or make him stop,” why not ask “Why would we want him to stop?” Ever pick up a bootleg CD? Given the high price and low quality, you know anyone who buys them has already bought every legitimate release available by that artist. Where has anybody lost money? Same principle with my taping LPs. Same with a web site: we’re a long way from downloading a whole CD making any sense compared to buying one, and by the time it does, CDs will be obsolete.

I fully believe that anyone using an artist’s work should respect the artist and the work (this includes ad agencies who legally purchase rights, sold long ago by artists who knew no other way to eat, and make their heartfelt work into cola commercials). And I recognize that commercial piracy undermines the only means professionals have to support themselves and finance making music. But to fight sincere fans over the artistically valid use of works when no significant income stream is threatened is hardly in keeping with the heart and spirit of an artist.

Maybe my perspective is askew since I’m not a published songwriter. I can’t imagine what it must be like, the first time you hear someone you don’t even know humming a tune you wrote. Still, this is my two cents worth: Until society is ready to change its economic structure — and I won’t live to see it — at least let us in the artistic community put our love of music (and those who appreciate it) before knee-jerk territorial possessiveness.

— Randy, aka Webmaster@Coises.com, 7 August 1998