David Weinberger on intellectual property

David Weingberger gave a very energetic and entertaining keynote this morning at BlogOn.  Somebody in the audience asked about how artists were going to be compensated in the future.  David replied that the concept of what is fair doesn't work anymore.  When someone reads a book for the second time, should he then pay the author again?  When a reader sells the book to a used book store and that book gets resold and resold, should the author get paid off each transaction?  

What about libraries?  Are libraries pirates because they offer creative works to anyone who wants them?  You don't hear Amazon or Simon & Schuster crying foul when someone checks out a book from the library rather than buying one.  And it's getting even trickier with some of the mashups out there.  Jon Udell invented a little tool that allows you to browse Amazon to find a book and then check your local library to see if the book is available right now.

In defense of Google Print, Eric Schmidt made the case for opening up access to books even further, "How many out-of-print and backlist [book] titles will find new and renewed sales life? How many future authors will make a living through their words solely because the Internet has made it so much easier for a scattered audience to find them?"

Fairness can be equitible.  When someone creates something and someone else wants it, there are ways to make a fair trade.  But that trade may not best occur through an elaborate system of property laws that "protect" the content.  If the outcome of blogging tools means that more people are writing, then that's a good thing.  If more people are writing and performing music because there are easy ways to post your works publicly, then that's a good thing.  That trend won't reverse.  It would be tragic if it did.

The question of how to make a living as an artist is a really good one.  Just as journalists are learning that they have to improve their reporting skills because of bloggers, musicians will have to elevate their game and offer more value to rise above the crop.  And just as news publishers are learning to offer additional value in what they publish in order to stem the tide of lost advertising opportunities from slippery distribution channels, musicians, novelists, photographers, and painters need to find better ways to add value to what they create.

Maybe people will pay more for access to artists, concerts, one-on-one conversations, commissioned works.  Maybe brand marketers will pay more to sponsor events where people can get more personal access to artists.  These are proven business models that require no property law.  The big opportunity may be for distributors to turn their businesses from ones that create false scarcity and become businesses that personalize the art experience.


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Fun with David
Weblog:  rexblog
Excerpt:  Fun with David: If you're ever at a conference and David Weinberger is talking (which is a wonderful experience), ask him a question that implies you think it's "unfair" people use copyrighted materials.
Posted:  Tue Oct 18 14:43:00 EDT 2005
David Weinberger on intellectual property