Economic Disincentive

Copyright exists to provide an economic incentive for creation. Very often the argument is made that without this incentive, there would be no reason for artists to create anything, and thus the arts would suffer.

The people who make the aforementioned argument are invariably the same people who are profiting from the status quo. These are folks who once created something commercially-successful, and are now milking the copyright for all it’s worth.

These folks are not representative of the “world of creators”. As a matter of fact, I’m quite sure they are the minority. Everyone has heard the phrase “starving artist.” This is not an accidental colloquialism. People will create in spite of the fact that they have no economic incentive whatsoever. Many of them could probably make better money doing something completely different, but still they choose to be musicians, painters, authors and –wait for it– open-source software developers.

But I digress. Back to your regularly-scheduled rant.

The established for-profit creators sometimes threaten to take their ball and go home. You can almost hear them whining, “Well fine then. I’ll stop making stuff. See how you like that!”

So the money has actually become a disincentive.

Allow me to illustrate by way of analogy: lots of children play sports for fun. They play in community organized leagues, or perhaps on school teams. All of this is done, not just without economic incentive, but generally at some expense. Hockey gear costs money. So does ice time, the hiring of referees, etc. Yet the kids still play, and everyone understands why. They play for the love of the game.

Now fast-forward a few years, add some talent and a healthy dose of good luck, and maybe you’ve got a professional athlete. If the sport was indeed hockey, you’ve got a pro athlete who isn’t currently playing, because the NHL is currently deadlocked in a labor dispute. Economic disincentive strikes again.

I bet that if we’d never paid those guys one red cent to play the sport, they’d be playing for free right now. They’d be working the graveyard shift and sustaining themselves on a strict diet of ramen noodles. But once you start giving them 5M a year to play, they simply cannot accept 4.9.

Money is funny this way. You’ll do quite a bit to get it, but once you have it, you don’t need it, although you still want more.

When lawmakers consider copyright, they should remember that money, even tons of money, can be a pretty weak incentive. In fact, it can actually be a disincentive.

I mean, who wants to play hockey anymore anyway? I’m already rich as hell.

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1 Response to “Economic Disincentive”


  1. 1 andy May 31, 2005 at 11:54 am

    Supply and demand.
    Oops!

    Supply is infinite.

    Business restates the problem: “How to make infinite supply limited?”
    Citizens restate the problem: “How to make infinite supply ubiquitious to all?”

    Who’s winning?

    Short term: Business
    Lobbying, state-sponsored protectionism (DMCA, MPAA, RIAA)

    Long term: Citizens
    Our model is replacing yours, slowly but surely.

    Examples:
    SUN: Deprecated
    UNIX: Gone
    IBM: Bailed out by Open Source investment
    MS: Challenged
    WWW: Powered by Apache

    Goodbye, desperate business models!


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