Dave Winer says: “…all creative people must have some right to the work they create, or else, truly, the incentive to create will disappear. ”
Now, I have no dogs in the fight, as they say, when it comes to copyright and the creative commons and Lessigophilia and all that revenue-generating jazz. I have no creative works, despite decades of making things because it amused me, either of words or pixels or pencil and ink or the ongoing ballet of the moments of my life, that are making me any money at all. More’s the pity, I guess.
And I must admit that I have little but contempt for the law. I live the way I choose according to the dictates of my conscience, and where my choices conflict with the laws in a place I’m currently living, I make as an informed a decision as I am able as to whether conforming to the law in a given situation is something that it’s more sensible to do from a strictly utilitarian perspective. Jail sucks. I know. I’ve been there. Ironically, it wasn’t for breaking any laws, though.
For the most part, I am a law-abiding citizen, but not because I have any innate respect for the laws, or for those who made or enforce them. Where my choices do not conflict with the laws of the land, no worries. That’s the way things usually are, because many laws, if not most, are relatively sensible. I understand some may find this kind of stance offensive, or sophomoric. I am unconcerned, if respectful of their opinions.
I regularly break laws by downloading copyrighted material. I have my reasons.
My argument with the phrase I’ve quoted from Dave above, finally, the one that a fortuitous combination of a good sleep and strong coffee has roused me from my customary lethargy to make, is this: I believe what he said is only correct if we alter ‘the incentive to create will disappear’ to ‘the incentive to create things for money will disappear’. I risk going all broken-record, here, I know. But this fits mortise-and-tenon with some of the things I’ve been saying recently, about money, about monetization, and about what some (most?) have been doing in this textspace of ours.
At the risk of committing the unpardonable sin of accidental synecdoche, I think that the phenomenon of weblogging, and the ways in which it has changed in the past couple of years as The Stupid Money rushed in to coca-colonize the new frontier, gives us our perfect example. Of the hundreds of thousands — millions, if Technorati tells us the truth — of people who have jumped all over this, and who are using the tools to do any of the heartcasting human constellation of different activities that we’ve drawn together under the ‘weblogging’ umbrella, only very recently have more than a tiny handful of them done it for the bucks.
Some are retrofitting revenue streams, sure. That’s their prerogative, of course. Some people wear clothes with company logos plastered all over their chests, unironically, for free. They aren’t as stupid as they are greedy and clueless, in my humble, but that’s just me being a playa-hata, or whatever it is the kids are saying these days.
See, what I’m saying here is that most of these people had no ‘incentive to create’ other than the burning gods inside their foreheads, clawing to get out. Or merely the mundane urge to share photos of their cute kitties. Or their travel anecdotes. Or their code. Or their jokes or dreams or fantasies and half-baked ideas. Or links the neat websites they’ve found. They did it out of loneliness, or love of craft, or anger, or the carefully buried ludic urge we all share. Out of a desire to emulate their god. Because they wanted to.
I challenge you to think about the creative output of artists and artisans whose work has touched you. Think of your favorite books, your favorite paintings. That piece of handmade furniture or that gloriously handtooled little application. The music you listen to or the writers-on-the-web you read because they get into your heart and fill you with the ineffable, simple joy of being alive and having a mind. I wonder how many of them would have done their work whether or not they eventually got paid for it. My guess is ‘most’.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be paid. Hell, if I could get paid for making the things I make because there’s something inside me that impels me to do it, I’d be thrilled. It’d be a dream come true, by crikey. But I do it, regardless. And so do you, probably, if you’re reading this.
Money is a very useful thing, but then, so is defecation. Or, if you prefer ‘How anal sex got to be THE ticket to blogging fame and fortune I don’t fully understand…‘
Take away the money, and you will still have people who are driven to create. This is what it is to be human. And, I’d submit, we’d have a lot less soulless sticky media poop clogging our minds and our souls if all of the hacks out there who oxymoronically ennoble their paid efforts by calling them ‘creative product’ would just do something useful instead for those sweet dollars. This is why I am in love with the idea of the ‘mass amateurization of nearly everything‘, and it’s why I push back against those who are snapping like bloody-snouted hyenas at the weblogging carcass in their unseemly urge to Get Noticed and Go Pro.
If you make money by selling the things that you are compelled to create — writing or music or design or code or ceramic ashtrays or whatever it may be — then good on ya. I’m genuinely happy for you. But if you would stop merely because you couldn’t make a buck at it, well, tough shit. We don’t need you. This is probably an unpopular opinion. Ah well.
The incentive to create will never disappear. But I would hail the departure of a world in which the incentive to create (for some) is predicated solely on one’s ability to sell those creations, sure I would. When those who were left standing were there because they did it out of love, maybe they’d get a few more bones thrown their way.
And that’s all I have to say about that, for the moment.
[Update: OK, that's not entirely all. This is interesting, and most definitely on-topic.]