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'Creatocracy' and the Internet free-for-all

February 22, 2012 |  5:14 pm

Jay-Z
Author Elizabeth Wurtzel -- of "Prozac Nation" fame -- argues in a June episode of "Studio 360," which re-aired a couple weeks ago, for preserving the integrity of intellectual property. "Our GDP is now 47% intellectual property," she told host Kurt Andersen. Distributing artists' work free of charge not only threatens the existence of art and creativity, it also threatens a substantial part of our economy.

Rather than view the Internet as an environment that cannibalizes artists' work, some musicians such as Jay-Z have flipped the traditional music industry model on its head. Instead of relying on record sales for the bulk of their income, they use their albums as a marketing tool to get fans to buy concert tickets and merch. The easier their music is to access online, the better the promotion.

Many of the musicians I know don't mind this new model; some even prefer it. They post their new music on social networks, actively inviting fans to listen for free, banking on those listeners to help build buzz. Why wouldn't you adapt, they ask? There's been a similar shift in other creative fields too, with writers, photographers and designers, to name a few, using their personal sites to promote their work in hopes of spreading the word and getting hired.

That's crazy, says Wurtzel. "This is hard work," she told Andersen. "This isn't something people should be giving away for free." It devalues the product. For a "creatocracy" to work, she says:

Wurtzel: [W]e have the only Constitution that has intellectual property in it. […] I think the thing that [the Founding Fathers] did that was unique is that they didn't set up a minister of the arts; they set up a copyright system. They said you could profit from your creativity, they would not support it, there would not be patrons, there would not be the European system.

Andersen: Other countries have copyrights and patents. What makes our version of it special?

Wurtzel: I think that the government pretty much threw it all to the free market. […] They invented the concept of an audience supporting the arts as opposed to patrons of some other method.

Within the world of music, it would seem as though music-streaming subscription services would bridge the gap. Spotify, which is like Netflix for music, for instance, preserves intellectual property; artists get royalties and promotion; and fans get easy, immediate and inexpensive access to just about anything they want to listen to.

If only it were that simple. The editorial board recently took on this topic, writing:

To some labels and artists, the subscription services are little better than piracy. The royalties are minuscule -- about half a penny per song played on Spotify -- and the way they're calculated is maddeningly hard to understand. […]

For better or worse, the Internet makes music instantly available to anyone who wants to hear it. Many of the sources aren't legal, but they're free and easy to find. As a result, broadband has effectively ended the era when people had to buy an album to find out how good every track was (or wasn't). Consumers expect to be able to hear a recording before committing it to their collection. The challenge for artists and labels is to persuade potential fans to do so on legitimate, royalty-paying sites. At the same time, they have to find ways to introduce themselves to new generations of listeners. That means having a presence on the sites that millions of those listeners use, rather than trying to coax them to places chosen by the artist.

As a commenter, WaltMcKibben, writes on our discussion board, "an artist who can cross all the technological borders will define the century."

ALSO:

Why Chris Brown is no role model

Protest songs: Record labels aren't listening

Academy Awards: It's about art, not political correctness

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Jay-Z performs during a concert at Staples Center on March 26, 2011. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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