The Sciences

Paying for Creativity

Cosmic VarianceBy Sean CarrollJun 19, 2012 12:40 AM


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Over on Facebook, a single blog post was linked to by four different friends of mine: a physicist, a science writer/spouse, a saxophone player, and a screenwriter. Clearly something has struck a nerve! The common thread binding together these creative people who make a living off of their creative work is the impact of technology on how we distribute intellectual property. In other words: do you ever pay for music any more? Emily White doesn't. She's an intern at NPR's All Things Considered, where she wrote a blog post saying that she "owns" over 11,000 songs, but has only paid for about 15 CD's in her entire life. The rest were copied from various sources or shared over the internet. She understands that the people who made the music she loves deserve to be paid for their work, and she's willing to do so -- but only if it's convenient, and apparently the click it takes to purchase from iTunes doesn't qualify. The brilliant (and excessively level-headed) response that my friends all linked to was penned by David Lowery. He makes the case much better than I would have, so read him. Making the case is necessary; there is a long tail of compensation in creative fields, and we're all familiar with the multi-millionaires, so it's easy to forget the much larger numbers of people sweating to earn a decent living. Not everyone has the ability to create work that other people are willing to pay for, of course; the universe does not owe you the right to earn money from your writing or thinking or playing. But when other people appreciate and benefit from your stuff, you do have a right to be compensated, I think.

Coincidentally, today I stumbled across a book that I didn't know existed -- one about me! Or at least, one whose title is my name. Since nobody other than my Mom thinks I deserve to have a book written about me, my curiosity was piqued. Turns out that the book (apparently) isn't so much about me, as a collection of things I have written, supplemented by Wikipedia pages. None of which I knew about at all. In other words, for $60 you can purchase a 160-page book of things you can find on the internet for free. There is a company, VDM Publishing, that specializes in churning such things out via print-on-demand. Turning Wikipedia pages into a book is bizarre and disreputable, but possibly legal. Taking blog posts and articles I have written and including them in the book is straight-up illegal, I'm afraid. Fortunately, I'm not losing much value here, as only a crazy person would pay $60 for an unauthorized collection of Wikipedia articles and blog posts, and I like to think that my target audience is mostly non-crazy people. But it's a bad sign, I would think. Stuff like this is only going to become more popular. Don't let that dissuade you from purchasing highly authorized collections of very good blog posts! For example The Best Science Writing Online 2012, appearing this September. No posts from Cosmic Variance this year, but I have it on good authority that the editor worked really hard to make this a standout collection.

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