Author Topic: An Editorial of Kind  (Read 2065 times)


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An Editorial of Kind
« on: February 03, 2014, 09:48:52 PM »
RPS' John Walker just posted a fantastic editorial about copyright and public domain in the games industry.

He is so right that is almost hurts and I have a strong desire to add a few thoughts of my own. In essense, John is asking why 20+ year old games aren't in the public domain. The answer is, of course, very easy: Current copyright laws have a much, much longer time set for that to happen.

One main argument revolves around the question "how are authors being paid for their work?" in various different formulations. And John asks why we pay authors for decades, but not policemen and electricians. Let me jump in there:

As a matter of fact, authors are very often paid just like policemen. It is copyright holders that are paid for decades and wish to be paid in perpetuity. Those are not necessarily the same. As an author, or songwriter, or game designer, you quite often are much like the policeman. You complete your work and sell it to a copyright holder (usually a publisher), or you work for them anyways and get paid by the hour.
Out of everyone working creatively, only a small fraction of people really enjoy the benefits of copyright law, 50 years of royalties and such. These are book authors, first and foremost, famous people with huge successes (say, George Lukas and his Star Wars) and independent creators who self-publish. But, sticking with that example, out of the thousand or so people who contributed to Star Wars in one way or the other, only a handful are enjoying royalties to this day. Many of the small-time creative workers, who made individual texts, sounds, background images, designed costumes, gadgets, spacecraft, etc. were simply employees paid for their time and that's that.

The copyright holders are who profit most from current copyright laws, and more often than not, they are companies and not people. That is why it is the RIAA and the MPAA who lobby for longer copyright terms, and not the scriptwriters union or the association of movie theme music composers (disclaimer: made those up, no idea if they exist, but something like them probably does).

This differentiation is important, because motivations are different. Corporations exist to make money. Creative people, on the other hand, usually want to be creative and money is simply a means to an end. Moving away from the theoretical, let's talk about me:

I created BattleMaster 13 years ago and it is a free game since. Not just "free to play" in todays sense of "we've found a better way to take your money" but 100% free - no subscription fee, no micro-payment, no advertisement.
My new creation, Might & Fealty, on the other hand, is a commercial product with a subscription fee. Why? Do I want to make tons of money? Stop kidding. I'm an internationally reknown security expert, I made more money in my last job than any reasonable expectation for Might & Fealty will ever yield me. In the time I've put into the project, I could've earned a small house if I had continued in a regular job.

No, the reason for creative people to take money for their creation is very simple: We want to create more. If I make money, I can pay my bills and make more stuff. I can pay other people who need to pay bills to join me - graphics artists, designers, writers, programmers. I can buy tools that help me create more and better. I could go on, but everything ends with the same conclusion: To create more.

Which leads us to the final point in Johns editorial that I want to comment on. Why are authors paid continuously for their work, while electrians aren't? Because it's a business model that works for copy-able items. When the electrician puts the wires into your house, he can charge you and only you for that. Which is why it simply makes sense to conduct a closed transaction - money changes hands once, deal is done. When you buy a new house, or re-do the wires, or if the electrician wires a different house, that is independent of the work already done, and a new transaction. And that is why the electrician has to charge you the full price for all the time he put into the wiring, because he'll have to put in the full work again for the next house.

When I write a book (or wrote, as I've already done that), and sell it to you, I can also sell it to many other people. Those other sales are not independent, because it's the same book, I've only had to write it once. That is why I can afford to not charge you the full price for all the hours it took to write, but a tiny fraction of it, because I can sell the same work to many different people. It is similar to a live concert, where the audience shares the price of having the musicians play - every single ticket is a fraction of what the whole gig costs.
The difference between a book and a live concert, or a live concert and a CD of the same music, is that in the live event it happens in one particular place in space and time and everyone present shares the price, while in a CD or book the usage is distributed over time and space and - voila - there you have why copyright is continuous, because the transaction is open, not closed. A CD is never "over", like a live concert. More people can always come and join in.

However, copyright is not and should not be in perpetuity, one for the reason often given - so that works can get into the public domain and become part of our shared culture - but also because an unlimited term would be economically one-sided. A live concert has a set number of listeners. A CD can, theoretically, have an unlimited amount, over unlimited time. But if you do the economics math, that would have to mean the price for every individual copy approaches zero. To make these deals fairly, you would have to continually re-calculate and potentially reimburse... uh... ugly. No, let's just have a fixed price and a fixed time and the risk factor involved in either not making enough money or making a lot of money is part of the business.

Yes, John, people also spent years preparing for their work, but the same can be true of authors. Important is how much time they spent creating the work, and how we want to pay them for that. In creative arts, small sums distributed over every reader/listener/player/user is one business model. It's not the only one, but it's one that works for both sides because we users get to enjoy creative work at reasonable prices, and we creative people (yes, I count myself into both camps) can make enough money to continue creating.

It's only when copyright holders that are not creative people enter the picture that the whole ugly bullshit begins.

Much like John, I am perfectly fine with something entering the public domain 20 or even 10 years after I've published it. My main interest when I publish something is to be paid in the immediate future, because that's when the bills are due. As for my bills 10 years down the road, either I continue creating and getting paid and can pay them from the royalties on stuff I've created in the time until then, or I've long since gotten a different job to pay the bills. Getting paid in 10, 15, 20 years for my work today is nice, and it makes the whole economic side of living smoother, but it's not what I'm thinking about when I sit down to work on Might & Fealty, or [explorers] or any of my other creative endeavours.

No, when it comes to money, what I make in the first year is way, way more important than what I make in 10 years. Because what I make today, I can put back into it. Into the sequel of the book, or into more artwork and code for the game, or the next game, or really anything that continues the cycle of create - get money - pay your bills - be able to create - create more.

Because we creative people want to create. That is what drives us, and money is just a means to an end. Money now matters, because bills are due now. Money a year from now matters a bit, because I know I'll have bills due then. Money 10 years down the road has never, ever, motivated me to write one single line of story or code.

So would the publishers and industry associations and other copyright industry members who are not themselves creative kindly shut up? You are drowning out the voices of those who are actually contributing creative work to society, adding to our common culture, and who have very different interests.


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Re: An Editorial of Kind
« Reply #1 on: February 21, 2014, 11:11:39 AM »
Well said!