Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Ah yes, without money, why would anyone write?!?

Note to Scott Adams: people have been creating great, professional, enduring works of literature for several millennia.

Meanwhile, our current scheme of copyright and the culture of ownership that allowed a very (VERY!) small percentage of creators, like you and Stephen King and JK Rowling to sleep on big stinking piles of money while you create, is about 100 years old.

T.S Eliot never, ever, supported himself as a poet. He was a teacher, worked at a bank, and later a publishing house. His work didn't "suck" as a result.

Geoffrey Chaucer sought patronage for his writings, but saw them expressly as a way to advance his career as a courtier.

The people who wrote the Homeric Hymns a couple thousand years ago didn't even put their names on these seminal works of the Western canon. They put Homer's name on them, to honor the great bard.

See, people don't even need glory, much less a life of ease and luxury to create.

Give certain people a cave wall and they will draw on it. And they will pour their hearts and souls into that drawing, or writing, or singing, whether or not there's any chance they can become Tom Clancy and buy an island with their video game money.


Darth ObiWan said...

As a corollary...if you write or create something of value, chances are you'll see a little money about it.

Scott Adams' problems is that he ceased to be relevant about 5-10 years ago and is pretty much just mailing in Dilbert at this point.

Preston said...

I'm going to take the contrarian opinion. First, I don't think that Adams is saying that great works can't or won't be created "for free". In fact, in his last paragraph he admits As an author, my knee-jerk reaction is to assume that the media content of the future will suck because there will be no true professionals producing it. But I think suckiness is solved by better search capabilities. Somewhere out in the big old world are artists who are more talented than we can imagine, and willing to create content for free, for a variety of reasons.

However, there's something to be said for being able to dedicate yourself to a skill or task full time. There are plenty of people who create amazing works with no expectation of money, but surely there's a payoff in being able to spending more time studying and practicing the mechanics of writing. Being able to make a living from ones work results in a gift of time that should be leveraged to produce even better literature.

Chuck said...

Preston, as you can probably imagine, I have no problem with writers making enough money to dedicate themselves to their craft full time.

However, despite acknowledging that people will still write for free, he also says that the profession of writer will go away, "like cowboys did".

Even ignoring people who write from sheer desire (like TS Eliot did), or for another reason entirely (as JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis did), this seems really silly.

William Shakespeare and W.A. Mozart, to name a couple, were able to make boatloads of money as professionals in a world without copyright.

In fact, looking at Shakespeare, one could argue he was benefited, monetarily and creatively, by the lack of copyright, lifting wholesale ideas (Romeo and Juliet was based on another play) and motifs (Hamlet borrowed many ideas and scenes from Spanish Tragedy).

The idea that copyrights and only copyrights allow the profession of author to exist is, imo, Adams' central point and it's really dumb and really locked into the 20th century.

I contend that not only would artists be fine without copyright but that the inability to lock ideas like Superman and Conan behind copyrights and trademarks for multiple generations is actually bad for us.

I think copyright is the thing that will "go away, like the profession of cowboy", not professional creators.

Desert Rat said...

I think you can make a moral argument for a point.

It's ludicrous that stuff is locked up for 95 years before hitting the public domain at this point. Of course, it's also ludicrous that companies can own copyrights, IMO.

The DMCA was a crime against art, in my opinion, and I'm not talking about file-sharing when I say that.

The problem Scott Adams is facing is that his revenue streams are shrinking one folded newspaper at a time, and he's upset that he can't just mail in a mediocre Dilbert cartoon every day and make a mint like he used to.

Write because you want to/have to, not because you want to make money at it is the first axiom of writing.

RPGObjects_chuck said...

Well- I happen to think Scott Adams is pretty awesome. There are two comic strips that I read in trades (not the newspaper- don't be crazy) and they're Dilbert and Foxtrot.

But yeah, copyrights are way too long. Even worse imo, is the way trademarks are used to make the whole idea of public domain some weird joke.

Last time I had too much free time and did a trademark search, DC had the Superman logo, the Superman "S" shield, the names Clark Kent and Lois Lane all trademarked.

The idea of copyrights for the author's lifetime makes perfect sense to me.

But the idea that companies can hold copyrights, that copyrights are actual property than can be passed onto your kids, or worse, into the hands of a trust of lawyers, is ridiculous.

I also think anyone making a copyright claim should be forced to provide proof without being taken to court.

Most people believe that Conan is PD for example, but the cabal of lawyers that hold the rights says "nuh uh! we won't prove that, sue us! and anyway, the name Conan is trademarked, so shut up and license it!"

All that aside, Scott Adams' main thesis, that digital downloads will make the profession of author literally go away, "like Cowboy", is still dumb.

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