Interview with Cory Doctorow, Part 3: The Future of Art in the Information Age

Paint tubesThanks to one of the many Meet the Media Guru events organized in Milan, Cory Doctorow was in Milan and I was lucky to get an interview one-on-one with him. Here’s part 3 of my interview with Cory Doctorow, where he talks about the future of art in the Information Age. Here’s Part 1: Copyfight and Creative Commons. Part 2: ebooks, DRM and universal formats. I’ll be posting the entire interview transcript and the audio file in a later post. You are welcome to re-post, share, remix this content with a link back to this article under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License.

SARA: Can we go back to copyright a little bit…you talk about “the elimination of copyright is something that diversifies cultural participation” and “decentralizes who gets to make art.” I wanted to talk to you about what you think the future of an artist is, because maybe a couple of years ago, you were a programmer OR a writer OR a photographer and I think that if we’re not going to be able to “get rich” because that’s something that the copyright should be protecting who can buy, and how many copies they can buy, a further evolution of this might be: you might make less from that book, you might write more books because the technology is helping you do things faster, but you might need to diversify your own talent.

How do you see the future of an artist being impacted by the information age?

CORY DOCTOROW: Well, I think that, and I want to start at the beginning of the question: I think that copyright diversifies decision-making about who gets to make art. Before copyright, we had patronage, so a pope or a duke said that you could paint a ceiling, you could paint a ceiling. We got some great ceilings that way, but it was not a great way for apportioning capital to make art. The creation of an exclusive industrial right that you could then waive investment on to restrict copying allowed people to make any art that they wanted to, provided it was profitable.

So that was the second stage, and that vastly diversified decision making about who got to decide who made art, and that was good. We are entering the realm now in which relaxing that right, not eliminating it but relaxing it, dramatically reduces the amount of capital you need to produce, because for example you can remix and do lots of other things. And when you dramatically reduce the amount of capital you need, you further diversify, because now it’s not just that art which is profitable, but it’s that art which is profitable at smaller investment levels, or that art which doesn’t require profit in order to exist, right? It can be made for free.

So this is really a good policy, I can’t wait to have more diversity from a more relaxed or more liberal copyright regime. But I don’t think that copyright ever made a majority of artists rich.

So, the majority of artists were not earning anything like a living before copyright, before the Internet rather. They won’t be earning a living during the Internet, they won’t be earning a living after the Internet because creating art is a non-economic, fundamentally non-economic principle. People make art even when no one wants to buy it because they want to express themselves.

Now the Internet has made it possible for a generation of artists to earn a living, there are a lot of artists who are earning on the Internet and that’s great news for them. Visual artists who can connect more readily with potential buyers for their work. My friend Rick in Michigan, he lives outside of Detroit and he’s a well-known painter of science fiction book covers and it’s your basic commissioned painter work. It’s your basic day-job for painters. But he loves photography and he sits in his backyard and he takes the most exquisite macro focus photography of bugs and high-speed photography of birds. And the Internet has made it possible for him to connect with an audience, a gigantic audience of people who want to buy art prints of these photos.

So here you have someone who was making a modest living painting book covers for New York publishing, is now making a real living as an artist taking photos that really tickle his artistic fancy from his backyard in Michigan. So this is the kind of thing the Internet enables. But even when it does enable an artist to make a living, the two reasons we make art is to get paid, but also to be heard. The Internet has made it possible for more people to be heard by more people than ever before.

So, every artist is going to find their own way to earn a living or not, and the majority of artists won’t find a way to earn a living, that’s just the way it works, whether or not there’s an Internet. But if there’s an Internet, more artists will be able to find an audience and that’s a piece of the puzzle. It’s not the only piece but it’s a very important piece of the puzzle.

SARA: Can you give us a little preview of what you’re going to be speaking about tonight? (Meet the Media Guru, Milan)

CORY DOCTOROW: I think you just heard it. I’ll be talking more about exactly this.

SARA: Yes, because I saw that you’re talking about writing in the “Age of Distraction”…

CORY DOCTOROW: I won’t be talking about that so much but that’s certainly something that cuts right into my daily experience, because I work on a novel all the time, I’m writing a thousand words every day on it, I wrote a thousand words this morning and getting those thousand words done when you travel a lot and have a little baby and all the rest of it, is tricky.

SARA: I’m not sure if you’re aware that in Italy they are proposing a law for a registry of bloggers, because in Italy we still have a registry of journalists – to be a part of this you have to be certified and carry a license. What do you think the implications of having a registry of bloggers could be, that we’re held accountable legally just like a journalist could be in Italy?

CORY DOCTOROW: I don’t think it would work very well, because defining who a blogger is would be very hard. It would silence or make ridiculous the phenomenon, for example of a 12 year old who wants to open a blog to talk about their Pokemon cards with their friends. Do those people need licenses? And how do you establish where the cutoff is?

This sounds to me like it’s something that a Parliament could spend 10 years debating, and by the time they come up with a working definition, it would have been completely invalid and technology would have moved on.

If there’s a legitimate problem that the Parliament’s trying to solve, this won’t solve it. I guess that’s the shortest answer I can give you: this won’t solve it.

SARA: That’s all the questions I have today, thank you for your time.

CORY DOCTOROW: It was lovely to meet you.

Thank you so much, Cory! I’ll be posting a round-up with the downloadable file and audio tomorrow.

Image by regolare

Categories: Tech Talk & Reviews

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