Will Rock for Food

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Tim Lee (read him on public domain here) elbows in on a discussion between Matt Yglesias and Dean Baker on our creaky copyright laws. Baker looks to Artistic Freedom Vouchers, which "would give each person a small tax credit to support creative work of their choosing." Lee disagrees:

[T]axpayer handouts for artists has the long-run potential to hurt consumers a lot more than bad copyright policies ever could. Whatever the flaws of today's overly-broad copyright rules, the extent of the damage is at least limited to the value of the items being sold. Bad copyright policy can allow copyright holders to capture an unfairly large share of the surplus value created by the purchase of creative works, but they can't ever capture more than the total value of those works. In contrast, once we start putting artists on the dole, there's every reason to think they'll start lobbying for larger and larger welfare checks, the same way farmers do today. Whatever the flaws of the current copyright system, a system in which every rock star in the country is dependent on the dole would certainly be a lot worse.

Indeed, there are easier ways for rock stars to help each other out.

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  1. I find it quite hilarious when rich artists complain about capitalism.

  2. While I’d prefer having a voucher over having some “expert” at the NEA tell me what I’m supposed to like, I’d prefer neither.

    The idea that art would die out if not funded is rather silly. When I go to Burning Man, most of the art I prefer isn’t made on grants by the LLC. When I find an artist who’s done something I really like, I give them something if I can afford it. Some booze, or recreational substances, whatever I have on hand. They appreciate it, I appreciate their art, and we all get along.

    Brain Doherty, do you have similar experiences with Burning Man?

  3. Hell, I’m not happy about tax dollars going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I would be even less pleased if some of them went to 50 Cent.

  4. In the days before music publishing and copyrighted music, composers and musicians didn’t make a lot of money. They were with a few exceptions like Paginini and the odd Opera star, middle class tradesman who depended on wealthy patrons for a living. That era gave us Mozart, Back and the rest. The era of millionaire musicians has given us Brittney Spears and the Bay City Rollers. Please explain again how copyright protection is neccessary for the future of art?

  5. Now I remember why I hate 80’s hair rock so much. I defy anyone to distinguish any of those guys from each other based on voice alone.

    Heck, 90% of people couldn’t tell some of them apart even when looking without the name captions.

  6. It’s also given us Dio, John. \m/ TOO MUCH METAL FOR ONE HAND \m/ \m/

  7. oh, fuck, it took away my backslashes. Fuck you, Reason server.

  8. Ah, you have to escape them. \\m/ \\m/ \\m/ \\m/ \\m/

  9. So, if I want my ‘artist grant’ do I have to meet some gvernment definition of artist to get it?

  10. If posting snarky comments on blogs is art, we’ve got it made!

  11. So I could take a shit shit on the street and call it “performance art” and demand payment/tax credit from the state instead of getting arrested.

  12. “So I could take a shit shit on the street and call it “performance art” and demand payment/tax credit from the state instead of getting arrested.”

    Probably not….but if you were to collect said shit in a bathroom, put it into a baggy and throw it at your congress person’s office door, I think that qualifies as actual free speech. You could film it and apply for a grant that way. Hmmmm.

  13. We are magic in the night/
    We are darkness, we are light/

    It’s so beautiful. It makes me weep.

  14. Both would seem to have their worst effects in opportunity costs: if any art is somehow infringing on an idea copyrighted a thousand years ago (in the case of perpetual copyright), then you have little incentive to create something new. If the private market is crowded out by government dole, then the well connected decide what is art and begin to reinforce their position rather than expanding the choices in art.

    Hard to pick a winner here.

  15. That Hear ‘n Aid video was awesome. Sad to say that’s the first time I’ve seen it.

  16. Now I remember why I hate 80’s hair rock so much. I defy anyone to distinguish any of those guys from each other based on voice alone.

    If you can’t recognize Dio’s voice, you need to have your hearing checked.

  17. Wait a second – I’m supposed to take seriously an argument that is relying on the concept of “surplus value”?

  18. WHY DEAN BAKER IS CORRECT

    If authors and writers could collect the present value of their works from consumers
    with no interference from third parties, neither copyrights or Baker’s proposal would be necessary to improve efficiency.

    Since that’s not realistic, copyrights are claimed to offset the market failures associated with transaction costs and risks by assuring that appropriately allocated gains and losses accrue to the owners, producers and distributors of works.

    In the last several decades, technology shifted the cost structure to a high-fixed, low-production ratio. In the last stage, the internet undercut recovery of the high-fixed portion by driving distribution cost to near zero.

    Over the same period, authors and artists received proportionately less of the take due to an increasingly powerful network monopoly run by middlemen consisting of agents, producers, publishers and distributors.

    Today middlemen continue to exploit market power through copyright despite dwindling sales. They can no longer force packaged songs as albums or serially bound chapters as books, but they can still redistribute income from authors and artists to themselves.

    Baker is saying there are many more authors and writers who would produce works for a much higher reservation price than offered in the current market, yet the total cost would be much lower, as would the retail price.

    For an analogy, Baker recommends a similar solution for prescription drugs – take the research and development from Big Pharma and give it to the National Institute for Health.

    Set reservation prices sufficiently high to induce desired results. Then provide public licenses to anyone who wants to undertake production and distribution of the drugs. The result would be more needed drugs and much lower prices.

    Baker’s proposals of government intervention are palatible in these areas because of so much market failure.

  19. This is such total bullshit. Why should only artists get tax break for their so-called “contributions”? I can think of many, many professions that contribute a lot more to society than some woefully pretentious, faux–bohemian starving artists (yes, I know they are not all like this). They should be treated like anyone else. If they want to pursue their ambitions, let them do it on their own dime, not mine.

  20. Needs more cowbell.

  21. Thank you, John, for some reality based perspective. My opinion is the copyright went from an incentive in the Constitution meant to make our country not to darned backwards to a corporate entitlement aiding needless middlemen and padding the pockets of the ultra sexy.

  22. If you can’t recognize Dio’s voice, you need to have your hearing checked.

    I need to have my hearing checked because I recognized Dio’s voice.

  23. I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the appearance of Spinal Tap in the video. Sad that they are the most recognizable “stars” so many years later.

  24. In other news: Albert Gore, Jr. has won the Nobel Peace Prize.

    Seems that saving us from our impending doom ranks right up there with ending the Cold War like Jimmy Carter did?

    Or maybe for trying to kill all the Jews, like Arafat? (Sorry, could not figure a spin for him like I did for Jimmy and Al).

  25. In the days before music publishing and copyrighted music, composers and musicians didn’t make a lot of money. They were with a few exceptions like Paginini and the odd Opera star, middle class tradesman who depended on wealthy patrons for a living. That era gave us Mozart, Back and the rest.”

    “a corporate entitlement aiding needless middlemen and padding the pockets of the ultra sexy”

    Ignorant, factually incorrect blanket statements intended apparently as a means of insulting successful artists who the authors happen not to like. Intelligent debate reaches its zenith.

  26. Baker’s proposals of government intervention are palatible in these areas because of so much market failure.

    An economist should know that a result you don’t personally like does not equal a market failure. Given the rapidly changing nature of the music and entertainment distribution business right now, calling what’s happening a market failure also seems a wee tad premature.

    In any event, handing out government checks to artists is idiocy in the purest form. Let’s take money from the people and then give the people vouchers they can give artists! What does this accomplish, exactly?

    People already have “Artistic Freedom Vouchers” they can distribute to any artist they choose. They’re called “dollar bills”.

  27. Needs more cowbell.

    Everything does. Everything. Right, dhex?

  28. “Ignorant, factually incorrect blanket statements intended apparently as a means of insulting successful artists who the authors happen not to like. Intelligent debate reaches its zenith.”

    Name artists before copyrighted music that were wealthy? Some of them did okay because of the popularity of Opera, Wagner for example, but none of them were ultra wealthy. The millionaire musician or composer is a product of recorded music and the 20th Century. Granted, if I am a musician I would rather be Sting living in my Tuscan villa counting my millions (Stewart Copeland calls Sting’s Italian villa “The Magic Stingdom) than Mozart hoping to get a new commission from the Habsburg Emperor or Bach working days at the Cathedral writing choir music, but from a societal perspective I really can’t see how it makes a difference. We had plenty of art before copyright protection and recorded music. So why would limiting the protection now in any way diminish the quality or quantity of art?

  29. These guys blow away any of the idiots in that video.

  30. Everything does. Everything. Right, dhex?

    only if you’re om.

    everyone else probably needs less.

    or if we’re talking about the 808 cowbell then…shit, who knows?

  31. People already have “Artistic Freedom Vouchers” they can distribute to any artist they choose. They’re called “dollar bills”.

  32. “Ignorant, factually incorrect blanket statements intended apparently as a means of insulting successful artists who the authors happen not to like.”

    Actually, I was recognizing that the need for copyright protection, while still valid, has lost much of its original purpose.

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