What if there was no copyright on “music and the arts”?

Over at Techdirt, Mike Masnick wrote an interesting article suggesting that copyright on “art or music” may be unconstitutional. Now, I don’t expect the Supreme Court to rule that way any time soon – there’s not even a case before them – but it did make me wonder what would be different if copyright didn’t exist on film, television, music, architecture and other creative arts.

I thoroughly recommend reading Mike’s article, but the gist of the argument is that the Constitution provides for a “Limited Period” (originally 14 years, not 50 years past the death of the author) for “authors” (only, no descendants or corporate owners) “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts”. Useful Arts apparently being the business of invention in the language of the day. No mention of almost all our current copyright system.

We wouldn’t have the RIAA suing its best customers. The RIAA, MPAA and their kind around the world would have to work out how to compete, which is simple: provide a good product at a fair price and provide it conveniently. Without the crutch of copyright to protect a dying business model (and a highly profitable one, so it’s understandable they don’t want to adjust to the new reality) they would have to compete.

After all, television has been giving its content away pretty much since day one. Of course others (advertisers) pay for the privilege of interrupting the program with something irrelevant, which is why I’d rather pay a fair amount for my ad free copies, thanks.

If there was no copyright, then digital copies would abound, and content creators would either have to add value to their official (paid) version; or bundle advertising so closely with the show that it doesn’t appear like advertising. (In fact I believe the future of advertising is branded media, but that’s a post for another day.)

Of course, it can be done. iTunes and Amazon’s music store sell music that is fairly readily available via various P2P mechanisms. Every one of the 4 Billion songs Apple has sold has been available free.

Perhaps content could be free after a period of time, and people will pay for immediacy. This is the strategy the Direct TV hoped would give them more customers by showing Friday Night Lights on Direct TV before their outing on NBC. (See my earlier article on how the numbers stack up for new media, on how that program is being funded and what a fair price would be for a viewer.)

People will pay for convenience and simplicity – both reasons why iTunes has been such a successful model, despite charging way too much for television and movie content.

There are dozens of ways that television, and new media production, could fund itself if there was the necessity and they couldn’t fall back on copyright. In fact in my “Making a living from new media” seminar, I outline 13 different ways that free media can lead to a decent middle class income.

If “Hollywood” wasn’t covered by copyright, how different would it be?

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