Filesharing in Underdeveloped Nations: Let’s Take from the Poor and Give to the Rich
TechDirt is glorying about a Huge Push In Brazil To Legalize File Sharing:
We’ve discussed some interesting things happening down in Brazil when it comes to copyright. First, we’ve looked a few times at how the super popular technobrega music industry has thrived by embracing giving away music and using that to build up fame and business models based on selling scarcities — such as live shows. But, perhaps more interesting has been the ongoing proposals for new copyright laws in Brazil. For example, there was the decision to buck the trend in many places and not have a notice and takedown provision like the DMCA, but only have content get taken down with a court order — a position that shows significantly more respect for free speech rights. Separately, one recently proposed draft amazingly included penalties for hindering fair use or the public domain.
TD continues the argument made in its prior blogs about how wonderful it is that Tecno Brega artists rush to give away their music, making money from live concerts, dance lessons, or other add-ons.
I could understand this argument against copyright if it were cast in the form of saying that the transaction costs are too high, and thus put too much sand in the gears of commerce and sharing. But this is not at all the argument – in fact, the Internet is wringing transaction costs out of the system and rendering concepts such as “fair use” increasingly obsolete. Who cares whether my use of something should be classified as fair (and thus free) or not if it costs only a few cents in any case? One of the great benefits of the market, with market prices, is that it eliminates the need for complex inquiries into the nature of fairness.
It is mystery why so many non-artists feel that they should be entitled to appropriate the work of the creative for no cost, that it is somehow immoral for them to have to pay; it is like an alternative universe in which one idealizes an anti-Robin Hood who takes from the poor to give to the rich. (See Brazil and the Ethics of FOSS & Open Source Software and Less-Developed Nations – the then-president of the then-Sun Microsystems characterized the major software sharing license as “impos[ing] a ‘predatory obligation to disgorge IP back to the wealthiest nation in the world’ on its users.”)
The argument about “make the money from concerts” is simply silly. Yes, some musicians can make a great living on the concert circuit (assuming its stresses don’t kill them young, which tends to happen), but these are the ones who can fill a stadium in a particular locality. Most artists could only grub out a pittance at minor venues. The great glory of the Internet it enables the creation of global niche markets. If a million people scattered all over the world like my band, and each is willing to pay $10 a year to buy an annual CD, I can make a living. Not a great one, given all the expenses, but a living. This is not possible if I must tour, trying to reach them a few score at a time everywhere from Seattle to Bangkok. Eliminating property rights in music eliminates this global opportunity.
As for the Tecno Brega artists who put their music out for free – the world they live in is one in which music is pirated instantly, so they might as well do it themselves. That does not prove they prefer it. For example:
[M]any brega artists record their live shows in real time then burn copies for sale at the exits, so that audience members can head home with a legitimate R$5 ($2) copy of the concert they just paid a similar amount to see. Performers and DJs also give “shout-outs” to various neighbourhoods represented in the crowd. Attendees take great pride in hearing their homes name-checked, and eagerly buy up copies of the show to capture that moment of acknowledgment.
(Hmm – somehow, that sounds a lot like the bands like to sell CDs. )
TechDirt needs to read the work of Alec van Gelder & Mark Schultz — Nashville in Africa (the short version) and the full Kentucky Law Review version, Creative Development: Helping Poor Countries by Building Creative Industries. Here is the summary, from the International Policy Network:
Nashville in Africa
Nashville, Tennessee, was once a struggling city in one of the poorest regions of the United States. It found success from its creative industries: they can be unleashed in Africa too.
Nashville, Tennessee, was once a struggling city in one of the poorest regions of the United States. Like much of sub-Saharan Africa today, early 20th century policymakers pinned Nashville’s economic hopes on industrial development founded on access to raw materials and large, government-funded public works projects. These hopes were never fully realised, but Nashville found success anyway – from its creative industries.
Three ingredients led to the emergence of a country music industry in Nashville:
- Strong and unique cultural traditions, particularly in musical story-telling;
- A strong and stable legal institutional environment, which offered protection to property rights, including copyright;
- Conditions which provided the prospect of financial return for the investments of forward-thinking entrepreneurs.
Nashville’s ascent serves as an encouraging example of how creative clusters can make much from little. Its success did not require extensive education, sophisticated infrastructure or the successful execution of large, complicated development projects.
The central role of private action to building creative clusters in Nashville and elsewhere is both bad news and good news for policymakers. The bad news is that there is little governments can do to ensure success for the creative industries. The good news is that these risks can be placed on the shoulders of private parties rather than resource-strapped governments.
Provided they can foresee rewards, the entrepreneurs and artists in the creative industries willingly take these risks themselves. Governments play a lesser – but essential – role in providing the right institutional framework for creative industries through the enforcement of contracts and institutions, such as copyright. These were the conditions that led a handful of risk-taking entrepreneurs to invest in what was an un-exploited resource in the Nashville area – the talents and abilities of local creators.
The development of creative sectors is not a panacea for all less-developed countries. However, the Nashville story illustrates how expansion in the creative sector can contribute to growth elsewhere, which fosters a vibrant and diverse economy.
How is this relevant to currently less-developed nations? Well, see the opening of law review version of Nashville:
Africa’s popular musicians are crying out for help, often quite literally. In recent years, they have taken to the streets seeking redress for the failures of their countries’ legal systems to support creative activity effectively. The news brings reports of African musicians resorting to noisy street protests and personal confrontations with pirates in Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Botswana, and Swaziland. These musicians contend that their livelihoods are being destroyed by rampant piracy, corruption and the non–collection or diversion of royalties.
Image from Generation Bass.