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Filesharing in Underdeveloped Nations: Let’s Take from the Poor and Give to the Rich

By 6 September 2010 9 Comments

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

9 Comments »

  • john said:

    How is he “glorying”?

    Like a lot of people who support robust fair use and a more balanced IP system, Mike is skeptical of compulsory licensing schemes, as he says in the very post you link to.

  • Digital Society » Blog Archive » Copyright, Live Performance, and Artistic Business Models said:

    [...] }); }Monday’s post on Filesharing in Underdeveloped Nations: Let’s Take from the Poor and Give to the Rich linked to the interesting work that Alec van Gelder & Mark Schultz have done on the development [...]

  • Michael Baumli said:

    If I remember correctly, one of the older bands, which I thought was the Rolling Stones said that the only way to really make money is to tour because selling CDs won’t do that.

    Producers and Mixers and publicists all get their cut of the CD business trying to push the art on the public. They are usually the ones to take the first cut and leave the artists with less. If the Artist is able to take more of an active role in publishing themselves, then they usually can get a larger cut. One way to do this is to put the cost into recording the music themselves and then pushing their art out freely. This wouldn’t be any different than someone pushing opensource out as a resume to the public.

  • Mike Masnick said:

    Should I really be surprised that Jim DeLong is once again being intellectually dishonest about what I wrote? As the first commenter noted, I did not “glory” the Brazilian proposal. I pointed out why it was problematic. I do wonder why DeLong would so misrepresent my position.

    Equally amusing, of course, is that he misrepresents my position by saying I’ve said that the solution for musicians is “make money from concerts,” when I’ve quite frequently pointed out that I don’t think that’s the best solution for many artists.

    And, finally, the most amusing of all is his insistence that concerts can only work for groups with huge audiences, ignoring the fact that it appears to be working just fine for these technobraega artists, as well as numerous other artists that we’ve covered on Techdirt. Reality’s a bitch.

    In the meantime, I do wonder why John Henke continues to allow Digital Society and Arts+Labs to post blatantly false information attacking me on a regular basis. It’s sad that he’s stooped to such a level.

    Come on, John, I thought you were above that.

  • James DeLong (author) said:

    Well, the opening of the post to which I linked says:

    “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.”

    An earlier post said:

    “So why are the artists so eager to give away their content for free? Because the bigger your reputation, and the more people know who you are and like your songs, the more money you can make with live shows. Quite similar to the history of Jamaican music in the 1950s and 60s, the technobrega musicians and DJs have built up traveling soundsystems. Another way to make money is in dance classes. Apparently, learning the complicated dance steps is a big business. A researcher, Ronaldo Lemos, who has studied the technobrega business, notes that it’s doing amazingly well by embracing technology and embracing file sharing.”

  • Jon Henke said:

    Mike, I don’t see what your objection is. DeLong seems to be pointing to the parts of the proposals that you did praise. And while I appreciate that you have sometimes acknowledged that “give it away and make money on concerts” does not work for many – and we readily acknowledge that a “freemium” model can work for many and should be a legitimate option, of course – you also seem to praise proposals that legalize piracy. But I don’t understand how this helps the artists, since nobody is currently preventing artists from giving away their products.

    You seem to disagree with DeLong. Fine. People disagree about stuff. But I don’t think he’s misconstrued you by saying that you spoke well of the proposal. He was clearly referring to the part of the proposal that you were praising, not the licensing component that you criticized.

  • Burt said:

    I read the Mansick article – what was the takeaway supposed to be? He mentions some of the potential ills of the Brazilian compulsory license proposal for file sharing, and concludes “it’s at least a hell of a lot better than copyright law most other places”. It may not be “glorying”, but he’s saying it’s a step in the right direction. Saying he’s “glorying” might be mild exggeration, but I don’t see how pointing this out “intellectual dishonesty”.

    I find it interesting that Mansick accuses DeLong of misrepresenting his position saying “I’ve quite frequently pointed out that [making money from concerts] is not the best solution for many artists”. But is the quote from the earlier post that DeJong posted in response inaccurate? On at least two occassions I’m aware of, Mansick has extolled the value of making money from concerts which are filled with fans because the artist gave away the music. It is so tired to say “it’s great promotion” when justifying the taking of content without permission. Assuming it works (and I don’t know that it does) isn’t the end game of promotion to make the the product you’re promoting profitable, and not potentially promote some ancillary line of work you may or may not be in? It’s like saying “film actors should not be upset by the unpaid mass distribution of their films (which is eroding their potential to get gigs in the future, and might be eating into their take on that film) because this kind of great promotion will increase their appearance fees at mall openings”. It means they have to be in the mall opening business to make money. It also means the people involved in making the film who aren’t on screen get completely stiffed – noone’s going to a mall opening to see the poor gaffer.

  • KentC said:

    Full paper for those who can’t get through the paywall: http://www.serci.org/2008/Schultz.pdf

    Far from the legal foundation that the above paper tries to imply, the US of the early 20th century had relatively lax copyright (28 year span, had to copyright the work or it became public domain) and a host of folk music and musical traditions that existed entirely within the public domain. Artists in Nashville, and much of the south, readily used and adopted these traditions (often in ways that we would consider direct rip offs) to develop new schools and forms of music. Peer and the other industries that started around the music culture, far from creating it, enclosed upon this “musical commons” by bringing what was previously an open culture and bringing it under their own control.

    Almost every musical boom (an quite possibly every one) – whether we talk about the creation of Jazz or Rock or Rap or Techno or the Brazillian brega – was born from cultures of music that existed without strong cultures of “copyright”. All new forms of music come about as a product of borrowing riffs, remixing, sampling, and dubbing.

    Great music is born from cultures of imitation.

  • Digital Society » Blog Archive » Community Disorganization said:

    [...] write free software to increase the value of U.S.-branded computers. (The head of Sun Microsystems once characterized a major open source software license as imposing on its users a “predatory obligation to disgorge [...]