Thursday , March 4 2021

How to Pay the Artists?

Dan Bricklin addresses the central question underlying the copyright wars: how does the artist get paid:

    The USA was found upon the principles of the right of all to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For the artist, that would be by letting them create their art and be able to reasonably make a living. The pursuit of happiness for all of us, in many respects, depends upon the artists being able to share their works with the rest of us, and us being able to use those works in ways that bring us happiness. The best benefit to society is when the most appreciated art is available for use by as much of society as possible. For the artists themselves, the best benefit is when they meet their personal goals of expression, practice, having an audience, appreciation, and material wealth. Since many forms of art and styles of practicing that art involve using the artistic works of others, the more that art can be used by others the better, too. To help the artists make their living, though, certain deals were struck with the public, such as the public allowing limited monopolies like copyrights.

    ….The means to getting paid

    As I see it, there are a few common ways that artists get paid for doing their work:

    Performance: The artist gets paid by someone to have access (perhaps exclusive access, in the case of physical art like sculpture) to the art whose content the artist has chosen.

    Patronage: Someone provides money to meet the artist’s needs without restriction on the content of the work they create.

    Commission: The artist does specific work using their skills at the request of another in return for payment.

    Let’s look at these a bit closer.

    Performance has many variations. In the case of the work of a painter, the result of paying could be owning a particular painting and hanging it on the wall of one’s home. In the case of a singer, it could be attending a concert and hearing the singer perform. In these cases, the physical nature of the art provides exclusivity — the painting can only hang on one wall, and only those in the limited space of the music hall can hear and see the singer live.

    Through laws, we have added additional, non-physical exclusivities to provide additional opportunities for performance payment, providing additional means to earn a living for a wider range of artists. For example, copyright laws let song writers have a way to get paid for performance during a limited (but sufficiently long to have economic meaning) time. Basically, you, as a singer, must not perform that song writer’s work and receive performance payment yourself without also paying the song writer. This is a means for writers to get paid as one of the results of some of their work. (It’s not turning their work into property. It is just a simple technique for monetizing one aspect of the result of their work in a way that society finds acceptable.)

    Patronage has always been part of art. Without people paying more than their “fair share”, many artists and forms of art would not be practical. Most people find particular art and artists that they especially like. People with “extra” means sometimes use those means to help those artists carry on as they wish with their art without needing to have other types of jobs, or needing to meet the desires of a larger public. The “monetizing use” model described above does not always work in balance with the financial needs of the artist and art form. The benefit to the patron comes in knowing they are helping to promote the art, or in bringing benefit to a larger community as a type of philanthropy. For those without a “gift” of being artistic but with the “gift” of business skill, luck, or rich family, it is a way of expression and sharing their gifts with others. Sometimes, the patron is really us all, when the government sponsors the art (a very important case).

    A variant of patronage is when the patron pays for the privilege to get something related to the art work or artist, usually for a price much higher than the perceived value to others. Examples of these related performances are items of clothing with the artist’s image, memorabilia such as items that belonged to the artist or autographed by them, ancillary items to the art like CD inserts with lyrics and essays, and presence at a reception attended by the artist with a chance to have a personal discussion with the artist. Sometimes the patronage is purchasing the art directly from the artist in a way that returns a larger amount of money to the artist than they would get through normal distribution.

    A purchase of a CD at a concert is often a combination of types of patronage along with performance, where the price of the CD is high, there is an option for it to be autographed, and the artist is the one behind the table selling and listening politely to your comments as you express your appreciation of the work through the purchase.

    Commission is a type of support for an artist that is often overlooked. Paying an artist to perform their artistry for a particular purpose has always been important. Painters have always done portraits for the wealthy and others. Composers have written to celebrate the events in the life of a noble, at the request of the noble who pays for the privilege. Illustrators have created logos for companies of all sizes. Commissioned work allows the artist to practice their art while bringing particular benefit to the one who does the commissioning. For those that get joy out of practicing their craft, or in the appreciation of their work, or in being paid, commissioned work is very important. Often, it allows the artist to hone their skills while earning a livelihood. Using that skill and savings, the artist may then be free to also create other art that is an expression of something more inner directed. Sometimes the commissioned art is of value to a wider community, and is a form of patronage from society’s viewpoint.

    As we’ve seen with desktop publishing and small business web sites, a much wider range of companies are able, and required, to take advantage of professionally created content — the commissioned work of artists. Graphic design, illustration, photography, video, and other artistic skills are being used by everybody. The cost to produce this material, in terms of equipment, is constantly dropping, but the need for a “trained eye” and other skills is growing. We don’t accept the homemade look in as many places as we used to. The smallest of businesses is insisting on “a professional look”, according to the research I’ve been seeing. Big businesses are expected to use professionally created content in more and more places. All of this means more opportunities for commissioned work for the artist.

    Throughout time, artists have put together for themselves a mixture of each of these ways to earn a living (funding themselves, performance, patronage, and commission). See my writeup of Buskin and Batteau for a discussion of the mix one pair of singer/songwriters have put together. (Most people have never heard of them, but if you read the writeup, you’ll see why they are an interesting example — you probably have heard their work.)….

I am not as sanguine that the natural artistic ecosystem will take care of itself equitably, but neither am I in favor of the corporate lock-up of cutural artifacts in place now – I fear the only way to resolve this is some kind of compusory licensing system whereby material is passed freely over the Internet, but all users pay a fee to compensate creators.

Every system has flaws, and the main one with an across-the-board broadband user license is that those who avail themselves of Internet content pay no more than those who don’t, but over time as computers and Internet connections speed up, digital will become the primary delivery system for content and this imbalance will become less pronounced.

Equally important, this would resolve the heinous privacy, legal and system-blocking efforts now being undertaken by the copyright industry to try to stem infringement.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected],, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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