Mark Thomas talks sense about the Digital Economy Bill

You should really watch this. If for no other reason than to witness the Minister for Digital Britain actually say:

“If people can’t be paid for their creativity, they’re going to stop being creative.” (1m 57)

On the face of it, that’s an incredibly stupid thing to say, and is amazingly offensive to the vast majority of people in the world who are creative amateurs.

Note: I did not say “the vast amount of creative people in the world who are amateurs”, though this would also be true.

Most people in the world do creative things for no money. The vast majority of music in the world is made for cultural reasons that are not economic. To suggest that the only reason to be creative is with the expectation of payment is utterly offensive.

Beyond stupidity
But it’s not just stupid and offensive – it’s corrupt. It’s so manifestly and obviously false that it could not possibly be the considered belief of a rational human being.

The alternative (and indeed, the only plausible conclusion) is that it’s a deliberate falsehood in order to support something that is utterly indefensible when examined with any intellectual honesty.

It’s the direct result of corporate lobbying, it’s entirely disingenuous, and it’s a bald-faced lie echoed to support the interests of powerful and moneyed multinational organisations.

I’m going to come right out and say it: Quite seriously, Stephen Timms should be sacked just for saying that sentence in public (just as he might be if he’d said something overtly racist).

Mandelson should too – not least for his utterly corrupt ‘I can just change the law whenever I feel like it’ clause.

And Feargal Sharkey should just shut the hell up and go away. One good pop song 30 years ago does not make up for his outrageous anti-culture corporate shilling, no matter how much John Peel liked it.

Incidentally, the music that pops up from time to time in the above piece is from one of my favourite albums from 2009: Checkmate Savage by The Phantom Band. Go check it out here.

11 Responses to “Mark Thomas talks sense about the Digital Economy Bill”

  1. Steve Lawson says:

    razor-sharp writing, sir. Thanks for removing the imperative to write about this for me. I might still do it, but your thoughts are fantastic, and probably better than what I’ll come up with.

    Skype podcast about this soon? Sx

  2. Sorry, Andrew, but I think you’re missing the point.

    The key verb is “create”, as in “fix in a tangible form”. It’s one thing to have an idea, but giving expression to the idea is another thing completely.

    I’m certain that the amount of time you put into writing your blogs – for instance – takes its toll on your schedule, but that’s pretty much the only cost associated with it (barring hosting payments, which are negligible at today’s rates). I know just how it is – as you know I know.

    The problem is that writing is pretty much the only activity where creation and publishing are so cheap The moment you start recording music, for example, you’re looking at several people working for tens of hours – maybe more. If you don’t have your own studio, you’ll be paying additional rental costs also charged by the hour.

    Don’t even get me started on movies, because production costs there are and will be astronomical – there are simply too many people who have to take too much time away from other activities in order to complete the work.

    Amateur creation has its place, as it always had, but the majority of consumption – legal or not – is satiated by commercial output. The very fact that it is commercial has allowed us to get more and better stuff, since compensation ensures that large enough groups of people can be brought together to complete a project within a reasonable amount of time.

    The accusations of corporate lobbying and supporting the interests of “powerful and moneyed multinational organisations” are below the level I’d expect of a reasoned discussion, for two reasons:
    1. It’s a truism, since the Big Bad Business has an obvious interest in the matter, that lawmakers are obliged to consider,
    2. The Big Bad Business in question is providing for the aforementioned majority of creative works being consumed and you, with all due respect, are not. The BBB knows what it takes to make music and movies and how much it costs – no one better. Their livelihood depends on them knowing. Their point of view is not academic.

    To end on a personal example, I can knock out blog posts daily, no problem, but am heartbroken to read comments from people who liked my recordings to date and want more. I’d love to give them more, I just cannot afford it at the moment.

    That’s the real lie of the land when it comes to creative work. No corporate scheming, just the facts of life. We can debate what the law should be, but saying that creators don’t need incomes is just plain silly. Saying that they should get them elswhere, on the other hand, is the real insult.

  3. Mark says:

    I couldn’t care less if people are going to continue being creative. That doesn’t impact my life positively unless they are creating things of great value. And to create things of great value is not the same as creating stuff that one personally feel warm and fuzzy.

    The reason why it is important to make a living off of music for an artist, is that it enables one to dedicate more time to one’s endeavors, and the more time one can work on one’s art, the more one can improve what one does. Passion and dedication can not compensate for the loss of 40 hours a week, every week, every year of one’s life.

    I cringe at the thought of what our cultural landscape would look like if the great artists of our past would have been relegated to part-time amateurs, unable to earn a living off of their art. We would not have Brandenburg Concertos or Davids, not because artists wouldn’t have had time to create them, but because they wouldn’t have had enough time to develop their skills enough to produce works of this quality.

    Now, none of this is meant to imply that it is society’s duty to figure out how to support artists – the responsibility is that of the former. However, I am more than a bit annoyed of this idea that art will flourish _no matter what_. High art, in fact, has only flourished in those regions of the world, and only during those times, that tangible infrastructures existed that could support their work – be it patronage, monasteries, courts, business, what-have-you.

    Without income streams capable of supporting artists full-time, we’ll slip increasingly towards mediocrity, pat-each-other-on-the-back good-for-you for expressing yourself platitudes, and shitty popular arts, like painting a moose on a cave, quilting, and sitting around the fire singing songs with three chords.

  4. Mark says:

    No offense to quilters, btw.

  5. Dubber says:

    I’m tempted to just say ‘what utter bullshit’ to both the above lengthy comments and leave it at that. But this seems important to you guys, and you seem to be getting offended by something I neither said nor meant.

    Let’s be clear: I didn’t say anything about whether artists should have the opportunity to earn a living doing their art. Of course they should, and they do.

    I said it’s offensive to say that people are ONLY creative if they make money at it, and if they stop making money, they’ll stop being creative. THAT’s bullshit.

    Professionals and ‘great artists’ do not have a monopoly on creativity.

    Incidentally, I said ‘opportunity’ deliberately.

    You want to live in a world of capitalism? Fine. That works by creating economic value and then being rewarded – not being rewarded so that you can create economic value. You don’t get to decide what economic value is – everyone else does. They’re called ‘the market’. You don’t have the right to make money from your music. You have the opportunity to make money from your music. If that turns into a full-time gig, that makes you a successful creative entrepreneur. Well done you.

    Cards on the table: Mark – I love your music. You know that. Krzysztof – sorry, dude. Not my thing. I’ll happily give money to the former to hear the music. I won’t pay anything for the latter. And a draconian, protectionist law designed to perpetuate a failing business model will not make me like or pay for a Viridian record.

    Calling yourself an artist does not give you the right to an income so that you can spend 40 hours a week in order to ‘develop your skills enough to make works of quality’. Not saying it wouldn’t be nice – just saying it’s not real.

    And frankly, nor is the idea that things were better for artists before the internet. In the artist – label – fan relationship, the fans are not typically the ones stealing from the artists.

    I’m not even going to begin on that point about high art only flourishing in times and places of infrastructure and monetary reward. Sorry, Mark – but could you be any more Eurocentric, blinkered, snobbish and elitist?

    Loving the quilt, by the way Mum.

  6. Kevin says:

    There are however, some people I would happily see paid if they agreed to stop being ‘creative’.

  7. Mark says:

    Well perhaps that is all fair enough, but what I took exception with is not whether or not _I_ get paid, or _how_ anyone gets paid, or anything like that. Whether people should want to pay for my music is, of course, up to everyone to decide for themselves.

    What I did take exception with is a perceived nod to a recent idea that has been popping up on blog after blog, namely the idea that we need not worry about how artists are getting paid, as it will make no difference to society one way or another, since art will continue to be made one way or another. Presumably, so the fairy tale goes, at a comparable quality even if society at large no longer feels inclined financially to support music.

    My comment wasn’t CDs vs digital. Price points. Or 1000 true fans, or whatever. It was totally directed at what I perhaps _incorrectly_ perceived to be the notion that creativity flourish because people like to create things.

    And, your allegations of Eurocentrism aside, I could have referenced Basho, master canue carvers in New Guinea, or GG Marquez, whilst making the same point. Incidentally, tourists in New Guinea pay rather handsomely for competent carvings; Basho, like many Japanese masters, had disciples who covered his publishing costs; etc.

    And I am not advocating capitalism at all. To the contrary, people arguing that art will happen no matter what usually are, by relying on an overinflated belief in technology and the free market to right problems to everyone’s satisfaction given sufficient time.

    I have no doubt anymore my rant was totally misplaced here. I re-read your post and your comment, and I most assuredly feel a bit embarrassed by it. I love following your ideas, blogs, videos etc, precisely because I think you are insightful and have an excellent BS radar.

    Still though, somewhere in the universe, my comment would have been quite apropos. Next time I’ll make doubly sure that my shoulder’s many chips don’t cloud my judgment as to when and where to rant.

    Big hugs, Andrew.

    Sorry for going off endlessly.

    -Mark

  8. deadzone says:

    It’s things like this that make me wish that they would just “take their ball and go home” instead of just threatening to on a weekly basis. Life will go on and we will continue to be entertained by creativity. In 5-10 years we will look back at all of this and shake our collective heads and wonder how we could have been so short sighted about this stuff.

    The entertainment industry’s days are numbered in it’s current form and if you ask me, it can’t happen quickly enough.

  9. Vivaelamor says:

    Mark, you said: “namely the idea that we need not worry about how artists are getting paid, as it will make no difference to society one way or another, since art will continue to be made one way or another. ”

    I have to wonder which sites you have been reading to get that impression. Even Torrent Freak’s community, while not host to the most thoughtful audience, has never seemed to push an idea that artists should fend for themselves. Perhaps the point you miss about economics is that people like spending money. Spending money is an exercise of power: the greater the positive effect that persons money seems to have the more likely they will to spend in the same way again. The whole copyright fiasco is proof that people aren’t dumb enough to not pay for music they want, only that they are largely too dumb to utilise their money effectively.

    The problem with the system driven by the big industry is not that people won’t pay for music, it’s that they have been told repeatedly they cannot pay for music, that instead they must pay for recordings. There is no more connection between the average CD and the artist than there is between the average toy and the sweatshop worker who made it. There is a uphill struggle for most industries dealing in tangible goods to develop a connection between the merchandise and it’s creator; the fair trade movement tends to be not competitive in pricing by nature because costs are higher when you pay people a decent wage.

    The beautiful thing about the an industry that can utilise digital technology is the tables are turned. It is cheaper to pay an artist directly, which enables your money to have more power in supporting those who directly contribute to what you are paying for. This isn’t wishful thinking, it’s been happening for as long as labels and artists have fought to stay independent. As the costs have come down so the number of independent markets have grown. Eventually the only arguments we will have to contend with are ‘who will pay for the next Avatar? Or the next Matrix?’ Thankfully the truth of economics is that as the market becomes more efficient at giving people what they demand for less money, the truth about whether Avatar or The Matrix were really worth making will be revealed in full.

  10. Andrew Cowie says:

    Interesting debate. I would describe Stephen Timms’ comment as lazy rather than corrupt; if he’d said: ““If people can’t be paid for their creativity, they’re going to stop exploiting their creativity for commercial purposes” then you could have a reasonable conversation about that.

    The Industrial Revolution was built on patented machines from the Spinning Jenny onwards and as recently as 2007 Steve Jobs said in the iPhone launch “Boy, have we patented it” (3′ 55″ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gO420B02Q84). What kind of cancer treatments would we have if the drug companies couldn’t patent their drugs? Would we be able to have this conversation now if computer companies couldn’t patent their technologies?

    So I think a conversation about where wealth is created in a digital economy is worth having. Until recently content was just a way to sell more machines from Victrolas to IBM mainframes and in a world in which Apple and Google as content deliverers have a higher share value than Sony, a content owner, it looks like its heading back that way. That’s not necessarily good or bad, just different.

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