Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Shifting Social Norms of Creative Expression

Mike Masnick's techdirt article "No Copyright Intended: The Coming Generation Who Intrinsically Assumes Remix & Sharing Makes Sensepoints directly at the tsunami that we have all been watching repeatedly crash on the shores of the creative industries and begs the question "o.k., so what are we going to do"? 

His article rightly concludes that the new normal (i.e., social norms) is the remix of content. He argues that "no amount of 'education' ... can fool people into believing that nonsense is reasonable." But what he fails to address is that no amount of ignorance can suspend the laws of economics. Indeed this is the storm that has created the Tsunami in the first place. 

For those who are not impacted by the economic realities of infringement, it is understandable to disregard the economic consequences (harm) of such behavior. Their behavior can be analyzed through the egalitarian social norms so recently created by the free content ideal (e.g., the democratization of knowledge). Are there benefits to the free flow of information, knowledge, and culture? Absolutely! This ideal may well be worth pursuing for the advancement of humanity. But human nature and economic realities must be understood and dealt with, least we go down the road of Utopian Marxism.  

Are these new social norms moving us toward alternative systems to copyright? What could those alternatives be? Is there enough advertising to support all of the creation digitization has catalyzed? Are we at the dawn of a new patronage system? After all, the patronage system was the system that copyright replaced -- wouldn't that be interesting? Or, more likely and reasonable, are we going to see the evolution of another system altogether? 

What this all boils down to is one simple question: How do we provide an incentive to create quality creative content without copyright? I'm not saying that copyright is the answer. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there are problems with the current state of technology and social norms when governed by copyright law. The friction and failures are undeniable. But necessity -- human nature and economics -- will demand a solution eventually. 

Don't agree? Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers explores the "10,000-Hour Rule," which is a theory based on the work of Dr. K. Anders Ericsson. Ericcson, one of the world's leading experts on the cognitive precursors of how expert performers acquire their superior performance in fields such as music and the arts, has found that it takes about 10,000 hours of extended deliberate practice to become an expert superior performer. Broken down to its simplest form, Ericsson's theory posits that what creates true greatness is extraordinary effort. In "Outliers" Gladwell gives many compelling examples and arguments in support of this theory. 

Will anyone have the time and resources to devote such effort toward an endeavor, if such efforts result in no rewards? I'm sure some will ... but how many? Will those willing to devote such time now require a patron? What are the costs of a patronage system on creativity and the common good? What system could save us from the costs of patronage or the failures of copyright?  

In essence I am asking: (1) what are the benefits of this shift in social norms, (2) what are the costs, and (3) are we as a society willing and able to pay such costs for such benefits? If the answer to number 3 is no, we need to start creatively exploring alternatives.