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Ten Reasons Artists and Authors Should Still Get Paid in the Age of the Internet

10/23/2013 03:57 pm ET | Updated Dec 23, 2013

We live in the age of the internet, and the age of free content. And free music. And free books. Free blogs. Free news. Why should artists, musicians, authors, and journalists be paid at all, even less so since what they produce is invisible, immaterial, and ubiquitous? Or should they? Here are ten arguments why they should:

1) In former times, there was no copyright. Artists had sponsors, and wonderful art was produced -- think of Mozart and Bach. Why not go back to these times?
Mozart died fairly young and in debt, since his royal sponsors lost money in the Austro-Turkish war. Bach was full-time employed by various churches. But sure, lets go back to these times. We already have a society where 1 percent own most of the money, so these are the sponsors right here! However, during Bach's times, not only was copyright unheard of, pretty much nobody was guaranteed payment for work. Farmhands worked as indentured servants, maids slaved for food and lodging. Peons owned squat. Doctors were paid with chickens. If artists and writers have to go back to feudalism, everybody should. Then at least I'd have a free maid. Or two.

2) It costs nothing to produce an ebook, or a MP3 file, as opposed to a printed book or a CD. Why should I pay anything to get one?
Really, it costs nothing? A book just pops out of nowhere? Writes itself? Here is a great business model for you: Produce 100 e-books a day and sell them for 10 cents a copy, you will be a millionaire in a few weeks. Whoever thinks like this confuses the production of the actual art with the conversion to a format suitable for e-readers or MP3 players. The expensive part of ebook or CD creation is the writing/editing/music making part, not pressing the finished product on paper or plastic. Plastic is cheap. This is the reason Windows 8 costs the same as a download than as a CD. The plastic the CD is made of has the same value than the plastic bag it's wrapped into.

3) I'm only downloading stuff I would not have purchased anyway. If an ebook is downloaded illegally, the author does not suffer any actual material loss.
With that logic, you can ride the subway for free, because it is running anyway. Or an airplane, for that matter. Problem is, every system can sustain a certain number of freeloaders, but not unlimited. If everybody downloads books for free, then nobody is paying the author, the editor, the designer, the publisher, and whatnot. So you are either ripping off the artist, or freeloading on paying customers. By the way, as an author, I much prefer people who steal paper books to people who steal e-books. With paper, I still get paid by the store. And nobody is deprived of his copy, because since Gutenberg, every book can be reproduced in unlimited numbers. Of course, if you steal a paper book, you deprive the store owner of his income, but otherwise it would be me. If it's any consolation, if a lawyer comes after you, you won't suffer a material loss as well. It's only virtual digits on your credit card account.

4) Why can't musicians make a living from concerts instead from CD sales, or authors make a living from paid appearances?
Why do I have the feeling that the people who are arguing this are the same people who used to sneak into a concert for free because the artist was supposed to make a living from his albums and not from live concerts? Seriously, how much money have you spent on concerts or readings lately? Nada?

5) How about selling T-shirts?
I tried, really. Sadly, some Hollywood lawyers cracked down on my collection of Mickey Mouse in bed with Princess Leia. Also, if I would want to make a living by selling stuff, I'd sell used Macbooks on eBay.

6) Journalists don't need to be paid; there is a ton of stuff on the internet you can read for free, mostly blogs, and, of course Facebook and other free sites.
Sure. However, those sites thrive by letting folks comment on news stories that derive from actual, paid journalists. If the New York Times would fold, the blogosphere would fold twelve hours later. News costs money. Just look at the last venture, Al Jazeera, a news TV program sponsored by the Emir of Qatar. He spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get Al Jazeera to America. The BBC is free to watch as well, but only courtesy of the British taxpayer. And there is a new feature, run by Glenn Greenwald, financed by an Iranian-American whose name just escaped me. And I'm sure we can find some Koch brothers-financed news someplace. So, there is a free lunch after all!

7) There are so many free ebooks, videos, or music on the net -- why should I pay?
Absolutely. There is so much free stuff to watch, hear, and download, I have no idea why people still need to knock down prices on the rest. You can spend your whole day watching free cat videos, why would you need free HBO shows?

8) Most of the stuff in the mainstream media is dictated by Wall Street/controlled by the government/written by run-amok Pinkos. I'm not paying for that.
Bro, I can feel your pain! I'm just not sure what the problem is. If you don't want to pay for, say, the Washington Post, because you believe it's filled with communist/corporate/fill-in-the-blanks-drivel, just don't. But why would you want to read it in the first place? I firmly believe that Twinkies are fattening toothkillers. So I'm not buying them. But I'm not asking Hostess to give them away for free either.

9) I would pay for well-researched stories, but not for gossip about Lindsay Lohan
As you should. However, sadly, this gossip is what people tend to click on, hence it's pulling in eyeballs. And eyeballs attract ads. This is why you find lots of Lindsay Lohan on the internet. In the good old times, those ads also used to pay for those well-researched stories, since everything was bundled in the same newspaper. But not any more. This is the age of the internet. Nowadays, if you want well-researched stories, you have to fund the whole bill. But Lindsay Lohan will always be free.

10) Isn't being on the internet and being read PR for the writer already?
Yes, kind of like it's PR for a restaurant if people eat there and talk about it. But it still costs money to operate, so at some point, they have to make some cash.