Author/Musician David V. Stewart has argued on YouTube that we are exiting the Corporate Era of art, a distinct era like the Baroque or Romantic eras, where art is marked by being owned, funded, and distributed by corporations. As this model collapses, Brian Niemeier argues we slip into a new model of artistic existence: neo-patronage. I noted the synergy in these concepts some time ago. It’s of personal interest to me because I would like to be paid to make cool stuff.
Basically, the idea is that art is returning to a patronage model where eccentric millionaires keep stables of intellectuals for the purpose of making neat stuff. Since most eccentric millionaires are Death Cultists these days, crowdfunding can enable collections of upper middle-class men to support their own stables of artists.
This is the first ingredient; the peanut butter. Now for the bananas.
Nearly everyone, Left and Right, agree that corporations like the Mouse and their ownership and litigious shepherding of various intellectual properties they did not create is malignant. Proposed solutions range from rolling Copyright back to its original term of 14-21 years, to a vague notion that the original creator always has, and can never discharge, moral authority over his creations, which apparently has some actual legal machinery in France. I say nearly everyone. Among thinkers I respect, Räzörfïst is famously all in on the side of Intellectual Property. And while I disagree with him on many counts, I am hesitant to take a stance in opposition unless I am damn sure of myself.
But Intellectual Property is philosophically somewhat shaky. If I go to any random believer and ask him which law of God I break by selling a picture of Mickey Mouse, his knee-jerk reaction will probably be “Thou shall not steal.” I’ll give him a little credit. There is a law, “be subject to the governing authorities,” to which we are beholden. Caesar has said “Only those I designate may sell pictures of this particular Mouse.” It would be wrong for me to do this thing then, because Caesar has commanded me not to, and God has given Caesar the right to make that demand. But I do not believe it is intrinsically wrong. It does not natively break God’s Law.
(Outright plagiarism, of course, is a violation of honesty. If you live in a land where Caesar does not command you not sell pictures of Mickey Mouse, it is still wrong to tell people you invented him.)
It has been a while since I have seen Räzörfïst’s apologia for IP. I dimly recall that he does make a moral argument. In fairness, I ought to rewatch it, give his moral argument the strongest construction, and address it. However, for reasons I hinted above and will lay out below, it is not necessary for me to do so. I am not here to defend a specific position on intellectual property, so rebutting or confirming Räzörfïst’s apologia is an important, but secondary task.
The bulk of his argument, however, is pragmatic. Intellectual Property promotes curation and careful maintenance of a property, the Public Domain permits, and in fact guarantees the corruption of a property.
I find this argument distinctly unconvincing in the age of the internet. IP laws are toothless against Internet Rule 34, “If it exists, there is porn of it.” Caesar can prevent a daycare center from painting Mickey Mouse on its wall, but he cannot prevent internet pornographers from sodomizing Mickey Mouse.
Nor does ownership of a character or idea guarantee its best potential. The mere existence of Star Wars refutes that. Neither Disney’s current management of that property, nor George Lucas’s management of it before was flawless or even good.
Youtuber Uniquenameosaurus recently offered up a 45 minute long pragmatic defense of the idea that IP laws are counterproductive. It’s stumbly and mumbly, and not all of his arguments are strong, but some of them really are.
More to my interest, he recommends that a functional, moral system of producing good art is not the concept that the creator of an idea owns that idea, and consumers buy copies, but rather that creators are paid to produce the products themselves.
In short, something akin to neo-patronage.
Now let’s put the sandwich together.
Yo Ho! Yo Ho!
I’m not overly concerned over whether I’m allowed to use Mickey Mouse. I’m a creative man. Just as Walt created Mickey to fill the role of Oswald without breaking Copyright Law, so I can create characters to fill the role of Mickey without breaking Copyright Law. If I want lightsabers in my work, I’ll make them crystal swords instead.
From my perspective, Intellectual Property serves a handful of questionable purposes. It is a weapon that companies can use to abuse smaller creators and individuals, like D.C. abusing Fawcett over Captain Marvel’s purported similarities to Superman, or Disney abusing grieving fathers over their desire to cut a Spiderman logo into the gravestones of their children. In his complicity with this, Caesar errs, and should repent lest he suffer the wrath of God. It gives small creators recourse against large companies if, and only if, the case is so clear and egregious that lawyers are willing to work for a percentage of the expected windfall.
And it allows private companies to burn books on behalf of political factions, while protecting those political factions from accusations of book burning. It’s not the SJWs who are denying you access to Dr. Seuss. It’s the Dr. Seuss foundation.
The theoretical upside is I can prevent SJWs from abusing or silencing my own books, especially if I pick my heir well. But that upside is mostly theoretical. Dr. Seuss was extremely picky about who got to adapt his work. His wife was a lot less picky, and was selling off the rights before his body got too cold. Christopher Tolkien did a halfway decent job of protecting his father’s legacy… but he’s gone now, and Jeff Bezos has a mostly free hand to bastardize Lord of the Rings. And George Lucas couldn’t maintain his own legacy. The Star Wars Prequels were not the pulpy Legendarium Americanus the original trilogy was. Empire and Return of the Jedi were not the pulpy Legendarium Americanus that Star Wars was.
It strikes me that in my case, the best protection for my creative legacy might follow the same pragmatics as armament. As an American born and bred, I’m a firm believer that arming the people is the best way to prevent both invasion of the country, and the rise of tyrants like Stalin and Hitler. If I make, e.g., Jump the Shark Copyleft, I lose the ability to control him and his stories. But I also ensure that if my political and ideological foes try to corrupt him, they cannot prevent counter-stories being made by my political and ideological allies.
If the “E. Darwin Hartshorn Foundation,” years after my death goes woke and decides to stop publishing my books because they offend the fashion of the faction, it’s not piracy for someone else to start publishing the books… if they are public domain.
This is something. Seuss is important to the history of American children’s media. But he’s not so great or so special that I would consider it a moral imperative to cross Caesar and try to publish pirate copies of his books. In the case of Seuss, it is wrong to disobey Caesar.
But I can easily think of a case where it would be correct to disobey Caesar. If Caesar claimed the rights to the texts of Holy Scripture, and ceased all publishing of it, it would be my duty to make and distribute pirate copies. And because this dichotomy exists, there may well be gray areas. Books that are not Scripture, but are so important that the moral imperative to defy the gatekeepers remains, or is at least open enough to argument that a wise man would not fault his brother for taking either side.
And if that is the case, it may be a moral imperative for me to put my money where my mouth is and make my own works public domain as well. Or even Copyleft.
This is where it would be useful for me to pick out an analyze Razorfist’s moral argument for IP. For of course, I am not deeply concerned about his or Uniquenameosaurus’s pragmatic arguments if the moral argument is settled. A man ought to cling to what is right before he concerns himself with what is effective. But, as I said above, I need not work that out at all. For while we all need to figure out what is right, and the sooner the better, my specific rubric is far simpler: how do I love my neighbor?
And the Second is Like it:
I want to make cash money with my creations. I want to feed my family, pay my debts, and live a quiet life where I am no man’s slave and I may make whatever I choose. And it would seem the best way to do this is to maintain tight control over my IP in all instances.
But it is more important to me that the stories exist than that I profit from them. And it is more important to God that I love my neighbor. Loving my neighbor being defined first by the Law of God, second by who my neighbor is and what he needs, and third by who I am and what I can do.
This is the question I have to answer, then. Not is Intellectual Property good and just. But, given that it exists and is the law, is it more loving to my neighbor for me to release my creations to the world to copy or modify as they see fit, or to hold on to the rights Caesar has given me and carefully steward them? The first question can short-circuit the second. If it is just and its abdication truly unleashes the pornographers, I should cling to the rights. If it is evil, and Caesar breaks the Law of God by treating ideas as property, I should release them. But if, as I suspect, it is a matter of pragmatics, the answer will depend on my Intellectual Property and my context.
Scripture does not include any explicit reference to Intellectual Property. Those who argue for and against it argue on the basis of pragmatics far more than morality. I think I’m on pretty solid ground when I say it is up to me to make the call for my own creations, then.
There is a strong argument either way. After all, who is my neighbor if not my family? And do I not love my family more by maintaining control over these things? By passing the media on to them to manage and profit from? But I’m not convinced! For an unknown creator like myself, open source media may well be not only a strong defense against future convergence, but a useful publicity stunt. I may well profit more from the fact that any man might make a Jump the Shark video game or comic.
Open Source Media may be my off-ramp from the era of Corporate Art to Neo-Patronage. Jump the Shark, Merlin the Rabbit Magician, and John Michael Jones may be not only a gift to the world, but the head of the spear of the next thing.
Or I could be yet another starving artist, doomed to toil in obscurity. I don’t know. But I need to pick a path, and I feel like I may be on the threshold of something.
Anyhow, I needed to get these thoughts out.
Here they are. God grant me wisdom.