In a previous article, I talk about the coming war between the thetes and the intellectual monopolists. I predict that the thetes will win and intellectual property will cease to be coercively enforced. However, this would certainly not mean the end of creative expression. Artists would continue to produce, and even profit in a world without intellectual monopoly.
Old knowledge is a public good – it is neither excludable nor rival. New creations, without copyright, are in some ways common pool resources – non-excludable, but because culture requires continual addition, subject to the tragedy of the commons, not from people taking too much, but from people never creating to begin with. Because the value of knowledge is so perishable, continuous effort is required to keep the stock of knowledge useful and relevant for people.
Society needs to have some mechanisms to encourage people to contribute to the knowledge commons. Better than Free, by Kevin Kelly has written about how content creators can continue to earn a living, but his solutions revolve around coming up with superior niche products for the few: custom products, good customer support, complementary goods, etc. Rather, I would like to address how mass content can continue to be produced.
The simplest method is self-patronage: doing the work for fun, and releasing it to the world. The open source community has proven again and again how powerful this paradigm can be, but when large capital investments are required, sometimes it doesn’t cut it. If you can’t get paid after a work is created, you have to get paid before, and that’s where patronage comes in. In the patronage system, a wealthy benefactor, or group of benefactors, pays artists to create. The private benefit the patrons get is sufficient to fund the creation, so no post-hoc reward or control is necessary to sustain the system. In the past, aristocrats and the Church were common patrons, but perhaps the best recent example of a patronage system is Kickstarter. Patronage allows people to affiliate with artists they like while ensuring a steady flow of new art, and even have a say in the types of things produced.
It is important to remember that humanity has gotten along without copyrights for most of its history, and many thriving creative markets thrive without copyright, such as game mechanics, fashion, and food. Also, when we see examples of times when copyright has been poorly enforced, content production, if anything, increases. If copyrights were reduced, or even eliminated, I would not expect a dramatic decrease in content production. Remember that prices are irrelevant to welfare, only quantities, because whatever amount is lost by the buyer is exactly gained by the seller.
A Mises Institute Wiki on this subject – it is an excellent overview of the subject.
Patronage and Opera
IP and Copyright Ethics
Can Writers prosper without copyright
Elinor Ostrom on Knowledge Commons
Copyright and Profit 1790-1920