First Graders on the Magic Planet

I was sleeping once and saw a dream. There was a strange planet. Something magical happened there every time an artist created a new work. The very moment the artist took his work out of his house the work became as widely known as it was talented. There was a specific law working there also: nobody was required to pay the artist while using his work in any imaginable way.

Amazed, I woke up and tossed and turned for the rest of the night, trying to grasp if there was any way for an artist to make money there? I couldn’t wait to bring this up with my first graders. They do so love magic! So the next morning I asked them about it, and look at what I got.

Who Gets Money on the Magic Planet and Why?

Alpha: There is nothing to talk about here. If nobody has to pay an artist, then nobody will, no matter how famous he is. I say, the more famous an artist is, the more money he loses on that stupid planet.

Beta: He ain’t losin’ money because nobody gets money there.

Gamma: How come?

Beta: If nobody’s has to pay for use of an artwork, then everybody may copy it and have it for free.

Delta: Yeah, except for the money spent on copying.

Gamma: So somebody does get money? The copy machines! Ha ha ha!

Kappa: And somebody owns those machines.

Beta: People could sell or rent copy machines and other things you need for copying, right? By the way, if copying takes money and time, then people may come along and do it for others, right? What are people that copy for others called?

Teacher: Publishers?

Beta: Publishers.

Alpha: So what? The artist still gets nothing. Only your “publishers” and the factories that make the Xerox machines. That’s not fair!

Beta: Hmm, this is interesting… The planet makes a work as known as it is good, right?

Delta: Right. So?

Beta: If it is known, then people want it…

Delta: Hey, hey, I’m starting to get where you’re heading. The more people want it, the more those publishers get, right?

Beta: Right, and they start to have a competition.

Delta: Yeah! Who can get people to buy more of his copies!

Alpha: What baloney! How can they have a competition if the work is the same for everybody?

Beta: How? How do they always compete? Some put lots of ads on TV―that’s how they compete. Some sell their copies cheaper―that’s how they compete. Some make their books in hardcover―that’s how! Everybody understands that!

Alpha: OK, OK. Publishers get money. They compete and steal each other’s business… All right, who cares? They don’t bug me. What about the artists?

Beta: What about them? Use your imagination, Alpha.

Alpha: Use yours.

Beta: I am. They all live there and know how it works…

Alpha: We know too. So?

Beta: So? Publishers know. The very moment a work pops out of the house, it becomes available for everybody.

Alpha: Yes, and you don’t understand, Beta. That’s the catch―the artist loses it right away!

What Does an Artist Get?

Delta: Careful there! To become famous for your work does not mean to lose it! It is the best thing that can happen to an artist!

Alpha: I love it! Everybody gets money, and the artist gets famous and hungry! What luck! Thank you sooo much!

Gamma: Hold on. Let Beta finish his train of thought. He was up to something.

Beta: I still am. And we are close…

Delta: I know, I know! I used my imagination! I got it―the publishers will line up in front of the artist’s house to get the next work first and have any advantage on the market!

Beta: And?

Delta: And they will pay to access it before it gets out of the house! They will fight and try to kill each other to get it today because it will be for everybody tomorrow!

Teacher: Well, not quite. Remember, it only becomes as known as it is brilliant.

Delta: Yes, yes, I got it. The more talented it is, the more fierce the competition!

Alpha: Oh yea, exactly! I wouldn’t stay in this line. No publisher would! What are the conditions for the business here? No, thank you!

Gamma: Nobody would do publishing?

Alpha: Nobody!

Beta: Great! Does anybody know where to buy a ticket to fly there?

Alpha: Are you that stupid? What are you going to do there?

Delta: I know―he is going to be the very first and the only publisher there! Right, Beta?

Beta: You bet.

Delta: He will become a mufti-billionaire in one month and hire all of us! Hey, Beta, do I deserve a good salary?

Beta: You bet. Everybody does, even Alpha.

Delta: What’s he for?

Gamma: What for? Who was igniting all of the talk? It’s worth paying for!

Delta: Igniting? You mean like a car?

Beta: Yeah, like a fire.

Alpha: You’re all crazy. I’m not going.

Kappa: All right, get serious.

Alpha: Yeah, I’m still wondering whether the artist really gets paid.

Gamma: Wasn’t it convincing―that long line of publishers under the artist’s window?

Delta: It actually was… They will line up, one hundred percent… after they learn that Beta bought a ticket and is going to cut them off!

Alpha: Hey, we wanted to be serious, didn’t we?

Beta: We are, Alpha. And we haven’t finished yet.

What Does a Publisher Get?

Gamma: Hold on, all of you. I want to ask Alpha what was wrong with the picture? Can you put forward some argument and save the exclamations for yourself?

Delta: Gamma, you always sound so smart.

Gamma: I was watching the news with my parents last night.

Beta: Well anyway, I don’t mind the exclamations, but I would like to get some more logical “ignition” as well.

Delta: Me too. Say something, Alpha.

Alpha: What, you can’t remember? I told you―nobody will pay an artist, all right?

Gamma: But how about a fat publisher that can pay to be the first?

Alpha: I don’t buy it.

Gamma: That’s all?

Alpha: All right. But he won’t pay much because all of the advantage expires the moment the work gets out!

Beta: Hey, Alpha, if you understand business so well, why don’t you use your imagination a bit more?

Alpha: I take that as an insult.

Kappa: Cool down, guys.

Delta: Hey, hey, I understand! He may pay the artist very well so that he keeps the work inside!

Alpha: So what? It gets outside when it gets published anyway!

Delta: So what? The first is the first! Customers value that! This is how a brand develops! It pays, all right.

Alpha: So what? So your fat publisher develops a brand. Oh, he makes money all right, but what about the artist?

Delta: Are you nuts? Who can’t remember now? How does the publisher gain all these things? He has to pay the artist, remember? He has to pay very well, remember!

Kappa: Cool down, guys.

Some More for the Artist

Beta: I have some more for the artist.

Alpha: More baloney, I’m sure.

Kappa: We are listening, Beta.

Beta: Yeah, listen and be the judge. First of all, that fat publisher will put on the cover that he paid for it, that he didn’t get it for free like the others did…

Delta: I know! I know! Hurray! Beta, you are a genius! All artists of all ages and nations have to pool money to raise a monument in your name! I will personally donate a few bucks.

Alpha: Oh yes. I’ll put in a few more to have all of your names carved in the pedestal along with the inscription “This is for a few stupid kids who wanted artists to starve and art to die.”

Kappa: Delta, why don’t you step down from your desk? Alpha, you are complaining, but you are the first to insult others.

Gamma: Delta, what did you want to say?

Delta: Don’t you get it? Any publisher can pay to the artist to write it on the cover!

Gamma: Why should they? They have it for free!

Delta: They sure do. But why, then, the first one does? Who wants it for free, can use it for free. Who wants to develop a brand, will pay! Get me? They pay for marketing, anyway. Payment to the author will be just one out of many marketing strategies. I would even say that every publisher would want to pay the author to have it on the cover that they paid. Only those who cannot afford it, won’t pay the author. Get me?

Gamma: Look what we have here! All of the publishers can publish the same work and will pay for this to the author?

Delta: And the work gets spread like crazy. The author gets exposed to unimaginable heights!

Alpha: Yeah, unimaginable. That’s the word. Good fantasy.

Kappa: I like that magic.

What If It Is Not Magic?

Beta: Actually, now I do not understand why that magic was even necessary?

Gamma: Why? Beta, what’s come over you? How was that artist initially exposed? Remember all the good stuff we just got! All the riches, the champagne pouring from the sky! If it were not for the magic, then there would be no publishers in a line, no money for the first sale, not the slightest interest in proudly putting on the cover “I sponsored this author!” Nothing, Beta, nothing, just empty pockets!

Delta: Hmm… well, actually, if an artist is not known to the public, there is no way for him to get paid on any planet…

Alpha: How do they get rich, then?

Beta: Frankly, I don’t care how it happens here… By the way, I’ve heard many times that only a handful of artists get considerable money. The great majority of them are starving artists, anyway.

Alpha: So? A talented one gets money, untalented―does not. What’s wrong with that?

Delta: What’s wrong with it is that it ain’t true. As simple as that. My father says it is a rare coincidence when real talent gets real money.

Gamma: This is not the case on the Magic Planet! I am dying to learn how Beta was going to provide the magic without magic!

Alpha: I’m not. All you fantasized before wouldn’t work! And anyway, it’s impossible.

Delta: Oh, that’s clever. You don’t want to hear what Beta’s up to because you think it wouldn’t work?

Kappa: It is too early to judge. Beta, what was it that you wanted to tell us?

Beta: Look, can you imagine that publishers and others, who want to use a work of art, are free to do so?…

Delta: Like on the Magic Planet!

Kappa: Delta, do not interrupt, please! You’ll never hear the answer!

Beta: OK, I’m continuing. Everybody is free to use it but is obliged to attribute the work to its author…

Alpha: So?

Delta: Ah… the author gets exposed with every single use of his work!

Gamma: Hmm. Let me see… If artworks are not free to use, each publisher will have his own stack of books.

Teacher: Oh yes, that’s true on our planet; publishers feel safe with their portfolios.

Gamma: Yeah, but if it’s free to use by anyone, no publisher feels safe with his own “portfolio” and has to search continually for more good stuff…

Alpha: So?

Beta: So, any new work gets attention, no matter what!

Delta: Yes, yes! If it is really brilliant, there is always someone to grab it and show it off!

Kappa: Delta, get down off your desk, please. Why are you getting excited so easily?

One Flaw in the Common Perception

Alpha: I can’t understand why they are free to use a work? Why shouldn’t they pay the author? It is so simple and reasonable.

Gamma: Is it? That’s what I thought yesterday too, but now I’m not so sure.

Beta: Why should they pay if it works anyway?

Alpha: …An author can be granted exclusive rights for publishing and trade them off…

Beta: And how does he get exposed then?

Alpha: Listen, Beta, I’m not calling you nuts now, but you don’t understand the simplest things. The author sells his rights, the buyer advertises and sells the work. Is that so complicated to you?

Beta: It isn’t, except that it won’t work for the author!

Alpha: Why on the earth won’t it!

Beta: Because, within your scenario the author depends entirely on that one buyer, his capabilities, intentions, and good will. The author’s fame is limited and cannot be anywhere near the fame he could enjoy from the entire competing publishing community!

Teacher: We can say “exposure” instead of “fame.”

Beta: OK, “exposure.” The author’s exposure is limited in Alpha’s scenario.

Alpha: I don’t buy it!

Kappa: That’s easy to say, Alpha.

Word to the Reader

Well, my first graders haven’t made very clear points, but who expected this? I was intrigued. I started to ask myself what I really knew about the subject, where to dig for these not-so-simple answers. All of a sudden, I realized that we were discussing pretty strange things, which are different in nature from material ones… And I could only find the slightest trace of this subject matter in all the fuss around copyright related issues nowadays. Finally, I found myself thinking about this question: what is the nature of art?

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