Last year I was invited to hold a short speech and be part of a panel discussion about IP exploitation at TheArts+ Frankfurter Book Fair. Thought I post what I had to say:
A Golden Age of Creativity?
Hello and thank you all very much for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.
I am one of the many freelance creators, that could be called the foundation of the creative industries.
Our numbers are exploding but in the discussions about IP our voices are almost never heard.
One reason is, we all work alone, and there is no organization yet representing us.
But I think, the main reason is, that IP in our day to day work life is almost irrelevant.
How could that be?
The biggest problem creatives face is precarious work, or the gig economy.
As a creative I provide a service. I offer my skills, expertise and labour to create customized, mostly one-off products.
An animation, an advertisement, a website.
But my customers don't see me as a service provider, they buy products. Why does it matter?
In my field a good example would be the countless explainer video start ups. Competition is fierce and prices have been falling dramatically.
They are so low now, that fixed prices are offered,
often with guarantees that the clients will get the product they want, no matter how many changes will be necessary.
That's the value crisis as it looks like from my perspective. Work hours have been decoupled from the prices of products, that are really service work.
IP as a freelance creative is irrelevant to me, because almost always work for hire excludes me having any claim on IP.
Contracts are mostly take it or leave it.
And I usually don't have the commercial negotiating power, nor the funds for a lawyer, or the time to achieve the legal skills necessary to defend myself.
So why don't I start creating original work and license my IP? Platforms to do this already exist.
But to make money on graphic river or any other online market place, I have to invest my labour & expertise, expensive equipment, time to learn about and conform my files to the platforms standards.
And I will still have to read pages and pages of technical legal language, I do not understand.
In the end I will have spent days for a product, I don't even have the right to set a price for.
In fact, the pages on how those platforms calculate what I will earn are the most difficult to understand. But I guess the gist is, prices are set quite arbitrarily, the percentages I get are tiny, hard to calculate and sprinkled with fees. And the only way to earn more than pennies is to become what they call an exclusive. Meaning my work will be locked into a platform that isn't even transparent about their algorithm. The algorithm that decides if and who gets to see my work.
And you know what, these companies won't even protect me from others infringing my work. Graphic river states on its help page about piracy:
that they have to be "realistic about not being able to deal with all piracy."
What it means is, that they won't help me if somebody uses my files without paying. They only take legal actions against big infringer sites.
You might understand by now that the golden age of creativity doesn't look so golden to me.
But at least creative work is safe from automatization, right?
I spent lots of time learning and perfecting skills that today one can do with a single click.
And there are already things like Jukedeck.
Trained deep neural networks writing original music. You can customise the resulting track with the touch of a button, download it and use it completely royalty-free.
The price for a track? 99cents
So, Is this the dawn of a golden age of creativity?
I do believe so.
I work as a freelance creative but I am also an artist.
Arists have always worked in the precarious world of the gig economy.
There are many of us, and very few ever succeed. Even fewer get rich. But that doesn't stop us, we just have to create.
We share this trait now with everybody. We are all artists and creators now.
We do it daily. We use software to edit our photos and family movies, style our profiles and presentations, post on instagram and facebook.
And truly amazing things happen when we collaborate.
I am still amazed that wikipedia is possible, or that twitter revolutionized how the news get reported.
But if you think about it, most platforms owe their success in huge part to their users unpaid work.
Even if there was a way to implement strong IP protection without breaking the web, it could never recover the value lost by all this unpaid work.
But just because a value isn't monetized doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Wall street might think twitter has failed, but its users do not.
That's why those users are trying to buy twitter now. And platform cooperatives are on the rise.
The business model of collaborative work is creating value for society.
That’s why in the future we won't measure growth,
We will measure collective value created for and by communities.
If the creative industries wants to benefit from this mayor emerging value shift, we all have to explore new ways of being useful to society.
The future is not about IP transactions but collective intelligence.
And it's not our finished products but our services that this future needs. Open Innovation, Co-design, call it what ever you want, but it needs mediators who have experience in how to combine, express and translate ideas.
Who, if not the creatives, are better equipped to work with ideas on such an incredible scale?
We could help governments and companies communicate with their citizens and users. We could lead the way in implementing the resulting changes.
We could be the facilitators in a process that will lead us, eventually, to the sustainable socio-economic models we all know, we need.
All of us could really matter. Thank you.