Author’s Note: This short story was originally commissioned by Deakin College as part of an AI ethics course; they have since take it down. This is its new home. For a nonfiction analysis of the problems set forth herein, see my Guardian column on the subject. Here’s an audio edition.
Chokepoint Capitalism is my next book, co-written with the brilliant copyright scholar Rebecca Giblin. It’s a book about how the markets for creative labor were rigged, and how artists, fans, tinkerers, regulators and lawmakers can unrig them.
That second part is key: this isn’t just a book complaining about how tough things are for artists — it’s a book about how we can make things better.
There’s an obvious reason that our book’s focus on shovel-ready projects to put more money in artists’ pockets is important: you’d have to be a monster to prefer a world that underpays the writers, musicians, actors, and film and TV creators whose work heartens and delights you.
But there’s another reason that this focus on fixing creative labor markets is so important: because copyright, the primary tool we’ve given creators to give them power over their labor, has actually made things worse.
To understand what I mean, consider an analogy.
Say that every morning, you tuck $5 into your kid’s jacket pocket to buy lunch, but when your kid gets to the school doors, there’s a group of tough bullies who take away his $5. Every day, he goes hungry.
Giving your kid $10 won’t get him lunch! It’ll just make the bullies richer!
No matter how much money you give your kid, the bullies will take it. If they get rich enough, they can even bribe the principal to look the other way, and hire associates to staff their “toll booth” from dawn to dusk, so no kids sneak past them early in the morning.