A great metric of the appropriateness of a reformation of copyright for the 21st century is the extent to which fame can be separated from fortune. Throughout the 20th century, “fame and fortune” rolled off the tongues of English speakers as a sort of single concept as a duo of nouns. Yet YouTube allows enormous masses the opportunity to be viewed by hundreds of millions of people without earning a cent. The emergence of “meme pics” has resulted in the almost spontaneous celebrity of people, turning candid photos by friends into mascot-images of sentiments and situations. Warhol is famous for noting that we would all have 15 minutes of fame in the future. What he did not mention is that we might not have 15 minutes of wealth along with it.
The splitting of fame and fortune seems right to me, in the example of Jonas Salk. Society is better off when thinkers and inventors give their work freely to the public to use, improve, develop, and enjoy. I would be interested to see a world in which these two approaches are taken to the extremes because I would be interested to see who would win: the artist who carefully protects and charges for the enjoyment of his work, or the artist who freely circulates his work. My initial reaction is that the artists who charge are those who think their work merits profit (that is, the good stuff will cost the most). Yet I wonder: if artists create out of their passion for their craft, might we see at least as good art from those seeking some goal other than wealth? Greed motivates, certainly, but I do not think it is necessarily the greatest motivation nor am I convinced it is any assurance of superlative quality. There is a book on the subject of how ideas are transmitted in a digital age entitled If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead. If the title is correct correct, fame and fortune are not only separable, but may be pitted against one another in cyberspace. To pursue fame is encourage the spread of the idea. To pursue fortune is to erect a barrier to the spreading of the idea.
I would like artists of all walks to face this “would you rather” question: Would you rather… have everyone listen to your music/watch your movie/ read your book but make only a modest paycheck, OR have your work enjoyed only by a few but make more money?
As Metric put it: “… Who would you rather be: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?”