Law in the Internet Society


In the first class, professor Moglen posed that intellectual property rights and the underlying legal compensation mechanisms were unnecessary for the encouragement of artistic production. As I understand his position, creators would endeavor to create regardless of the incentive structure and monetary reward. This essay proposes that creative content lies on a spectrum of motivations, and that professor Moglen’s position applies only to one side of this spectrum (especially in the investment heavy business of filmmaking). This essay then explains how “economic potential” motivation provides non-artistic yet still valuable content, and that “economically motivated” projects can help develop the art of filmmaking.

1. The Spectrum of Motivations

The spectrum of motivations has on one side “Artistic Endeavor”, and on the other side “Economic Potential”.

Works motivated by artistic endeavor are the product of innate desire to create—the independent musician traveling to the woods in Wisconsin to produce a CD as a catharsis for his heartbreak, or a single mother writing a story about a boy wizard without any hope of becoming one of England’s wealthiest woman. These artists simply produce, with success an afterthought to their internal impulse to create.

Works motivated by economic potential are usually based on a producer behind the artist, who seeks to exploit the potential of the artist’s appeal to the broader market. For example, when Bob and Chris Hebert put together an all female pop music group to compete with the “boy band” craze, they ended up creating arguably the most successful music group of the 1990’s, the Spice Girls. While the quality of the Spice Girl’s work is another essay entirely, the motivation was specifically the business appeal, not artistic desire.

This paper will focus exclusively on how motivations apply to the film industry, where a low predictability of success and high up front costs make it a much riskier production. Films require the coordination of large numbers of people and money, making the effects of a failure that much more spectacular (see Heaven&'s Gate, a movie that failed so dramatically it bankrupted United Artists).

2. Economic Potential Motivation provides a greater variety of films for audiences

Based on the two ends of the spectrum, there are two types of products: Hollywood and independent. Hollywood based films are financed and owned by major studios, independents by outside investors. Typically an independent will sell distribution rights to a major studio after screening at a film festival, but modern distribution potential has made that less necessary. However, most independent films still rely on studio support for worldwide distribution.

Film production entails high upfront marginal costs without a reliable predictor of success-- great movies can randomly flop at the theaters (Fight Club) and expose studios to financial ruin. In response to the inherent financial risks, Hollywood devolved into a hit driven industry, with the successes accounting for the bulk of the revenue and covering the costs of the box office failures. In order to insulate their studios from financial exposure, Hollywood producers must take into account the economic potential of a film when deciding whether or not to greenlight.

If creators relied on their own resources, there would be noticeably fewer Hollywood flicks to satiate the American people's demand for the silver screen. When the MPAA stopped tracking the number in 2006, the major studio film budget stood around $65 million. Without economic compensation as encouragement for studio funding, there would be negligible incentive for RomComs? , action-packed Blockbusters, Animated children's films or Comic Book-based productions. No more spectacular special effects or child-mollifying fairytales. In other words, different motivations produce different end products that serve different purposes. A change in the legal compensation mechanisms would have a profound effect on the business model and result in less variety for the consumer.

While some may point out that these types of films are less "valuable", the value of a created piece is subjective and based on its power among consumers. Titanic, the most expensive film of all time at the time of its production, resonated with audiences worldwide despite its simplistic storyline, trite dialogue and less than stellar actors. Quality is not ascertainable from one perspective--films are judged on group consensus, and what one person deems trash may go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

3. The “Economic Potential” allows for the development of filmmakers

The Hollywood studio system allows filmmakers with a proven track record to produce riskier yet more ambitious projects than without a corporate funding source. For example, Quentin Tarantino would never have been able to secure the $55 million to produce Kill Bill (1 and 2) or the $70 million for Inglorious Basterds without first having proven to the studios that he could put people in the seats with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. With the backing of a major studio, Tarantino was granted more creative freedom and ultimately the audience benefitted. The development of filmmakers within the studio business model provide more diverse and artistically inspired films, even though the motivation of production is often the financial potential of the film. Examples of developed filmmakers benefiting from studio backing include Kevin Smith, Jason Reitman, Chris Nolan, John Hughes and James Cameron.

-- MikeAbend - 06 Jan 2012

The mechanism of this draft is to take an isolated point in a sequence of arguments and offer an isolated context in which to dispute it. But the argument you are using to dispute with me isn't original: I gave it myself, which you don't bother to mention, and the contemporary industry gossip you adduce in its support isn't strengthening.

Obviously, socio-economic infrastructure (known as "base" in certain circles) determines the resulting cultural expressions (known in the same circles as "superstructure") that are viable under the circumstances. Equally plainly, the effects of a fundamental alteration of the infrastructure will result in correspondingly large changes in cultural forms over an appropriately-measures time scale. And, to add the last common assumption, current cultural forms therefore will change in relation to the nature of their dependence on current infrastructure.

I said repeatedly that what you call "film," which actually means "capital-intensive video made using the artificially-large pseudo-people created by Edisonian production styles along with a large corps of other workers" will change most in the course of the infrastructure revolution, because their mode of production is not viable given new infrastructure, which will not produce culture like them. In the same way that we have been underproducing pyramids for the last four thousand years, we will underproduce Hollywood-style feature videos in the future, once it has become impossible to prevent people from sharing them. What we do produce will be differently financed, as point to which you direct no attention.

The response here is to agree with me under the guise of attacking my point that, in general, human creativity results from internal unconscious motivations rather than material inducements. The single instance of a form that cannot sustain itself in that mode neither disproves nor even affects the general proposition. Meantime, my analysis is also unaffected by your support for the evident (to you) beauty of pyramids. Either it is possible for the industry that makes this rubbish you find beautiful to prevent the evolution of the human exoskeletal nervous system, or it will fail. This is not an argument about "incentives," to which little is contributed here, nor an insight into the outcome of that struggle. It's just an advertisement for "the movies," which "the movies" are perfectly capable of doing themselves.

I don't think you can attack the essay because at some distant point in the future when human cultural vision has totally transformed, THEN I will be wrong. First, you could be wrong, and then your entire argument is baseless. And even if you're right, the time it takes for your radical vision to materializes is just as important to the discussion as the period after. If I want to use a timeline argument I can attack almost every essay put forth in this class, since at some point your "vision" will become the past and we will move on to some new form of existence to which even you, Eben, cannot fathom at this point.



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r5 - 04 Sep 2012 - 22:02:25 - IanSullivan
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