Copyright For Blockheads: Why Musicians Create in China’s High Piracy Environment

Following my recent blog posts on music copyright efforts in China, I have linked here an article published in July 2015 by  Prof. Jiarui Liu from Stanford University, on “Copyright for Blockheads: An Empirical Study of Market Incentive and Intrinsic Motivation” at the Columbia Journal of Law and the Arts.  A Chinese language summary of the statistics in that article (with English captions) is available here.

This Article presents a systematic study regarding copyright incentives, based on industrial statistics and extensive interviews from the music industry in China, which Prof. Liu states is “a virtually copyright-free environment featuring one of the highest piracy rates in the world.”  This has in turn has caused a dramatic transformation of the music business.

Prof. Liu seeks to answer the following questions:

–          How do musicians earn their living in the shadow of rampant copyright piracy?

–          Are copyright incentives still relevant if it turns out that most musicians create music for   music’s sake, not for money?

–          Can niche musicians benefit from effective copyright enforcement even though copyright piracy mostly targets mainstream music?

–          Why do musicians choose music careers over more lucrative jobs?

–          Why do musicians commonly become multiple-job holders?

–          Why do musicians often earn the majority of income from their second jobs but spend the majority of time on music?

From his abstract:

The empirical research indicates three seemingly paradoxical phenomena: (1) while 17.9% of all themusicians in the  sample  referred  to  economic  benefits  as  at  least part  of  their  motivations  for  music creation, 97.4%  specifically recognized money as being important and helpful for music creation; (2) while  56.4%  alleged  that  copyright  piracy  did  not  affect  their  creative  motivations,  72%  agreed  that copyright piracy does affect music creation and (3) while 53.8% explicitly admitted that they had little awareness or knowledge of copyright, 92.3% indicated that the current  level of copyright protection is insufficient and 71.8% suggested that copyright law should provide strong incentives for music creation.  The empirical evidence itself provides compelling explanations for such paradoxes: Even though musicians  seem to  primarily create music for music’s sake, copyright law could still supply powerful incentives  for  music  production  in  a  way  that  not  only  caters  to  market  demand, but  also  allows  for broader  artistic  freedom…

Copyright  incentives do not function as a reward that musicians consciously bargain for and chase  after,  but as a  mechanism  that  preserves  market  conditions  for  gifted  musicians  to  prosper, including a decent standard of living, sufficient income to cover production costs and maximum artistic autonomy during the creative process.

  

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