Why I decided to release my works for free
It has been a long journey and there is still much to go, but the next step for me is to begin untangling my creative expression from an economic structure that I fundamentally disagree with. After much deliberation, contemplation and reflection, I have decided that I will be releasing my existing works as well as my future books and albums as free downloads.
Those would like to support my work can still do so via Bandcamp, Patreon, or they can attend a performance, a talk or a workshop that I facilitate. In any case, all my future works will be readily available free of charge, and soon I will have to consider whether I will print any further physical books.
I am doing this because I want to acknowledge and bring attention to the fact that we exist in a flawed economic construct that is serving an increasingly smaller proportion of society. Because of this understanding, I have decided that I will incrementally disentangle myself from what I do not agree with. I do not wish to add any further momentum to the perpetuation of systems that are based on injustice.
I don’t mean to imply that I necessarily have all the answers, and I’m not criticising anybody else. The fact is, being a performing artist, a writer and a festival director, a large proportion of my colleagues and associates are free-thinking creative artists who are barely scraping together an existence and doing their utmost to disentangle from this system and make a living from their work.
The truth is I am just bringing attention to the fact that we need to give this some attention.
The world we wish to live in is drastically and fundamentally different to the one we currently exist within, therefore it goes without saying, there will be changes that will by uncomfortable and challenges that seem insurmountable, but we will get there. The pieces of the puzzle we each put forward seem illogical and incomprehensible when put into the current context, and it is for this reason that we should remind ourselves that these changes, challenges and solutions only make sense when we place them in the context of a future society. But we have to start somewhere.
And if we intend on ever getting there, we must be prepared to make massive changes in short periods of time. If we cannot accept that something is broken then we will not be able to comprehend any solution whatsoever. Once we acknowledge something is broken, then we must take a closer look at it to understand why.
The way we are conducting ourselves, our behaviours, social norms and the laws that we exist within have all contributed to bringing us to the situation we find ourselves in, and we need to look very closely at ourselves. If we are not willing to question the very fundamentals of what we have built our society on, then we are truly doomed. It is the every day, it is the embedded practices and socials norms or so-called ‘rights’ that have pulled the wool over our eyes. Those things that are so ingrained that they have become invisible to us; they are the practices we must reassess.
Like drinking chocolate milk out of plastic bottles, reading the daily papers, buying our coffee in takeaway cups, grilling sausages on the BBQ and borrowing money from banks and using ATMs. It is the every day and the invisible that we must scrutinise, and our financial construct is one of the things that we must reassess.
Again, I will reiterate that I do not assume I have all the answers, but I will say loud and clear, that we need to slow down, to stop in fact, and look at the damage we have caused ourselves and each other with our frenzied, frenetic and destructive behaviours. No one is to blame and no one escapes culpability. It just is what it is, and I think it needs to be looked at.
Here’s my rationale
Non-participation is one of the key tools in the arsenal of a successful activist and must be enacted if we wish to live and work from a place of integrity. If we continue to support the systems that we fundamentally disagree with, while consistently maintaining that we disagree with them, we become either hypocrites aware of our contradictions or we come across as ill-informed and ineffective human beings without answers or clear pathways of thought. It is the increasing of awareness and complex reason combined with addressing the cognitive dissonance that comes with the newly acquired awareness that will lead us to a more just future.
Whether it is the meat and dairy industries, the cutting down of ancient forests, or the rape and pillage of the earth through mining, we need to understand how it is all connected to us before we protest it, if we wish to become effective agents of change and to live a meaningful life of integrity and honour. If we ignore these things and fail to investigate the interconnectedness of the social issues that we face then, anxiety, depression, cognitive dissonance, confusion and substance abuse will accompany us throughout our lives. If we fail to change and grow, to evolve and redefine ourselves throughout our lives then we may never truly understand what it meant to be gifted with the human experience.
In agreeing to always release my works free of charge I am expressing that I am not only an advocate and supporter of the open source movement and the opposition to copyright movement, but also that I am willing to stand by the implications of that. It is an ethical contradiction for me to agree that medical breakthroughs, software and technology that can be used for the betterment of the world, should be open sourced and not owned by a corporation or copyrighted by an individual, and yet still require money for the purchase of my own digital content.
In order to understand this action I am taking, and to grasp why an artist charging for an electronic copy of an album or getting paid royalties for airplay has anything to do with affordable medicine and education, let us take a quick look into at the concept of copyright, patents, and a quick glance at our economic system.
Before we start we must understand that in our current global society, no transaction is beyond the financial ecology that we exist within. The use of ATMs, extending credit card limits, bidding at a home auction in Sydney and the global financial collapses we’ve experienced are all part of one whole. What you are willing to pay for quinoa, and how a cash paid employee in a Melbourne café decides to spend their money is connected to the price of tuna in China. It’s more closely related to the price of quinoa in South America, but they’re all related nevertheless.
Now let us begin with what copyright means, so we can move on to unravelling the implications of it. Copyright is a legal right that gives the creator of a work exclusive rights for its use and distribution. It was introduced into our world by the English parliament in 1662 in response to the invention of the printing press, as a way of protecting the work of writers from exploitation by the owners of the printing presses. You can understand how it could seem like a good idea at the time. The problem stems from the fact that those rights can be bought and sold.
The concept of a patent has existed in some form or another from as early as the 14th century. Its effects were localised and minimal, without global ramifications given the rate and pace of interactions and transactions. Again, there can be seen a glimpse of merit in it.
At a brief glance, if one was not able to grasp the implications of such a thing, the simple statement of ‘incentivising innovation’ would fool the novice. And it did for a few hundred years. The idea that this spurs innovation by giving the glory of financial gains to the innovator or inventor is a false one that has been dangled in front of us much like a carrot on a stick. While the whole time it has always been aiding the further accumulation of wealth by those who already had it.
The fact is, the overwhelming majority of financial gains will always inevitably go to those who have the money to buy and own the patent or copyright or have the ability to reproduce the product or idea. Whether it is a book, an album, a new medicine or technological breakthrough. It is a very deceiving way to ensure that money continues to make money; the extenuation of the extremes of wealth and poverty.
And all the while, the general population is none the wiser, believing that by buying into this idea they too will find financial salvation if they keep their heads down, their noses clean and work hard. Given the distractions of reality TV, sporting events, fear mongering media and the entertainment industry, we are all generally unaware of the damaging effects of the ideas that we have agreed to and the laws that we are obediently abiding by.
In the same way that the minutest misalignment on a woodworking lathe will have catastrophic effects on the wood being turned, or how a couple of degrees out at the foundation of a high-rise develops a disastrous lean as the construction continues, this simple piece of legislation has caused an immense amount of damage. When extrapolated over a few hundred years and allowed to infiltrate every aspect of a multi-billion person society, interacting at the rapid pace at which we now conduct business, this idea has become a cancer that is destroying the body of this single entity called humanity.
This idea has become ingrained in all aspects of our lives, and even a large part of our psyche and the effects have been truly devastating. It has become our global culture. This concept of copyright and patent relates to ideas of ownership of capital, ownership of people, private ownership of land, it is connected to the apparently self-regulating free-market philosophy which is a lie; it isn’t self-regulating, it is self-perpetuating. The idea of an individual buying ocean front land for private use, subdividing and later on selling for a profit, the rape culture relationship that we have with our environment and this perverse condition in the mind that suggests we can pull from the earth whatever we want simply because we have enough money to buy the machinery to do so without even having to distribute that so-called wealth between every single inhabitant of the Earth; these are all effects of the ideology of private ownership taking the podium rather than the concept of collective commons.
You see, this is not a simple mess we have gotten ourselves into. It is immense, it is convoluted, it is complex and it is becoming increasingly painful at a much faster rate. We need to slow down. We need to take stock of our behaviours and consider the ramifications of our individual actions as they merge and add to the collective action of the masses. For what is this heart-wrenching mess we have ourselves in, but the result of our individual actions combining to create our collective experience?
We find ourselves in a world where not even the first person to have had the idea, but the first person to go through the process of registering that new idea or technology suddenly owns it. We exist in a world where the person who could afford to buy the rights to a song or an album can own that piece of music, even though they have no connection to its creation. Furthermore, they can again sell or pass the ownership of that piece of music down to their children, who can continue making millions of dollars of profits from a piece of music written by a musician who lived a hundred years before them.
The existence of and continued adherence to these laws means medical breakthroughs, medicines, ointments, evens cures for serious diseases can be owned by a corporation or an individual, and lifesaving medicines will be commodified and sold at a profit to benefit the shareholders or patent owner. Regardless of how many cannot afford it.
Software, for example, is easily reproduced, and the fact that we pay hundreds perhaps thousands of dollars for licensing each year adds to the already absurd wealth of certain companies and individuals. Add to that the fact that billions of others cannot afford that same product. Whether it is software, medicine or music we should be considering the benefit of the collective, not the individual. To generate income by exploiting a need, and then to offer a few hundred million dollars to charity is a joke and it is actually taking the piss.
It points to the fact that the majority of society cannot see the moral bankruptcy of such practices. To continue bleeding millions and millions of people of their money for something they need that you have, and then offer back a proportion of it and be praised as a charitable person, is a cruel and twisted joke.
Let us then consider the innovation that is stifled by not open sourcing it. When we implement the Open Source Model to solve a problem or create a new piece of software, innovation is accelerated at a mind-boggling rate. Hundreds or even thousands of individuals can contribute to generating solutions, to adding code, to proposing new perspectives.
Consider the thought that the slightest adjustment to a lab experiment that changes the course of history might not be in the mind of the scientists at Stanford but in the mind of a 14-year-old sitting behind a computer screen in India, and all she needed was to be aware of the problem you were trying to solve and to know what you had and had not tried so far.
We can begin to see how the very thing that we once thought would spur innovation, invention and creativity has stifled it. We can begin to see that by creating environments that nurture and foster competitiveness we have in fact been doing humanity a great disservice. We can begin to see more clearly how damaging it has been to have had academia, economics, philosophy and of course all of society literally ‘man-handled’ by the patriarchy.
Our ideas, our laws, the constructs that we have agreed to abide by, are imbalanced and incomplete. Our competitiveness and self-preservation is damaging all of us. We can begin to see how the Darwinian understandings that have become engrained into our way of life are still sabotaging human evolution and slowing down the process of moving towards social justice, equity and sustainability. How ironic that Darwin slowed down evolution.
This is one of the consistently repeated patterns of human beings and human societies. The implementation of a law, practice, behaviour or action that does exactly the opposite of what it was originally intended to do.
Ideas, Art, Music, Software, Medicine, Knowledge… How can we make these things commodities, place a dollar value on them, sell them only to those who can afford to pay for them, whether it be academic papers, poetry, Microsoft Office, or Daraprim, and then pretend like that isn’t insane?
In the system that we exist within, the patent to a drug that has existed for over sixty years can be bought by the highest bidder, and the price per pill can be hiked overnight from $13.5 to $750, all within the parameters of the law. Not only is it allowable, but in fact, it is how our entire society has been trained to think and behave. We celebrate it.
What is moral and what is allowed by the law do not need to be in agreeance in this system. Further to that, what is morally upright behaviour and what is acceptable behaviour do not even have to agree. We have, as a society, taken selfish and self-serving ideas as acceptable and praiseworthy. We are truly deluded.
If you consider it deeply you realise that this type of activity, this type of behaviour is encouraged and embedded into us at a young age, it is deemed upright and just, until the gross injustice of it is made glaringly obvious to us like it was in the case of Daraprim. In such instances, we snort and grunt in disapproval for a moment or two, and then continue conducting ourselves in exactly the same manner as the ones we bemoan.
We live in a reality where a writer, artist, painter or photographer will consider the value of their art, sometimes even their lives, by the financial gains it has brought them. The packaging, sale, and promotion of their work is now a consideration, sometimes the first consideration. We live in a reality where artists are creating their work to pay for rent, mortgages, rates, bills, cars, and living expenses. So now, how much, how quickly, and at what price something will sell is a consideration.
This is called the prostitution of the arts.
The commodification of the arts is what copyright brought us. I do not need to be paid for the electronic copying and distribution of my work as it doesn’t cost me anything to reproduce those works once they are created. And I’d rather not sign a publishing deal that gives the author 15% of the profit and distributes the rest amongst publishing company shareholders, distribution companies, transport and logistics companies and worst of all, the landlords of the premises of major bookstores.
Further to that, what artists are forced to endure, and what they have had to sacrifice in order to be able to create their work is not something that can be remunerated or compensated for with money. Artists receive their recompense from elsewhere.
This world is suffering from tumours and atrophy at the same time. We’re experiencing blood clots and haemorrhages of resources at the same time. We have obesity and malnutrition epidemics at the same time. We have more service men and women committing suicide than we lose in conflict. The greatest risk to the lives of men outside of suicide is their own diets. And the greatest risk to the lives of women is men. We need to stop what we are doing and take a look at ourselves, at each other, and start again.
The fact that a writer, a painter or a poet, a dancer or photographer must gauge the value or worth of their work or judge the success of their career by the amount of income they produced, instead of the number of hearts that they healed… this is what tells me that our society is broken.
The fact that artists, writers, painters, poets, must sell their art to pay the rent and buy food is truly heart-breaking. It means that they are considering what sells, and how to best market their work rather than creating for the sake of creation, for the sake of the collective. A move towards the days of patronage instead of commodification and capitalism would be wise, but this move will not happen if we all insist on clinging to what little we each have.
Somewhere along the line we were convinced that we had to compete with one another in order to serve ourselves, but this idea is destroying us.
When we take a look at what we are doing we realise that we have turned the highest forms of human endeavour, creative expression and innovation, into tools to serve the lowest of our needs, the procurement of our food and shelter. Is that not saddening? We are a snake eating itself thinking we will find contentment.
Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how self-actualisation and particularly creative endeavours have been turned into a means of securing the basest of our needs. This is a sure a sign as any that the economic construct that we exist within is not adequately serving us, and requires reconsideration.
The copyrighting of technology, software, medicine, and art is not acting for the benefit of society as a whole, and it is simply allowing for the perpetuation and extenuation of the extremes of wealth and poverty. It gives this thing called money the power to determine who has access to medicine, agricultural technology, music, or educational software.
The existence of copyright and patent law is a concept that at first seemed like a good idea. It made sense to the minds that conceived of them hundreds of years ago, but those existed in a different world. Those minds did not possess the same mental capacities for complex reasoning or comprehension that even an average human being today possesses.
Those minds could not foretell the implications of such laws in a society like the one we exist within today. They couldn’t even imagine the world that we live in, much less legislate for it appropriately. When this idea came into being, it was still legal to beat your slave to death. Just as religious laws and cultural traditions become irrelevant, immoral or fail to serve us, so to do common laws become outdated and destructive.
As we develop our understandings of our world, ourselves and our relationship with each other and the universe we exist in, as our minds develop and our self-reflexive capacities become a more powerful and more regularly engaged tool, then we absolutely must be able to look at the things that we have considered as fundamental building blocks of our society with renewed curiosity and questioning.
If not the foundations of a building, then where else does one turn to when seeking stability and longevity. It is not the awnings or the blinds that need updating, rather the very frameworks and foundations we have built this society upon.
If we were to pause for a minute and consider our actions, and to consider the implications of our daily habits, accepted laws and social norms, we will soon realise that the reality we have created for ourselves is not one that we are benefiting from. And we will also realise that our daily actions when extrapolated across a global scale and reflected back to us, are not actions or behaviours that we fundamentally agree with.
So… If my work is of any use to you, then download it, read it, copy it, distribute it, enjoy it, I genuinely don’t mind. If we are to one day live in a world where we have free education, healthcare, housing, water, power and food, can we not first start with poetry?