File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

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File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby The Reaper » Mon Jun 21, 2010 2:58 pm UTC

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/06/file-sharing-has-weakened-copyrightand-helped-society.ars
Has file-sharing helped society? Looked at from the narrow perspective of existing record labels, the question must seem absurd; profits have dropped sharply in the years since tools like Napster first appeared. But a pair of well-known academics argue peer-to-peer file sharing has weakened copyright in the US... and managed to benefit all of us at the same time.

"Consumer welfare increased substantially due to new technology," write Felix Oberholzer-Gee of Harvard and Koleman Strumpf of the University of Kansas. "Weaker copyright protection, it seems, has benefited society."

Weaker is stronger?

Peer-to-peer file-sharing on the Internet has certainly weakened copyright, but that's not necessarily a bad thing unless one equates "stronger copyright" with "better copyright." According to the US Constitution, copyright is about promoting "the Progress of Science and useful Arts"; it's not about enriching authors, except as a means of promoting said "Progress."

When we think about copyright, the most pertinent question to ask is not whether some change would produce less money for rightsholders, but whether some change would remove incentives to create. Has file-sharing reduced creators' incentives?

Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf presented a recent paper at a music business conference in Vienna that tried to answer this question empirically. By charting the production of new books, new music albums, and new feature films over the last decade, the authors tried to see whether creative output went up or down in correlation with file-sharing.

“Data on the supply of new works are consistent with our argument that file sharing did not discourage authors and publishers,” they write in their paper, “File-sharing and Copyright" (PDF).

"The publication of new books rose by 66 percent over the 2002-2007 period. Since 2000, the annual release of new music albums has more than doubled, and worldwide feature film production is up by more than 30 percent since 2003... In our reading of the evidence there is little to suggest that the new technology has discouraged artistic production. Weaker copyright protection, it seems, has benefited society.”

The authors don't claim (anymore) that file-sharing has no effect on industries like recorded music. Though both authors also collaborated on a now-famous paper from 2007 which argued that file-sharing had no appreciable impact on music sales, they are willing to concede now that it might be a small part of the industry's problems.

Indeed, they round up a host of studies from the past few years suggesting that, on average, one-fifth of declining music sales might be chalked up to piracy. (The rise of new entertainment options like video game has also hurt the business, and consumers finally stopped "re-buying" old albums on CD by the mid-2000s.)

But looking at such declines provides only a narrow view. Looked at more broadly, the music industry "has grown considerably" in the last few years. When concert revenue is added to recorded music revenue, the authors note that the overall industry grew more than 5 percent between 1997 and 2007.

That's in large part because consumers' willingness to pay for "complements" like concerts and merchandise goes up as the price of music and movies falls, and because consumers are exposed to many more artists when prices are low or nonexistent.

Even if the music industry was shrinking, though, the authors point out that creativity has not declined—which suggests that weaker copyright can still promote the "Progress" sought by the Founders.

“We do not yet have a full understanding of the mechanisms by which file-sharing may have altered the incentives to produce entertainment,” conclude the authors. “However, in the industry with the largest purported impact—music—consumer access to recordings has vastly improved since the advent of file-sharing. Since 2000, the number of recordings produced has more than doubled. In our view, this makes it difficult to argue that weaker copyright protection has had a negative impact on artists' incentives to be creative.”

Unconvinced

The music industry doesn't buy the argument. According to international trade group IFPI, "Live performance earnings are generally more to the benefit of veteran, established acts, while it is the younger developing acts, without lucrative live careers, who do not have the chance to develop their reputation through recorded music sales." Thus, recorded music sales remain important.

And IFPI's 2010 "Digital Music Report" (PDF) makes the case that artists are producing less in states with high piracy rates. "In France, there has been a striking fall in the number of local repertoire albums released in recent years," says the report. "In the first half of 2009, 107 French-repertoire albums were released, 60 per cent down on the 271 in the same period of 2003." (This number appears to involve only major labels, however, and cheap digital tools mean that much of the music production today is done without a major label.)

Even Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf admit that their findings aren't clear. It could be that, thanks to all these cheap digital tools, even more recordings would have been produced in the US were it not for file-sharing. But when the same trend holds true among book publishers, filmmakers, and musicians—the 2000s were about ever-increasing content—perhaps P2P isn't "disincentivizing" anyone at all.

And if it's not, the entire paper asks by implication, why don't politicians even consider weakening US copyright law?

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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby SlyReaper » Mon Jun 21, 2010 3:12 pm UTC

In our reading of the evidence there is little to suggest that the new technology has discouraged artistic production. Weaker copyright protection, it seems, has benefited society.


How does that follow?

As far as I can tell, the article is arguing that weaker copyright hasn't harmed society. I don't see how any of the arguments made suggest it has helped society, it's just asserting it.

Anyway, other than that little niggle, I see very little to disagree with. It's nice to see some facts and figures to support what is basically common sense. The IFPI's counter-argument is nonsense. File sharing gives younger bands a lot more exposure than they would otherwise have had because they can publish their music for very little initial cost.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby yoni45 » Mon Jun 21, 2010 3:14 pm UTC

The Article wrote:Even Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf admit that their findings aren't clear. It could be that, thanks to all these cheap digital tools, even more recordings would have been produced in the US were it not for file-sharing. But when the same trend holds true among book publishers, filmmakers, and musicians—the 2000s were about ever-increasing content—perhaps P2P isn't "disincentivizing" anyone at all.


This fact arguably weakens the argument if anything, since the major target of piracy has been music, with movies catching up far more recently, and books still being a pretty minor target.

In other words, if all three are increasing, that seems to imply they would have increased regardless, which puts into question whether music, for example, could have increased more in this time.

Then again, the numbers do highlight that music increased significantly more than books and cd's, but that could be just by virtue of music being different.

Anyway, I would imagine that if piracy did lead to a drop in production incentive, it wouldn't be this soon, but much more longer term as any consequences that may result due to the situation set in.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Zamfir » Mon Jun 21, 2010 3:32 pm UTC

Their argument would be good defensie against the claim that the internet has hurt artistic production. But it seems very possible that online sales had a positie benefit that has outweighed a negative effect from filesharing.

Artistic production has also been able use infrastructures that were built up before filesharing. A lot of 'old media', from labels to newspapers, have been publishing at a loss for years, in the hope that they would eventually develop a profitable online strategy. But they can't keep that up forever.

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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Jun 21, 2010 3:51 pm UTC

If it gets Simon Cowel off TV then...
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Dauric » Mon Jun 21, 2010 4:04 pm UTC

I think there is an argument to be made that a weaker copyright weakens oligopolistic industry controls on <insert media type here>, which in turn opens the media up to people who otherwise would not have been able to/ not desiring to deal with industry practices...

IE: as alternate distribution paths open up that the members of industry interest-groups don't control, artists don't need to "sell out" to distribute their work.

... and that the addition of new means of distribution an promotion, allowing more people to contribute to the 'marketplace of ideas' promotes 'Science and the arts' as it promotes thought in general.

Now it's true that "opening the Floodgates" meas a lot of people contribute a lot of noise, however it also means that genuinely controversial yet reasonable ideas are not filtered through an industry marketing chart about how well an audience will accept them.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Zamfir » Mon Jun 21, 2010 4:30 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:I think there is an argument to be made that a weaker copyright weakens oligopolistic industry controls on <insert media type here>, which in turn opens the media up to people who otherwise would not have been able to/ not desiring to deal with industry practices...

IE: as alternate distribution paths open up that the members of industry interest-groups don't control, artists don't need to "sell out" to distribute their work.

... and that the addition of new means of distribution an promotion, allowing more people to contribute to the 'marketplace of ideas' promotes 'Science and the arts' as it promotes thought in general.

Now it's true that "opening the Floodgates" meas a lot of people contribute a lot of noise, however it also means that genuinely controversial yet reasonable ideas are not filtered through an industry marketing chart about how well an audience will accept them.


But kep in mind that filesharing doesn't provide revenue for anyone. it doesn't just hurt the oligopolists, it hurts anyone who wanted to earn money.
Of course, if there are artists who were willing to give away their work anyway, then filesharing is a useful medium. In that case oligopolist control of distribution channels is a hindrance.

I suppose there are many artists who consider a wide audience as more important than getting paid. But many of them would prefer an audience plus money even more. Audiences too might be better of with a significant but limited number of full-time artists, compared to a larger range of amateurs.



EDIT: my apologies for the lost text. Something weird happened while posting
Last edited by Zamfir on Mon Jun 21, 2010 5:51 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby The Reaper » Mon Jun 21, 2010 5:38 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:

?

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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Dauric » Mon Jun 21, 2010 7:15 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Dauric wrote:I think there is an argument to be made that a weaker copyright weakens oligopolistic industry controls on <insert media type here>, which in turn opens the media up to people who otherwise would not have been able to/ not desiring to deal with industry practices...

IE: as alternate distribution paths open up that the members of industry interest-groups don't control, artists don't need to "sell out" to distribute their work.

... and that the addition of new means of distribution an promotion, allowing more people to contribute to the 'marketplace of ideas' promotes 'Science and the arts' as it promotes thought in general.

Now it's true that "opening the Floodgates" meas a lot of people contribute a lot of noise, however it also means that genuinely controversial yet reasonable ideas are not filtered through an industry marketing chart about how well an audience will accept them.


But kep in mind that filesharing doesn't provide revenue for anyone. it doesn't just hurt the oligopolists, it hurts anyone who wanted to earn money.
Of course, if there are artists who were willing to give away their work anyway, then filesharing is a useful medium. In that case oligopolist control of distribution channels is a hindrance.

I suppose there are many artists who consider a wide audience as more important than getting paid. But many of them would prefer an audience plus money even more. Audiences too might be better of with a significant but limited number of full-time artists, compared to a larger range of amateurs.



EDIT: my apologies for the lost text. Something weird happened while posting

Re: Edit- Technology loves us all in it's own -special- (and arguably dysfunctional) way.

As far as the "Content for free" methodology, I would recommend looking at the donation-based revenue of a number of webcomics. There's a number of people who've produced web comics and distributed them for free while, and even allowing free access of their archives on line that have been able to quit their 'Day Jobs' and do web-cartooning full time by selling various merchandise and 'dead-tree' published archives.

Some musicians are moving over to this kind of "Pay what you think it's worth" methodology, especially smaller and local bands that don't get 'airtime' through the RIAA members, and while it's hardly a "Rock Star Lifestyle", for many bands it's paying the bills while allowing the band members to do what they love.

It doesn't always work out of course, but that's the nature of a free market, be it goods or ideas.

And there are indeed a substantial number of people who just want to create for the sake of creating, the Open Source Movement is fueled in no small part by the fact that there are a lot of people who just want to create and are willing to accept that the only financial support for their creations may be people donating to the project because they feel that donating to it is worthwhile...

... and there's a surprising amount of people who are just donating to these kinds of projects as well.

My point is that the world isn't the black and white of "Go through the industry and get paid" or "Be free of the industry and starve", people are getting creative about how to profit from their work and how to distribute it with as little expense as possible, and this shift is knocking out a lot of middlemen.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Jesse » Mon Jun 21, 2010 7:20 pm UTC

There's also the difference between "making enough money from something to live from day to day" and "becoming rich enough to retire, or support a family".

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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Dauric » Mon Jun 21, 2010 7:34 pm UTC

Jesse wrote:There's also the difference between "making enough money from something to live from day to day" and "becoming rich enough to retire, or support a family".


There's also a difference between doing art (or science in the case of some Open-Source projects) for a living and doing art as a hobby and occasionally getting paid for doing something you enjoy. In the media industry systems you're pretty much holed in to doing it as a living because getting good enough to 'break in' takes so much time and effort that you really don't have the opportunity to do anything else.

Internet distribution and filesharing opens distribution up to people who want to blow a long weekend filming an episode of a steampunk serial and put it up on YouTube. Maybe they get good feedback and decide to do it again, maybe they get bad feedback and make another episode better by analyzing that criticism (or make it worse to spite the viewers, that's usually how "Camp" happens, and spite is always popular on the internet).

Again the point that I'm making is that under the heading of "Promoting the progress of Science and the (useful) Arts" filesharing has opened up avenues for people of talent to create on a small budget, to distribute through new ways, and to find creative financing, all of which ultimately add new material for serious thought and entertainment that otherwise would never have been disseminated if those channels hadn't been available.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Zamfir » Mon Jun 21, 2010 7:46 pm UTC

Charlie Stross has a lot of interesting comments on his blog about the future of publishing and ebooks etc. In short: he lies being a moderately well off fulltime writer, and he is not zure that will stay a viable model. You.might be interested.
http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2010/01/the-monetization-paradox-or-wh.html is an example.

He also has a series on publishing in general, with a lot of attention for the things that would still need to be done in an ebook world.

I think it's pretty interesting to watch what happens to ebooks. Writers have seen how digital music worked out, and they try to make a smoother transition.

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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Whitebeard » Mon Jun 21, 2010 7:56 pm UTC

This article provides some statistics on the increase in artistic production in a period of weakening copyrights. However, it provides no convincing evidence that the two phenomenon are related. Similarly, one might claim that the increase in artistic production could be attributed to global warming. Just because two things happen at the same time doesn't mean that they are related unless a logical connection is made, something which the article failed to do.

Frankly, I do think that more people would consider an artistic career if it promised more financial security. It's quite plausible that weakening copyrights did have a negative impact on the music industry and that, at the same time, other factors counteracted this impact to increase artistic production.

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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Vaniver » Mon Jun 21, 2010 8:01 pm UTC

Whitebeard wrote:Frankly, I do think that more people would considerstay in an artistic career if it promised more financial security.
Fixed. Pretty much everyone who wants to do art / music / writing does it; the question is just at what point they realize they're not going to be able to support themselves and do something else for living. The suggestion the article is making is that loosened copyright protection doesn't decrease the quantity of art being produced, while increasing the enjoyment received from the art that is produced- though, as you correctly point out, they don't demonstrate, they only suggest.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Dauric » Mon Jun 21, 2010 8:44 pm UTC

Vaniver wrote:
Whitebeard wrote:Frankly, I do think that more people would considerstay in an artistic career if it promised more financial security.
Fixed. Pretty much everyone who wants to do art / music / writing does it; the question is just at what point they realize they're not going to be able to support themselves and do something else for living. The suggestion the article is making is that loosened copyright protection doesn't decrease the quantity of art being produced, while increasing the enjoyment received from the art that is produced- though, as you correctly point out, they don't demonstrate, they only suggest.


Another aspect that (used to) turn creative people off from pursuing certain forms of art even as a hobby was the pre-internet exclusivity of distribution. Before the Internnet if you wanted to make a comic you'd have to convince a local paper to put aside enough space (that could be used for ad revenue) for your endeavor, and then if you actually wanted to make any money at it you'd need to send copies of your work and published local papers off to the newspaper syndication outlets and all but beg to be published. All the while still drawing as though it was your full time job, and still holding down a full-time job to support your desire to pursue drawing comics.

I use comics and webcomics as an example because of their modern ubiquity. Music and Books are only beginning to discover the business, and hobby, models that web-comics have been experimenting with for the last decade. There's a lot of examples of all sorts of projects, from day-job for profit comics like Schlockmercenary.com and somethingpositive.net, to many others that are just creative outlets for those who need to be creative like thebunnysystem.com

The internet opens up a completely new distribution method. There's no begging the L.A. times to publish you, just pay for the bandwidth, beg time on a friend's scanner, and invest in drawing supplies. Add time and effort in the actual creative process and you've got a comic that other people can access. Yes there's issues of promotion, but they're vastly less time consuming than it was under the newspaper syndication process. There's fewer obstacles to creating a web-comic, and a lot more genres, topics, styles, and even crap, but also quality than there was under the syndication system.

XKCD would never have made the syndication process. Stick figures talking about too many random and esoteric topics that would just go right over their reader's heads. Schlock Mercenary: Obviously promotes Violence. Something Positive: Too cynical and routinely insults the readers. Questionable Content: well the name says the problem right there. Supermassive Black Hole A*: Adventure comics don't go over well, and the art style is too abstract, to inaccessible for newspaper readers.

Yet they're all out there and more in large part because they don't have to effectively ask permission from an editor to exist in the public forum. The author/artists take on all the risk of putting it out there, and in many cases they start doing it just because they have something they want to say, and funny pictures to go along with it. Making money just comes later, and it's often a surprise to the artist when it happens.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Kyrn » Tue Jun 22, 2010 12:42 am UTC

Maybe it's just me, but I do not consider total sales/profit to be a valid measurement.

How about average sales per artist instead? For all we know, that growth may simply be due to there being more artists in general. Also note that 5% growth over 10 years is also rather pathetic, unless it included inflation in it's consideration. (and still weak regardless)

I am however convinced that the music industry (referring the the big names, and not the smaller artists) had set itself a bubble by artificially inflating prices, which can no longer be justified due to the availability of ease of sharing.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Indon » Tue Jun 22, 2010 12:33 pm UTC

Well, if we describe total artistic product as the metric which helps society, then it's a wash - we simply don't have the data to state a definitive impact for file sharing on artistic product, though this also undermines industry arguments to the contrary.

I suspect what the authors are trying to say, but don't because obviously they'd be called out on it, is that file sharing means that this total artistic product is providing more benefit to people because more people are consuming it (and never paying). We're getting more bang for the art-buck, as it were, as a society.

I imagine if they just came out and said, "Yeah, it doesn't seem to be harming anyone, and some people get more art for free!" media industries would be all over that.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Sockmonkey » Tue Jun 22, 2010 5:44 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:Schlock Mercenary: Obviously promotes Violence.

And eating your opponent's smouldering corpse afterwards.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Dauric » Tue Jun 22, 2010 10:09 pm UTC

Indon wrote:Well, if we describe total artistic product as the metric which helps society, then it's a wash - we simply don't have the data to state a definitive impact for file sharing on artistic product, though this also undermines industry arguments to the contrary.

I suspect what the authors are trying to say, but don't because obviously they'd be called out on it, is that file sharing means that this total artistic product is providing more benefit to people because more people are consuming it (and never paying). We're getting more bang for the art-buck, as it were, as a society.

I imagine if they just came out and said, "Yeah, it doesn't seem to be harming anyone, and some people get more art for free!" media industries would be all over that.


I don't know about the conclusions that you've drawn here, but I find that it ignores the point that I've made: XKCD wouldn't have existed without an open distributing system. It never would have made any publication cut. It's too brainy for general consumption, but it's too varied on too many topics to make it in any single category of niche publication.

The same can be said of file sharing and music. A lot of start-up or "local" bands are going directly to internet distribution to reach their fans and using a variety of creative business models to make a profit off their works without having to beg to be noticed by a 'major label'.

I reference the webcomics, as I said because they're so ubiquitous as examples, but also because comics have shorter content turnaround. The comic creation cycle takes hours to days depending on the style. Music takes weeks or months, while movies takes years. Comics are going to adapt to internet content distribution faster because the 'life cycle' of any one 'piece' is so much faster.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Dream » Tue Jun 22, 2010 11:01 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:I find that it ignores the point that I've made: XKCD wouldn't have existed without an open distributing system. It never would have made any publication cut. It's too brainy for general consumption, but it's too varied on too many topics to make it in any single category of niche publication.

Never read a zine? Just because XKCD wouldn't have been an internet phenomenon doesn't mean it wouldn't have existed or that it wouldn't have a very large readership. Given the tireless effort and entrepreneurial nous that gets something like XKCD into profitability, running a freesheet would be easy. A photocopier, a few mates and some talent will get you a long way.

The argument that artists will create regardless of profit motive also carries the implication that they would have done so before the internet and filesharing made it easier for them. I was making music before Shawn Fanning "created" Napster, and I'll be making it after Google Torrents turns Vuze into AltaVista.
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Re: File-sharing has weakened copyright—and helped society

Postby Dauric » Wed Jun 23, 2010 1:05 am UTC

Dream wrote:
Dauric wrote:I find that it ignores the point that I've made: XKCD wouldn't have existed without an open distributing system. It never would have made any publication cut. It's too brainy for general consumption, but it's too varied on too many topics to make it in any single category of niche publication.

Never read a zine? Just because XKCD wouldn't have been an internet phenomenon doesn't mean it wouldn't have existed or that it wouldn't have a very large readership. Given the tireless effort and entrepreneurial nous that gets something like XKCD into profitability, running a freesheet would be easy. A photocopier, a few mates and some talent will get you a long way.

The argument that artists will create regardless of profit motive also carries the implication that they would have done so before the internet and filesharing made it easier for them. I was making music before Shawn Fanning "created" Napster, and I'll be making it after Google Torrents turns Vuze into AltaVista.


But with fewer barriers -more- people can take advantage of the opportunity to be creative and reach more potential audience. More ideas can reach more people. A 'zine produced in Alaska about paintball can gather audience members across all 50 states and even around the globe without costing the guy postage. He didn't intend to start a regular webcomic, much less sell related merchandise, he was just posting funny images he scribbled on his shop's whiteboard. People liked them and suggested he do more.

It's great that you've been making music before the internet, but that's not the point.

The margin of feasibility has been shifted. When someone thinks to themselves "Maybe I should do something creative..." there's fewer obstacles, fewer "...yeah but..." excuses to even getting started. It's the people who were at the edge of doing something about the want to share their idea, the ones who have something to say but aren't sure how to go about saying it, that alternate distribution opens doors for. In this way there's more people contributing ideas, and admittedly there's more noise because of it, there's also more ideas and more interpretations of ideas to spark new ideas.

Edit:

Read a lot of webcomics, and the artist's annotations, and a common theme in the beginning of many isn't entrepreneurship and an intent to start a business, it's catharsis. They draw and post their ideas out of a need to get these ideas out and where they can be heard. A primal scream in creative ink-spots. Merchandising and 'entrepreneurial success' comes later, usually a year or two later and after a lot of fan-base demands for ways to support the art.
We're in the traffic-chopper over the XKCD boards where there's been a thread-derailment. A Liquified Godwin spill has evacuated threads in a fourty-post radius of the accident, Lolcats and TVTropes have broken free of their containers. It is believed that the Point has perished.


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