“How should the people who produce knowledge – whether designs, novels, or software – be paid, then?”

Well, you know this is of course a question I hear a fair amount. And I think it comes from a confusion. And it’s an odd confusion, in this room, because it makes a distinction which maybe we don’t need to make, and introduces one that we shouldn’t have.

People get paid, voluntarily, because we love what they do.

I know that’s true; I pay people because I love what they do, and so do you. We pay – and would be happy to pay more, if we didn’t think that someone else was in the way – for things of beauty and utility all the time.

What we are losing is the ability to force people to pay. We are losing the coercive distribution system which says: “I won’t give this to you you until you pay me for it first.”

We’re losing that because people can’t manage to make it work anymore; that’s what it means to be a music company or a movie company in the present world; it’s the distributors who have a problem. Their model was: “We make a profit as distributors because you can only get this from us.”

And by forcing people to pay, right, they made their business model work.

We can’t force people anymore, but we can ask them.

And the reason that shouldn’t be a surprise in this room is: that’s how you do it. You ask people to pay. You tell them “It’s worth it. You love what we do, you care about it, you have passion. Pay us for it.”, and they do.

You shouldn’t be worried. This shouldn’t be your question, this isn’t your fight, you won it already. The people who are worried are the people people wouldn’t voluntarily pay, and that’s not you.

We’re going to have every bit as much creativity as we had before Edison; Edison was the guy who made it possible to put the thing in a can and sell it like a product in the store. There wasn’t any absence of music before there were recording companies. Musicians got paid poorly then and they get paid poorly now. [Laughter] The difference was: there were no recording companies stealing from them then, and there are now.

The issue of “How will people get paid?” is agitating our friends on the other side. But I don’t think it needs to agitate us so much. People pay for what they love. Make what they love; they’ll pay you for it.

I have an odd business model. I don’t charge clients. I charge people, voluntarily, who make a lot of money in technology, to provide lawyering services for people who don’t make any. And I haven’t fired any lawyers yet. And I’m an unusual law firm in New York city because I haven’t.

  • Eben Moglen