Claim: Copyright means a person gets paid over and over for the same work

Claim: Copyright means a person gets paid over and over for the same work. If you build a house, you only get paid once for it.

Response: First: the fact that creators can sell their work repeatedly is a benefit for the user because it means they can charge small amounts of money (a small fraction of the production cost) and spread the costs out over many, many users. In contrast, when you buy a house, then you have to cover the entire production cost on your own – which is why a house will cost you six-figures, while a game or movie will cost you one or two-digits, even though big-budget games and movies cost a lot more money to create than your house did.

For example, the movie Avatar cost $400 million dollars to create. You can buy a 3-disc collector’s edition of the movie on Amazon for only $20. (Wouldn’t it be nice if you could buy a $400 million house for $20?)

If a game costs $30 million to develop, and the creator earns $30 for each copy sold, then the creator needs to sell one million copies to break-even. To say that a digital-media creator should only be allowed to sell it once (like selling a house) is asking them to find one person who will buy the game for $30 million. It’s unlikely that a single person would accept that $30 million price tag and then give it away to the world for free. Since that scenario is unlikely, the product would be probably not be created at all – leading to a poorer world (i.e. a world without that product).

Secondly, if this argument were legitimate, then concerts should also be considered wrong. Afterall, the band is doing a job once (playing a concert), but getting paid multiple times (each time a ticket is sold). From that perspective, bands are getting paid over and over for the same work. If bands had to play their music for one person or one small group of people (instead of stadiums full of people), then most bands would go bankrupt because there aren’t enough individuals willing to pay enough money to make it financially viable for the band to show up and play. It would only happen with eccentric billionaires and dictators (spending people’s tax dollars), which means the “common people” wouldn’t get to see it.

So the fact that creators can get paid multiple times for the “same work” is actually a benefit to society. It means that the cost for any single consumer is low because the costs can be spread-out over lots of people. Allowing the costs to be spread-out over multiple people means that products can be created that could never be created if creators had to rely on finding one very rich patron. People should look at “multiple payers” as an advantage for society, rather than a problem.

In my own case, my software was being sold for between $20 and $45. I don’t earn that full amount; my publisher takes a cut, so I end up with a percentage of each sale. My game required about 10,000 hours of labor in total, so you can calculate that I’d need about 7,000 to 8,000 sales to earn a decent hourly wage. But, I didn’t get that many sales. Despite selling thousands of copies, I ended up earning less than minimum wage when you average-out my revenue over 10,000 hours of work. This means I ate most of the development cost myself, since sales weren’t high enough to cover my costs. That’s the risk we take as creators.

While some people might complain that creators “create one good thing and then sit back and coast on the money that pours in the rest of their lives”, the reality is that this scenario is actually uncommon. The fact that people can think of musicians who became millionaires reflects the fact that we all know who the big winners are (because they’re famous), but a much larger number of creators don’t earn much more than the development costs. It’s sort of like walking into a casino, seeing a picture of someone who won a million dollars, and then concluding that casinos are giving away too much prize money – the casino games should be changed to be more heavily biased in favor of the casino. But the fact that there are big winners doesn’t mean that casinos are giving away too much money.

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