Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

In yesterday's discussion and in Charles Leadbeater's discussion the day before, there was a lot of talk about the rights of amateurs, the "pro-am revolution" and other arguments about how amateur content and creativity was important. I described how in the blogging world, it's mostly the people who create content who "pay" in contrast to the professional content world where it is the creator who gets paid. I talked about how Creative Commons was really helpful for amateurs who were more passionate about having their works widely accessible than making money. This is not to say that Creative Commons isn't useful for other things of course.

There was a bit of slippage in the discussion in the afternoon when several people pointed out that maybe I was suggesting that amateurs shouldn't/couldn't become professionals. The point, if I understood it correctly, assumed that most amateurs wanted to be professionals and that somehow amateurs were proto-professionals or professional wannabes. At least some of them.

I think this is a mischaracterization and maybe a reason to dump the word "amateur". I think that in the case of many amateurs such as many bloggers, Wikipedians and most open source developers, the amateurs are happy being amateurs and don't feel that they are in any way inferior to their professional counterparts. Many of the heads of open source projects have a day job, but probably believe that they are superior to comparable professionals at Microsoft or other software companies. I doubt that many Wikipedians wish that they could get paid for what they do. There are very few people who prefer professional sex to amateur sex. (I think I got this example from Steve Weber's book.)

My sister pointed this out to me last week by IM as well. I think the answer lies in the mode of production. Money creates a power relationship between the payer and the payee. I think cases where the production is happening in some sort of enterprise or a "firm" where having a manager and having access to resources allows production to be more efficiently, financial relationships and "professionalism" seem to "feel OK." On the other hand, when working in what Yochai Benkler calls "commons-based peer-production," the "professionalism" is replaced by amateur passion as a primary driver.

I pointed out several times yesterday that I don't want to impinge on the rights of professionals, but I believe that monopolistic professional organizations such as rights collection agencies, the Hollywood lobbies and Microsoft are hurting the ability for amateur artists from participating by creating technology and legislation that focuses exclusively on protection instead of the sharing of creativity. I think it is the role of government to call into question the practices of these monopolies which are the unfortunately byproduct of an unchecked free market economy and prevent the passing of legislature that increases the power of these monopolies such as software patents and extension of copyright terms. Instead, they should be focusing on activities that make it more difficult for such monopolies to form such as focusing on open standards and open source and whenever possible, preventing proprietary standards from being funded by public funds.


Now you knew I wouldn't be able to pass this one by. I was talking today to a woman who was a professional interior designer for 14 years and morphed that into flipping houses for sale after she'd fixed them up. Seems she did it for the money, but had to give it up because she no longer enjoyed it. Now she does it for her own amusement, having other sources of income.

I was a professional photographer for eleven years and the joy of my personal work was supported by the bread and butter work of wedding photos, passport photos, etc. I once had a contract to take photos of various kinds of buildings for the Real Estate Appraisal Guide for Iowa. This work had to be done with a view camera close to dawn to get shots without anything but the buildings in them. We got hassled by curious cops about half the time and carried a letter from the state agency that had given us the contract to prove that we were doing something for them.

Professionals get paid. They get paid because the work they do has value to someone else. Part of that value is doing the work to their plan, not your own.

And most professionals are not big corporations but individuals who work for others, big and small. A free market means that you can hire people to do whatever work you can't do, or won't do yourself.

And, if you read Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" you will see that division of labor is essential to economic efficency.

Amatuer artists become professionals very easily. Too much so. It was high school kids wanting to get "professional" shots for their portfolios which drove me out of the photography business. They would do a hundred dollars worth of work for ten. And then K=Mart introduced the 98 cent color portrait, which just killed all of my high school graduation and family portrait work.

The quality sucked, but most people don't care about that. They wouldn't know quality if it bit them on the ass.

That's your unchecked free market; a race to the bottom with people who are less able.

THere are many science fiction fanzines. The ones that win awards are the ones that, despite their amatuer status adopt professional "best practises", ethics, and concern for a quality product.

And so it is with blogs. The ones that get read and to which people pay voluntary subscriptions are the ones that have a very diverse range of content by many contributors and a host who is willing to engage their interest. You fit into that category, Joi, but so does Jerry Pournelle, who actually edits his contributor's writing and cherry picks the best entries.

What you have proposed above is like one of those audience participation theatrical participation events in the 1960s. These invaribily descended into babble and anarchy.

It is indeed unfortunate that the only real recoginition of success in our culture is based upon how much money you make. I don't like it either. It is, however, the most efficent way we have of allocating that most precious of commodities; the attention of others for our ideas.

You miss my point Francis. The evolution of production of certain creative goods I am refering to is free market->the firm->commons-based peer-production and that in common-based peer-production you can build quality without being professional. Are you telling me that you believe Wikipedia and Linux to be "babble and anarchy"?

Also, "amateur" might be the right word if we can revert to the original Latin root - amtor meaning "lover, devoted friend, devotee, enthusiastic pursuer of an objective".

It may be that it's right to say that by the [happily] increase of creativity in our world, its harder and harder to somehow monopolize this creativity and make a living out of it. Professionals have to look for other, new possibilities to make a living. Not necessarily by giving up there creative profession, but to use there creative ability to find new business opportunities.


Freemarket is still a market, no? Wikepedia is simply a remix of the errors of the past from the entries I've seen. There doesn't seem to be much original research into root sources in most of the entries I've read.

Dedicated amateurs can build quality products. That is the case in some fanzines, including one I sometimes contribute to, FILE 770, whose editor, Mike Glyer has won about 18 Hugo awards. As I said, there are other ways to get paid than money. He still sells subscriptions to cover his actual costs.

Making money and psychic income are complimentary, not mutually exclusive goals. Indedd the more professional you are in thought and action, the more of both you attain.

The babble and anarchy part comes in when people desire to attain these things without the hard work of learning both the craft and the creative art of the field. There are those rare geniuses who can leap ahead of the pack, but for most of us it is a long hard slog; a constnt seeking to improve what you've already done. That has to be incentivized. There has to be a system of rewards, but the applause of peers is cold comfort indeed when you are threadbare and starving. Nothing romantic about that.

I've spent more time earning the bread and butter than doing really creative work, but that work has always been the goal. In the European "Cultural Policy" community they are struggling with the issues of privatizing state-run official culture because they can't really afford to subsidize it anymore and doing do may actually be detrimental to creating new culture. Perhaps this si why there is so much "remixing" there.

Bottom line: Creative people have to be paid, one way or the other. If they can support their own efforts, they risk the label of "Hobbyist" or "Amateur". If other people are willing to support their efforts, through subscriptions or purchasing copies of their work or giving them grants, then they become "Professionals" which automatically gives them enhanced recognition and stature.

Nothing conveys validation like cold hard cash. Channeling your creativity into the service of another reduces you to the status of a tradesman. Doing what you want to do and still getting paid -- that's the epitomy of success.

Show me an amateur who doesn't want that.

An added note on monopolies. The advance of technology makes creating work very much easier than it was. If there had been cheap, available digital photography in the 1970's I'd probably still be in the business.

The problem, as I see it, is that people are unwilling or unable to come up with original concepts for their art. Rather than creat new content they insist on playing around with other people's stuff.

Writing fan fiction may be a way of learning the craft of writing fictional narrative, but it is a training-wheels approach, devoid of any true originality.

It is also safe. The characters and situations are well defined. A real artist will take risks, like a poker player who says "all in".

It's a lot of hard work and likely to be misunderstood. You may fail. Probably will fail. I can see why a lot of people don't want to do it.

But you cannot create new work by ripping off other people's material. That's not creativity, but simply theft.

If you reference previous culture that has fallen into the public domain they you have a "commons" If you take away other people's property, then you disrupt the commons created to reward them for their work.

Reuse of that material requires both their consent and their compensation. The form of both can be decided by contract, but pleas for everyone to consent to their own robbery are likely to go unheard and unacknowledged.

Monopolies are part of the reward system. A constituionally protected civil right enshired in both law and custom...and that is the true creative commons.

My apologies Francis, but we are so far away from each other on some many of the fundamental points that it would require a book to respond to you and I am simply at a loss for words. Also, I hate it when people throw books at me, but I urge you to read The Success of Open Source by Steven Weber and Coase's Penguin by Yochai Benkler and see what you think. It sounds like we live in parallel universes in terms of world view.

Maybe this is a good argument for the necessity of real research in things such as the lifetime value of creative works, the number of actual "dead works" and works with unidentifiable copyright owners. Maybe we need to get some numbers and statistics in this discussion. Otherwise, I'm afraid we're just talking about completely incompatible frameworks based on personal annecdotal evidence. I would put myself in that camp along with you. I cannot argue with you because at this point, our experiences and realities are two far apart I think.

The word 'amateur' is worth thinking about. The word means 'lover', someone who does something for the love of it, rather than because they are being paid.

In the UK/Ireland and possibly America, 'amateur' has derogatory overtones. It suggests something half-done, not really done properly.

In France, on the other hand, 'amateur' (move the stress to the second syllable and roll that 'r') is a term of high praise. Nothing could be better than something done for love.

Sorry Joi for throwing the book at you. "The Wealth of Nations" is one of those "dead white men" texts. It was published in 1776, but still read by economists. It is the basic text on capitalism and Smith explored such phenomena as the division of labor in manufacturing processes.

And we are not as far apart as you think. Antoin is right. There is a bias against the amatuer in American society and the hardest job that any creator has or will have is convincing parents, friends, and other nosy people that the work is worthwhile; by which they mean, even if you do not, it has enough economic gain to support someone and whatever family they may have.

Professionalism also means maintain standards, not just of the execution of the work, but ethical conduct in its distribution. The issue of ownership is very important to that last because it means control. Why maintain control? Why not just let the work roam freely? Because other malicious people can then distort it for their own ends and twist into something very much against the creator's intention.

A case in point is a book called "Report From Iron Mountain" which became a bible of sorts for the extreme elements of the American militia movement several years ago and was used to promote the principles of race war they proposed to carry out. The author of this all too convincing text wrote it as a parody of such movements. He was not in favor of such tactics but seeking to prevent them by showing how stupid and futile they were. Unfortunately they didn't get the joke. He was forced to register his copyright and sue them for infringement to get the book removed from circulation. Too late, of course, to kill it off entirely, because others simply keep pirating it and using it for evil purposes.

This is a worse case example, but, as matter of business, if anyone invests time and money in creating something they should have the right to keep other people from misusing it.

Fanfiction is tolerated by the big studios because fans are a core audience and their enthusiasm has actually saved or revived a television series. And they pay in other ways, by buying toys based on the show and other "derivative rights" products.

But the studios can lower the hammer very hard if they need to, because they, not the fans , own the material. A famous case of this control was the edict issued by George Lucas after the first "Star Wars" film that stories that featured romances between Like and Princess Leia were forbidden. It was not until several years after we knew why, after the third film revealed that they are siblings.

Control is often necessary to the integrity of art. Open Source is a great idea for computer programmers, but you cannot apply it to every human endeavor.

I do agree that real research is need. My little electronic publishing company is an effort in that direction. So far the results seem to confirm the Long Tail hyposis and the value of long copyright terms,

Our results could change when we actually start promoting certain titles, or when sampling through Google Print finally kicks in. Sales of some tiems could elevate over the current norm.

Or perhaps not.

As for the rest, the world is run by professionals, but all you have to do to become one is to act like one. Professionals get paid. How they get paid is up to them. I've never known one yet who did not enjoy some aspect of the work.

I also have never known one who was content to simply copy the work of others rather than find their own unique expressions. It's the difference between craftsmen and artists.

I also think the amount of control a creator has is dictated by the form of the expression. Written text is usually edited for consumption, but the author has the final say. If you have a play about to be produced you are very much at the mercy of others. Drama is a a collaboration. (so is music) and the final result will be a collective creation, for good or ill.

I have a play being showcased in May in the Bay Area. My part is done. I simply wrote it. The final result is up to the actors and the director. I'm very excited to see what they will bring to the text. I expect there will be some surprises. I hope so.

I would also like to reject the notion of "dead works". Why do you call them so? Because no one has read them lately? As long as they are preserved, there is the hope that someone will. Writers speak across generatiosn and so do other artists.
Old work is discovered by new gnerations all the time.

I've been rereading Miyamoto Musashi's "A Book of Five Rings" this week. 30 years ago it was rediscovered as a text on management strategy and became a best-seller. The original author was a Samuri swordsman who after a long a very deadly career wrote a book about what he had done to be so successful. It was written in 1645. Public domain? Sure, in the original Japanese, but the guy who translated it registered his work as a new copyright (he added commentary on Musashi's life).

There are no dead works. Just overlooked ones which may be rediscovered in time, and as needed.

"Amateur" can be slightly derogatory in French too:

"C'est un amateur" ~= "He's an amateur", could definitely sound a bit disparaging.


"Il est amateur de vin" isn't derogatory, but rather hints that said person is a wine devotee, an aficionado, perhaps even a connoisseur.

The example sentences are so close in construct that context is crucial in determining the intended nuance, I guess.

I have read "The Wealth of Nations".

One definition of "dead works" are works where the copyright owner can not be identified but are still covered by copyright.

I do not measure success with money.

Unfortunately, in this culture, the realtionship between success and money is often very direct.

First of all, money, in the larger sense of having enough resources, is essential to success. That's the idea behind all those wonderful microcap funds for developing nations.

Back to photography for a moment: Back in the 70s when I was in the business, I employed eight people and had this very big lab which included a color enlarger that cost several thousand dollars. I would not need that today and I could probably get by with less people, which means that my costs
would be lower.

Satisfying costs drove the business into areas of incremental income that had nothing to do with the core business. I sold advertising specialities and that led us to doing small ads for some customers on a piecework basis. None of this was very creative and not only were we not really making any money, no one was having any fun.

So I shut it down. And I have done very little photography since then because it is just too expensive as a hobby.

And, at the risk of sounding cynical again, I've noticed that your sexual attractiveness seems to rise in direct proportion to how well you dress and how many assets you seem to have. Not that I'm complaining.

As for the "dead works" you mentioned Joi, the Library of Congress is taking comments and Canada already has a workable plan which will probably be the model for the one here. I think that this will cease to be a problem in the future, although we might be as much as five years from actual implimentation.

But it is easier to adopt something like that than it is to change the entire international structure of copyright and IP law. And quicker. :)

If we replace the term "amateur" with something like "independent" "non-commercial" or even "informal" it might get at some of the positive dimensions of what is often labelled as amateur cultural production. I believe that there are unique social dynamics and value in intellectual and cultural production that is not completely driven by the bottom line and nurtured in a flatter, more peer based social structure. Of course, there are downsides to it, ie "lack of professionalism" "lack of discipline" all the things we associate with the derogatory use of "amateur." And I do understand that in many cases amateurs really are seeking professional status and income and are not just happily basking in their non-commercial status. Part of the difficultly is in ranging across many different types of people and practices. Comparing the amateur/pro relation of entertainment media and sports is really different from something like cooking and gardening, which in turn is different from open source coding and wikipedia.

This is a very local example from my professional world: at a workshop I helped organize on academic uses of social software, we had a break out group where we discussed academic blogging. I had gone into the session thinking it would be a gripe session about how blogging doesn't get any respect by the academy and doesn't count for tenure and promotion even though it is important intellectual work blah blah blah. But something that my blogging senpai, Seb Paquet and Alex Halavais, brought me around to was the idea that there is value in the informal sphere that is separate from professional accreditation mechanisms. In other words, that at least for some academic bloggers, the value in the practice is precisely because it operates with a different dynamic than the official, professional knowledge economy. As soon as blogging becomes part of professional academic practice, that informal exchange will likely lessen, and we will get more people gaming the system, just like we do with journal publications, citations, authorship order, etc. Now this example is clearly assuming a certain amount of existing professional status and privilege, but I would imagine that there is an "amateur" facet to many professional worlds that has some inherent value.

I would think many a profesional started as an amateur, doing exactly what many profesionals acuse them of: copying. But even world famous profesionals remixed what was allready out there [andy warhol, tiesto] And a profesional compagny like Nike uses the street as inspiring input for there new clothing. It is realy an old fashioned idea that profesionals create our culture, and therefor may claim and copywrite all they do, see or steel. Where as, if you are a realy good artist in what ever field, you will be paid or find your way in making a living. Also, i think it is needed for the profesionals to give up there reather egocentric way of dealing with this discusion. The brougther view is: do we want to live in a free and creative society, and what is needed to esteblish this society. I would think stimulating creativity for profesionals and semi-profecionals, and para-profesionals, and beginner-profesionals and yongster-profesionals, alternative-profesionals, amateur-profesionals, human-profesionals....all citizens alike.

Now, how could Warhol have made his Campbelsoup artwork if Campbel would have insisted on there copywrite to it?

this link say a lot about the hole discussion of monopolies, copyrights, "amateurism",1412,66926,00.html

Time to split a few hairs I see.

From my study fo copyright law I get the following:

If Campbell Soup had had a design copyright on the soup can at that time (This is a recent addition to the law, so they didn't), Warhol's work would have been perfectly permissable because it was "commentary" or perhaps "parody". Besides, Campbell's sold soup, not paintings. Their economic interests were not at hazard.

It is alwaays about either the money or control of the work. Either way Campbell's Soup did not suffer a loss. (Yes, I know you can argue the reverse, but let's not go there just now).

Flash: Every professional was, at some time, an amateur. In Germany they licence professions like photography and you have to attend a three year school to be able sell your work. (This may have changed in the last 34 years, but it was the case when I lived there.) The school taught you the craft. Not the art. That can't really be taught.

Most of that knowledge has been rendered obsolete by the digital age. People starting in photograpgy now need not learn the mysteries of the photochemical emulsion, nor learn how to make the perfect black and white print Their loss, by me, because that journey is as exciting as the destination.

So let's talk about "remix". It is fairly damn obvious that any bit of art or creative text must refer to previous work simply to be understood. That is no excuse to be lazy about how you do it.

Warhol's soup cans were hailed as a political commentary on consumer culture, as his photosilkscreens of Monroe and Mao were commentary about the celebrity culture. They were common, accessible and, at the same instant, highly original through the visual rhetoric they employed.

A neat trick, if you can pull it off. It wasn't easy and there was a reason Warhol called his studio "The Factory".

So, once again, copyright is not about ideas, but about the expression of those ideas. The threshold for originality is very low. As I see it, you can "remix" anything without violating a copyright if you do it in an original way.

That's permitted under the law as it stands now, which means that we don't need to change that law to accomplish this.

The real trick is to get the new work noticed and accepted by the marketplace.

And if you are not selling the work, then you are producing self-indulgent twaddle that does not do the basic job of communicating the ideas you are trying to express. Selling is communication (and not the same thing as "selling out".) and the marketplace is the medium. (A small homage to McLuhan there.)

I do not think that access to "dead works" will automatically mean a renaissance of culture. Most of them are dead for a reason.

Now "Eyes on the Prize" is one such work that can't be viewed anymore because of copywrite issue's, though it is the most important documentary about the fight for freedom of black america. Due to copywrite isssue's its a 'dead' work, but by no means, is its content dead.

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