I’ve run across a couple podcasts this week promoting the radical idea that you should sell what you make.
Both Hansson and Lanier have contributed to the “free” culture but both are also critical of it. Hansson says he has benefited greatly from open source software and make his Ruby on Rails framework open source as a way to contribute back to the open source community. But he is also scathingly critical of businesses that think they can make money by giving everything away.
Lanier was an early critic of intellectual property rights but has reversed his original position. He says he’s an empiricist and that data have convinced him he was dead wrong. He now says that the idea of giving away intellectual property as advertising bait is unsustainable and will have dire consequences.
Giving away content to make money indirectly works for some businesses. But it’s alarming that so many people believe that is the only rational or moral way to make money if you create intellectual property. Many people are saying things such as the following.
- Musicians should give away their music and make money off concerts and T-shirts.
- Authors should give away their books and make money on the lecture circuit.
- Programmers should give away their software and make money from consulting.
There’s an anti-intellectual thread running through these arguments. It’s a materialistic way of thinking, valuing only tangible artifacts and not ideas. It’s OK for a potter to sell pots, but a musician should not sell music. It’s OK for teachers to make money by the hour for teaching, but they should not make money from writing books. It’s OK for programmers to sell their time as consultants, and maybe even to sell their time as a programmers, but they should not sell the products of their labor. It’s OK to sell physical objects or to sell time, but not to sell intellectual property.