How Art Can Be Free: Digital Revolution, Crowdfunding Render Copyright Obsolete
Bestselling author Aaron Pogue is publishing the third book in his successful fantasy trilogy. Given the excellent performance of the other books in the series, this book, The Dragonprince’s Heir, will sell thousands of copies in its opening week and has the potential to make as much money as the first two books put together. None of that is what Pogue wants you to know about the book, though.
“I want to donate this book to artists everywhere,” Pogue insists. “The first day The Dragonprince’s Heir is available, I hope that it’s in the public domain. Just like the first two in the series.”
What makes a successful author, one who was only recently able to quit his day job as a technical writer, give away the ownership to an intellectual property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars?
For Pogue, it’s the belief that copyright is a concept that has outlived its usefulness. “Those rights could have made me a fortune. A single movie option could make my non-profit arts foundation a fortune. But we're passing up that opportunity in search of something better.”
Copyright is Copy Wrong
Pogue believes that copyright has become a tool for exploiting artists. He says it’s time for a cultural revolution where art is valued as art and not as a commodity, but not at the expense of artists making a living.
“Art gets its value from being shared. By keeping art hidden, copyright has become an artificial, ugly, and ineffective thing. It was necessary for a while, but the low production costs and easy market access of digital art changed everything. We have the opportunity to bring back patronage. A new patronage opens new opportunities for art.”
It isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Pogue is already bringing this “new patronage” about with his non-profit arts organization, the Consortium.
The Consortium Model
The Consortium is a non-profit organization comprised of schools and students that will produce art for the community, all while making a decent living. Pogue believes the key to this model is a reinvention of the patronage system that succeeded during all four centuries of the Renaissance.
For anyone unfamiliar with patronage, Pogue has a quick history lesson. “Back then, the nobility and the very rich kept artists on staff. The artists composed beautiful music, created breathtaking paintings, or wrote classic books which their patrons then gave to the world. Much of what we consider culture today was created under this model.”
“But we don’t need mega-corporations or multi-millionaire Medicis anymore,” Pogue says. “We just need art lovers to support an organization like the Consortium so that the Consortium can support artists.”
You can read a more detailed explanation of how Pogue will use the Consortium to bring the plan to fruition. But so far, the model is working. As the organization’s president, Pogue is the Consortium’s first paid artist and also the main source of financial support. The first two fantasy novels in his bestselling Dragonprince trilogy have sold thousands of copies and made a tidy profit. This profit has been invested back into the Consortium to launch the successful publishing arm of the organization, Consortium Books.
“Right now I have 30 dedicated and hard-working volunteer artists,” Pogue said. “They’ve made it possible for us to publish seven writers in addition to myself with over 100,000 book sales across 15 titles in the last year. That’s commitment, and it’s success. But it isn’t our ideal. Not yet.”
Kickstarting the Ideal
Pogue believes that if artists were paid a decent salary for making creative works initially, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about intellectual property law and copyright. That’s all he expected from Taming Fire and The Dragonswarm, the first two novels in his trilogy. Once each title made $30,000, he authorized the Consortium to release them into the public domain.
Even Pogue was surprised how quickly his plan flourished. “I thought it would probably take 10 years for Taming Fire to earn enough that I could release it into the public domain. It didn't even take 10 months.”
As of this month, Taming Fire and the The Dragonswarm are both dedicated to the public domain. The Consortium has released them under the Creative Commons No Rights Reserved license.
But Pogue wants more for the third novel. He wants it to be in the public domain from the first day it’s published. And he’s turning to cloudfunding website Kickstarter to make it happen. For the month leading up to publication, Pogue is using Kickstarter to raise the $30,000 necessary for the Consortium to secure the rights to his novel without a single copy sold.
“This is an opportunity to make a statement, to participate in something new, and to show support for an idea that could change the world,” Pogue says. But he doesn’t want any confusion about what this fundraiser is all about. “I'm not asking you to contribute to the publication of a single book. I'm asking you to help make that book, that piece of art, belong to the world. Free and clear.”
How To Become a Part of the Revolution
Whether you are an art lover or simply feel copyright is no longer a useful system, the Consortium would appreciate your help. The easiest way to show your support is by purchasing Consortium art. The publishing arm is funding the organization through published works. The Consortium has both full length novels and short stories, both individually and in collections.