Shaenon K. Garrity (shaenon) wrote,
Shaenon K. Garrity
shaenon

Pixel-Stained Technopeasants

A whole bunch of LJ people are pissed off about this rant by a sci-fi writer no one's heard of, in which he complains that writers who post their work for free online are cutting into the livelihood of writers who try to make a living by publishing in print. Many people are declaring Monday "Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day" and vowing to post fiction in retaliation.

As dopey as the screed is--like sales of the latest China Mieville novel are going to be seriously undermined by my boss Harry Potter fanfic where Snape totally rides his own dragon--and as happy as I am to be a cartoonist and writer who works mostly on the Web, I find that I can't get too excited about actively campaigning for my "right" to provide people with free entertainment.



I'm feeling something akin to the split I felt when Time named "You," incarnate in the countless unpaid content providers on the Web, its Person of the Year. On one hand, it was great to see the contributions of creative people in a variety of online media recognized in such a prominent and positive way by the mainstream press, and a lot of the individual stories were inspiring. On the other hand, it seemed odd to cheer for the fact that most of these people don't see a dime for their work, while the people who have figured out how to exploit their creative urges rake in fortunes. "Here's to you, anonymous, unpaid video bloggers who earned $1.65 billion for the YouTube founders! Keep the free content coming so Google's stock stays up!" Um, yay?

The Web is a great place to share your work, and I recommend Web publication to just about everyone because I've had so much fun with it, but I also think there are a lot of young creative types online who have no idea how valuable they are. The smart and/or lucky ones have learned how to make a living and protect their rights (note, for example, Diesel Sweeties creator Richard Stevens's great syndication deal with United Media), but as Big Media becomes increasingly aware of the power and potential payoffs of the Web, I fear that a lot of people are poised to get screwed.

I don't want to be a technopeasant, toiling without reward in the shadow of the five media conglomerates that own everything. I want to be like the wandering poets in medieval Ireland. Poets of the highest rank were considered the equals of kings and bishops. A lord who hosted a poet was required to feed and provide for him, and if the poet was displeased with his treatment he could curse the lord with a powerful satire. Everyone feared a poet's curse.

I guess what I mean by that is: value your work, don't sell out too much for too little, and know who to get pissed at.

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