The Free Lunch Manifesto

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2012 at 10:00 am

One of the features I regularly do on my personal blog is Radio Free Monday. All week long, anyone can submit a cause, news item, call for help, or “fun thing”, and I collect them up and post them every Monday to help raise money and awareness.

It’s discouraging sometimes, and sometimes it’s wonderful, and it’s usually exhausting. It wears me out. But…well, I can’t deny it keeps me on top of current events. After all, in order to vet everything I have to read everything and understand it, so I can put it into a three-sentence blurb format to pass on. This has done wonders for my ability to write concisely. I can jam more information into a sentence than most people will provide all day.

Lately I’ve been getting more and more information about copyright legislation, because of SOPA and PIPA and ACTA, because Congress now has the legal right to take works out of public domain, because Marvel Inc. sued Gary Friedrich for more money than he has and got away with it. Because YouTube is continually removing media that corporations claim to own without asking for even the slightest proof.

Artists are getting screwed left-right-and-center while trying to support themselves, and the corporations that license the art are making all the money. And the people who have the power to viciously, paranoidly protect their intellectual property are the ones who’ve already made their pile and are apparently afraid someone else might end up richer than them, while the ones who can’t afford to protect their work get it stolen or find it undervalued by corporations who are willing to pay artists less and publicists more.

I’m not someone who makes their living making art, and I publish my own work so I have no official dog in this fight, but it still worries me. I’m an artist, and most of my friends are artists of one kind or another. I worry that I set a bad precedent, making my work free, that I screw up their chances by encouraging people to loan my books and share my digital files and basically pirate me all over the place so that the idea of free art becomes normalised.

The thing is, I believe that artists should receive fair compensation for their work. I absolutely do. It upsets me that nearly nobody gets what their effort is worth these days. But I also believe that the lucky artists who have the means to be generous should be. And a lot of times they can’t because a corporation owns their art. Man, we are a mess.

I believe that because I make a comfortable living and write books on the side, I have a duty to make sure people who can’t afford my books still get to read them, and to encourage other artists to create transformative works if they’re inspired by my work. I learned to write by writing fanfic. I wouldn’t be a writer today if I had been prevented from using someone else’s brilliance as a guiding hand to explore my abilities.

A few years ago, when I was working in an office for the first time, I used to get emails sometimes about “free food in the conference room!” and be angry that I couldn’t leave my desk, that by the time I could the food would be gone. And then one day I thought about this and I realised, Jesus Christ. I make twenty bucks an hour. I can afford to buy my own lunch, and some people here make twenty bucks an hour and have three kids to feed as well. Only once in my life has there been a time where I couldn’t afford to feed myself, and that time is long past. Fate willing, it will never come again.

The lure of something that is free, the lure of something one can just take, is a powerful one, but I’ve worked, consciously, to remind myself that just because I can go take it doesn’t mean I have to. This has led me to the belief that I don’t need to have All Of Anything; I don’t need to vigorously protect my work, because I can afford to share it. When you step back from the worldview of desire, just a little, you come to see that about 99% of the world’s problems boil down to greedy people who don’t even seem to notice their own greed. Greed drives nearly every cruelty I see.

All it took was not eating a free lunch to get me to see this.

I didn’t sell my belongings or leave my home or do without anything I needed or even anything I wanted badly enough. I’m not saying we should renounce worldly pleasures; I love worldly pleasures. I think everyone should have them. I think everyone should have a roof over their head if they want one and food to eat, and more importantly food they like to eat. I think everyone should have access to healthcare, to books, to art, to travel if they want it.

And I think nearly everyone could, if the people who don’t need the free lunch would stop goddamn eating it before the people who do need it can have their chance.


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