As creative labour has been reclassified and flattened as 'content' and technology platforms have further controlled the flow of revenue in the creative industries, artists, creators, cultural institutions, policy makers and philanthropists have been playing catch up.
In this spicy in-person conversation, led by arts advocate Esther Anatolitis, Cory Doctorow and Rebecca Giblin took us on a journey through this 21st century creative landscape which has now been designed to separate creative labourers from the value they create at every possible point.
Drawing on their recent book Chokepoint Capitalism (Scribe 2022), Doctorow and Giblin spoke about what social, cultural and economic changes are possible and necessary to make a fairer future with more just and equitable use of rapidly advancing technologies.
This in conversation took place at ACMI on Tuesday 14 February 2023, as part of ACMI’s Future of Art, Culture & Technology symposium.
More recorded talks from the Future of Arts, Culture & Technology Symposium 2023
This transcript was machine-generated and published for search and accessibility purposes. It may contain errors.
Welcome once again to the lands of the Boon Wurrung, the Boon Wurrung and the Woi Wurrung Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. Their sovereignty was never ceded. We are on Aboriginal land in this particularly big year for recognising what that means. It is an absolute honour to be on Aboriginal land. Now so much to talk about tonight. Welcome everyone to the glamorous evening session of ACMI's superb Future of Arts, Culture and Technology Symposium. Hashtag ACMI Symposium. That's a lot of characters but I'm sure we can get that in there. Look point capitalism, Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow in conversation with me. I'm Esther Anatolitis. I am delighted to see so many of you here this evening and for those of you tonight on Valentine's Day who've brought a bit of someone special here tonight, don't feel awkward. It's our first date too. So let's get right into it. First of all, a great big welcome for Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow. The Financial Times called it nerdy, sharp, radical and readable. The Saturday Paper called it an important and powerful book. Douglas Rushkoff called it infuriating yet inspiring and The Guardian called it evocatively gruesome because smashing capitalism is not a clean affair. A book that never lets the reader off the hook in pushing us towards action. So let's take a journey through our 21st century creative landscape as the ACMI blurb puts it whose systems have been designed to separate creative laborers from the value they create at every possible point. We're going to have a conversation about power, about individual power, institutional power, collective power, creative power and how it works because seeing all the responses to your book so far. I'm just going to slightly wriggle forward so I can see Cory as well and maybe Rebecca will slightly wriggle backwards and then yeah.
Do you want me to shift forward as well? Are you good? I can do that. No, no, no. Bit of shimmying. Are we sufficiently shimmied? I think we're good. Wriggled into place. Because I'm seeing a consistent thread of responses to your book about the importance of the action chapters. So we're going to spend a fair bit of time on that as well. And you're all going to have some questions as well. As you know, the time in conversations like this just flies by. So have your questions ready when it's question time. And as we all know, a question is when you pose something for these guys to answer. It's a very succinct thing and it ends with a slightly higher tone. Sort of like that. Questions also have one part, not two parts. And we will heckle you if you ask a bad question. We will totally heckle you. All right, let's get into it.
Let's start with capitalism. So politicians and captains of industry of all stripes like to kind of, you know, market capitalism as this lovely, perfect thing of open competition and just, you know, ease of access for everyone. But as we know, it is, you know, a little bit faulty and really quite, you know, quite a total failure. Choke points that throttle artists as these two characterize in this book, which all up really exposes the big lie that we don't have competition, fairness, open markets, et cetera. So my first question to Rebecca and then to Cory is pick one of the lies of capitalism and tell us how it impacts on artists. Rebecca. I'm just waiting for the next special edition of Meanjin. Capitalism a little bit faulty. Look, the big lie, I think, or one of the many big lies is the idea that capitalism is all about competition. And indeed, that's what we're told. Like it is central to it. That's the whole premise on which to make it work. But at least for the last 40 years, what we've seen is people systematically set out to eliminate that at every possible place. And that, you know, they're not even shy about talking about it anymore. Peter Thiel comes out and says competition is for losers. The orthodoxy taught in business schools is don't make something. Don't provide a service that people need. Doing that is going to only get you regular rich. And the way people work is that they see somebody who's richer and they want that instead. And people have got really freaking rich. And so people want to get dumb rich. And the way you get dumb rich is you take a market where there's buyers and sellers, and you distort it into an hourglass shape where you've got the buyers at one end, the sellers at the other, and you squatting predatorily at the neck where you get to mediate access between the two and by doing that, squeeze out far more than a fair share of value. Ouch.
Cory, what's one of the big lies of capitalism and how it affects artists? So we underwent a real phase change in how we think about competition and antitrust as a kind of West, started in the US but spread to Canada and the UK. And Cory, I'm just gonna jump in. For the Australian audience, what is antitrust? So antitrust is the American 19th century term for competition law. There used to be these things called trusts. So you would have these rail barons or coal barons, nothing that Australians would be familiar with clearly, who would decide that competing with one another was very wasteful. And so what they would do is they would put all of their businesses in a trust, and then they would sell shares in the trust to each other. They would allocate shares to the trust in each other. And what you'd end up with is one kind of mega firm. It would look like there were lots of different companies that you did business with, but it turned out that they all had a common ownership. It's a bit like when you go down the grocery aisle and you have all these products down one side, all these products down the other side. And if you pick up any of them and you stare closely enough at the label, you'll find that they're all either made by Unilever or Procter & Gamble. And if by some incredible chance some dude in a leather apron in St. Kilda makes a biscuit that people really like, one of those two companies is gonna buy this guy's biscuit company. And when they do, they're gonna say, well, we bought it because we know our customers value choice. It's that Duff Beer, Simpson's Duff Beer Brewery Tour where there's like 11 different vats of Duff Framboise and Duff Bok and Duff Light, and they're all being fed by one tube that's just squirting out into all of them. So this is antitrust. Antitrust is the idea that competition for lots of reasons, to make markets better, but also to make our politics better, is really important. And about 40 years ago, that changed. 40 years ago, a kind of conspiratorialist named Robert Bork, he's best known outside of economic circles for having been Ronald Reagan's... Or not Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon's Solicitor General, and whose crimes were so ghastly that when Reagan tried to put him on the Supreme Court, his confirmation hearing completely tanked for him. If you've ever heard the term Borked as a synonym for something that's going very badly, that's what it comes from. It comes from Robert Bork's terrible ghastly confirmation hearing. I thought it was a Muppet Show term. No, no, yeah. No, the Swedish chef has no nexus. It's a parallel evolution. I've had some really terrible job interviews, but that one always makes me feel a little bit better. It's pretty remarkable. So Bork had lots of very bad ideas, and also a kind of alternate history of antitrust. But one of the strangest ones, that when you actually expose people to it, they're like, wait, he believed that a kind of parallel might be... For those of you who've always been a little suspicious of chiropractic and weren't sure whether you believed in its basis, the one thing no one ever talks about is that the founder of chiropractic said that he received his wisdom about chiropractic from a ghost. Right?
Robert Bork had all of these economic theories, and in the end, they all boiled down to this Gnostic reading of the antitrust statutes that he concluded meant that the law said the opposite of what everyone had believed it said. He was just wrong as a factual matter. We can debate whether his theory was good or not, but he said that his theory also accorded with the law, which it didn't, just for avoidance of doubt. He just made up some stuff. You'd have to be sort of QAnon-grade conspiratorialist to actually read the conclusions that he found in the statute. And one of the weird things that he believes that no one really understands when we talk about economic orthodoxy and antitrust is he said that distributions didn't matter, that if the industry got bigger, that was all the matter, we shouldn't care about who got the money. So for 40 years, you may have noticed, we've been expanding copyright. It lasts longer. It covers more kinds of works. The statutory exemplary damages are higher in the U.S. It's $150,000 in civil liability and $250,000 in criminal liability per download. And the ease with which you can prove an infringement has only increased. And indeed, if you don't care about distributions, this looks like a win, because the first five publishers, four studios, three record labels, two ad tech companies, and one company that runs all the e-books and audiobooks in the world, they are richer than they have ever been. The sector is thriving, but in real terms, the incomes of artists have fallen, also proportionally. Artists are poorer. Their works are making more money. This is what you get when you say it doesn't matter who gets which slice of the pie. All that matters is that the pie gets bigger. And this would make sense if you thought that the reason that someone went and got a record is they really wanted to be sure that the shareholders of the record company were making as much money as possible and not that they cared about how much money the artist was getting. However, if you think that people care about this, then this is not a good economic theory. No, it's not. And in fact, the entire book and the first chapter in particular are full of these really curiously set out examples of exactly this kind of thing. It's kind of going to brace us off for the grim reading for the first few chapters, and then you get into the what are we going to do about it chapters. Oh yeah, we weren't expecting that, but we found out... Can everyone hear me okay by the way? Oh good. I'm a little bit haunted by...
We did an event in DC a few months ago, and Amy Klobuchar told me to speak up. I've never been told to speak louder in my life, and now I'm kind of paranoid about it. But the first chapters, I think we've been inculcated in this for so long. Cory and I have been, between us, have been working on these issues for decades, and we weren't expecting so many people to get back to us and say, I was so angry I started rage laughing. Because to us, this is just like, yeah, this is how it is. But yeah, if you do get to that rage laughing stage, keep reading because there is hope coming. I like that, rage laughing. Also a great Valentine's Day sensation. So let's talk about artists because something that the book does really, really well is set out, is characterizes what it means to be an artist in some particularly specific ways that are about power relations as well as about what it means to be a creator. But some of these problematic characteristics, the oversupply of creative labor, the fact that artists are always all too eager to work for less or work for free, reluctant to collectivize, and yet, as the authors note, when artists speak, the media listens, so there is a voice that is appreciated. So Rebecca, you do note in the book that choke point capitalism doesn't just refer to artists, but it refers to everyone from chicken farmers to professional wrestlers. So what makes artists different in this sense? Yeah, I think you answered a bit in the question. I work very closely with artists in a bunch of different fields, and they keep telling me, oh, but of course I would do it for free. And I was like, stop saying that. Definitely stop saying that for one thing. But look, we know there's been extensive literature in the field of cultural economics looking at the material conditions around creative labor. We know that creative workers will do that work for less than they'll do other forms of labor. And so an artist might paint a mural for less than what they'd charge to paint a fence. We know as well that due to the desirability of this, in many cases, this is a job that allows you to get some kind of intrinsic satisfaction. You don't need to go home full of hollow emptiness inside. And so under the system that we inhabit right now, the understanding is, well, you shouldn't get paid for that. We get paid to fill the hollow emptiness. So the more hollow emptiness you've got, the higher your salary is, which is why we give so much money to finance bros. It's the only way that they will do it. And even then, they still keep quitting and starting like, um, um, compulsive businesses. Hobby farms. Hobby farms. Well, hollow emptiness doesn't come cheap. They're all making scented candles instead of working in corporate law, right? And so there is a real desirability of creative work, which leads to an oversupply of creative workers. And then people just keep undercutting in order to be able to do it for close to free. And this is why we have things like creator unions, like the Screen Actors Guild, where everybody has to commit to a collective pledge to agree to collectively punish one another and be punished if you agree to work for below the union minimum. Because unless you have promised that, right, then you will do it. This is where we're at. This is where we're at. There's a term out of the sociological literature for this, which is vocational awe. And generally we talk about it in the context of people in the caring trades, teachers, nursery workers, nurses, library folk. You know, there's the kind of person who your boss can say to you, oh, right, you're going to go on strike and leave those people to fester in their own waste and get bed sores. You know, I'm cutting your pay again. And let's see who blinks first. And this is why in those trades this occurs a lot. I would say that artists have a particular vulnerability because of the stories we tell about how art is made and how artists should present themselves. So we've always been told, or we have been told for the last several decades, that art is an individual thing, that we are creators who create from the whole cloth all on our own every time. And so, you know, music comes from your soul and not from the music you've already heard. Books come from your imagination and not from the books that you've read and so on. And artists are expected to kind of act as though Brahms' first isn't really Beethoven's tenth or that they didn't notice George Lucas stealing all of those scenes from Kurosawa or that Edgar Allan Poe didn't invent the mystery story with Murders in the Room organ that we're all writing Poe fanfic whenever we write a mystery story. That we're supposed to be individual creators. And so, you know, in the last decade or two there's been a movement, Creative Commons, you know, remix culture, to take back that idea that art is a collective endeavor, but only in the creation and not in the economics.
In the economics we're given this bargaining right copyright and we're told that we are to be out there being entrepreneurs of the portfolio, right? That you are a small business person who should go and stand before Rupert Murdoch and say, this is my demand for my copyright and if you don't meet my demands I will find, I guess there's no one else, but I will do something if you don't meet my demands. And so, what we've seen is that artists as individual bargainers are grossly outmatched and moreover because the default response we have whenever this goes wrong, which it does all the time, is to increase the copyrights with which artists have to bargain, is that those copyrights and the power they confer are transferred immediately to these larger firms. It's like giving your bullied kid extra lunch money. There's no amount of lunch money that's going to get your kid fed. What it might do is make the bullies rich enough to run a national ad campaign saying, think of Australia's hungry school children and give them even more lunch money. But it's not going to get your kid fed. And so, what you see and we detail in the book is that these firms as they amass these portfolios of now like effectively infinitely long-lived copyrights, the three labels that control 70% of all the music copyrights which endure for 90 years, which might as well be forever, because no one listens to 91-year-old recordings. They can use that to structure the future of the industry, which I'm not going to get into the eye-watering detail yet, or possibly not at all tonight, you might have to read the book. There's a term out of the finance industry, MIGO, which stands for My Eyes Glaze Over. It refers to a prospectus that's performatively thick because people who see something that thick go like, oh, a pile of shit this big probably has a pony under it somewhere, and they go ahead and invest. There's a lot of MIGO in our book, a lot of MIGO in the way the arts industry works. Well, we unveil the MIGO. We unpack the MIGO. We dig under the shit and it turns out there's no pony. There's no pony. Spoiler alert, no ponies. But Spotify, in short, Spotify is owned by the labels, and it's owned by the labels because they had 70% of all the copyrights. And then they structured it so that Spotify would pay as little as possible to artists because as co-owners of Spotify, money paid to artists is not money that they get as dividends that they can give to their shareholders. And there's some great detail in the chapters on precisely that, which is just fantastic.
Cory, let's zoom out to the markets and tell us about the distinction between monopoly and monopsony and why this is important to consider. Sure. Yeah. I mean, monopsony is the kind of little brother of monopoly. No one knows the word because there isn't a family destroying board game with that name. But monopoly is buyer power. And I'll say like as a technical matter, if you're just like going back to the Greek roots, I know it's the second largest Greek city in the world. If you're going back to the Greek roots of monopoly, you're going, oh yeah, one seller. Well, monopoly isn't one seller in the economics literature. Monopoly is like a seller with market power, a seller who can set prices and people have to take them without having to negotiate. Monopsony is when that power is with a buyer. You see it a lot in labor markets, right? If it's a coal town and there's one business in town, they have a monopsony. They get to buy the labor of their workers at whatever they're offering and the laborers have got to suck it up or starve. It shows up a lot in supply chains and supply chains are very sensitive to it. A monopolist has a hard time getting market power until their market share tips over to a really appreciable fraction of the whole market. A monopsonist gets market power at like less than 10% of the market. Yeah, we looked at that one example of Melville House. So this was back before Amazon really achieved anything like the supremacy that it's got today. And they set out, they created something called the Gazelle Project, which is exactly what it sounds like. They set out systematically to go after the weaker publishers, shake them down for more margin, i.e. cut them away from the herd and use that margin to sort of feed back into this in order to then go after others, right? Like a cheetah hunting a sick gazelle in the internal memo. Yeah. They put that in writing. The only part that the lawyers didn't like is the name. They were fine with doing the thing. They were just like, don't call it that. We might get in trouble. They never got in trouble, but Melville House... Like premeditated murder. Yeah. But Melville House resisted, right? They were just like, we cannot go on giving you the margin that you asked for. We need a better deal. And Amazon just instantly retaliated, cut away all the buy buttons from their books. So severed the Amazon stream of customers for all of their books. And at that point, I think they only had about 7% of Melville House's market. But the margins and the economics of publishing are such that because there was no replacement for those 7%, you couldn't get another 7% somewhere else. That just made it completely unfeasible for them to keep going. And so they had to capitulate, right? In order to keep going. So a tiny, tiny fraction of a market share. Even if there's even five buyers, that's already such concentration that there is buyer power that allows this sort of squeezing to happen. And I mentioned Robert Brooke before, part of his orthodoxy is that the only time that regulators should bestir themselves to take action is if prices are going up or quality is going down because of market power. And he says that they should be silent on questions of returns to the supply chain going down, wages going down. If wages are going down, that just means that the firm has found some new efficiency that they can pass on to their customers. This is called the consumer welfare theory. And under this idea, if the less workers get paid, the better it's working. Yeah. But then if you think about it, right? So okay, so you've got your price at the checkout and maybe that's not going up, although as we show in the book actually it really does. They just try and make sure that it's not directly linked to the stuff that they're pulling. But even if that price does stay the same, if you're getting squeezed as a worker and you're getting that downward pressure on your wages, you've got less and less ability to buy the goods and services that you need, which has exactly the same effect as if they just put the prices up. Which is extraordinary. And of course, what we've experienced in Australia the last decade where we now know that the previous government had an explicit policy of keeping wages stagnant. And that with all the research that happens around out of savage incomes, they have not budged since research was first undertaken in the 80s. It is just extraordinary.
Now, gosh, reading the book, there is quite a catalogue of all the different ways that culture is locked away from us. But interestingly, a lot of the choke points that are identified are also, as we're saying, oh, about capitalism, they're also lies. Tell us, Cory, about how the algorithms aren't actually looking at us in a particularly strategic way but are simply disguising what the seller wants. Sure, yeah. I mean, let me start by saying that I'm skeptical of the discourse around algorithms that says that Mark Zuckerberg invented a big data mind control way to sell your nephew fidget spinners, but then Robert Mercer stole it and made your uncle into an anti-vaxxer. I just think that everyone who's ever claimed to have built a mind control way was lying to themselves or everyone else or both, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary measures. And it's likely that maybe your uncle was a racist even before he got on Facebook. I just think that we have to be very careful about what Lee Vensil calls crit a hype, which is when you have someone who declares themselves to be an evil wizard, and you go, oh my God, guys, there's an evil wizard. They like being evil wizards. I think we can call them mediocre monopolists instead. Maybe the reason that you're on Facebook isn't that Facebook has built a mind control way that hacks your dopamine cycle. Maybe it's because they took all your friends hostage. If you leave Facebook, they won't let you send messages to it. It's not for any technical reason. You can send messages to Facebook from not Facebook. All it takes is them opening up a gateway, which they won't do because they want to have a walled garden that's really a prison. So all of that said, there is a thing that these content moderation algorithms do and search algorithms, all of these algorithms that order material and order the display in which you get information, is they enable these two-sided markets, these platforms, to enact something I call the 'enshitification' cycle. So in the enshitification cycle, you first need to rope in users or customers. And so you allocate all the surpluses to them. So when you show up on Facebook, what you mostly see are the people you follow on Facebook. What could be better than hearing from people that matter to you? So you're getting all of that. When you first start on Amazon, when Amazon first started, if you searched for product, it would show you the product. Google used to put at the top of the search results the thing you searched for. So this is allocating surplus to users. So the users show up and they get locked in in some way or another. Maybe they do all their shopping on Amazon, which means that their local businesses stop existing. So now you have to do your shopping on Amazon. Maybe you become acclimated to searching on Google and it just becomes a habit. Maybe all your friends are on Facebook. And so you have to be on Facebook. And you can't all organize to go somewhere else for the same reason. You can't all figure out where to go for dinner except squared and cubed because it's thousands of you and not seven of you. So you're locked into Facebook. So now they can take some of that surplus. They can allocate it to business customers that might be performers. So if you're on YouTube, now they're suggesting your videos to other people. They're charging low commissions. They're giving you a share of the ad revenue. If you're on Facebook and you're a media brand, they only require that you put a couple of sentences from your news story and then a link so people go visit your website where you get all the ad revenue. Maybe if you're on Amazon, they're subsidizing the shipping. They're buying things from you at full cost but subsidizing the sales so that the consumer pays less than you're receiving. What a great business to be in. Amazon is just like subsidizing other people to buy your products. So all of this happens. You get lots of business customers and they get locked in too. And then once the users are holding each other hostage and the business customers are being held hostage by those users, then we enter a terminal stage in shitification, which is when the surpluses are taken from users and business customers and reallocated to shareholders. And so the first five screens of an Amazon search are 50% ads. Amazon claims to have a $31 billion ad business. It's not ads, it's payola. They charge businesses to show up at the top of your search result even if they're selling the thing you searched for. And if they don't win the auction to be at the top of your search result when you search for the thing you search for, then you don't see their product. You see one of your competitor's products. It was quite extraordinary capture.
And Cory has set this out in a recent essay called the Enshitification of TikTok, which talks a great deal about the fact that things shouldn't last forever. Some things should die and there should be ease of exit, which I think are two really important criteria and things that we really should be advocating for. And I think also, I mean, reading through the book, the internet itself, so zooming right out now, and the way that it's becoming this kind of artifact of capitalism is a huge concern. It's a major protagonist in the book, I think. And there's a passage that I want to ask Rebecca about, where they talk about the internet and say that there's yet another reason that every artist and every worker needs to be concerned about how the internet looks. A centralized internet, instrumentalized for total surveillance, is a death knell for all justice struggles, but a pluralized, decentralized, human-centric internet is a place where workers everywhere can organize and fight back. So how does this book help us come into our powers, Rebecca? Do you know what I'm remembering is there was an example where Amazon went into a podcasting play, right? And its terms of service banned any podcast that was critical of what it was doing. And that just hints at the danger, right? If we allow the public square to be controlled by these companies, we give them control over our speech. They're deciding what we say, and they're deciding if our attempts to organize get heard. But we don't have to let this happen. And this is why it's so important to fight for a free and open internet. A free and open internet, among other things, means one where your attempts to reach the people that matter to you can get through, right? It's absolutely critical because without that we've got nothing. And I think as well our power in thinking about how do we actually change things here? What is the crux of that? And that's something that people keep asking us. And they ask us, what can I do as an individual to make this better? And our answer is that there are no individual solutions. The thing that you can do as an individual is to join a movement. Because the same way that the fragmentation of artists and atomization and individualization that manifests in being told you've got this copyright that you need to individually bargain for, you can't assert that against a big company and expect any kind of change in your material conditions. It's the same for all of us. There's so many people who come to us and say, oh, I feel so guilty. I use Audible or I buy things on Amazon. I feel terrible. Guilt and shame are paralyzing, right? We don't need to be paralyzed and we don't need to be wasting our time on that. We need to be accepting that the reason why we use these services is because very, very smart people have invested often billions of dollars in making sure there's nowhere else for you to go. What we have to do with that energy instead is we have to mobilize. We have to understand as well that we're part of the same fight. That it's not just artists' rights that are at issue here and not just the question of can artists get paid? We are all increasingly struggling under these changed economic conditions as growing concentration of wealth and accumulation of wealth means that there's less and less for the rest of us.
Jamie Boyle, who's a law professor at Duke University, he tells this parable about how it used to be that there were thousands of individual environmental issues and they were not recognizably part of the same thing. There were some people who were really concerned about endangered owls, some people who were very concerned about the ozone layer, but how are they the same fight? It was only really when the term ecology was coined that people came to recognize that it was part of the same thing. It used to be that productivity and wages tracked really nicely, but in the last 40 years in the US, for example, productivity has gone up 75%, wages have grown 5%. We are all being squeezed, increasing numbers of us are operating with these choke points, taking far more than a fair share, and we can't do anything about it individually. What we can do is we can demand change. Yes, we are so tired. There is just a tiredness, I think, that is palpable from all of the bullshit work that we have to do, all of the time we've got to spend on emails. All of, as Cory knows, I'm just constantly going on about the email situation, but I think others are there as well. We are glued and anesthetized by these black rectangles that again sap away our ability to fight. I think the starting point is for all of us who are tired and we are still fighting, it's just to continue building community, continue building local, getting people feeling connected to something because by being connected to something, you fill that emptiness that is a feature of neoliberal capitalism. It's not a bug. We are supposed to fill empty because we will fill that with ever more production and ever more consumption. Filling that with community is absolutely what we've got to be doing so that we can free up more energy so that we continue this fight. Then we've just got to be demanding that things be different, asking the people who are supposed to be accountable to us to be accountable to us and to do things differently. Absolutely. Because as tired as we all are, as tired as we all are, we know that we've also in the past got together and organized. We formed unions. We formed peak bodies. We've employed people who are also tired in those bodies, but the more of us are joining and strengthening those organizations, the better. Just on the point about being tired and feeling the shame and so on, I've been in a lot of conversations as have we all I'm sure about why do peak body and union membership numbers dwindle. It used to be before social media that it was communications from your community organization, your peak body, your union that made you feel connected to people who are working alongside you but in a different place. People who have something in common with you and social media has taken that as well. So that joining a union and getting that regular email, which probably sometimes goes into your junk mail, doesn't have the same feeling as doom scrolling does. Scroll till you feel something. We really need to win that feeling back, I think. Cory and then a question for Cory and then it's almost question time. Go Cory. Yeah.
Well, I want to quibble a little with that account. I think that actually the causal relationship is in the other direction because unions were in decline well before social media came in. I think it's much fairer to say that social media fills the vacuum created by the deliberate dismantling of unions through labor policy. We have an example in our book, David Goodman who ran the Writers Guild Strike Against the Four Hollywood Agencies, who talked about with a history of collective bargaining in Hollywood which is a super unionized industry. It used to be prior to Ronald Reagan that all of the unions, the craft guilds, the actors guild, the creative guilds, they would get together and they would bargain as a unit. They picked the weakest studio and they would demand the best deal they could get and then they'd go to the second weakest and they'd go, this is what this is the new deal looks like. Under Reagan they flipped it. Under Reagan the studio's bargain is a unit and the union's bargain is individual unions. They go to the weakest union, they get the best deal they can, they go to the next one. The thing is that the dynamic here, I believe in ideology. I think ideas are important but I'm also a materialist. There are material identifiable causal links that tell us where we got unions and what happened to them. It wasn't that the feeling changed. It wasn't a vibe shift. We used to put down rat poison, we didn't have rats. We stopped putting down rat poison and the rats came back. The causal link is very easy to understand. We changed the rules about who could form a union and what a union could do and the unions got weaker. I want to give you an example of where collective action works and how it works and how it works like on a technical level and how it works on a practical level. So Taylor Swift, we all like Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift was trapped in a bad relationship with her record label, her scumbag ex-boyfriend and some private equity ghouls that locked up her catalog. She quit and she went to Universal. She did some great stuff when she went there. She bargained for every Universal artist to get a share of Universal's income from Spotify. But the interesting thing about how she went from Warners to Universal is really important here because you've all heard about how artists don't own their masters, right? Musicians don't own their masters. Why Prince put the word slave on his face, right? Because he didn't own his masters. What that means is that the copyright and the sound recording, which is different than the copyright and the composition, the song itself, the copyright and the sound recording is owned by your label. But here's the cool and weird thing. Musicians performing each other's music is older than copyright. We have always, musicians have always performed each other's music. So when we first created licensing for live performance, that licensing was on a blanket basis. You could perform your songs or anyone else's songs. And when recordings came along after some important skirmishes, recordings operate on the same basis. When Sid Vicious recorded My Way, Paul Anka didn't have to give him permission, right? He just went and paid the compulsory license and he could record anything. So normally we think of this mechanical royalty, this compulsory license, as being the thing that lets you perform covers. But it also lets you perform covers of your own songs. So Taylor Swift, her deal with Universal was for her to cover her own songs, paying the same blanket license that you would pay if you signed a record deal and recorded Taylor Swift songs. What that meant is that she couldn't be locked in. Now here's a contrasting story. It used to be that sampling was a free for all. You could sample the same way that you could play a couple of bars of some important song in the middle of your jazz solo. It was considered to be something that wasn't copyrightable. We made it copyrightable. We created an exclusive right in it. We declared that with this individual exclusive right, musicians would be able to bargain for a better deal. It's not what happened. What happened is the labels just took all the sampling rights from everyone who signed a record deal and they ended up squatting on those rights and not negotiating with people.
So you may have heard that one of the founders of De La Soul died today. De La Soul, their music's not available for streaming. The reason it's not available for streaming is that none of their samples could be cleared. They recorded the music before you needed sampling clearing and they have languished in obscurity music that fans love, that the musicians love, that spawned generations of musicians who made more music than people love, was ripped out of our collective ability to see it. The first De La Soul album to go up on streaming is going up next month, a month after one of the founders of the band died. That's what happens when you bargain with individual rights instead of collective rights. Okay, so just the other week, Revive, the Australian government's new national cultural policy has been released. Basically, the policy is art is work, artists are workers, which replaces the previous policy, which is art is wallpaper, artists are wankers. So Rebecca, tell us how the new national cultural policy responds to or picks up on some of the themes and some of the issues outlined in the book. This smile on my face is the smile I had when I read it. You made that feeling where you're a little bit incredulous and you're like, something good happened. We were really hopeful that they wouldn't make things worse, but we weren't expecting so much good. It's the enshitification. We're in that mindset. Yeah, we've got a de-shitification happening, or it's been promised to happen in the Australian cultural landscape with almost $300 million of funding in the next five years. And so that's the main thing that we need. We need money, right? But the next thing that we need to do is make sure that that money reaches the right pockets. Because of course, there's tons of money already sloshing around in the culture industries, right? It's not that there's not enough money. It's the allocation of the money that's the issue. And so there's actually some lessons in one of the planks of the policy is to extend public lending rights, which are the rights to get money given to authors when their books are held by libraries. At the moment, it only applies to physical books. The government's promised after a long campaign to extend that to digital books. And what's terrific about public lending rights and what makes them the second most important source of income for Australian writers after royalties is that they attach to them as individuals regardless of who owns the copyright. So if you've transferred, you've given an exclusive license for the entirety of the contract, even if you're on a very small royalty, you're still entitled to a fixed fat statutory percentage of the public lending right revenue. And so that's the kind of intervention that we need. So we need to be thinking about how we do that in other areas so that we're not just giving the bullied kids more lunch money. And so there's some really exciting models that we can look at. So in Europe, for example, the 2019 digital single market directive, they created a mandate for transparency rights, for example, so that artists and performers in member states have got to have rights to find out how their works are being used, what revenue is being generated and how their share is calculated. This sounds like a really basic thing, right? We should absolutely have this, but we don't have it. But transparency is the key to so much, right? Who here has heard about the Audible gate scandal? Hardly any. And like you should all know about it and you should be incandescent with rage and we should be out fighting because of it. And this really quickly, the way that this worked is that Audible, which is basically the only way in many English language markets that people are accessing audio books, they had this system where they would only report to independent authors their net sales, right? And what that meant was their sales after returns were taken out. And they also had a policy, and those of you who've got Audible might remember this, is that you'd finished listening to an audio book and then you'd get a little pop-up that said, oh, hey, do you want to maybe return that? No questions asked. Or you'd get an email sent to you. Do you want to return that? You know, we don't ask any questions. You had a year, even if you'd listened to the book the whole way through, even if you'd done it multiple times, even if you'd been there for all of that time, you were encouraged to return the book. But what you didn't know is that Audible was then silently clawing the royalties back from the authors. That's why. And that's why they were reporting net sales and refusing to tell returns because it might be that your net sales, you sold 20 audio books, but actually you sold 40 audio books. And 20 of them were returned, and you've paid for Audible in an obvious way to lock in users and consumers so that your conditions are going to keep getting worse. And the only way... Authors were suspecting something was up, but they couldn't find out, and Audible kept stonewalling them every time they asked for information about this. And then one day, there was a data glitch, and three weeks of returns data showed up in a single day. And so suddenly people are like, what do you mean hundreds of books have been returned? And so that little bit of information is what gave them the ability to mobilize and to organize and to demand change. And just to be clear, Audible is a division of Amazon. Yes, yeah. Because you can't fight an enemy if you don't know what it looks like. And so we see that record labels complain bitterly about lack of transparency when it's... In their dealings with YouTube, they're just like, oh, we think that there's more streams than they're saying, and we don't think they're playing fair, and there's really no transparency around how the royalties are calculated. And I'm just like, yeah. It takes one to know one. You're so close to getting it. And okay, so transparency rights, really critical, but also minimum wages for creative work. In the EU, they've introduced rights to fair remuneration. Really excitingly, not only is the government talking about arts workers' real work, which is such a rhetorical shift, but they're also talking about looking at, with the review of awards, thinking about, are we gonna have an award for creative work? This is hugely important to put a floor there and not a ceiling. And what else is really exciting about those sorts of possibilities? What else are they doing in the EU? And reversion rights. Use it or lose it rights, for example. So if a publisher's got your copyright and they've taken it for a century or more, but they're no longer even using it, you should have a right to get that back, and you should be able to use it. Equally, term limits on copyright contracts, which already exist in the United States, in most cases you can get your copyright back 35 years after transferring it.
If we had an efficient system, not one that was so polluted in the political process that almost nobody has actually exercised their reversion rights, because you've got to stand in a meadow at midnight and hop three times on one leg while being surrounded by a circle of virgin maidens in order to actually exercise those rights. If we had a reasonable way of getting your rights back after that, say 25 years, which is what the economic modeling tells us is how long investors need in order to incentivize their investments, then we would stop things like the big three record labels being able to control the future of the recorded music industry by relying on their reservoirs of copyrights that were based all in the past. So it's like things that we can really do, and I would really encourage people here who care about this issue, send an email to the attorney general's department, say, can you have a look at this issue? We care about this issue. We want you to make an inquiry. Mark Dreyfus would love to hear from you. And the attorney general is also a former shadow arts minister. We're in this great situation at the moment where the arts minister is also the workplace relations minister and the leader of the house, and the attorney general is a former shadow arts minister. We need to make the most of this. Cory, in terms of some of the other aspects of what's suggested, I'm reminded of the excellent graphic review of Chokepoint Capitalism by Dave Blumenstein, which just came out today. There he is. Hi, Dave. I haven't seen it. Oh, it's really good. I should have provided the images. They would have been so big. Oh, I saw it. On medium. Yes, very good. Cory saw it. That leaves you behind the mask, doesn't it? Yeah. It's me, David. You are giving the thumbs up. Excellent. We've got the lights plus the mask, but yes, I thought that was Dave. And Dave makes a point that artists sometimes don't necessarily get around to doing the activism and things that need to be done. But one of the suggestions or one of the points that's made in the book is around a job guarantee, which is different to... We've been having a conversation kind of on and off in Australia about a UBI, a universal basic income, but you're talking about a job guarantee, which is a whole next step. What would that look like? So the job guarantee comes out of Modern Monetary Theory, MMT, which has a real foment here in Australia. The Gibbs Institute is a key centre worldwide of Modern Monetary Theory. And it would take a long time, probably longer than we wanna spend to explain all of it, but the foundational idea is that government's spending is not like household spending because governments are the source of money. And so the creator of money has a different relationship to money than the user of money. Starbucks can't run it of Starbucks gift vouchers. The Australian government can't run it of Australian dollars. What Starbucks could do is issue more gift vouchers and they have coffee beans. And what the Australian government could do is try to buy things that aren't for sale in Australian dollars and therefore driving up the price. But there's one thing that's for sale in Australian dollars unequivocally, which is the labour of people who live in Australia who don't have jobs. The true Australian minimum wage is $0 an hour. That's how much you make if you don't have a job. We could set a real minimum wage for work by having federally funded, locally determined job banks that guarantee a socially inclusive wage for every person as a basic entitlement. So not as a replacement for a disability, not as a replacement for mother's allowance, not as a replacement for any of the social programs that we have for people who don't or can't work. But for people who want to work, there will always be a job, including the job of learning to do one of the jobs that are available. That would be one of the jobs you could get. It would come with competitive benefits. It would come with paid vacation, leave, and all of the things that we want to see in a socially inclusive employment situation. This was done in the United States during the Great Depression. They created the Civilian Conservation Corps, who went around and built the national parks in the US. And they funded the Works Progress Administration, where artists like Diego Rivera, musicians, ethnographers went around America painting great works of public art, building tile murals, monumental sculpture, writing books, writing songs, collecting music. A lot of American folk music was collected in this way. And there is effectively an unlimited pot of money to pay for this work, so long as there are Australians who want to do this work. The money that the Australian government spends does not come from taxes. The taxes can't be collected until the Australian government has spent them. The way that the government taxes it annihilates money when it taxes it away. And the way that it funds programs is by creating money. The government can decide to tax as much as it creates. It can decide to tax some and then sell bonds for the rest of it. Or it can just deficit spend. It's entirely in the government's discretion. Sometimes it can do that in a way that is irresponsible, and sometimes it can do it in a way that's responsible. But don't ever let them tell you that somewhere in Canberra is a giant greasy pile of your Australian notes that are piled up and then distributed. It would be as though Starbucks was somehow sitting on a giant pile of used Starbucks vouchers. And the only way they could sell a Starbucks voucher is if someone had come and redeemed them. The way that Australian dollars come from someone typing zeros in a spreadsheet. Right, they do not come from your taxes.