Blog / 2011 / A Business Model for an Artist Who Does Not Use Copyright

September 28, 2011

The number one complaint of artists who believe in copyright is that without it their work will be stolen and they will have a very hard time making a living. Disregarding for the moment the fact that it’s no walk in the park to make a living with copyright, let’s look at a business model that doesn’t involve copyright.

The artist begins their career in obscurity, honing a craft and making work that few people see. They are not making money from their work.

Slowly, the artist builds a following, showing more and more of the work publicly and beginning to make some money, either from selling work or from some other means related to the creative work they do.

One day, the following becomes a genuine fan base. At this point, whenever the artist wants to launch a project, they first turn to the fan base and asks for support. The fan base funds the project; the artist creates the work; the artist disseminates the work freely, without restrictions on use, commercial or otherwise.

The fan base that supported the project from the beginning still buys special edition versions of the media that’s being distributed freely because they love the artist that much. Additionally, more people become fans because the work is so accessible that it reaches many new audiences.

The artist continues crowdsourcing the funding for their projects. They probably get less exposure than artists who are promoted through the middle man of a media corporation (then again, only a very small percentage of creatives ever get the backing of those corporation and those who do are usually required to sign over the rights to the work to the corporations). That said, they are nurturing their relationship with the audience, building much stronger ties than are possible through a corporation.

The artist works in this way until they tire of the creative life.

bunny in a teacup acrylic painting
Gwenn Seemel
Bunny in a Teacup
2010
acrylic on panel
7 x 5 inches
(For prints and stickers of this bunny, visit my Redbubble shop.)

This is essentially what I did and what I’m still doing.

What’s more, though this business model involves a lot of hard work, it’s a whole lot easier than the other route, the one that embraces copyright. In going that way, an artist is gambling. The driving force in that career path is the fervent hope that one day the artist will make a work that everyone wants a piece of, a work that they can cash in big on with the help of licensing fees and copyright infringement lawsuits.

Learn more about questioning copyright by reading this book. For more about making money with art, check out this overview.

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