Tearing Apart the “Slashdot” Argument

Steven Poole, after licensing a PDF of a book he wrote under Creative Commons and tallying the donation results and revealing a 0.057% rate of donations, guts the Slashdot argument:

There does exist a proposal that purports to be of type a). I’ll call it, for short, “the Slashdot argument”. It says that books, music, films, software and so on ought to be freely distributed to anyone who wants them, simply because they can be freely distributed. What is the writer or musician to do, though, if she can’t earn money from her art? Simple, says the Slashdotter: earn your money playing live (if you’re one of those musicians who plays live),4 or selling T-shirts or merchandise, or providing some other kind of “value-added” service. Many such arguments seem to me to be simple greed disguised in high-falutin’ idealism about how “information wants to be free”. Perhaps it’s not empty pedantry to point out that “information” doesn’t want anything in and for itself. The information in which humans traffic is created by humans. And most information-creating humans need to earn dollars or yuan to survive. In any case, I think the Slashdot argument can actually be disposed of rapidly with one rhetorical question, as follows. Oh Mr Freetard, you work as a programmer, do you? How interesting. So do you perform all your corporate programming duties for free, and earn your keep by selling personally branded mousemats on the side? Didn’t think so.