spillover, arts patronage, and Linux

[Old post that I meant to elaborate on, but never did; seems worth pushing out now; maybe I’ll write more about it later if anyone finds it interesting :)

On the day before Christmas, I read a paper on ‘spillover’ by Brett Frischman and Mark Lemley. In a nutshell, the paper is an attempt to think about the value created when new intellectual property is created, but which for various reasons isn’t, can’t be, and/or perhaps shouldn’t be captured by making IP more like ‘real’ property. They call this additional value ‘spillover’- in copyright, an example would be the period after the expiration of the copyright grant or fair use, both of which represent value which (for various reasons) we don’t allocate exclusively to the original copyright owner. [Image of an arguably fair use; search for Koons in the linked article.]

On Christmas itself, Krissa gave me Marks of Opulence, a book about the ties between economic trends and art production. I’ve been plowing through it at high speed, because I’m interested in the links between the financing of art and the financing of free software- both of which are goods which aren’t as predictably monetizable as other similar goods (commercial buildings, for example, or proprietary software.) The book is rife with examples of ‘spillover’- first and foremost the centuries of art created primarily to further the ends of religion, which had unintended secondary beneficial aesthetic effects spilling over hundreds of years, which were not necessarily captured completely by the churches or their sponsors.

I don’t have any stunning revelations from these two pieces yet. But I think there are likely some good nuggets to be had. Spillover is where most of the value in free software is, obviously; we’ve put various labels on it- services, consulting, etc., but I like having one term- ‘spillover’- which covers all of it. Similarly, I’m pleased that there is a very long and distinguished history of great works created whose value was always primarily spillover- there was always, of course, a strong desire to own most of the great works, but other non-proprietary, non-commercial, and often irrational motivations have always played a part in sponsoring these works.

2 thoughts on “spillover, arts patronage, and Linux”

  1. I’m not sure where this fits, but the art model and all the others need to somehow account for people like my Dad. He’s a painter, been making art his whole life, selling some but not a lot, making his living (like many artists) teaching, but making art all the same. There’s lots of art like this. I think there’s lots of free software developed in ways that are analogous to this too.

  2. I think Platt would drop folks like your father in with the wealthy who draw/write- fairly rare in most of the time period he is writing about, but much more common today. (Whether or not your father is wealthy by our standards, he is wealthy by the standards of most of the period Marks of Opulence is about- he has access to tools, and plenty of free time to use the tools in.) Lessig is a more famous example of this- his tenured professorships allow him to give away his books. And obviously every college student who writes free sofware is in that category.

    If I recall correctly, Lemley doesn’t necessarily discuss this category of creators much, as those folks aren’t typically a creator of things that get spilled over- they tend to be more likely to creating pure spillover, or things which are so liberally licensed/unlicensed as to not have much spillover impact.

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