This article was published on January 31, 2011

Should art be free? Francis Ford Coppola says, “Maybe…”

Should art be free?  Francis Ford Coppola says, “Maybe…”
Courtney Boyd Myers
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Courtney Boyd Myers

Courtney Boyd Myers is the founder of, a transatlantic company designed to help New York and London based technology startups gr Courtney Boyd Myers is the founder of, a transatlantic company designed to help New York and London based technology startups grow internationally. Previously, she was the Features Editor and East Coast Editor of TNW covering New York City startups and digital innovation. She loves magnets + reading on a Kindle. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter @CBM and .

Francis Ford Coppola was just 30 years old when he reached Hollywood success and fame with Godfather.

In a recent interview with the 99%, at La Mamounia, the legendary Moroccan palace-turned-hotel, during the Marrakech International Film Festival, Coppola candidly discusses his past 45 years in the film business and his latest endeavor as a wine maker.

My love of film and wine aside, what is most intriguing in this interview for you, dear TNW reader, is the radical stance Coppola takes on issues of art creation, copyright and rampant downloading. When asked how an aspiring artist bridges the gap between distribution and commerce, Coppola answered,

We have to be very clever about those things. You have to remember that it’s only a few hundred years, if that much, that artists are working with money. Artists never got money. Artists had a patron, either the leader of the state or the duke of Weimar or somewhere, or the church, the pope. Or they had another job. I have another job. I make films. No one tells me what to do. But I make the money in the wine industry. You work another job and get up at five in the morning and write your script.

This idea of Metallica or some rock n’ roll singer being rich, that’s not necessarily going to happen anymore. Because, as we enter into a new age, maybe art will be free. Maybe the students are right. They should be able to download music and movies. I’m going to be shot for saying this. But who said art has to cost money? And therefore, who says artists have to make money?

In the old days, 200 years ago, if you were a composer, the only way you could make money was to travel with the orchestra and be the conductor, because then you’d be paid as a musician. There was no recording. There were no record royalties. So I would say, “Try to disconnect the idea of cinema with the idea of making a living and money.” Because there are ways around it.

Many people will react first by saying, well it’s quite easy for a man as wealthy as Coppola to be so cavalier about the future of art in the digital realm. In fact, one Gizmodo reader commented, “Wine making is an art to many people…I think I’ll find his vineyard and “download” it all into a truck.”

His stance is still refreshing and it raises plenty of points for discussion. As a society, we pay for live performances. We pay for concerts, while we download albums on P2P networks. We may for movies in the theater, while we often download them illegally at home. We pay for original art, but we rip off copies on the Internet and recklessly re-purpose unsourced images. Drawing lines around these practices is as difficult as defining art itself.

If we don’t pay artists, what will modern art look like? It’s impossible to have music, paintings, sculptures, theatre and film without some form of money because people can not live off of hopes and dreams. I don’t see a return to the patron model occurring in this government or the next. And with our education still in a state of despair, it’s hard to imagine too much money being funneled into the arts from private institutions.

Might art become a publicly traded commodity? Something we could buy stock in and watch grow and all take ownership in? If so, how will this affect the quality of it? And wouldn’t we still have the same problem with students downloading something they don’t own?

A film can be extremely expensive to create, requiring costly equipment and significant manpower even on the independent level. But the best films are wildly enjoyable and shouldn’t we pay for enjoyment much like we do with food, wine and other forms of pleasure? A musical concert is expensive to produce, but some of the best memories of my entire life were created at live concerts. I won’t pay more than $100 to see anyone other than Radiohead, but I have little issue shelling out $20 or $30 for an inspiring evening.

But when it comes to file sharing and MP3s, the kind of theft that burns people like Metallica’s James Hetfield, it’s just too easy and too small of a file to swallow the cost of $10 or $20 to pay for an album’s 18 tracks. Granted that album took quite a bit of money to make too, but its size and accessibility makes its downloading widely acceptable. This very point is why companies like Spotify and Rdio are hitting the mark- offering up free and freemium models with subscription services for users to access nearly unlimited music across all of their devices.

Are there different levels of creation and invention? Perhaps some that are worth paying for and some not? My last proposal and point of discussion is, what if we could pay artists based on their art’s value? Contributing to society in a positive way a la musicians like Bon Iver, groups like Artists Wanted and actors like James Franco translates to cash value; others like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Michael Bay, not so much.

But until the day when we have karmic currency and live in a free love society, it seems like we’ll have to pay, even if in just little ways to keep art alive. What do you think the future of art will look like?

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