This is a rough draft. I plan to revise it. Feel free to criticize it in its current form as well. I want to temper the idea into something worthwhile.
As we move into an age where information can, is, and will always be copied and shared despite the legal rights of its creators, I believe we have a duty to reconsider the way those laws aimed to protect those creators are formulated as well as the system of economics that serves to reward them.
Copyright laws were conceived in a time when scarcity was to some extent real and to a reasonable extent enforcible. It was used to insure that content creators such as recording artists, authors, graphical artists, and others could make a profit from their works. It was designed to create security in those jobs and the place they fill in the economic system.
I believe that system is broken. It’s not broken because anyone broke it. It’s broken because it’s old and the parts that it needs to run aren’t made anymore. With current technology, digital information, whether it be music, video, text, software, or almost anything that can be encoded into symbolic representations of any kind can be copied with great ease and efficiency. With current technology the same digital information can, is, and will be distributed throughout the entirety of the word wide web. The profit machine that once was is holding on in the same way that enough old machines in a factory in various states of disrepair can still compete with a brand new factory that’s still working on producing it’s manufacturing line. In time however, the old factory will face the inevitible. It will either have to upgrade its machines to compete, or shut down. Society has produced its new factories and is currently stocking them with equipment. What are we going to do about the old factories?
In real terms I’m talking about the music labels and film production studios and publishing houses that have failed and continue to fail to modernize their system of distribution and artist compensation to compete in the modern world of commerce. Jumping on the internet train and moving all their discs and cassettes onto the railroads of the web aren’t going to fix the problem either. They’re expecting to sell for the same amounts as they have in the past. Unfortunately for them supply has skyrocketed. Digital information is designed to be copied. It is nearly impossible, and very impractical to simultaneously distribute digital media and restrict its copying. To this end, even though the media industries of the past are seemingly holding on at present, I believe they will have to streamline and adapt if they want to continue to hold on into the future.
There is a big problem for the world at present with the way the old factories are scraping out their profits now. They’re calling in air support that they purchased with their profits from a few decades ago. And they’re using their private artillery to blow up other trains on the railroad of the web. In the process of firing these shots they’re taking out the tracks under the trains as well, disrupting the framework of the entire Internet.
Some shortsighted and angry train conductors are fighting back with low orbit ion cannons, trying to blow up the old factories in a dangerous and poorly conceived fight with an unfortunate amount of risk of innocents getting caught in the crossfire. Money is getting moved around and hearts are afire with anger at the bickering and real damage being done.
I don’t think that this is a realistic vision of the economics of the future, with people fighting to hold onto profits by using engines of the past and weapons purchased when their engines still turned a profit.
This is the future I see. I see the Internet, its railways undisturbed. I see trains flying all over the place, from any country to any country, carrying any content they please. The conductors themselves get to choose what they want to carry, and since it’s digital they can copy anything they’ve found or had shared with them. I see the artists with highly efficient, streamlined green factories, mostly self contained but sometimes built in affiliation with each other or in large groups banded together for the same purpose. Consumers at the various waypoints along the web can post money and payments to the artists they love in reward for and in hope of content yet to come. The good artists will get more payments, and more encouragement to keep creating. The part time artists might make a little money on the side. The big heartless factories have fallen into ruin, unable to compete without the demand for hard exchange and since they ran out of ammunition for their old guns.
Metaphor aside I want to lay out the basic idea for a new system of monetization for content creation. Fundamental to this vision is a rework of copyright law. The biggest change is that consumers become the ones with the “right to copy” rather than the creators. How could this possibly work and what motivation would the creators have to create you ask? Well, the creators do retain one very important right, attribution. Still, attribution isn’t enough motivation to work hard and create great works for the public, they’re not going to do it for pure adoration of their fans, they have families to feed! To this point I say, yes, so the consumers who love their work shall be given great tools to reward their favorite artists for making the things that they make. Fabulous you say, what’s the motivation to reward the artists if they can get a copy from their friend and the artists aren’t selling their works, but giving it away? A great point, but the artists won’t continue to work unless the consumers are paying. The consumers won’t pay unless the artists are working!
It sounds like a horrible dilemma until you realize a monetization framework has already been developed. Flattr is the first in what I see as the future of payment systems that are designed to allow users and consumers to reward creators for their work without the need to give money in exchange for it. Pay what you like systems have been pioneered by brave artists like Radiohead, Trent Reznor, Saul Williams, the Humble Indie Bundle, and many others. Still, these systems while moving in the right direction are focused around the idea of exchanging money for goods with the goods having already been produced.
The essence of the model I propose is that consumers will primarily be paying money to artists in exchange for having the artists make their art. It’s existed in a similar form for centuries in the framework of the comission. I believe that by using the internet and modern software to crowdsource the comission of art, we open up the doors to a whole new world of free creation and exchange of ideas not bound by the confusing and unrealistic legal system of the analog age. The potential to make huge profits exists, only of course if your art appeals to a great enough population.