New thoughts on copyright

Submitted by martha on September 10, 2010 – 5:15pm

A year after my appearance at the National Copyright Consultations – we continue to be stuck within the paradigms of the past. Thanks to some who continue to push me to work harder and challenge my thinking about the digital realms (thanks Mark Hosler, Lewis Hyde and Scott Nelson) I have come across something that I must repost in its part from Alan Toner’s blog KnowFuture. I met Alan last year at the Open Video Alliance in NYC. I’d love to invite him to Vancouver to help us move the paradigm – if anyone can think of a way to do this let me know. Here is what he has to say in part about the future of funding creativity.

The Model

Our proposal would function as follows. Each individual would have $200. That $200 would be derived either from a new tax, would replace existing monies given out as cultural subsidies by the state (where that is significant, thus not in the US), a tax deduction (such as 501(3)(c) contributions currently function), or from rebudgeting (from the military, prison or immigration services for example).

1. A portion (eg 20%) would be disbursed for the funding of a public infrastructure in the form of theatres, cinemas, concert halls, games halls, rehearsal space, instruments, tools, technology. The manner of allocation could be either (a) the state (b) an elected local committee (c) individuals. One could start with (c) and take recourse to (b) and then (a) where people were unwilling to take the time to perform the decsion making.
Preferably this infrastructure would not be under the aegis of the state but would be composed of people in the locality. Existing cultural spaces could also apply for a direct allocation.

2. The second and most important component is the direct allocation of cash by users to cultural producers. Our estimate is that this should account for 75% of all monies. People would be free to give their cash to anyone who registered as a cultural producer. It is important to underline again that the allocation of funds is entirely down to the free will of the user-donor and is in no way determined by what one actually consumes . Obviously this encompasses all existing professional and semi-professional practitioners, but could just as easily include the four sixteen years playing punk music in the garage at the end of the street, the weblog writer, the independent film maker…..

Such openess renders the system as described vulnerable to manipulation and gaming, as a result of which we propose the following.

(a) Threshold
Setting a minimum threshold of donations that must be superceded before the cultrual worker can get access to the money ensures:
(i) That schemes such as ‘I’ll give you my $140 if you give me yours’ are foiled.
(ii) That the amount of money is such as to actually allow the recipient to take some time free from work, purchase necessary eqipment. Where the individual to whom you make the donation fails to reach the threshold, the money could either:

(a) go into a local infrastructure fund either in the area of the donor or the disappointed recipient.

(b) go to a second order preference.
Choosing a basically arbitrary figure, we would propose $1000 dollars as a reasonable threshold to set.

(b)Income Ceiling
Recipients would be obliged to reveal their income from the system over the last year so that donors can weight their contributions equitably. Thus should one performer recieve 50 million, a potential donor may decide that her needs have already been adequately catered for, and to allocate the money to someone more in need.

(c) Anonymity
The means by which the transfer of the monies is to be effected must be anonymised, principally so as to prevent people from being able to make reliable agreements with one another. An architecture which facilitates easy breaches of promises also makes it more difficult to game.

(d) Distributed Sponsorship
Minimises determining power of any contributor, individual donations remain sufficiently small that they do not allow the tastes of the individual donor to determine the nature of the work crerated (unlike traditional patronage).

3. Randomness

everyone on the register, or
(b) everyone on the register who has not managed to supercede the threshold.

3a. The question as to whether an Arts Council style body would have any future in this paradigm is undetermined. Their may be areas, particularly those which lack a mass audience, which we as a group may decide should receive some financial support. It is difficult to predict what forms of self-organisation amongst cultural producers and users would result from a system of this nature, but they may be appropriate bodies to make such determinations should the public agree to the principle.

4. The quid pro quo for the user is that the cultual output of the recipients goes firectly into the public domain or perhaps a form of copyleft-like system (similar to the GPL). As a result there are no restruictions on personal use or copying. Users would also be entitled to integrate other people’s materials into their own works (referred to in copyright law as derivative works). The only requirement on a next generation user would be to acknowledge the attribution of the original work. This is how the free software movement works currently, where the names of each person who has contributed to its development is listed in the program itself. Such a requirement has other significance as we will see later.

5. There are alternatives available in terms of actually effecting the transfer of funds. Current regimes for the collection and disbursement of royalties rely upon collective rights organisations. These CROs have been criticised for the amount of the funds they absorb as administrative costs which amount to between 18-20% in the case of the United States. Furthermore, their allocational methods favour larger players in the market.

i. One possibility is to use systems based on the paypal or amazon mechanism to transfer the funds directly into a bank account established for the recipient. This could be implemented using the Trusted Third Party System common in public key cryptography. In this case, a bank account would be established in trust for the cultural worker, but she would not have access to the funds until a given set of criteria were satisfied. Under our model the first of these criteria would be the supercession of the threshold. Further requirements could be added, such as production of a given work by a specified date, or pending independent review by an agreed third party to verify the quality of the work.

ii. Another option is to license several CROs to carry out the distribution. They would compete with one another on several levels:
a) The level of transparency to the recipients and the public
b) The level of costs involved in their administration.
c) Differing mechanisms of allocating
funds to the different parties that contribute to a work. For example, one CRO could have a system whereby all of the funds contributed to a music group would go to the star lead-singer, whereas another would have an algorithm for paying session musicians, sound engineers, producers according a manadated minimum.

6. As was mentioned earlier, later creators are fully entitled to appropriate existing works for their own purposes, but are required at attribute their sources.

There are several reasons for this.

a) It allows users to modulate their contributions based upon who they feel to merit the cash. If Alice watches a film which she really hates, with the exception of a five minute passage which she loves and wants to support, then the list of footage with the respective creator attached allows her to make the contribution to the maker of that sequence rather than the film-maker, should they not be the same person.

b) In the transition period this would be particularly important, as cultural producers keen to commit themselves to the scheme will often find themselves integrating proprietary works which although they can distribute, they cannot agree to the re-use of. Such a taxonomy can make endusers aware of this and provide them with the necessary data to contact and perhaps make an agreement with the owner of the rights.

c) The list would also highlight the backend participation which may be relevant in the case of deciding which of several vying CROs one wishes to use to carry out the transfer of cash as was mentioned in 5.ii(c)

6.(b) Many cultural producers complain about the surreptitious use of their works by broadcatsers and other commercial organisations who do not remunerate them. Instituting such a practice of attributive lists would crete the opportunity to force commercial operators to do the same and account from where they derive their footage. Instead the system of credits is in fcat under massive pressure as broadcasters attempt to amximise their advertising time and install themselves as gatekeepers between the producers and the audience (as exemplified by their refusal to allow program-makers to include the URLs for their independent web sites).

From Cory Doctorow’s recent post in The Guardian. And if you want to find someone who supports artists, look at organisations such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who have advanced the cause of blanket licences for music, video and other creative works on the internet. As a songwriter, you’ll be familiar with these licences: as you say, you get 3% every time someone performs your songs on stage. What EFF has asked for is the same deal for the net: let ISPs buy blanket licences on behalf of their customers, licences that allow them to share all the music they’re going to share anyway – but this way, artists get paid. Incidentally, this is also an approach favored by Larry Lessig, whom you also single out as “ironic” in your piece.

It’s been 15 years since the US National Information Infrastructure hearings kicked off the digital copyright wars. And for all the extraordinary power grabbed by the entertainment giants since then, the letters of marque and the power to disconnect and the power to censor and the power to eavesdrop, none of it is paying artists. Those who say that they can control copies are wrong, and they will not profit by their strategy. They should be entitled to ruin their own lives, businesses and careers, but not if they’re going to take down the rest of society in the process.

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