I’ve come across the idea behind the title to this post many times in the last decade. I started out on this journey when I did a Spanish Publishing Master; was then exposed to the rough and tumble of one open source community; exchanged thoughts and emails with fascinating thinkers in the field; and remained, quite generally, an interested – though inexpert – amateur in the subject.
Yesterday, I posted a well-received article on the subject of the Guardian‘s proposal that traditional newspaper publishing’s business model should be sustained through a blanket broadband levy on all British Internet users. Lots of people have said far more complex and convincing things, though, about why such a move wouldn’t save newspapers or journalism.
I think, to be honest, unless – for some shady reason – government gets hooked on this idea, nothing further will be done.
I have thought for a long time, mind – not the the only soul to do so – that copyright is now the problem not the solution. But I’ve never really been able to put it into words (well, I have, but not widely broadcast words …). I’ve also kind of lost a friendship (not exactly, but you know what I mean – there now exists a certain distance) as the result of disagreements entertained on these pages and elsewhere, and in relation to the subject of the Internet and copyright abuse.
As always is the case, however, nothing is new. This was my idea from 2011 as to how to resolve the problem of creators needing a piece of the action, after subscribing to the Guardian‘s Kindle version. First, on the need to sustain plurality:
[...] we should want to make the Kindle experience conducive to plurality. For that is exactly what the Internet has provided us with over the past decade. If anything good has come out of the free-content era, it’s the broad access to multiple opinions that such a structure has provided. Unfortunately, all I can see on the horizon – if the subscription costs are to remain so relatively high – is that inevitable return to those silos of prejudice that traditional newspaper publishing used to imply.
If we truly want a plural press, we need a public which is truly exposed to a wide variety of opinion. If, in the future, I am only to blog on what the Guardian publishes, my blogging will be far the poorer for that. Yes, of course I can make a conscious effort to restrict my contact to social-media and non-mainstream content – but do I really want to do such a thing? After all, if any lesson has been learned since the News International scandal, it’s that social media needs a good mainstream media if it is to function at all well. Without the resources of a properly funded and properly plural professional journalism, blogging, tweeting and other social media activities will never reach the truths that need to be exposed. As an echo chamber, social media is absolutely perfect – as a revealer of dirty deeds, it lacks the money, the lawyers and the visibility to kickstart any serious investigation into the ills of the rich.
Then, to a possible solution:
Social media needs the mainstream media like never before. But not at £10 a month. Rather, £10 a month should buy a package of media which allows us to read as broadly and widely as before – yet this time contributing a little of our ill-gotten gains to ensuring the plurality we all must desire.
I’d suggest that such packages would not be based around the product from existing content manufacturers (deriving an access to everything from the News International stable for example) but instead be created around interest groups which cut across the walls media empires want to sustain: everything for political wonks would include the publications I mentioned above; science and technology fans could include anything from Top Gear to MIT’s bi-monthly publication; religious interests could be covered by access to a widerange of cross-faith publications …
Finally, to clarify the objective:
The list is clearly endless but the objective would be essentially didactic – a deliberate intent to socially engineer our thought by allowing the plurality of the press to be hardwired into our subscription systems.
But all of the above suggestions were still operating within the broad schemes of current copyright structures. And as such structures will predictably lead to the criminalisation of more and more people in the future, especially whilst copyright proponents continue to refuse to change their business models in line with already widespread behaviours, we’re obviously getting into a position where the state must equally invade privacy and citizen space more and more in order to apply the laws so many of them are clearly evading.
Where not avoiding.
Funny how the difference is allowed to operate only for the one percent – but not for your regular teen file-sharer.
Anyhow. In a comment to my broadband post yesterday, a fascinating link has been added. And listen to this: it apparently dates from 2003 – eight years before my own thoughts. The executive summary at the head of the .pdf in question can be found below:
The institution of copyrights has its origins in the feudal guild system. Copyrights provide an incentive for creative or artistic work by providing a state-enforced monopoly. Like any other monopoly, this system leads to enormous inefficiencies, and creates substantial enforcement problems. The size of these inefficiencies and the extent of the enforcement problems have increased dramatically in the Internet Age, as digital technology allows for the costless reproduction of written material, and recorded music and video material.
The artistic freedom voucher (AFV) is an alternative mechanism for supporting creative and artistic work. It is designed to maximize the extent of individual choice, while taking full advantage of the potential created by new technology.
The AFV would allow each individual to contribute a refundable tax credit of approximately $100 to a creative worker of their choice, or to an intermediary who passes funds along to creative workers. Recipients of the AFV (creative workers and intermediaries) would be required to register with the government in the same way that religious or charitable organizations must now register for tax-exempt status. This registration is only for the purpose of preventing fraud – it does not involve any evaluation of the quality of the work being produced.
In exchange for receiving AFV support, creative workers would be ineligible for copyright protection for a significant period of time (e.g. five years). Copyrights and the AFV are alternative ways in which the government supports creative workers. Creative workers are entitled to be compensated once for their work, not twice. The AFV would not affect a creative workers ability to receive money for concerts or other live performances.
The AFV would create a vast amount of uncopyrighted material. A $100 per adult voucher would be sufficient to pay 500,000 writers, musicians, singers, actors, or other creative workers $40,000 a year. All of the material produced by these workers would be placed in the public domain where it could be freely reproduced.
Under plausible assumptions, the savings from reduced expenditures on copyrighted material would vastly exceed the cost of the AFV. Much of this savings would be the direct result of individuals’ decisions to use AFV supported music, movies, writings and other creative work in place of copyright-protected work. A second source of savings would be the result of lower advertising costs, since much of the material used in advertising supported media would be in the public domain.
In contrast to copyright protection, which requires restrictions on the use of digital technology, the AFV would allow for the full potential of this technology to be realized. Creative workers would benefit most when their material was as widely distributed as possible. They would therefore have incentives to promote technologies that allow for recorded music, video, and written material to be transferred as easily as possible. By contrast, copyright enforcement is demanding ever greater levels of repression (e.g. restriction on publishing software codes, tracking computer use, and getting records from Internet service providers) in order to prevent the unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted material. The police crackdowns on unauthorized copying by college students, and even elementary school kids, would be completely unnecessary for work supported by the AFV.
A question of choice, then. A copyright killer which allowed normal copyright to continue. A choice in a world where choice has become mandatory. Re-engineering copyright without telling existing copyright holders “The game’s up!”.
What, if anything, could go wrong?
The arguments are – at face value – pretty convincing. So those of you who have a far better grasp of the implications – what are your opinions on this?
Footnote to this post: a tangential thought, but one that is coming to my mind more often recently. We are always being told – I say it myself – that overall the quality of journalism on the web and in society is expanding, multiplying and generally improving our lot. As citizen journalism begins to take up the communication reins and “professionalise” its own instincts, many feel the future will lie in a hyper-localisation of information gathering – perhaps aggregated, sorted and filtered automatically by tools such as Poblish.
But I do wonder if this perception isn’t an example whereby we look to a societal benefit and ignore an individual need. Yes. When burnout takes place, and an excellent blogger gives up the ghost, there will always be another excellent blogger waiting in the wings in order to spread his or her own.
And yet there is this question: what happened to our understanding that people – discrete and specific individuals, that is – matter just as much as societies? Why can’t an excellent blogger propose blogging to the end of his or her days?
Why, in reality, are we so very happy to accept what we might term the “wave of ants” approach to earning a living out of generating content?
That is to say, to put it crudely, that there’ll be plenty more fresh meat out there prepared to produce great stuff and work for nowt, in order that we might sustain what – individually – is unsustainable.
Society’s benefit isn’t the only criteria here. An individual’s need to earn an individual living surely should also count for something … shouldn’t it?