Philippe Aigrain is a man with a plan. His aim: to legalize the free online sharing of creative works, while empowering artists and audiences on the internets. He lays everything out in the book Sharing, which you can read all about on its very comprehensive website.
Firstly, if you’re one of the people who still thinks unauthorised copying of copyrighted works is Bad and should Stop, you should read the book. But beyond a case for the legitimacy of online sharing, there’s a well-conceived strategy for the future.
To nutshellise – Aigrain wants two things:
- to remodel the tumultuous high seas of clandestine file sharing into something like the Pirates Adventure Castle Activity Centre, a wonderful place where everyone is safe and free to share and preserve our culture
- to reward and invest in artists, respective to the level of accessing of their works. To finance this, he proposes a universal flat-rate contribution which differs from a tax in that it’s not state administered. The money is then distributed by agents directly responsible to the contributing body: the users.
Now, my main gripe with this system (next to the mandatory lame knee-jerk reactions like “this’ll never happen!” or “hey take your mitts off my $5/month”) would fall under item #19 in the FAQ chapter: In the name of commons, you are monetizing the non-market.
It’s obvious that the new system will skew the behaviour of independent internet artists 1 who now have an extra incentive to compete for stats and exposure. To some this may not sound all that bad; however, there’s a difference between quality and marketability,2 and I for one do my best to avoid the hype.3
Moreover, there is the skewing of user behaviour. Aigrain splits internet users in two large categories, both of course beneficiaries of the right to share:
- voluntary – these people allow their usage to be anonymously tracked. This means their every action plays a tiny part in who gets funded. My first objection here is people will limit their choices – why take chances, when I can stick with my favourite guys and do my best to reward them? Remember, downloads are what count: this isn’t last.fm where your plays are counted – in fact, Aigrain makes a point of keeping the private usage of the files out of the system.
- involuntary – their preferences are extrapolated from the voluntary users, plus the stats provided by sharing hubs. It may sound like the pressure’s off for these guys, but the thing is, it’s important that group #1 is significant in size. People have to care, and to contribute – otherwise the results will be subject to uncertainty and fraud.
My point is, there’s all sorts of added pressure on the average user. The beauty of laissez-faire sharing in its current state, clandestine as it may be, is you’re free to experiment as long as you carry your part of the load.4
This obviously doesn’t mean the status quo is fine. There are laws to be remade, rights to be recognized and upheld, and new ideas to fight for. Whether we need a new universal financing system remains to be decided, and it’s up to us not to let the big players decide in our stead. Meanwhile, keep swashbuckling.
- I use this term in the loosest possible sense ↩
- Speaking of which, I was reading the other day Lauren Redhead’s blog where she touches on neoliberal subjectivities, basically the weight that entrepreneurship carries in being (perceived as) a successful artist ↩
- “Good thing you started a blog then, eh” – Hey fuck off, this blog is 99% hype-free! ↩
- I’m thinking here of P2P systems like BitTorrent, whose decentralized and participative nature seem to make them better for democracy and diversity than top-down streaming sites like Youtube, as Aigrain also observes. This would be a whole new discussion, one that I’m pretty interested in. ↩