31.8.07

Bazaar Blanket - Blanket Licenses done right

Bazaar Blanket, a term I've just invented, is my intention to (re)define blanket licenses in a way that they might in fact work. For that matter I'm going to try to explain the concept of blanket licenses, what are the flaws of that licenses, and how could they work.

We're, fortunately, starting to hear about "Blanket Licenses" more and more, specially related to the music world. This is a concept that appeared as a way to redifine copyright and its issues. As you surelly know piracy is growing more and more, and while we're allways listining that "piracy is bad", "piracy is wrong", there are two statistics that should not be ignored: for one people are listening to more and more varied music, and seem to be more interested in music and art in general; on the other hand most people who practice any form of that so-called "piracy" don't consider or feel that they are doing something wrong, even if they know that they're doing something that society says it is wrong. So, copyright might be outdated (I believe it is, and I may talk about that later, but that's not the point of this article). But do we really need copyright? Some people thought that, while the concepts behind copyright might be good (I say might because you have to believe that copyright is aimed to give financial and moral retribution to artists) they also think that the actual scenario is wrong, with big corporations get the big stake of the profits and the control of the art without being really involved in the process, while artists win nothing but exposure with the deal, and consumers are treated as criminals (and these are really the two parts related to the art itself). So, they think that all this mess could be solved with a "blanket license": people pay a fair fixed price per month and have the right to have access to any form of copyright material they want to (legalizing the big bulk of p2p traffic that entities like RIAA or MPAA want to anihilate). Those same people usually point out uniquely one downside of this: its implementation would have to allow the perfect calculation of what content and how many times is being transfered, as a way to pay for the copyright holders for it, and that's difficult.

Now my part: I've allways said that I don't agree with blanket licenses, which amazes many people. Here's why: I don't believe you could implement a fair blanket license.

First, you would have to force people to pay, or they wouldn't. See, I pay my water bill, but if I don't I'll stop having water at home. Now, if you would have water in the pipes anyway, do you really think that people would pay for the water? Notice that we're talking about the same people that many times can buy the music they're downloading in an online shop, but they don't. Of course that you can avoid that and do what some countries, including Portugal, do with physical media: every CD, DVD, hard drive, pen disk or other physical media they remembered of pays a "copyright tax", so everytime you buy a CD-R you're paying a copyright fee, and every time you're buying a CD burner you're also paying a "copyright tax". The problem here is quite obvious: I never burnt on my CD/DVD burner any CD-R or DVD-R with copyrighted material without permission, but still I payed that tax, and I don't like it. So, if you force people to adhere for that blanket license and pay for it, is it really good?

Then, the question of retribution: how can you see which copyright holder gets 100 and which ones gets 10? Thinking that you can implement such scheme is completely ridiculous: that doesn't even work (nor is fair) in radio station licenses, where there's a similar scheme implemented, with the particularity that it is a closed environment (one entity to pay to, one list per month to report to that entity, each licensee needs to give that list). But let's look wider: if RIAA can't stop (and is avidly trying to) piracy, do you think they could do the tracking necessary (basicly the same) to make blanket licenses fair, specially when they're getting their money anyway (so they don't really get any monetary benefict in doing such an effort)?

So, how to fix "blanket licenses" and turn them into something praticable? Welcome to the "Bazaar Blanket". First of all, this is almost a request for comments, this ideas I'm writting aren't really well defined. This is something that must evolve until reaches a state of "full praticability", meaning that it must be in a way that it turns out to being the obvious way to lid with this matter. Also, I know quite well that this is almost "radical", utopic, and I know that the actual copyright industry would never let such thing to be implemented.

Abolish the concept of copyright. Copyright is outdated. Copyright doesn't work. Plus, copyright isn't needed, at all. I'm starting with this so you understand from the start why I say that the copyright industry would never accept this: without copyright there's no copyright industry. But that's exactly the particularity of abolishing copyright that makes that abolition necessary. See, to get the most of art, you need artists that are free to be artists, and you want that anyone, in any case, can get access to art. Societies without art do not evolve (I really should put a reference here, but if you fuss a little you'll find thousands of resarch papers telling you this). Copyright could be defined as the process of putting barriers between the artists and the general public, so, as we don't want barriers, we don't really want copyright. Oh, BTW, abolishing copyright is what I'm really calling "Bazaar blanket", since it solves everything.

Let me explain. The first issue I pointed out to blanket licenses is that people would be force to aquire such licenses. Well, without copyright they don't, no copyright means no need to have a license that lets you have access to the content. The second issue is that artists should get money fairly. Well, paying for the art is a astonishing concept that we're forcing to accept, but I defy someone to really understand and deffend it. See, I understand that artists should get money - I really do, and I want that they can get that money with this Bazaar Blanket, but if you can reproduce something tending to the infinite with a cost tending to none, then the price of the thing you're reproducing tends to none. Damn, I'm listening to an awsome music that I didn't pay nothing for, and I'm not taking nothing to no one while doing so: this CD was bought by a friend that lended it to me, but since there's nothing like "while you're listening to it I can't" (remember, the reproducing cost is virtually none) I'm not priving anyone of anything. So, should music be free? YES! That doesn't mean that artist shouldn't make money. See, there are physical costs with being an artist. For instance, I'm listening to a CD, and while the music in it does not have costs, the CD itself has. As going to a concert has. As a DVD has, as a book has. You don't need copyright to be able to sell stuff if you abolish stuff. Plus, you stop having to worry to who deserves more money. Pick Don and Joe. Don has a musical project, makes some gigs and people dig him, he records some CD's at home and do some nice DIY packaging for them, with some photos and an autograph, he goes to the next retail store with 50 CD's and sells them to the store so the store sells those CD's. He's making money. No copyright - no rules - no laws - he makes money and all this is legal. Jon though "hey, that's easy money!" so he decided to make something simillar but since he doesn't know nothing of music he skips the concerts part, and just into recording a CD. He makes 50 CD's full of, er, grunts and burps and tries to sell them. No one buys, of course. This is the Bazaar Blanket.

Bazaar Blanket - a concept disruptive and caustic, but fair and praticable, more than Copyright. Just so far from the actual reality that most people won't get it. What are your thoughts?

9 comments:

  1. Ok. Let's go through one point after another:

    First, you would have to force people to pay, or they wouldn't. See, I pay my water bill, but if I don't I'll stop having water at home. Now, if you would have water in the pipes anyway, do you really think that people would pay for the water?

    First of all, the thing you seem to miss is that blanket licensing will come sooner than you think. Next month, some chinese universities will start working with Noank Media. There's a big problem, though: in order to work, the system requires a centralized architecture.

    There's a plugin that gets integrated in all media players. This plugin counts the number of times that a track from the authorized catalogue gets played. So, what is tracked is not the number of downloads per month but the number of times that the tune is played.

    Besides, the amount would have to be so small that anyone would be morally complied to pay - say, between five and ten euros. Peter Jenner has been saying that this is more than enough to compensate all the artists and authors.

    BTW, I also believe that it should be a voluntary initiative and not compulsory.

    But let's look wider: if RIAA can't stop (and is avidly trying to) piracy, do you think they could do the tracking necessary (basicly the same) to make blanket licenses fair, specially when they're getting their money anyway (so they don't really get any monetary benefict in doing such an effort)?

    Well, as to this I think that the tracking should be done by a neutral organization or eventually even by a public-funded entity, so that all possible suspictions of fraud could be wiped out.

    Bazaar Blanket - a concept disruptive and caustic, but fair and praticable, more than Copyright. Just so far from the actual reality that most people won't get it. What are your thoughts?

    Well, it seems you're thinking in similar lines with Rasmus Fleischer. He is totally against a blanket licensing or content flatrate:

    “Content Flatrate” and the Social Democracy of the Digital Commons

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  2. Miguel, first of all, thanks for the reply.

    I know that blanket licenses are starting to appear, I just think that they are not a sollution. As you said, Noank Media's sollution has also technical problems, and I think that you only talked about the tip of the iceberg in relation to those problems. But yes, the fact that the system requires a centralized architecture is enough, since that would put the sollution anticonstitutional, for instance, in Portugal (privacy concerns).

    How small is small enough? When everybody has music for free, do you really think that people will gladly pay 5€ per month? I believe that it is more than enough to compensate all the artists and authors (if you manage to reach them and give'em the money). What I don't think is that people will choose to pay them, and you'll have the "fight against piracy" to go on, disguised as "fight against non-blanket payers".

    A neutral organization or eventually even by a public-funded entity to track to whom the money should go? Look at nowadays "neutral orgaziations" and public-funded entities, and tell me if you believe that it would be a good idea... Anyway, conceptually it might be, but you still have one problem: to get a way to track art consumption.

    Thanks for the reference to Rasmus Fleischer, I'll check it out. BTW, what is your oppinion on his ideas?

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  3. What I don't think is that people will choose to pay them, and you'll have the "fight against piracy" to go on, disguised as "fight against non-blanket payers".

    Well, I believe that the proportion of non-paying users will be neglible because of the trade-off between the incentives to pay (unlimited downloads at an inexpensive price) and the disadvantages of not paying (ie, the fear of prosecution and also the feeling of shame due to the disregard of an established social convention - "everyone" agrees that artists must be paid)

    Thanks for the reference to Rasmus Fleischer, I'll check it out. BTW, what is your oppinion on his ideas?

    Well, I think that he is, in a certain way, right. But exactly because of what I've just said above, that there's a common conception that art must be valued, that musicians must be paid and etc, I think his vision is way too much utopian and anarchist to get a wide adhesion in a short-term.

    I agree that this issue about blanket license is just a short-effect palliative for the broader problem that is the way that culture is regarded in today's society, the lack of support of young artists full of inovative ideas. But we have to start somewhere, and although I think that something like Creative Commons only serves to empower copyright and the culture industry, on the other hand I see blanket license as a reasonable and sensible temporary fix for the bigger problem.

    To sum up: there's a general notion that sharing music and movies is not imoral and should not be illegal, but at the same time public opinion believes that artists deserve to earn something from their work. If we could reach somekind of agreement between all the involved players, that would be a huge step.

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  4. "How small is small enough? When everybody has music for free, do you really think that people will gladly pay 5€ per month?"

    What about something like the TV tax in Germany? You have a TV at home (any kind), you pay TV tax. You have a radio, pay radio tax. You have something that plays music, pay the music tax. 5 euro. Done. Here's your flat-fee 5 euros taken from you by the government.

    And on other subject, Marco, what do you think when Charlie gets access to one of Jon's CD's, makes 50 copies, and sells them himself, making his own money and giving none to Jon. Is it ok for you to have Jon getting 50 additional potential fans even though Charlie is the one making money?

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  5. Miguel: I read the article, and you were right, he's of the same oppinion as me, and also seems to think that the solution is to abolish copyright. I agree that blanket licenses (or something simillar) might be good steps, but they're not the solution.

    Bruno: that tax is similar as the CD-R's tax I criticized (and explained why) in my post. Do you find anything wrong with my thoughts there? (I'm asking honestly, as I said I'm still _thinking_ about this issue, without a final and formal oppinion). Your next question is quite polemic, but I'll have to answer a round yes. Without copyright, anyone can use any form of art and use it for anything, including remixing and/or selling it.

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  6. gauthma9:59 PM

    Have you seen the lecture where Stallman talks about copyright? He is not as radical as to say that copyright should be abolished, but he does give some ideas as how to turn it into a better system (namely reducing its ridiculously long time span). Also he makes a distinction among several types of content.
    With regard to the Bazaar Blanket, if I understood your point of view correctly, you're saying that what should be charged is the cost of medium, right? In other words, artists should only charge for covering their expanses (the "physical cost" of being an artist). I do not know if this is exactly what you had in mind, but that's how I interpreted it. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
    Lastly I think that the last question, of someone making money by selling someone else's music, is wrong, and should not be permitted (note that this refers to verbatim distribution, not derivative works). Maybe that's a situation in which a copyright law of sorts might be suitable?

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  7. I know Stallman's ideals about copyright, but I don't really think as him: IMHO the purpose of copyright never was what he seems to believe. Anyway, my idea is that having a copyright system - any at all - does not work, since you're treating art as goods.

    Regarding to the Bazaar Blanket, what I'm saying is that it's not the art that should have a cost, but what you do with it. In other words: recorded/printed/physical material have a cost, a concerts has a cost, merchandise has a cost, everything around the music itself has a cost. If you think of the music industry nowadays, you'll that there's already a lot of business being done with everything around the artist, besides the art itself.

    Lastly I think that the last question, of someone making money by selling someone else's music, is wrong, and should not be permitted (note that this refers to verbatim distribution, not derivative works). Maybe that's a situation in which a copyright law of sorts might be suitable?

    I don't see why shouldn't it be permitted: it already is for content in Public Domain, for instance, and I don't see it working bad...

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  8. > Bruno: that tax is similar as the CD-R's tax I criticized (and explained why) in my post. Do you find anything wrong with my thoughts there? (I'm asking honestly, as I said I'm still _thinking_ about this issue, without a final and formal oppinion).

    It's nothing related to the CD tax in my opinion. The CD tax is a way for you to pay the illegal things that you might do. My "tax" is a way to pay to use a service called "listen to music", anywhere, anytime I want. The same way I pay tax for public TV and Radio, and by paying the tax I'm allowed to see TV and listen to radio anywhere I want.

    The reason your "blanket" doesn't work is because it rely on technological solutions, which are impossible to implement. A "plugin for media players" ??? are you joking? Will it be windows only or what? And what about hardware players? what about off-line devices? etc. etc.

    So my proposal is simple - have a music player, pay the tax. Have this money go to a common organization that redistribute the money to the artists (how? good question). With this tax you're allowed to listen to music retrieved from wherever you want - copies from your friends, recordings from concerts, all. Then on top of this the artists can make additional money by charging entry fees to concerts and by selling CDs (where the CD price is the cost of manufacturing the CD plus a percentage).

    What do you think?

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  9. The reason why I don't like the CD tax is exactly that it's taxing for something you "might" do, and more, if you do it you're doing something still illegal!

    Notice that I don't agree with blanket licenses, but with a bazaar blanket. Blanket licenses "doesn't work [...] because it rely on technological solutions, which are impossible to implement", and that's exactly one of the reasons why I think a bazaar blanket is needed.

    So my proposal is simple - have a music player, pay the tax.

    So, you pay more if you have more music players? What if I only want to play my own music, why do I have to pay for it? Nah, it's the same problem that the CD taxes...

    Have this money go to a common organization that redistribute the money to the artists (how? good question).

    That "how" is another reason why I wrote Bazaar Blanket. I think you should re-read the article... ;-)

    It seems to me that you're more in tune with me than you imagine...

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