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Intellectual Socialism

How can information be free and at the same time properly reimburse the creators?

That’s a tough one. I’d rather propose an alternate system, take a look at its pros and cons, compare it to our own.

Let’s start with the notion that information wants to be free, that all we really need is a fair social system to support that. Looking at history, we realize that the current paradigm, where licences to information are sold and the information itself is the property of the creator, is not the only economically viable way to deal with the problem of things easily copied. A few hundred years ago, there were two main ways to have access to a piece of art, and both of them revolved around the same idea: commissions. Either one commissioned a piece of art and became its owner once it was produced, or some organization (government, organized religion, etc.) commissioned the work and placed it in an area accessable to the public.

What happens if we apply that paradigm to the modern world? Say someone wants a piece of software. They commission a programmer or team of programmers to produce that software for them, and gain access to it. The program source then falls into the public domain. The same applies to music, with the additional benefit for musicians that they will often get paid to perform the same song(s) over and over again, live, at various locations. Authors have a similar benefit: many people prefer to hold a physical book instead of reading the same work on the screen; books could be published as normal.

The primary reason that this will work is twofold. The first is that it solves the problem that we face now, that creative people are not being properly reimbursed for their work due to piracy. This is because they are paid, up front, by the people who want the work in the first place. The second reason the system will work is that creative people will create even when they aren’t being paid for their work. This is why some filesharing networks can operate entirely legally while at the same time remaining free: musicians who want to be recognized post their own music there in the hopes that someone will download it, like the band, contribute. Artists for ages have created beautiful work which wasn’t even recognized as great until after their deaths.

Now, where does this put the individual who wants some product, but doesn’t have the money to support a (musician|programmer|artist|etc.) all by themself? A new type of organization will have to be formed, in which individuals could contribute as much money or as little as they want to efforts which when completed would benefit them. They could contribute to an individual project, song, etc., or they could contribute to a particular band or author, or they could contribute to a genre. The organization would have to collect the money and decide how to allocate it. Once a collection of people had contributed enough money to fund a requested project, the organization would directly commission a team to complete it. From the other direction, if an artist had completed a project independently, he could submit it to a review board within the organization and be paid for his efforts from miscellaneous funds within the proper genre and category, in porportion to the quality of his work. The quality of work could possibly be judged by the number of people who accessed it within a certain duration of it becoming available to the public.

Now, this would change how certain industries would work. There would be less music produced and released on a wide scale, but the average quality of music would improve. The video rental industry would essentially die, except in areas where people had poor access to broadband internet. In general, there would be less cruft in software: as everything would be open-source, there would always be large numbers of interested people monitoring large/popular projects, which tends to improve efficiency. The recording industry as exemplified by the RIAA would cease to exist.

The movie industry would be hardest hit. Even though they would still have theater ticket sales to supplement whatever money they took from the regulating organization, the cost of movie production is sufficient that it would be very difficult for a person with ambition to produce a movie to actaully have his made. However, that’s essentially the case right now; it wouldn’t change much.

The biggest problem with this system is that it’s radically different from what’s in place now, and the people and organizations with the money to influence the people with the power to actually make the changes necessary to implement it, favor the way things are running now. In essence, it will only come to being with a revolution or the creation of a new nation; neither of those seem likely or in the past have ever been comfortable. The second biggest problem is that it would restructure the economy in deep ways; people aren’t used to thinking of anything as actaully being free, and would resist the changes because they understand how things work now. However, the fact that an industry is viable or profitable now does not give it a right to continue indefinately; superior technology (or in this case, a superior understanding of the ramifications of technology) will supplant every industry eventually, causing them to become obsolete. If this isn’t allowed to happen, the manufacturers of horse-drawn wagons could have stopped Ford, or the manufacturers of gas-light paraphenelia could have shut Edison down.

This solution isn’t perfect. However, it is more fair than the one in place now.

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