Matter, Energy, and Life of Michaela A. Castello.

Bennet Lincoff’s Proposal Has a Familiar Stink

The Bennet Lincoff proposal has been getting a decent bit of play from the “copyright compromise” crowd, and advocates replacing copyright with a renamed “digital transmission right” that covers how digital files are used online. It’s voluntary, but the unspoken part is of course that if you don’t pay for a license, you’re operating illegally at worst, and immorally at best. The same old story with a different name, it’s all about control, and continuing to make money from past work indefinitely.

He describes his plan in excruciating detail, but the gist of it is this:

  • Rename copyright to “digital transmission right” so that it covers what people do with digital music files, transfer them around (sharing, streaming, etc.).
  • Have people “voluntarily” negotiate licenses to these rights with collection organizations, supposedly allowing users of decentralized sharing protocols to pay up.
  • Profit! Distribute money around.

Aside from reinforcing the idea that paying to use “rights” is somehow the morally white choice, it’s still yet another impractical attempt to make money off of the wrong thing. It’s based on fundamentally flawed ideas, namely that there is a an ownership applied to content in all forms, indefinitely, and that owners are entitled to financial compensation whenever and however their works are used. That’s not the way culture works; moreover, it’s a poor proposal for earning money. The “If everybody just paid $1, we’d have millions!” logic only works when “everybody” participates.

It’s impractical, because under Lincoff’s proposal, individual BitTorrent users would need to negotiate licenses with various collecting societies to “legally” share via the protocol. Music files would be encoded with “management” information, allowing an end-user software program to track usage and send data back to the societies. Like every one of these “solutions,” it depends on wresting control of the internet from the people,  compelling them to pay these licenses, to use this software, and so on.

It’s an inferior way for an artist to earn money, because as in all of these schemes, money gets paid out to artists based on popularity (determined from something like the aforementioned software). The collected licensing money is a finite number, which means that while each participating artist will get a certain percentage of the funds, the real dollar amounts will rapidly approach zero—a move that places new and independent artists at a significant disadvantage. Lady Gaga makes out great, Amanda Palmer, not so much. Of course, those who administrate the collecting societies get a cut no matter what, so no matter who loses, they win.

Like so many others before him, Bennet here wants to orchestrate a cultural shift that puts his rights-holding organizations back in control. These types of proposals are not solutions, they are desperate handwaving to obscure the fact that the economy has changed so that absolute control over digital content is neither possible nor necessary. Luckily, despite myopic proposals like this one, future-focused musical artists have realized that the best way to proceed is to ignore attempts to reform or enforce legacy “rights” and focus instead on providing a global fanbase with solid reasons to spend their money.

Crosbie Fitch, somewhat of a kindred spirit, evaluates the situation this way:

“[T]here is going to be a war of ownership for the Internet, i.e. between the publishing cartel, the state, and the people. The cartel wants to control the Internet whether through their amassed monopolies of copyright or outright ownership. The state also wants to control it and will be very happy for an excuse to tax its use. The people simply want to be at liberty to use it as they wish without having to pay for that liberty, either to publishers or the state.

Three powers pulling in three different directions: The Corporation, The State, and The Individual.

The corporation is an artificial construct of the state’s legislature. The state is an artificial construct of the people. All that remains fundamental to nature is the individual and their natural right and liberty to communicate.

I say the individual and the dissolution of privilege is the horse to back, the proper consensus. However, that’s not necessarily the most likely outcome. Either of the other two powers may well become ascendant, given the people are most pliant to persuasion.”

Crosbie Fitch, commenting on the a2f2a blog

…and that’s why I keep writing this stuff.

This post is also referenced on TechDirt.


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2 responses to “Bennet Lincoff’s Proposal Has a Familiar Stink”

  1. Crosbie Fitch Avatar

    A very familiar stink.

    Most taxes are ‘voluntary’.

    If you don’t want to pay income tax you don’t have to, you just have to ensure you either don’t work at all, or if you’re lucky, you’ll be allowed to work, but only if you do so entirely non-commercially.

    It’s the same with a communication tax. If you don’t want to pay it, you just have to ensure you either don’t communicate at all, or if you’re lucky, you’ll be allowed to communicate, but only if you do so entirely non-commercially.

    You have to wonder why these guys like Lincoff don’t realise that by pretending the tax they propose isn’t a tax they fall at the first hurdle in terms of winning people’s trust.

    A license implies that you shouldn’t sing someone else’s song, but paying a fee makes it ok.

    A tax implies that while there’s nothing wrong with singing someone else’s song, because the singer and songwriter would otherwise have such a hard time getting paid for their work, the nation should all have a whip round and collect a fund to pay these poor people (depending upon how popular their songs are).

    1. SteelWolf Avatar

      It also bothers me that proposals like this one are based on the false idea that you shouldn’t sing someone else’s song. Does this really make sense to people? It’s a shame what years of entitlement have led people to accept as true.

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