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The Basis for Micropatronage · Saturday August 01, 2009 by Crosbie Fitch

The idea that a publication retains value that creates an obligation upon the recipient to repay is an epiphenomenon of copyright. This is the peculiar idea that the maker or recipient of a copy of a published work extracts value from it which must be repaid to its copyright holder (or million dollar fines are liable).

It is certainly a lucrative prospect to the beneficiary publishing corporations, but it’s more akin to a baron’s tithe than the natural exchange of labour you’d find in any other form of craftsmanship. Once you’ve bought a basket that’s the end of the matter. The weaver has your money (your labour). You have their basket (their labour). Never shall you pay another penny however many times you use the basket, nor whether you sell it for twice the price you paid for it, nor even if you make copies or improvements. This is how intellectual work should have been exchanged with those who would pay good money for it too, but then the 18th century found monopolies too seductive to resist (consequent loss of individual liberty a trifling sacrifice).

As the wretched monopoly of copyright decomposes in the sunlight of the information age, the dust of its unnatural corpse blown away by the instantaneous diffusion of the digital public domain, we’re going to keep on seeing Kachingle type ideas cropping up that attempt to substitute for copyright’s anachronistic ineffectiveness by facilitating a guilt driven repayment mechanism. Hence propositions such as “Here’s how you can send me the royalty that you owe me for each copy of my work that you make”, or “Each time you enjoy my work here’s how you can repay me for the value you’ve received”.

That continuation of iniquitous privilege (publisher fealty) by misguided entrepreneurs who feel the more conscientious members of the public will still wish to subject themselves to copyright, in spirit if not in effect, misses the more natural exchange that we are now stumbling toward rediscovering: The exchange of intellectual work for money.

We should pay for the work to be produced, not for the value we extract from it. That gives us the biggest clue as to the proper foundation for future revenue mechanisms. They do not facilitate the salvation of guilt by individuals who make unauthorised copies. They do not facilitate charity from people who feel they are overdue in repaying some of the value they’ve received. They enable people to exchange their money for the intellectual work of those who will gladly produce it in exchange.

This should be obvious to anyone who looks at the copyleft market for free software. The software is published without privilege. Being so unencumbered by copyright it naturally belongs to the public as much as any basket belongs to its purchaser. You can use, share, and build upon this software guilt free. Of course it takes a while for those used to copyright ‘protected’ software to become comfortable with this radical yet ancient idea that a published work can belong to the public, but one gets there eventually. When free software stops being free is when the conversation of free speech runs dry and it becomes time to pay for the beer, time to pay for the labour of production. Those who want free software are the very ones who want to pay for its production. Those producers and those in want are the people in need of exchange facilities. They have no need for guilt nor need for conscience to be salved. They need a future as we all do, in which the people not only have their liberty restored to share and build upon their cultural commonwealth, but also the liberty to exchange that labour in a free market.

David Gerard said 3583 days ago :

It’s been odd at times using a piece of free software that was really good and useful (JPilot, to be precise), looking for a PayPal link to bung him ten quid and not finding any way whatsoever to do so … dammit, I wanted to show my appreciation!

(So I’ll do so here. www.jpilot.org/ – excellent Palm Pilot software for Unix. Way less annoying and more sensible than gPilot or kPilot.)

Crosbie Fitch said 3583 days ago :

And that’s the other side of the coin – promotion. Meritocratic selection and endorsement of good artists and good art, something that is hampered by copyright.

It is far better for the good software to proliferate through its users’ recommendation and improvement, than to be hampered by unnatural privilege.

Consequently the more users a software author or development team has, the larger the market they have of people willing to financially incentivise their work. There’s no need to sue individuals from among such a liberated community as a threatening lesson to the others that royalties must be paid. As with all natural exchanges people will pay for good work of their own free will.



 

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