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Payright: A Copyright/Patent Reform Proposal To Make Piracy Obsolete

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Copyright Monopoly – Zacqary Adam Xeper

Copyright Monopoly – Zacqary Adam Xeper

Copyright and patent monopolies can be reformed to be less terrible, but in the long-term they need to be reformed into smithereens with a sledgehammer. Politically, this may be impossible. Practically, doing nothing to encourage creativity and innovation may not even be desirable. Erik Zoltan and I have a new alternative: the Payright System.

The full proposal is available here, but at 35 pages it’s a lengthy read. I’ll do my best to sum it up here.

Erik Zoltan
Erik Zoltan is the mastermind behind the Payright System; I only served as a contributing editor. Zoltan is the Massachusetts Pirate Party‘s co-founder and representative to the US Pirate National Committee. He can also divide by zero, count to infinity, and roundhouse kick Chuck Norris.

Copyright concerns the right to copy. Payright concerns the right to get paid. Under Payright, a creative work or invention can be distributed, modified, reappropriated, and built upon with no restrictions. If you monetize a work, you just have to share a predetermined percentage with the original creator(s).

This percentage is determined based on how much of the original work you use unmodified, using a combination of algorithms and crowdsourced input. This is done by the Payright Registry, a peer-to-peer network which hosts every registered work/invention. Ideally, you’ll be able to register a work with the network as easily as you can click File>Save in software today. The Registry stores its data similarly to Freenet, and will be a source of free downloads of every Payright-registered work. Every registered work will be available to the public, free of charge.

Creators will get paid for these free downloads as well. Two funds — a Content Development Fund and Idea Development Fund — will compensate creators for non-commercial use of what they create (Yes, cultural flatrate won’t work; check page 26 for why that’s not a problem with Payright). For the US, this draft proposes 2% of the federal budget go towards these funds — a number which can be raised or lowered depending on the health of the economy.

Additional funding will come from registration fees. Payright registration is free for the first five years. For year six, it’s 1¢ (US), and doubles every year. 2¢ for year seven, 4¢ for year eight, and so on. That means year 40 will cost $171,798,691. There’s no legal limit to how long a Payright can be registered, just financial. If your work isn’t making millions of dollars many years after its release, it’s more cost-effective to just let it lapse into the public domain.

All of this money floating around won’t just go to original creators. If you translate a work into a different language, you get paid. If you typeset a book, you get paid. If you remix a song, you get paid. Payright will open up a whole new world of freeform collaboration, and help people to make a living doing it.

But wait! Doesn’t all this require tracking who downloads what and invading privacy? Well, the system only needs to know that person X downloaded song Y, and did it Z number of times. It doesn’t need to know who X is. In a nutshell: cryptographic keys. This is detailed starting on the bottom of page 28.

In the interest of keeping this summary brief, I’ve glossed over many details. So I absolutely encourage you to read the full proposal if you have the time.

What’s nice is that we don’t have to wait for legislation to make this system a reality. It can be implemented, and enforced using existing copyright law in much the same way as the GPL. We’re already writing the code for the Payright Registry, and I imagine it’ll become an open source project soon. Also consider the proposal itself to be an open source project. Give us feedback, help us improve it, and figure out the specifics of implementing it.

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About The Author: Zacqary Adam Xeper

Zacqary is an activist in the New York Pirate Party, where his official title is "Cat Herder." He is an open source game developer, and the Chief Executive Plankhead of Plankhead, a free culture arts collective. Despite believing that money is a superfluous social construct, he has a Gittip profile.

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By participating in the discussion and posting here, you are placing your contribution in the public domain (CC0). If you are quoting somebody else, credit them.

Contributors take own responsibility for their comments.

25

  1. 1
    Fredrik

    There are several problems with this proposal. For example, if it’s a peer-to-peer system, it can’t be centrally controlled, and therefore registration fees are impossible. Also, as soon as someone uploads a work on a different system (ex. BitTorrent), the ability to track downloads disappear. Furthermore, to have any clout, this system would have to be enforced by law, but such a change is likely to be even more difficult to accomplish than the Pirate Party’s original “limited copyright” proposal.

    In short: won’t work, don’t bother.

    • 1.1

      I completely understand your concerns.

      Critical design challenges do include charging registration fees, tracking downloads while guaranteeing privacy, having an open participatory governance process, automatically tying crowdsource policy decisions to the functionality of the system, reconciling privacy with openness at a code level and designing a superior crypto-currency system to drive the virtual economy.

      These intricate challenges are largely solved. I am presently writing the code for the peer-to-peer network.

      We won’t ask anyone to take it on faith that this will work. Once deployed, you will have the opportunity to see in practice whether it is an unworkable idea and if so — then by all means feel free to ignore it.

  2. 2
    steelneck

    Dont complain about govt surveillance and then propose a cheme that can register every single newspost i read, every piece of music or article someone has written and so on.. The govt do not have any business what so ever poking around in what i read or listening to.

    Copyright should only be about commersial use, copyright shall never ever creep into the private sphere of communication.

    A perhaps better route to accomplish what you talk about can be the proposal of Dan Heller Solving the Copyright Claim Clash . That is strictly about commercial use, mandatory registration and a privatazion of the copyright registration to create an incentive that profoundly changes the balance of power and truly protects small authors from big publishers.

    A cite, (my bold):

    If a third party wanted to license the work, the copyright registrar would then negotiate and collect the license fee. (This would largely be an automated process for most common uses.) Because the work could exist in any number of places around the internet, it doesn’t matter where the work is found, it only matters that someone wants to use it in a manner that requires licensing. Here, the Copyright Registrar that processed that particular work would have the right to price it and collect fees. These fees would be shared with the copyright holder.

    His proposal is really something to think about, and it is rather simple too.

  3. 3

    I agree that such a system wouldn’t function, though I commend anyone willing to stop living in cookie-cutter business models.

    My main concern with this is that it quickly becomes a pyramid scheme of bogus royalty claims.

  4. 4

    ¿Como se pueden controlar los derechos de autor literario? ¿Existe alguna forma de ayuda a los escritores engañados?

    http://www.antoniolarrosa.com

  5. 5

    I see several problems with this proposal that needs to be addressed before I consider it a viable proposal, and would be happy to see you address them:

    First, does this not governmentally mandate a specific technical way of sharing culture? How would that be good in any way, shape, or form? It prevents progress the same way South Korea is stuck with ActiveX for economic transactions because somebody thought it was good back in the day. Also, it creates a legal exploit hole – if you’ve locked people out of other means of sharing, you’ve essentially outlawed innovation.

    Second, the instant this is turned on, people would download tens of thousands of copies of their favorite band to /dev/null just to rack up numbers (the “Z” in the article). Like really bad regulation, it causes instant inefficiencies by assuming that the thing measured is not affected by the regulation. It would cause an Internet gridlock (for historic references on how this has happened, see when mp3.com tried exactly this, causing exactly this to happen). It’s Heisenberg metrics – you can’t measure it, use it as basis for regulation, and expect it to say the same.

    Third, between one-third and one-half of everything shared and downloaded is pornography. How would you justify subsidizing the porn production industry with as much as 1% of the federal budget – twice the budget of NASA?

    Fourth, while this may not require the people to be known in a first step, it still forces monitoring that can be tied to individuals using supplementary data. That’s dangerous in and of itself.

    I see these concerns as a no-go (especially locking in a specific tech method for sharing, the Heisenberg metrics, and subsidizing the porn industry with twice NASA’s budget).

    Cheers,
    Rick

    • 5.1
      Erik Zoltan

      Rick, most of your comments are specifically addressed in the body of the document.

      When we floated an early draft of this document within the US Pirate Party, we got a lot of awesome comments from a lot of pirates, and we were able to address every single objection that was raised. I have read all the comments on this site, and while none of them are a problem for the actual proposal, they do provide convincing proof that we need to do a better job of explaining the proposed system.

      I am going to create a simpler explanation of the underlying ideas so that we can do a better job of communicating these ideas to a wider audience.

  6. 6
    Anonymous

    This proposal is a disaster.

    Either all culture sharing must be performed through the payright network, or its monitoring is toothless. In the former case you have essentially destroyed the Internet, and in the latter why bother tracking? This of course gets even worse in the segment where my e-reader knows how many times I read a book, so that it knows how many times to pay the rightsholder. When all technology must be able to report such things to the network (and this is necessarily mandated under this scheme, or again the surveillance serves no purpose), you’ve created the “thought police” DRM endgame of the existing copyright regime.

    I also have great difficulty imagining any algorithm which could determine whether any arbitrary creative work it received could be considered derivative of another, and to what extent. Even Google’s ContentID produces an alarming number of false positives, and it concerns itself only with video and audio, and presumably only after transcoding the content. This one would need to recognise all formats and all possible conversions between them as well (such as from video to still image, from song to cover to parody, from short story to music video, and anything else you might imagine, and all reversed as well). Maybe I’m just not good enough a programmer. Do you have this algorithm written? Do the users of the network know how it works, or is it a black box which produces “18% derivative” or “original” or “already registered” in ways we do not see? How subject is the appeals process to abuse by rightsholders, or by the favoured users who have built up ample reputation scores within the network and thus gain preferential authority?

    But on top of these concerns, I don’t agree with the goal of the proposal to create a system that guarantees remuneration for the creation of culture. People *will* create culture, and the clever and dedicated will find ways to make money doing so, as they always have.

    • 6.1
      Erik Zoltan

      There are undoubtedly many who share your opinion, that there is no need to “guarantee remuneration for the creation of culture.” There are a lot of creative people, however, who can’t support the pirate party only because they are afraid they won’t be paid for their work.

      The goal of DRM is to violate privacy and enforce closed culture. The goal of the monitoring proposed under payright is to enforce privacy and promote open culture while allowing payment for non-commercial use and preventing cheating a-la-mp3.com. Privacy guarantees must be bulletproof for the system to work. We won’t deploy the pilot system if that doesn’t work.

      • 6.1.1
        Anonymous

        You may be able to ensure anonymity with your user ID hashes, but this proposed monitoring is inherently at odds with privacy. Do not confuse the two. Recording all activities of “user cffad0c66aebce7aad61af199d809901cd7c63e0″ only protects that user until someone figures out that it’s John Doe, which is a lot easier than you’d like.

        Of course, this proposed monitoring also requires all other file transfer media to be abandoned and/or outlawed (and all of our devices to report our usage patterns back home to Big Brother), or else we can’t trust the numbers to calculate the draconian money-shuffling. This gives us a system to which we *must* subject ourselves, and which *must* monitor all of our activities. Privacy, my foot.

    • 6.2
      Erik Zoltan

      There won’t be a perfect algorithm to determine whether a work is derivative, and to what extent, until someone invents an artificial intelligence that is equal to human intelligence.

      The idea is that we have imperfect ways of doing this, and you have to supplement that with human involvement. For that we use crowdsource and an appeals process. So there’s a procedure to correct false positives and negatives.

      This will have to be an area of continuous improvement in the future, and it will always be a work in progress.

  7. [...] Payright: A Copyright/Patent Reform Proposal To Make Piracy Obsolete Copyright and patent monopolies can be reformed to be less terrible, but in the long-term they need to be reformed into smithereens with a sledgehammer. Politically, this may be impossible. Practically, doing nothing to encourage creativity and innovation may not even be desirable. Erik Zoltan and I have a new alternative: the Payright System. [...]

  8. [...] Copyright and patent monopolies can be reformed to be less terrible, but in the long-term they need to be reformed into smithereens with a sledgehammer. Politically, this may be impossible. Practically, doing nothing to encourage creativity and innovation may not even be desirable. Erik Zoltan and I have a new alternative: the Payright System.   Copyright concerns the right to copy. Payright concerns the right to get paid. Under Payright, a creative work or invention can be distributed, modified, reappropriated, and built upon with no restrictions. If you monetize a work, you just have to share a predetermined percentage with the original creator(s).   This percentage is determined based on how much of the original work you use unmodified, using a combination of algorithms and crowdsourced input. This is done by the Payright Registry, a peer-to-peer network which hosts every registered work/invention. Ideally, you’ll be able to register a work with the network as easily as you can click File>Save in software today. The Registry stores its data similarly to Freenet, and will be a source of free downloads of every Payright-registered work. Every registered work will be available to the public, free of charge.  [...]

  9. 7
    printersMate

    Three problems with this, and copyright.

    This proposal has the same defect as copyright, defining the boundaries of derivative works. In practice all works are derivative from many existing works. The main risk with this proposal that somebody somewhere claims payrights on any part of content can be matched to any other content.

    Who pays for the registry, and the parceling out of funds.? Adding adverts or accepting donations leads to a payments requirement for almost all content placed on the sight.

    Dealing with the money side of this leads towards an Internet publisher, that is a gate keeper for all works placed on the Internet.

    This proposal ignores the real problem with copyrights, that they are often transferred to a publisher, who makes most of the money off of copyrighted works. Further it is in the interest of publishers to limit the number of works that are available to people, hence their gradual destruction of the public do9main by extending copyrights. Long copyright, hat is a gradual extension so that it never l;apses is not about making money from old works that have a limited market, but to keep old works from competing with new works so that sales of these are increased.

    Getting rid of copyright, or shortening its term with fees for renewal, will best serve the creators of new works.

    Note however that piracy is not as significant a problem for legacy publishers as the way that the Internet enables self publishing. This is what really scares the legacy players, they see their role in the market disappearing. Piracy is a convenient excuse to attack any Internet site that can in any way be linked with infringing materials. SOPA/PIPA/ACTA/TPP etc are all attempts by the music and film industry to gain the power to destroy the completion enabled by the Internet, and these sorts of proposals are attractive to many politicians, d the permanent civil services, as they allow control over information.

  10. 8
    Filino Rupro

    One contribution:
    The system proposed could bypass State funding for CDF and IDF.
    A form of shares could be sold at a fixed rate and shareholder receives payment based on the profit they generate! Don’t forget 50% of revenue from creators goes to CDF / IDF!
    (Sorry my bad english! I suppose you understand the idea!)

  11. 9
    passstab

    i don’t think that this would reduce money wasted on legal expenses, there would be just as many disputes regarding the percent a work is original, this might be better in that all art would be legal but the system would still unfairly favor large companies.

    • 9.1
      Erik Zoltan

      Thanks for the comment.

      It’s a crowdsource-goverened system running on a peer-to-peer network with user privacy. So if you want to sue someone, then who specifically can you sue? And how exactly would a judge enforce her decision? It’s a bit like trying to sue BitTorrent.

  12. 10
    passstab

    from the full paper

    ” Open Culture Objections
    A minority of open culture advocates may object to the fact that creators and inventors are being paid for their work. They may object to the fact that the system seeks to guarantee this. They may state that financial reward has nothing to do with creativity, and that the same amount of creativity will still occur if we remove the financial rewards entirely from the system.Creators and inventors are being paid many billions of dollars for their work annuallyunder the current closed culture of intellectual property. They are unlikely to agree to legalreforms that will remove their ability to be paid for their work. One of the main ideas behind payright is to allow such payments to continue in an open culture where works and inventionscan be shared freely without restriction. We won’t change payright by removing these features,since the proposal would be meaningless without them. Any alternative proposal under which nobody gets paid for their work is unlikely to been acted in the future.”

    Reading the above leads me to believe that you yourself have no problem with destroying copyright altogether, but you think payright is more politically viable.

    piracy is GOOD for industry profits*, the reason the RIAA fights it is that they loose control (which they loose in payright also, so it dosn’t make them happier)
    the other reason it’s not more politically viable is the big gov’t concerns
    there are many people who might be listen to someone who wants to end “government sponsored monopolies”,
    but not someone who want’s to start another big gov’t organization.

    *
    https://torrentfreak.com/megaupload-shutdown-hurt-box-office-revenues-121124/
    http://falkvinge.net/2012/11/12/how-the-copyright-industry-drives-a-big-brother-dystopia/

    • 10.1
      Erik Zoltan

      I generally agree with your point. If we had the kind of world where we could simply do away with copyright, then before too long we’d probably look back and wonder why we ever had it in the first place. A lot of people have based their livelihoods on the monopoly aspect of intellectual property. They’re skeptical about open culture, so this proposal seeks to explicitly demonstrate that they could make way more money if we eliminate closed culture.

      Think of it this way. If you want to attract more pirates, then it really helps to have a giant treasure chest filled with gold and jewels.

    • 10.2
      Anonymous

      You have two objections here. The first is that the RIAA won’t like payright because they lose control under the proposed system. That’s true. I’m not trying to appeal to the RIAA but rather to artists and inventors who are on the frence.

      Your second objection is that we’re starting a “big government” organization that seeks to end government sponsored monopolies. This is an important point. Please keep in mind that we’re proposing to start a peer-to-peer network with no centralized controlling authority. It is controlled by its members using direct democracy. We’re asking big government to fund it without giving them any means of control. I do feel that it’s a significant distinction.

  13. 11

    As someone working myself on devising solutions to address the funding issues with Free Culture etc., I completely understand being inspired and working out all these kinks and hoping that you’ve got the answer.

    That said, I really think this has no hope to succeed and also support the actual aims of Free Culture. How do you possibly evaluate who is to get paid after a handful of derivatives that may even go back and forth between the same creators? We can already reject as untenable any proposed mechanism to quantify each creator’s specific input.

    Put simply: whether or not it gets money to change hands, there is an unjust artifice to any suggestion that people get future payments for existing creations. Even tipping, which is certainly realistic, unfairly favors whoever is the most accessible face, whoever makes the most popular version of something that is based on the ideas of many.

    The only systems that are just are ones which pay people for the time and expenses involved in creation — not for the creation as an object. There is nothing wrong with people being “paid for their work.” That is a wonderful goal. But this proposal here is about putting a price on existing creative products, not about work. There is no way to achieve this without a large part of the problems that occur with copyright.

  14. 12
    TiagoTiago

    So this is based on an honor system, trusting people will not sell content they downloaded thru Payright without paying up the chain?

  15. 13

    Your blog will easily to reach the correct market place, because its having the useful informative post, so i would like to thank for creating this blog.

  16. 14

    I have read several excellent stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting.
    I surprise how so much effort you place to create any such wonderful informative site.

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Zacqary is an activist in the New York Pirate Party, where his official title is "Cat Herder." He is an open source game developer, and the Chief Executive Plankhead of Plankhead, a free culture arts collective. Despite believing that money is a superfluous social construct, he has a Gittip profile.

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