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 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.