From piracy to the disintermediation of the content market

Proposal for a substantial disintermediation and expansion of the content market, and a democratic and fair remuneration of authors and producers, through collective licensing systems inclusive of legalization of digital contents sharing.

This Saturday, March 19th, in Rome, in the cinema Capranica, near Parliament, the Feast of the Pirates will be held to discuss multimedia piracy and the future of copyright with the participation of various political figures from the right and the left, associations and activists who are part of a very broad and diverse movement in the country.
The event will take place, apparently, in absence of representatives of authors and producers, who, by the way, are starting to surface proposals that include legalizing free content sharing.

This absence is symptomatic of a serious lack of dialogue with them, which has encouraged the spread in the "movement" of a position that promotes a mere legalization of piracy, without considering the problem of a decent and fair compensation for those who decide to live on culture, as if this didn't matter or was somebody else responsibility.
In theme with the debate which will be raised by this event, we are here to present a solution which we believe should solve the dilemma of how to legalize content sharing and, at the same time, fairly remunerate authors and rights holders, besides promoting a strong disintermediation of the content market.


For a long time there has been an intense debate on how to fairly compensate authors and producers should piracy continue its rapid spread and, as it seems, no measures can be applied to prevent it which are both constitutionally and technologically feasible and sustainable.  Especially in the case of music, some solutions of this kind are already a common practice among many mobile operators worldwide, with a monthly fee of a few euros entitling users to a "collective license" for millions of songs.  Most of these solutions provide a fixed fee for the user, either mandatory (through taxes, also applied to products) or voluntary (contributions) – which would then be allocated between the authors, based on some set criteria and procedures.  Almost all of the proposed solutions require allocation of these revenues to be based on monitoring and counting of individual content as it travels through IP networks.

This monitoring presents enormous challenges for the citizens' privacy and the fairness of compensation of authors and producers, and more. In fact, it would be technically impossible to carry out thoroughly, verifiably, constitutionally, and fairly. It would be:

  • Seriously incomplete, because more and more content moving online is encrypted and therefore is not monitorable;
  • Subject to fraud, since it would be very unlikely that citizens and associations could discover possible large scale manipulation by third parties, when contents are counted within proprietary computer systems;
  • Severely invasive of privacy, as private or public bodies should constantly monitor the content shared by citizens with increased opportunities for a large or very large scale abuse of the right to secrecy of communications as established by Constitution.
  • Unfair to the authors, because it is far from clear that contents most downloaded are also the most appreciated (many people are actually downloading contents in the wake of advertising campaigns to never play back them anymore)

Our proposal draws heavily on a proposal made in 2009 by Francis Muguet and Richard Stallman, who created many free/open source software licenses and the GNU/Linux operating system, as clearly pictured in an article by Gaia Bottà, published on the Punto Informatico website on 19 March 2009.
Instead of relying on monitoring contents conveyed in the network or played back on user appliances, it is expected that this fee, however acquired (mandatory or voluntary), is shared among authors and producers on the basis of citizens' choices, expressed in part directly and in part through private interviews to random samples of users. For example, the direct expression of that preference could be made public over the internet, at the citizen will, or privately offline, while paying yearly income taxes.
This solution would not only have the effect to equally reward the rights holders, but more importantly, would greatly contribute to democratize, decentralize and liberalize the contents market, thus alleviating the tremendous influence that nowadays many subjects - publishers, advertisers, broadcasters etc. - exercise on promoting and monetizing contents, and indirectly on its chances to be financed and produced.  This solution, if implemented, for instance, on a nation level, would result in a significant disintermediation of digital contents market, establishing a direct financial relationship between the producer/author and the consumer/citizen, "from producer to consumer".
Every author and producer will benefit from an increased freedom to create, knowing that the actual monetization and distribution of its cultural product will be more than ever dependent on the appreciation by an appropriate number of citizens.
Two additional political economic occurrences would be key factors in further realizing the huge potential for democratization and liberalization of culture through the spread of Internet-based multimedia fruition. These are: (1) the adoption of effective laws supporting the neutrality of fixed and mobile networks, and (2) a wide adoption of networked appliances to play back digital contents which are built exclusively on free/open source software, or which primary software platform is managed and administered by an "open consortium" of content producers.


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