An Alternative to Copyright

Jon Stewart Cat Can Change

For a variety of reasons, I feel copyright doesn’t work. If there is interest, I can explain why I feel copyright doesn’t work at length. However, given how much conflict I see between people over how copyrighted material should be handled, I feel it is obvious that something isn’t working. To that end, I want to propose my solution.

I know the following is a giant, 2300+ word text bomb, with a lot of hypothetical math. You have my sincere thanks if you read all the way through it. If you have suggestions on how to improve it, I’m up to hearing them.

I believe we should create a public virtual library for the entirety of all creative works that can be separated from their physical medium: books, movies, video games, photographs, etc. The only way to receive guaranteed compensation for creative work would be through the library and everyone should be able to submit their creative content to the library for free. Joint creations would be submitted with the names of all individuals responsible for its creation along with the proportion of each individuals responsibility in generating said creation.

In turn, any individual should be able to gain universal access to everything in the library for a reasonable fee from a device capable of tracking and reporting usage. Conceptually, I believe this fee should be charged at the beginning of each month and be equal to twice the amount of money it takes to run the library divided by the total number of library subscribers. The pool of money gained from fees would then be split evenly between maintaining the library system and paying content creators. In reality, this formula may or may not optimal, but it seems like a fair starting point.

Compensation to artists for their work from the universal access fee should be proportional to the amount of value subscribers felt they gained from the work multiplied by the proportional amount of time the art was used by the subscribers, with a few caveats:

  • Dead content creators get nothing. There are no payouts to the estate, surviving family, business partners, etc.
  • Creative works rated poorly enough may not receive any compensation for use.

During each month, library subscribers would be able to listen to as much music, watch as many movies, read as many books, and play as many games as they like.  The electronic devices clock how much time is spent using what ever media. At anytime, subscribers can grade the media they are using or have used for quality. Ungraded media would be assumed to be of average quality. I would suggest an A/B/C/D/F system, with C being the default/average grade.

When the period of time covered by the access fee ended, the electronic device would transmit the data to the library about how much time the consumer spent using what media along with what grade the media received (if grading isn’t updated in real time). As mentioned above, the fee would then be divided among content creators based on the weighted percentage of time they kept the consumer occupied.

Additionally, if the content creator is alive and allows it, hard copies of creative works could be created at a library for two times the cost of production.  The user gets a hard copy of the work, the library is paid the cost of production, and the original content creator is paid the remainder. In the event the content creator is dead, hard copies of said creator’s works can be created at the library for the cost of production.

In order to make this work, I envision a large (multi)national library running many smaller sites for better caching/physical production/distribution. Additionally, the library would have to provide an advanced, online catalog/service (like Spotify, Steam, or even the Play Store). Subscribers would need the ability to quickly find content they want – either by deliberate searching, general trending, friends interests, or (even) predictive algorithm.

Further, said system needs to connect content creators with subscribers – and vice versa. Content creators need clear an easy ways to be associated to their content. Doing so will allow content creators to know information about the subscribers who are interested in their works, such as demographic, usage, and rating information.

Obviously, by being able to find content creators they like, subscribers can then easily find other works the content creator has made, (optionally) provide feedback, and see what projects content provider’s currently have in the works. I’d like such a system to support both Kickstarter and Patreon/Subbable-like options to support future content creation, along with traditional (string-free) donation options and links to merchandise (like mugs or t-shirts, which local branches of the library may even be able to print or otherwise create on the content creator’s behalf).

Given the library was State run, venture capital projects (like Kickstarters) could have an option for the funds to be held in escrow until the content is actually produced. While this might not be an option for garage startups, it could help sustain on going, small-time artists; like those who have just enough capital to start another project – but only one new project. Potential contributors should be able to easily see whether or not project fund would be escrowed, and could make a decision based on that risk.

Whenever I discuss this with people face to face, individuals seem to have trouble understanding it how the fee would work. So, I’m going to include an example below. Beware, I’m going to be pulling numbers out of my ass. This is just a theoretic example.

Lets say the library only serviced the US and that the US population at the time was 320,000,000 people and half the population subscribes. Further, lets say it costs $1,600,000,000 a month to run the library. $1,600,000,000 * 2 / 160,000,000 people = $20 per person per month. Why multiply by 2? Half the fee goes to paying the cost of running the library, the other half will go to the artists.

On an individual level, let’s look at one subscriber. Let’s call him Dick. It’s January 2015. He watches the PBS News Hour (1 hour * 22 episodes), Frontline (1 hour * 1 episode), and The Daily Show with John Stewart (0.5 hours * 16 episodes) every night a new episode becomes available. Additionally, he reads Ars Technica frequently (1 hour * 31 days), visits Kotaku occasionally for a few minutes every once and awhile (2 hours total for the month), saw Transformers 3 (2.5 hours), and watched 2 episodes of CrashCourse (0.25 hours * 2 episodes). He doesn’t listen to music much, but does play Minecraft daily (2 hours * 31 days). Lastly, after many years, he finally got around to reading Ulysses (20 hours) and Anna Karenina (24 hours).

Dick is really impressed with the quality of Frontline’s reporting and the CrashCourse episodes, rating both ‘A’s. While the PBS News Hour and Ars Technica didn’t blow his socks off, he still feels they delivered a strong, above average performance and rates them ‘B’s. The Daily Show would have gotten a ‘B’ too, but John was so funny every night that Dick forgot to rate the show. Instead, The Daily Show receives the default grade ‘C’. At the same time, even though he plays a lot of Minecraft, he does so mainly to hang out with friends. While he doesn’t think its a bad game, he doesn’t think its a particularly good game either and gives it a ‘C’. When reading Kotaku, Dick is slightly disappointed in the content provided this month, and rates it below average, ‘D’. Lastly, Dick was horrified upon watching Transformers 3, and wishes he memories of the screening removed from his brain. He rates it as an ‘F’. The time he took reading Ulysses and Anna Karenia (along with any rating he gave them) doesn’t matter for the fee – as both books’ authors are dead.

Since the grading system is a modifier, lets say the system works like the below:

  • A = * 10 points/hour
  • B = * 2 points/hour
  • C = * 1 points/hour
  • D = * 0.5 points/hour
  • F = Content not counted.

His monthly, weighted viewing would then look as follows:

  • 62 points, Ars Technica: 1 hour * 31 (instances) * 2 points/hour
  • 62 points, Minecraft: 2 hours * 31 (instances) * 1 point/hour
  • 44 points, PBS New Hour: 1 hour * 22 (instances) * 2 points/hour
  • 10 points, Frontline: 1 hour * 1 (instance) * 10 points/hour
  • 8 points, The Daily Show with John Steward: 0.5 hours * 16 (instances) * 1 point/hour
  • 5 points, CrashCourse: 0.25 hours * 2 (instances) * 10 points/hour
  • 1 point, Kotaku: 2 hours * 0.5 points/hour
  • 0 points: Transformers 3, Ulysses, and Anna Karenia

To find out where his money goes, we’ll turn these values into percents and multiply those by his subscription fee. For reference, the total number of point above is 192 and the subscription fee is $20. Remember, half of the subscription fee goes to the library. Also, I rounded in the below figures.

  • 32% of his fee ($3.23) would go to Ars Technica’s creators.
  • 32% of his fee ($3.23) would go to Minecraft’s creators.
  • 23% of his fee ($2.29) would go to the PBS News Hour creators.
  • 5% of his fee ($0.52) would go to Frontline’s creators.
  • 4% of his fee ($0.42) would go to The Daily Show’s creators.
  • 3% of his fee ($0.26) would go to CrashCourse’s creators.
  • 0.5% of his fee ($0.05) would go to Kotaku’s creators.
  • 0% ($0.00) would go to the creators of Transformers 3, Ulysses, and Anna Karenia.

To look at how this applies to content creators, let’s take a look at the partial impact on two content creators: Notch of Minecraft, and John Steward & Co. of the Daily Show. For this example, let’s say that Dick’s usage from above is representative of both males and females in the 25-35 age range for January 2015, and that said age range makes up 15% of the subscriber population.

160,000,000 subscribers * 0.15 (% of population) = 24,000,000 subscribers.

Let’s say Notch is still working on Minecraft alone in his basement, while John is heading up a crew of 4 correspondents/writers, 5 writers/researchers, and 5 stagehands. Additionally, John’s a really good guy. He’s pretty modest and is a good advocate for equality – everyone gets an equal share in the Daily Show’s payout.

Given the previous break down of Dick’s fee, Notch would be looking at making over $77,520,000 that month alone from just 25-35 year old players (not counting other demographics); 24,000,000 subscribers * $3.23 per subscriber.

As for John and company, everyone involved in the daily show would make $672,336 a month, not counting other demographics); 24,000,000 subscribers * $0.42 per subscriber * .0667 (6.67%/individual).

But I’m not Notch or John Stewart. I create content on a small scale.

Given a reasonable monthly license fee of, say, $20 and a decent sized following of people (50,000) willing to spend at least 1% of their time on a single content creator’s work (after being weighted), the creator should still do ok. (And, because it is weighted, if s/he produces really good work, it may be even less of the subscribers’ time.)

For example, a solo creator wants to make $60,000 a year. S/he would want to bring in ~$5000 per month. Given s/he was getting $0.10 a month from 1% of the time of 50,000 individuals, the content creator would meet his or her target:

$20 per person per month / 2 * 0.01 (1%) * 50,000 people = $5,000.

Just for reference, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average US adult only has about 5 hours of leisure time a day. Given these numbers are accurate, out of a 30 day month, the average US adult has about 150 hours of leisure. Given all the leisure activity involved electronic content created by others, a content creator would only have to entertain 50,000 average subscribers for 18 hours (each) a year with a ‘C’ grade performance to make $60,000 per year.

Please keep in mind, if the cost of maintaining the library itself is cheaper, but the price remained at a reasonably low price (like $20 per month); generate greater payouts, or lower subscription fees, could be generated. Greater payouts may also occur with arbitrarily higher fees (like, say $25 or $50 per month). Greater fees may be sustainable (due to it replacing cable and Netflix subscriptions, book and magazine sales, video game licensing, etc.).

For example, if we increase the fee to just $25 per person per month, but the library only needs to collect $5 per person per month, solo content creators would only need to keep 25,000 average subscribers entertained with average quality work for 18 hours (each) a year in order to make $60,000.

Note: All of the above doesn’t take into account the possibility of associate merchandise, or Kickstarter or Patreon/Subbable-like support.

But I don’t want the government knowing what-

Edward Snowden already told us they are watching you anyway. Further, chances are you voluntarily give information, which is very similar to what the library would collect, to private companies anyway; and said companies may sell said data to other private companies and the government. Here, you could at least have some token oversight about what might be going on with your data, because its pretty clear its being collected.

But I can’t afford like $20 or $25 a month-


How viable is this? I don’t know. It does favor certain content more than others, and I’m aware of that. Indie music and multiplayer video games would probably fair much better than traditional movie ‘block-busters’.

As everything would be free, it is possible more money may shift to an even smaller number of content creators – if a few popular content creators dominate the vast majority of everyone’s attention. I’d love to advocate for a ‘salary cap’ of like $120,000 per year per individual, but I don’t think any payout cap would ever fly (even if it was $1,000,000 per year per individual). As we’d be using computers, we could stop counting hours for a creator who hit a certain market percentage – or redistribute the excess proportionally to all the other artists – fairly easily, and automatically.

The values I used were arbitrary and may need to be shifted. The hourly weights may need to be different, or the fee may have to have a different content producer : library ratio. I don’t know.

But I do think it would be a much more fair and equitable system than current copyright.

The image at the top of the page is was included due to the insistence of my significant other. I believe its inclusion falls under fair use. If this image is yours, and you feel its use is inappropriate; please contact me and let me know.

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