About

Member of the Board of the Polish Linux Users Group. Human rights in digital era hacktivist, Free Software advocate, privacy and anonimity evangelist; expert volunteer to the Panoptykon Foundation; co-organizer of SocHack social hackathons; charter member of the Warsaw Hackerspace; and Telecomix co-operator; biker, sailor.

Formerly President of the Board of the Polish Free and Open Source Software Foundation; CTO of BRAMA Mobile Technologies Laboratory on Warsaw University of Technology and a student at Philosophy Institute on Warsaw University.

Table of Contents

languages:
02.07.2016Dzień, w którym cenzura Sieci w Polsce stała się faktem pl 152 13.04.2015Needless haystacks en 151 12.03.2015e-Dockleracje pl 150 19.01.2015Ban on encryption is not about banning encryption en 149 13.01.2015Not Free as in Beer en pl 148 30.12.2014GPG Key Transition en pl 147 18.12.2014Siła wyższa pl 146 04.12.2014Internet in Poland to be porn-free after all? en pl 145 27.11.2014Block everything! en pl 144 02.11.2014Introducing: rysiek's law of unavoidable consequences en pl 143 09.09.2014Stop paedophilia en pl 142 22.06.2014Even with EME, Mozilla will become "the browser that can't" en 141 21.06.2014EuroDIG 2014 en pl 140 19.06.2014Hacker in the Digital Affairs Council en pl 139 30.05.2014Public consultations and anonymity en pl 138 18.05.2014Why being a pirate is not worth it en pl 137 15.05.2014On Mozilla, DRM and irrelevance en pl 136 14.05.2014Not-quite-good-enough-Mundial en 135 12.04.2014Irresponsible non-disclosure en pl 134 29.03.2014Ecologic, Ford and surveillance en pl 133 15.03.2014Otwórzmy edukację pl 132 10.03.2014Blurry line between private service and public infrastructure en 131 08.03.2014IM IN UR MINISTRY, CONSULTING UR INTERNETZ en pl 130 17.02.2014Encrypted VoIP that works en pl 129 11.02.2014So you want to censor the Internet... en pl 128 02.02.2014This is why we can't have nice IRC en 127 31.01.2014Decentralize where your mouth is en pl 126 30.01.2014A link cannot be illegal en pl 125 30.01.2014Copyright reform debate lives on en pl 124 26.01.2014Neat HaCSS, or let's de-JS the Web a bit en 123 27.12.2013Information Account Number en 122 14.12.2013HaIPu en 121 20.11.2013Friends of TTIP and data protection in Brussels en 120 19.11.2013Social media, Polish Pirates style en pl 119 05.11.2013A rude comment en 118 20.10.2013TEDx Warsaw Women and privacy en pl 117 03.10.2013Copyreform at CopyCamp 2013 en pl 116 22.09.2013Long-expected KMail2 rant en 115 18.09.2013Facebook for schools en 114 12.09.2013In which I call upon United Poland parliamentarians to guarantee citizens the right to Internet free of surveillance en pl 113 08.09.2013Complaintivism en 112 04.09.2013It's his own fault en pl 111 19.08.2013Lies, damn lies, and analytics en pl 110 27.07.2013Shortest Internet censorship debate ever en pl 109 22.07.2013How information sharing uproots conservative business models en es 108 22.07.2013Posts' markup is now available en pl 107 11.07.2013Kultura wolna i legalna pl 106 07.06.2013Internet is not a problem en pl 105 05.06.2013Libel Culture en 104 17.05.2013Wojtuś Fatalista i wolność w Internecie pl 102 17.05.2013Why I find -ND unnecessary and harmful en es pl 101 28.03.2013Wolność nasza codzienna pl 100 17.03.2013Nie wszystko korpo co o wolności w Internecie pl 99 15.03.2013♫ Odpowiadam na e-maile ♫ pl 98 11.02.2013One year anniversary of Anti-ACTA en pl 97 30.01.2013Nie ma haka na słabe dziennikarstwo? pl 96 30.01.2013Fighting Black PR around OER en pl 95 29.01.2013HOWTO: effectively argue against Internet censorship ideas en pl 94 20.11.2012Border conditions for preserving subjectivity in the digital era en pl 93 19.11.2012Social blogosphere en pl 92 07.11.2012Embrace fragmentation en pl 91 02.11.2012SERVICES.TXT en pl 90 24.10.2012Apple finally jumped the shark en es 89 24.09.2012Breaking the garden walls en es pl 88 24.09.2012Minister i Kultura pl 87 24.09.2012Melbourne CryptoParty video message en 86 16.09.2012On sailor's sensitivity, or "the starry heavens above me" en pl 85 22.08.2012Black PR around Polish e-Textbooks en pl 84 15.08.2012Regaty utracone pl 83 24.07.2012Hypochristian Love en 82 24.07.2012Some new Layout Goodness en pl 81 17.07.2012Party 2.0 en pl 80 16.07.2012Prawo autorskie po ACTA pl 79 13.07.2012Party as a system hack en pl 78 10.06.2012Are corporations dangerous only in collusion with governments? en 77 09.06.2012Proxies! Proxies everywhere! en 76 05.06.2012Automagic re-publishing from Twitter to StatusNet en pl 75 18.05.2012TPSA/Orange and GIMP, or a word on 5 users en pl 74 16.05.2012Słowo o Warsztatach MAiC pl 73 15.04.2012Schowaj gadżeta pl 72 05.04.2012Perfect ToDo-oid en 71 27.03.2012Subjectively on Anti-ACTA in Poland en pl 70 25.03.2012On copyright in Budapest en pl 69 23.03.2012Kościoła poczucie odpowiedzialności pl 68 20.03.2012Learning to Internet en pl 67 19.03.2012Kościoła wiara w wiernych pl 66 29.02.2012Brussels Safari #1 - EP press conference and ITRE en pl 65 21.02.2012Because ACTA is passé en pl 64 20.02.2012Privacy of correspondence, EU-style en pl 63 17.02.2012Polish PM on ACTA: I was wrong en pl 62 12.02.2012Anonymous vs Corponymous en pl 61 10.02.2012To have a cookie and dowload it too en pl 60 19.01.2012About ACTA at Polish PM Chancellery en pl 59 19.01.2012Free as in United en pl 58 16.01.2012Towarzystwo czuje się oszukane pl 57 10.01.2012Terms of Using the Service en pl 56 05.01.2012Corporate lack of patriotism en pl 55 04.01.2012Terroristcopters en pl 54 03.01.2012IceWeasel and Privacy en pl 53 28.12.2011Good Uncle Stal... Putin en pl 52 25.12.2011Useful Bash defaults done right en 51 21.12.2011Google Mail, or how mail becomes publication en pl 50 20.12.2011Occupy Gotham en pl 49 11.12.2011Copyfraud en pl 48 08.12.2011Multikino Wikipedia FAIL pl 47 27.11.2011Nie miejsce na pl 46 18.11.2011One-way cutting en pl 45 12.11.2011Tolerancja dla Kościoła pl 44 11.11.2011Users and Citizens en pl 43 30.10.2011Adhocracy and Net4Change en pl 42 18.10.2011War on Fun en pl 41 16.10.2011Boli mnie w krzyżu pl 40 14.10.2011Technocomplacency en pl 39 10.10.2011I Can Haz? pl 37 09.10.2011Election Silence in Poland en pl 38 03.10.2011Kibice i kampania pl 36 02.10.2011E-textbooks, Johnny Mnemonic, business and the Net en pl 35 19.09.2011CC Global Streaming/Summit/Party pl 33 19.09.2011Czy jest coś takiego jak darmowe śniadanie? pl 34 12.09.2011Faktycznie Super pl 32 12.09.2011Diaspora-Based Comment System en 31 11.09.2011Conflict of values en pl 30 06.09.2011Wolność słowa to nie wolność od myślenia ani od krytyki pl 29 06.09.2011On-line privacy and anonymity: case in point en pl 28 04.09.2011On being careful with words en pl 27 03.09.2011W obronie QR Code pl 26 31.08.2011Stolica Nie Tak Święta pl 25 29.08.2011Of malware, hot steam, privacy, using one's brain and paedoparanoia en 24 29.08.2011Kragen Thinking Out Loud en pl 23 18.08.2011Ból, blizny, dziewczyny i wiosła pl 22 07.08.2011Worst. Woodstock. Ever! pl 21 27.07.2011Willpower, productivity and cycling en pl 20 19.07.2011Neo FreeRunner as a WiFi Soundcard en 19 10.07.2011A Weekend with lawyers en pl 18 09.07.2011One step closer to ideal en pl 17 04.07.2011Apostasy in Poland en pl 16 28.06.2011YAFR (Yet Another Facebook Rant) en pl 15 19.06.2011Wiara w priorytety pl 14 17.06.2011Important meetings, fun meetings en pl 13 13.06.2011Ooops I en pl 12 30.05.2011Playing with Node.js en pl 11 25.05.2011Mozilla, Google and the Location Bar en pl 10 24.05.2011At Sector 3.0 conf en pl 9 23.05.2011Layout, CSS and RSS/Atom en pl 8 15.05.2011Startup Weekend Network Fun Fun Fun en 7 11.05.2011Nowy szef Bramy pl 6 10.05.2011World's Smallest Open Source Violin en pl 5 10.05.2011Po kolejnym spotkaniu w KPRM pl 4 08.05.2011Inspiracja na niedzielę pl 3 08.05.2011I horizontally the whole blog is that serious pl 2 07.05.2011I can has brag en pl 1

How information sharing uproots conservative business models

en es | txt src

(and why this is not necessarily a bad thing)

UPDATE: heartfelt thanks to Carlos Solís for the Spanish translation. ¡Gracias!

Abstract

With each day we seem to acquire new — faster, better, more convenient — ways of sharing information; and today almost anything can be information: from software operating the fastest supercomputers, through terabyte-sized datasets craved by science, to digitised works of art. All available in byte-form, ready for copying and sharing.

This digital revolution is not compatible with business models of old, and their benefactors fight back vehemently.

Is this the best strategy? New, emerging business models that take these vast sharing opportunities into account seem to suggest otherwise.

Historical outline

When the Licensing of the Press Act of 1662 expired in 1695, the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers — remembered in history in short as the Stationers' Company — found itself without the state-guaranteed monopoly on printing that fueled their flourishing during previous decades. Knowing full well that authors themselves would not be able to publish their works on their own, as that would require significant investment into printing infrastructure, Stationers' Company invented (then quite a revolutionary) notion that is ringing in every copyright debate to this day: authors' inherent right to their works.

This argument was so potent that it led directly to enacting in 1710 of the Statute of Anne and creation of the copyright law in form we are familiar with today.

Just as at that time, today this argument is still used as an instrument of protecting the livelihood not of the authors, but of publishers. The middlemen.

Cornerstones of Human Knowledge

Arguably the ability that had the biggest influence on human history is the ability to communicate. During millenia human race perfected it, with few inventions bringing real, qualitative change in its speed and accuracy. Each such invention was followed by great intellectual, cultural and social leaps — and political backlash.

Inventing speech allowed our ancestors to transfer knowledge directly, co-operate better in a group, exchange ideas — from very rudimentary at the dawn of men, to great intellectual constructs that were all but lost in time. It also sparked our ability to think in abstracto and operate with logic.

Next great leap was the invention of writing. Immensely important, it catered to the need of preserving the intellectual constructs made possible by speech. This led to the golden age of philosophy, first historical records, literature and poetry. In a way, it enabled communicating through time — great thoughts could be sent across years, decades and further, simply by conserving them in writing.

Printing press brought the written word to the masses, and in effect uprooted the social and economic structure of feudal Europe, leading finally to modern-day democracies. By lowering the costs of creating multiple copies and decimating the time needed for creation of a single copy, ideas could be spread faster and more accurately than ever before — more people could afford to have their thoughts written down and disseminated, more people could afford to own a book. Written word ceased to be the domain of the ruling elite.

Today, the Internet and digital technology lowered those costs even further, dramatically; it enabled almost cost-less transfer of information around the world and instant creation of perfect copies. What was a hard, complicated, arduous and prone to errors process just a couple of decades ago is now a click of a button away.

Disruptive technology

We do not know about speech, but all the remaining inventions were seen as disruptive and met with resistance at the time of introduction.

Socrates refused to write down his concepts claiming that writing is harmful to author's memory, and to the concepts themselves. Printing press was opposed and curtailed by Church and the crowned heads, for it was seen (quite aptly, as Luther's example shows) as a tool of great revolutionary potential.

Today, no one disputes the importance and value of those inventions, and how instrumental they were to scientific, social and economic development of humanity. Early attempts to curb their use, to exert control over whom can use them and to what ends — like the infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum — are rightly called censorship and seen as detrimental.

Nevertheless, even with such historical lessons, we find ourselves engulfed in debates on how dangerous Internet is and about ways of curtailing it by the gatekeepers of old.

Devil in the Net

Arguments brought about against uncensored Internet are many and can be roughly categorized into:

  • moral objections to some content (e.g. pornography; anti-religion content),
  • alleged dangers to society stemming from certain kinds of content (e.g. critiques of the ruling; dissent groups; nazizm; hate-speech),
  • perceived infringement upon rights of those hitherto privileged (this argument, for obvious reasons, is not usually publicly stated).

Notably, all those categories were present in the European anti-printing-press narrative centuries ago. The Index was created as a measure to enforce official moral and social norms of the times, its creation argued necessary to prevent break-up of societies exposed to "subversive" writings, while at the same time acting as a tool of continually exerting control by the Church — control that was to date exercised through a de facto monopoly on truth, impossible to maintain in the era of print.

In this paper I would like to focus on the last category of arguments against a censorship-free Internet.

Technology versus law

Current copyright law descends directly from the Statute of Anne; this is apparent even in its very name: it lays down the rules under which copies of works can be made and who has the right to make them. Created in times when printing was a difficult process, requiring resources and manpower, aimed (as it still is today) to protect publishers' — and other middlemen — investment.

Publishers', not authors': copyright law was created only when the business of publishing emerged; before the advent of printing press and the need for printing workshops there was no need for copyright law, and thus none existed. Without any fast and exact method of copying a work of art (including a book), there was no need to protect the rights to it — books and other artforms were treated just like regular objects: sold, traded, etc., without any discussion of "authors' rights".

Complicated printing process also meant that it was in fact possible to efficiently exert control over printing workshops — printing presses had to be purchased, skilled personnel was needed, all this could be controlled to great extent.

Today copyright law is still being used to defend business of middlemen. However, what centuries ago was envisioned as protection of an emerging and useful industry, today is stifling innovation by needlessly defending outdated business models. This stems from a few crucial changes digital technology brought about:

  • copying is nigh effortless and cost-less, requires almost no technical prowess, and produces exact, perfect copies, indistinguishable from the "original";
  • distribution across the globe, once the work is in digital form, is also almost effortless and cost-less;
  • tools needed to be able to copy and distribute are in abundance and easy to use.

Copyright law is based on assumptions (copying being resource-intensive; distribution being troublesome; censorship being workable) that no longer hold. Traditional business models based on it are, thus, also outdated and ever harder to maintain. Middlemen are gradually becoming obsolete, as each and every author is able to self-publish and reach their fans directly.

However, instead of looking for new models that do work within this new technological framework, the middlemen of old — conventional print, media and entertainment companies — are pushing for ever sterner copyright, ever more enforcement.

This goes against both technology and society, already treating the culture of sharing as the norm, at the same time jeopardising emerging models of financing production of cultural works and endangering works already published.

Of "pirates" and fans

Please note: the term "pirate" in this particular context is an act of language abuse; downloading content from the Internet, even without copyright holders' permission, is legal in some jurisdictions (e.g. Poland), even if publishing it might not be.

As studies around the world have shown, the greatest fans also tend to download the most content from the Internet. A correlation between rising amounts of so-called "illegal content" downloaded via new electronic distribution channels (like peer-to-peer networks) and purported dwindling profits of media companies has not been, however, proven.

On the contrary: yearly revenue reports from biggest entertainment companies seem to suggest otherwise — their revenues evidently rise along with the amount of downloaded "illegal content" worldwide.

There is even a visible correlation between the amount of downloaded illegal content of a particular artist and the artist's revenue from sales — although it is unclear whether there is any causation present, and in which direction. This might, however, mean that peer to peer networks, besides being allegedly detrimental to sales figures, might be actually a good marketing venue.

Peer-to-Promotion

This is already being used as a foundation of emerging business models. Notorious torrenting website The Pirate Bay has decided to work with artists willing to take part in an experiment — and launched The Promo Bay: instead of site's logo, visible to millions of visitors each day, a new artist and album is being promoted.

It is a new venture and it is hard to assess its long-term viability, but already many participating artists report a surge in interest — and revenue.

The "marketing through sharing" strategy is itself verified, though — the Brazilian Tecno Brega music genre strives on treating CDs recorded in local studios as advertising material, sold for symbolic price or simply given away for free. Sharing on the Internet is not being discouraged as money is being made on live sound system parties with thousands in attendance, by charging entrance fees and selling recordings of the live performance after the party.

Instead of fighting against technology and social norms, Tecno Brega industry takes advantage of technical possibilities of easy copying and distribution to sell something that cannot be readily copied: thrill of live concert, and memories from it.

Sell what cannot be copied

While not musically related to Tecno Brega, Polish Przystanek Woodstock festival organizers follow a similar path. This biggest in Europe open-air music and culture festival (catering to over 400 000 music fans each year) does not collect admission fees at all — however, one can buy professionally made recordings and merchendise each year.

Merchendise and concert admission fees are great examples of a business model compatible with culture of digital sharing, but there is even more to make money on than that. Turns out, fans will pay good money for the sheer thrill of knowing they helped make their favourite show or album possible.

This is the idea behind crowdfunding — asking regular people, not big media, for cash up front, so that production could commence. That's how Pioneer One got founded. That's where open-source social network software Diaspora got a kick-start. Fans and people that simply liked the idea gladly chipped-in a few dollars to make those — and many more — projects possible. Both were released under open licenses (Creative Commons-based, and AGPL license, respectively).

In fact, this method of receiving pay for work supports many libre/open-source software and libre culture projects. The key here is to make donations as easy, and the resulting product as useful and pleasant to experience or use, as possible — this, in fact, encourages such projects to use libre licensing terms. Terms that are entirely compatible with culture of sharing.

An interesting twist on that particular idea is the Humble Indie Bundle. Mixing the trait of easy donations and maximum freedom of use after purchase with funding drives known from political rallies, NGOs or lately Wikipedia (an interesting example by itself), and with an honourable cause, HIB operators gather independent games in a "bundle" and do a two-week funding drive.

Each client can set their own amount to pay for it, and can set how the money is shared between game developers, HIB operators and two notable NGOs. In return, each client receives games that work on all major operating systems (including the open-source Linux-based ones), not boggled-down with unweildy DRM used by big game publishers to "protect" their games from illegal sharing.

This model is already being copied, for example by Polish start-up Music Rage, doing similar promotional drives for independent music bands.

More inclusive models

Also worth noting, and not usually noticed by pundits, is the fact that with many of the above models (specifically: those in which the buyer/founder sets their own price/amount), artists and authors are able to receive payments from income groups that would be excluded in traditional models.

With a CD costing a fixed amount many will not decide to buy: the potential client will not receive the work, nor author the money, even if the client would, in fact, be willing to pay just a little less.

And conversely — should the client decide they would like to reward the author more than the fixed price, this too is impossible (short of buying a second album).

This is not the case with those flexible models. Because copying and distribution is pretty much cost-less, authors can let clients set their prices, and hence cater to both of the above groups.

They can, in fact, incentivise the wealthier clients to make more generous payments by additional services, like inclusion of the name in ending credits in case of a film (again, Pioneer One is an example here).

Middlemen stifle business innovation

Traditional middlemen — publishers, big media conglomerates, collection agencies — are trying to roll back technological progress to save old, failing and unsustainable business models, built upon assumptions that no longer hold. By doing so they are actively hurting emerging business models that are both compatible with the technology and social norms aready in place.

A century ago it was not deemed proper to enact laws that would defend horse buggy makers from competition from car makers. Technology moved forward, and so did the affected industry — it was seen as a natural process.

In this paper I hope I have demonstrated the viability of a few examples of emerging business models that take advantage of available technology. I do not believe these are the only models possible, nor that these are the best models conceivable.

I do, indeed, hold that there probably are other and better models for the future. However, unless we stop hampering and hindering technological and business progress in the name of outdated assumptions, we might never be able to find them.


This article has appeared in a peer-reviewed publication "Innovating innovation. Essays on the intersection of information science and innovation" (Warsaw 2013, ISBN:978-83-925759-8-6) edited by dr Bruno Jacobfeuerborn and published by the MOST Foundation.