Why Copies?

Copyright assumes it’s the copies of a work creators must make money from. And thus, it’s the copies that must be protected at all cost.

Copying. The one thing anyone can do with the click of a button, and that’s what we’ve based our digital economy and laws on. This won’t do. Thankfully, there are other stages of inventing that people can, and have, successfully made money from.

Here’s just a few:

Crowdfunding for the Concept

Of course I have to mention Kickstarter, so let’s get that out of the way first. Kickstarter’s popularity exploded in early 2012, when Double Fine raised an unprecedented $3 million to make an adventure game. A supposedly dead genre, that no game publisher would touch. Thirty days later, the crowd proved those publishers wrong.

Ransom for the Release

You can’t control the copies, but you can control the original. Enter the Ransom Publishing Model. Like a real hostage situation, you hold a ransom on the first release, and only when enough money has pledged, do you set the work completely free. One such hostage was the Blender 3D animation tool, which was successfully released for €100,000 under an open-source license. This happened over a decade ago.

Reward for the Result

Instead of funding specific projects, you could fund the desired outcome. By taking a step back, the resulting innovation can take a step up. Perhaps the coolest example is The Ansari X Prize, a competition with $10 million prize for the first private organization to go to space. Twice. Within two weeks. If we could put down $10 million for a fancy watch, why couldn’t we have a crowdfunded X Prize?

These mechanisms could all profitably produce public domain works. Kickstarter even implements the Street Performer Protocol, a mechanism specifically intended to provide creative works without copyright. We can reward creations, without restricting creations.

A video game. A computer program. The blueprints for a spacecraft.

Unlike physical goods, making copies of these cost next to nothing. Or at least, they should. Intellectual property is an outdated metaphor we’ve got to grow out of, because when the system clashes with the reality, one of them has to break.

For various reasons, let’s not break reality.