Jamie King, David Bollier and Rishab Ghosh, click through for more…
The first presentation was given by James KING, maker of “steal this film I” and “steal this film II”. While he was not entirely sure how many times “steal this film II” has been downloaded so far, estimates go as high as 5.5 million downloads. The reason why KING didn’t really know how many people have downloaded his film is simply that he distributed it via bitTorrent and other peer-to-peer networks, without any control from his side. This made many people wonder about his business model regarding the films: Since the distribution is not centralized, he would not even get e-mail addresses or other potentially valuable data from his audience in exchange for the free movie. “We don’t talk about our business model because we do not really have one.” said KING, however the project has received about 30.000 US Dollars in voluntary donations.
Inspired by his experience, KING has launched a platform to aid bring voluntary donators and artists together: VODO (http://vodo.net). This new platform would help less-known artists to secure a modest amount of funding and might even trigger a new way of “betting” on an artist’s success: The artists might for example decide to give 10% of his donations back to his prior donors, thus rewarding and reimbursing early donors.
His final message “don’t feed the pigeons” referred to his observation that pigeons once served an important purpose as messengers but are now devoid of function and are often considered a nuisance. Hence the ubiquitus warning signs saying not to feed (and attract) them. This was meant as a reminder that in the open content movement’s endeavor to change the way content is distributed and thought about, one should not be stuck in or pay undue respect to obsolete structures and institutions.
David BOLLIER then commented on “Social Movements and the Commons”, pointing out that commons-based communities are more and more playing a role in controlling traditional media and is establishing itself a new form of governance. (No extensive account of his presentation can be provided in this article.)
As the last speaker, Rishab GHOSH from the United Nations University gave an answer to a common question in regards to creators of open content: Why do they decide to contribute their works to the commons? Are they driven by altruism?
GHOSH started by explaining how in a barter each party values the good it receives higher than the good it gives away. Therefore, both parties decide to engage in the transaction because it seems reasonable for them from a standpoint of rational self-interest. In the case of the commons, there is no one-to-one transaction. People rather contribute their content to a pool of content, like adding ingredients into a cooking pot. What each contributor gets in return, is of course the sum of all the content in the “pot”, which is more valuable than the contribution he made. Since intellectual property can be infinitely reproduced, each contributor can enjoy the entire collection of content in the pool. From the standpoint of rational self-interest, this is a beneficial outcome for the contributing individual. Contributors might after all not be much more altruistic than others – even selfish contributors can enjoy the open content community.
This whole idea was not born with the internet however. Decades ago the very same process made possible a rapid performance-gain in the steam engine technology. For years, the development was blocked by James Watts, who held a patent for his steam engine and forced competitors, even those with superior technology, out of the market. Only after the patent expired could engineers and users of steam engines collaborate by publishing their construction blueprints. Statistics show how much more effective this process was in advancing the steam engine technology.