Blur Banff Proposal

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Description

Proposal for a system to pay cultural producers, updated by Alan Toner [1]:

(This proposal is heavily based on of the Blur/Banff proposal co-developed by Jamie Love, Ted Byfield, J. J. King, and Alan Toner; see http://www.nsu.newschool.edu/blur/blur02/reports/blur02_user_love.pdf)

“Our proposal would function as follows. Each individual would have $200. That $200 would be derived either from a new tax, would replace existing monies given out as cultural subsidies by the state (where that is significant, thus not in the US), a tax deduction (such as 501(3)(c) contributions currently function), or from rebudgeting (from the military, prison or immigration services for example).


1. A portion (eg 20%) would be disbursed for the funding of a public infrastructure in the form of theatres, cinemas, concert halls, games halls, rehearsal space, instruments, tools, technology. The manner of allocation could be either (a) the state (b) an elected local committee (c) individuals. One could start with (c) and take recourse to (b) and then (a) where people were unwilling to take the time to perform the decsion making.

Preferably this infrastructure would not be under the aegis of the state but would be composed of people in the locality. Existing cultural spaces could also apply for a direct allocation.


2. The second and most important component is the direct allocation of cash by users to cultural producers. Our estimate is that this should account for 75% of all monies. People would be free to give their cash to anyone who registered as a cultural producer. It is important to underline again that the allocation of funds is entirely down to the free will of the user-donor and is in no way determined by what one actually consumes . Obviously this encompasses all existing professional and semi-professional practitioners, but could just as easily include the four sixteen years playing punk music in the garage at the end of the street, the weblog writer, the independent film maker…..

Such openess renders the system as described vulnerable to manipulation and gaming, as a result of which we propose the following.

(a) Threshold

Setting a minimum threshold of donations that must be superceded before the cultrual worker can get access to the money ensures:

(i) That schemes such as ‘I’ll give you my $140 if you give me yours’ are foiled.

(ii) That the amount of money is such as to actually allow the recipient to take some time free from work, purchase necessary eqipment. Where the individual to whom you make the donation fails to reach the threshold, the money could either:

(a) go into a local infrastructure fund either in the area of the donor or the disappointed recipient.

(b) go to a second order preference.

Choosing a basically arbitrary figure, we would propose $1000 dollars as a reasonable threshold to set.


(b)Income Ceiling

Recipients would be obliged to reveal their income from the system over the last year so that donors can weight their contributions equitably. Thus should one performer recieve 50 million, a potential donor may decide that her needs have already been adequately catered for, and to allocate the money to someone more in need.


(c) Anonymity

The means by which the transfer of the monies is to be effected must be anonymised, principally so as to prevent people from being able to make reliable agreements with one another. An architecture which facilitates easy breaches of promises also makes it more difficult to game.


(d) Distributed Sponsorship

Minimises determining power of any contributor, individual donations remain sufficiently small that they do not allow the tastes of the individual donor to determine the nature of the work created (unlike traditional patronage).


3. Randomness

everyone on the register, or

(b) everyone on the register who has not managed to supercede the threshold.

3a. The question as to whether an Arts Council style body would have any future in this paradigm is undetermined. Their may be areas, particularly those which lack a mass audience, which we as a group may decide should receive some financial support. It is difficult to predict what forms of self-organisation amongst cultural producers and users would result from a system of this nature, but they may be appropriate bodies to make such determinations should the public agree to the principle.


4. The quid pro quo for the user is that the cultural output of the recipients goes directly into the public domain or perhaps a form of copyleft-like system (similar to the GPL). As a result there are no restrictions on personal use or copying. Users would also be entitled to integrate other people’s materials into their own works (referred to in copyright law as derivative works). The only requirement on a next generation user would be to acknowledge the attribution of the original work. This is how the free software movement works currently, where the names of each person who has contributed to its development is listed in the program itself. Such a requirement has other significance as we will see later.


5. There are alternatives available in terms of actually effecting the transfer of funds. Current regimes for the collection and disbursement of royalties rely upon collective rights organisations. These CROs have been criticised for the amount of the funds they absorb as administrative costs which amount to between 18-20% in the case of the United States. Furthermore, their allocational methods favour larger players in the market.

i. One possibility is to use systems based on the paypal or amazon mechanism to transfer the funds directly into a bank account established for the recipient. This could be implemented using the Trusted Third Party System common in public key cryptography. In this case, a bank account would be established in trust for the cultural worker, but she would not have access to the funds until a given set of criteria were satisfied. Under our model the first of these criteria would be the supercession of the threshold. Further requirements could be added, such as production of a given work by a specified date, or pending independent review by an agreed third party to verify the quality of the work.

ii. Another option is to license several CROs to carry out the distribution. They would compete with one another on several levels:

a) The level of transparency to the recipients and the public

b) The level of costs involved in their administration.

c) Differing mechanisms of allocating funds to the different parties that contribute to a work. For example, one CRO could have a system whereby all of the funds contributed to a music group would go to the star lead-singer, whereas another would have an algorithm for paying session musicians, sound engineers, producers according a manadated minimum.


6. As was mentioned earlier, later creators are fully entitled to appropriate existing works for their own purposes, but are required at attribute their sources. There are several reasons for this.

a) It allows users to modulate their contributions based upon who they feel to merit the cash. If Alice watches a film which she really hates, with the exception of a five minute passage which she loves and wants to support, then the list of footage with the respective creator attached allows her to make the contribution to the maker of that sequence rather than the film-maker, should they not be the same person.

b) In the transition period this would be particularly important, as cultural producers keen to commit themselves to the scheme will often find themselves integrating proprietary works which although they can distribute, they cannot agree to the re-use of. Such a taxonomy can make endusers aware of this and provide them with the necessary data to contact and perhaps make an agreement with the owner of the rights.

c) The list would also highlight the backend participation which may be relevant in the case of deciding which of several vying CROs one wishes to use to carry out the transfer of cash as was mentioned in 5.ii(c)


6.(b) Many cultural producers complain about the surreptitious use of their works by broadcatsers and other commercial organisations who do not remunerate them. Instituting such a practice of attributive lists would crete the opportunity to force commercial operators to do the same and account from where they derive their footage. Instead the system of credits is in fcat under massive pressure as broadcasters attempt to amximise their advertising time and install themselves as gatekeepers between the producers and the audience (as exemplified by their refusal to allow program-makers to include the URLs for their independent web sites). Some Comments on the Model


7. This proposal began as a reflection on the position of musicians in the digital environment, principally becuase the rapid proliferation of MP3s and file sharing have thrown the music industry into something of a ‘crisis’. Yet as many people are aware, few musicians have had a substantial income from royalties. This proposal was devised to deliver material self-sufficiency for musicians and the supply of pleasing things (as well as the possibility of ther reuse) for users, the interests of the music industry as such were not a concern of ours.


8. Whilst developed as a reflection on music, we were under no illusions that the consequences of digitization would be limited to that form. As access to broadband and wifi expands we are are already witnessing the ‘napsterisation’ of the film industry where some analysts claim over a half a million programs/movies are now being swapped every day. As we believe that the decommodification of culture is a good thing in general, and argue that this proposal will help to close the gap between producer and audience, we claim that this model can be tweaked to cover essentially all forms of culture.


9. As broadcasters are not actually involved in a business model based on the selling of culture so much as the selling of audiences to advertisers, they should not be included in this arrangement and should have to pay creators for use of their work. This could be quite complex but no more than the problems posed by copyright adjudication currently.


10. Even if the copyright system was abolished in the morning, many of the same players would continue to dominate culture. The success of a work is to a significant extent a function of the amount of work put into marketing it, and the circuits of promotion that one has access to. The major music companies employ indy promoters to circumvent payola laws and ensure their presence on mass market radio, control many of the major urban music venues, many magazines and television stations which are employed to construct the star system. Our proposal cannot change that. What it can do is to uncouple the consumption-payment axis which provides the means to continue funding this mechanism on the basis of a guarantee provided by the state (copyright law). the likelihood is that the majority of people will continue to give much of their money to the stars, but we do think that over time people will give more of thier money to local performers/creators or to those who have made the effort to share their work with them.


11. People often believe that this proposal is tainted by a certain statism. We argue the contrary as the crux of the proposition is the withdrawal or retirement of the state from two areas of activity: the maintenance of the regulated monopoly that is copyight and the allocation of public subsidies to culture through Arts Councils etc.

Discussion

Alan Toner:

Positive Aspects of the Model

• Severing the relationship between consumption and remuneration renderssuperfluous the demand for a centralised trackingmechanism to gather infpormation on people’s use of works. • No need for a progressively more punitive system employing criminal sanctions and intrusion into the private sphere. • Releases large amounts of materials to be used by next generation creators, lowering their costs and removing barriers to entry. • Spreads the distribution of monies in a manner such as to allow a far greater number of people to work full-time in production or at least to be able to take some months out of the year to be devoted to that purpose.” (http://knowfuture.wordpress.com/2006/12/05/resuscitating-alternatives-to-copyright/)


More Information

The Blur/Banff proposal at http://www.nsu.newschool.edu/blur/blur02/reports/blur02_user_love.pdf