Tuesday, November 20, 2007

'Pay Me for My Content'

New-tech guru Jaron Lanier has an op-ed piece today that marks a rare example of The New York Times actually moving the dialogue forward.

In "Pay Me for My Content" (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/20/opinion/20lanier.html), Lanier argues that the time is way past for creators to expect some futuristic windfall in return for having their works given away online by aggregators. "Information," he suggests, "could be universally accessible but on an affordable instead of an absolutely free basis."

Obviously, I like the drift of these remarks and the acknowledged reversal by someone who says he once wrote a manifesto entitled "Piracy Is Your Friend." But I still think something is missing here, and that something is the idea of the real hidden costs to all of society -- not just writers and their brethren -- of content that is purportedly, but not actually, free. When giant corporate aggregators call the shots, free can turn out to be no so free: creative material becomes embedded in commercial clutter, and the public sometimes trades away way too much privacy in return for access.

And that is why I wish Lanier had also raised a model that many people, including myself, have long advocated: a royalty system similar to the music industry's ASCAP. Let those who exploit the work of others calculate royalties in their overhead. Whether the exploiters choose to charge users directly for the content is their own business decision.


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