Online Piracy: Both sides of the coin
February 17, 2007 1:28 PM   Subscribe

One creative cartoonist claims that micropayments would virtually eliminate the problem of piracy. On the other hand, programmer Sean Barrett disagrees.
posted by alon (16 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Notice McCloud's article was written in 2001? The other post uses the word "lately" so I would imagine it was written around the same time.
posted by delmoi at 1:30 PM on February 17, 2007

Yes, both pieces ignore itunes, which has pulled this debate out of the ether and into practice... probably, because it didn't exist yet.
posted by pokermonk at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2007


You're right. The bottom left corner of the page at "disagrees" says "written 2001-06-30."
posted by Kibbutz at 1:40 PM on February 17, 2007

Scott McCloud was one of the first creative artists to sign up with BitPass, the revolutionary new micropayment site.

Er, make that the late BitPass.
posted by Creosote at 1:45 PM on February 17, 2007

Yeah, micropayments are all well and good if you're an established print artist like McCloud. And even he couldn't get them to work, notice he's still publishing books and not pursuing the revolutionary Internet platform that he keeps herding artists into?
posted by ScottMorris at 2:20 PM on February 17, 2007

How to make money on content when reproduction is free....chapter 5 book 4.

Granted, the response lists using the Street Performer Protocol as a means of making money of the net. I have doubts about that, being cynical in nature about the human behavior.

But recently, over and over I have heard.

We need some way to get money into the hands of the people who create.

And that is all I have heard. No real solutions. The only ones I've seen consist of begging, selling t-shirts, and socialism, or speaking at conferences. Granted, it seems that one could do all of the above without actually creating anything.

I just have a dim view that the copyleft brigade hasn't provided a solution for the traditional purpose of copyright, that is " To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts".
posted by zabuni at 2:28 PM on February 17, 2007

zabuni: Street performing, as I see it (here in NYC, anyway), is not begging. Also, it's often not distasteful or rude as long as one does not cross generally accepted personal boundaries by pitching their product and collecting revenue. Ex: while I don't mind that there are breakdancers performing in Washington Square Park as I'm walking through, I definitely mind when some mariachi trio decides to perform on a crowded 2 train during rush hour (enclosed space, no way to escape the sound if you wish to use your time differently), and then look at me intently when passing around the donation hat.

In any case, there's little economic difference between a street performer and a gallery artist - except a gallery artist is often asking for three or four figures per piece of work, while a street performer merely leaves their guitar case open in front of them while playing (Assuming that the request of each interested listener, for practical purposes, is to donate any of the smallest pieces of currency in circulation or more).

And if this doesn't convince you, a club musician often has a tip jar out, and that's real income for those performers. How is that not a solution? It could be applied to the web easily. Generating revenue that way certainly depends on the honesty of the audience, but efficiency aside, there's nothing wrong with the mechanism of a tip jar or the etiquette of a performer asking for tips/donations. When the audience is generous, it works great.
posted by brianvan at 3:07 PM on February 17, 2007

1. Given the anonymous nature of the Internet, most of the expected normative fornces that make most people tip, don't apply because no one can tell who is donating. Tragegy of the commons + Anonymous Internet Assholishness. It's even worse with the Street Performer protocol, as it requires users to wait until the needed money is donated before the content is released.

2. Street performing won't probably scale to projects that require large amounts of resources, like movies or video games. When content requries large amount of money to be put into production values, how can it be funded? The cash is escrowed under the protocol until the work is produced. The only way to produce work that requires a large budget to complete is to get a loan from a large business, and repay it with the money from the escrow. This is basically the role record labels now play.
posted by zabuni at 3:27 PM on February 17, 2007

Ah, a six-year-old exchange about micropayments, I feel like I'm living that (six year old) Slashdot thread again, or maybe this one, or, you know, one of those. In case you missed Penny Arcade's vicious (and hilarious) send-up, or the disasterous goats experiment, indeed McCloud's own experiment with Bitpass which, as noted above, is now defunct, so that webcomic is free now. He used to have a little essay about how the micropayment thing worked for him, which was not that great, as I recall, netting him a couple thousand dollars on the first installment and maybe half that on the second - but it looks like he got rid of his blog-type-thing archives so I couldn't tell you the specifics. But hey, it's nearly worth the trip down memory lane to get alerted to the fact that Patrick Farley has been working on the fourth chapter of Apocamon after jeeze, like 4 years. Another Bitpass experiment. Now defunct etc. Hmm, I wonder what's up with Mother of All Bombs?

The tipping/street musician model has never even had the opportunity to work or fail because in practice it involved your going up to offer the street musician a quarter and he tells you, that's great, but if he could actually get a credit card he'll just set up a password account for you and take three bucks, only he just going to keep a quarter and the rest will stay in your special bank, where you can spend it on anyone else who happens to be using the same quasi-cash system. Cash provides a common-payment system that everyone has preexisting access to. Nothing comparable that easily scales to such small amounts has appeared for electronic fund transfer yet.
posted by nanojath at 3:40 PM on February 17, 2007

bitpass is dead. Well darnit! I have Great Dreams™ of the coming µpay economy.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:19 PM on February 17, 2007

This is a five-year old article about a concept that was proven to be a failure a year ago.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:10 PM on February 17, 2007

A concept that was obviously destined to be a failure more than six or seven years ago.
posted by blasdelf at 8:10 PM on February 17, 2007

Let the record show that I (who have defended piracy in various other threads) signed up for bitpass, specifically so I could read McCloud's comic. How weird it was to get the email about a month ago announcing that the service no longer exists.
posted by bingo at 9:14 PM on February 17, 2007

MuPay Clan ’aint nuthin’ to fuck with.
posted by AmberV at 9:34 PM on February 17, 2007

But Marty, if your past arguments about micropayments meet your future arguments about micropayments, you could throw the whole timestream into disarray!

Oh, and Sean Barrett might have been more convincing if he knew how media revenue streams worked. Six years ago.
posted by klangklangston at 12:07 AM on February 18, 2007

There's some interesting - and largely forgotten - history in online micropayments.

The first mass-market online service in the UK was a system called Prestel, and it had micropayments wired in from the start. It was a page-based system, and each page had a price. Normally, this was zero, but the page creator could set it in increments of a penny up to (I think) 99 pence. Every month, subscribers got a bill that included the monthly per-minute subscription plus any page access fees (although Prestel was run by the phone company, the dial-up charges were separate and added to your phone bill).

The system was far from perfect, but it worked well enough that the online Prestel publication that employed me at the time - Micronet 800, a home computer site - could develop a wide mix of free and paid-for services, including interactive user-generated content and software downloads. The rules said that you always warned ahead of time if a page was chargeable -- like the Web, you could either type the page ID straight in or select it as an in-page option - and that it was entirely up to the user and their terminal software what happened to the page once delivered.

It all went wrong in the end, because the phone company was in charge, it was genetically incapable of continuous innovation, it couldn't see how to work with others - and when others made things work, it saw them as competitors to be vanquished. This may sound familiar.

Micropayments have in general gone wrong because the wrong people were in charge - people who wanted to run a micropayment company. Money works because nobody runs the money company.

The online creative community - which has a very good track record in making things happen not because it wants to control them but because it wants them to happen - is surely able to develop its own system of token-based value exchange. When that starts to work, then it'll be time to think about how to convert it to geld.

It's our playground. We can do what we like.
posted by Devonian at 4:41 AM on February 18, 2007

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