Buying Content To Free It Is Not The Answer

from the bad-start dept

Slashdot is pointing to a recent email that Wikipedia founder Jimbo Wales sent to a mailing list asking everyone there what content they might buy the rights to in order to set free if they had $100 million for such a purpose. The email suggests that Wales is in contact with just such a person or group, who is willing to donate $100 million worth of content to some sort of public domain. It’s got lots of people talking about the possibilities, but I’m afraid it’s really a big distraction. Rather than spend $100 million to put some small segment of content into the public domain, why not spend that $100 million to educate people on ways that intellectual property needs to be reformed, or on better educating people about the harm that intellectual property monopolies can cause? It seems like that would be a much more effective use of the money, rather than to just free up a random set of content.

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Comments on “Buying Content To Free It Is Not The Answer”

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CrashCat says:

“… why not spend that $100 million to educate people on ways that intellectual property needs to be reformed … It seems like that would be a much more effective use of the money …”

No, it really wouldn’t. The problems with IP are already well known by the people who have power over it, and they want it broken the way it’s broken. Teaching even a million random people about it would be a joke; if that worked we’d all be storming the Capitol angrily about global warming, because it seems like there’s an awful lot of money being thrown at trying to teach me about impending doom.

Sure, $100m is a drop in the bucket for freeing up old content, but at least then you’d have a bucket of fish rather than trying to teach a million random people to fish who don’t care about fishing and would rather eat chicken.

Andrew W (user link) says:

Nevertheless Wales’s is an intriguing–and vital–question. It’s implication is: is there a copyrighted work whose release into the public domain could reinvigorate respect for the public domain itself?

While I doubt it, it’s still a provocative idea. $100 million might be enough for James Joyce’s decendents to finally loosen up–imagine how valuable a wiki’fied Ulysses would be.

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

> why not spend that $100 million to educate people

Because the media companies will spend a billion dollars to re-educate people. Then what?

Freeing $100 million worth of books, movies, music, whatever is probably the best thing you can do with the money. Microsoft gave away its browser free, how long did it take the other browsers to follow suit? If you’re lucky, you will set an example that companies can follow… those materials that aren’t financially feasible to sell should just be released, and maybe someone will do it.

Of course, nothing will happen until we get IP reform, but I expect IP law to get a whole lot worse before it gets better because of the people who can afford to buy it.

Davis Freeberg (profile) says:

What About Content Creation?

I think education could be one way to go, but I’d love to see them use the $100 million to start an open source production company. By investing in equipment, education and resources to coordinate volunteers, I think that they would end up with a lot more content and they could still monetize the content and have that $100 million grow from selling movie theater tickets or DVDs while simulataneously using the net to promote the films for free.

I know that a lot of people would be happy to volunteer their expertise as actors, producers or directors if the right opportunities would present themselves and what would be a better education for Hollywood then to see someone use no DRM and open source ideology and still clean their clock when it comes to the films produced?

Tyshaun says:


This opinion shows techDirts naivetee. I admire people like Mike for being steadfast in their ideology, unfortunately I feel like that ideology was developed in a vacuum in never-never land because it’s so far rooted from practical limitations.

I think$100 mil would be a great start to put some stuff into the public domain, maybe it will inspire more philanthropy. At any rate I think it will do more good than a bunch of PSA like campaigns.

Neal says:

I might also add, there are a lot of works with expired copyrights that could be digitized and made available. Perhaps some of this money could be used to maintain a site containing a list of such works that they, and others, would like digitized.

I, for one, have a few old texts I’d like to read. I also have a few old texts I’d gladly scan, and even convert to pdf and proofread… if I had a repository to submit them to… and most especially if I had access to other old texts in exchange.

Alex Muro says:

Not quite

Although I agree that copyright and Intellectual property law is outdated, it has much much more than 100 million dollars worth of vested interest behind it and THAT is why its not dissappearing as fast as you’d like it too as bad as you think it is of business model in todays world.
As for wikipedia, what better way to educate people on the value of free content then to just give it to them and see how they like it. In the end they have the same goals as you do but are going about it in a much more practical manner ie spending 100 million dollars compared to whining on thier blog everyday about how intellectual property sucks.

Anonymous Coward says:

It seems like that would be a much more effective use of the money

I would ask what makes you say this. Do you have an evidential reason for it or is it just a gut feeling?

intr.v. seemed, seem·ing, seems

1. To give the impression of being; appear: The child seems healthy, but the doctor is concerned.
2. To appear to one’s own opinion or mind: I can’t seem to get the story straight.
3. To appear to be true, probable, or evident: It seems you object to the plan. It seems like rain. He seems to have worked in sales for several years.
4. To appear to exist: There seems no reason to postpone it.

You’re welcome.

alastair (user link) says:


The fact is that copyright already results in work being in the public domain after a certain period of time (which is intended to allow the copyright holder to make money, partly to cover the cost of creating the work, and partly as a profit motive). All Jimmy Wales is proposing to do is to buy the copyright holder’s rights and release the work into the public domain earlier than would happen due to copyright law.

The problem here is mostly that a lot of people don’t seem to get how copyright is supposed to work, but partly also that, particularly in the United States, the period before things become public domain keeps being extended. Partly the lack of understanding about copyright is down to a focus on copyright theft, both by the media and by the substantial proportion of the public who appear to think it’s OK to steal copyrighted material. It’s just a shame that people don’t appreciate (a) the work that goes into most copyrighted products and (b) the fact that a lot of them would never be created if there wasn’t a profit motive involved. Even FOSS products are often supported by revenue generated from copyright licensing when you dig into things enough (put another way, a lot of the people who work on FOSS have their salaries paid by people who depend on copyright).

Of course the big – and legitimate – worry is that the current plague of copyright theft over the Internet will drive copyright holders to use ever more draconian technological measures to prevent or deter copyright theft, and indeed this is a trend that we’re seeing. But can you blame us? If the theft problem wasn’t so bad, we wouldn’t have a motive to do these kinds of things. And if you don’t believe in copyright, you should lobby your political representatives, and turn up at shareholder meetings to complain, not just steal things. The reason people don’t do that, of course, is that they can’t be bothered to try to think up a workable alternative to encourage continued creation of works currently supported by copyright. Or they don’t like any of the alternatives, and expect people to work for free (which is na?ve and unrealistic?if you think not, then put your money where your mouth is, quit your job and work for free for a while? you’ll soon change your tune as the bills roll in).

FSF would have you believe that you can make sufficient money out of support. But if that’s the case, then why is it that FSF needs donations? The fact is that it isn’t true except in a few special cases (such as database software, which is used by enterprises that can afford high support fees). That model also doesn’t work for most non-software products; you don’t need support for films or music, for instance.

Anyway, it makes me very cross that a large number of hard working people have to put up with both a substantial number of people stealing their hard work and constant and usually unwarranted criticism for using copyright as our democratically elected governments/parliaments/houses intended, i.e. to derive a revenue for the permitted period before releasing our works into the public domain. (There’s also often an assumption that we’re all hugely rich, whereas actually a lot of people make just enough to get by; destroy copyright and you’ll destroy their businesses long before you even get close to harming the ones that you’re really upset with.)

Stu says:

how to get your $100 million worth

Here’s how to get your $100 million worth – use it to feed BS to the public. Much more effective than trying to educate them. See below
In an article titled, “Rove foresees GOP victory”
THE WASHINGTON TIMES, October 18, 2006
By Joseph Curl

In the last paragraph of the article, Karl Rove is quoted as saying, “Between now and the election, we will spend $100 million in target House and Senate races in the next 21 days.”
PS – “in target”?
I copy/pasted from the Washington Times web article.

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