Two Simple Suggestions for Properly Compensating Artists Online

Solutions, right?

Well, here are two from free software and programming legend Richard Stallman (aka, ‘rms’), a longtime supporter of open software, content sharing, and copyleft concepts.  Stallman is a demi-god in many tech and programming circles, and credited with paving the path for open source systems like Linux today.

The following recommendations came as part of a broader weigh-in on the Emily White debate, which oftentimes devolves into details discussions of problems (and yes, we’re frequently guilty).

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“Society should make it easier to support musicians, and other artists as well. I’ve proposed two systems for this, both of them compatible with legalization of sharing.”

See Copyright vs. Community, but here they are in brief:

(1) Put a tax on internet connectivity, and divide the money among artists.

Measure the raw popularity figure of each artist by polling the public, or by measuring how often P2P networks share their work, then distribute the money in proportion to the cube root  of each artist’s raw popularity figure.

Why the cube root? So that most of the money goes to the artists that really need help — those who are good and somewhat successful, but not stars. Each star would get more from this system than a non-star, but not tremendously more, so the few stars together would not get most of the money.”

(2) Give each player device a button to send 50 cents anonymously to the artists.

They you could push the button and send money, when you wish. (I used to suggest one dollar, but the banksters have impoverished the American public so much that a smaller sum is now called for.)

Either way, if the system is to support the artists, we need to stop the publishers (such as record companies) from taking this money for themselves.

[Emily,] I beg you to reconsider this issue, and resume maintaining your own local copies of music — copies that you are in a position to share with your friends, copies that you can listen to without letting any company monitor or control your use.

– rms”

35 Responses

  1. @mattadownes

    The tax is a great idea, but its fundamentally flawed by years/layers of potential red tape. People don’t want to pay taxes for education let alone music.

    Part two sounds like a great idea to “tip” artists, but what payment provider out there will facilitate this so at least .45 of the money goes to the artist?


    • Julia

      I think Flattr is going to be a great tool for tipping artists.

      • FarePlay

        And for all these years I’ve been referring to it as the music “business”. Now if only we could get the technology, computers and players for free we would truly live in a utopian world.

        Don’t forget to sign the petition to pardon Peter Sunde of Pirate Bay Fame and join the thousands of others who believe artists should work for free.

  2. Casey

    Idea 1 has to be one of the worst ideas I have ever heard.

    Just because you can’t make money doesn’t give you the right to tax people who have nothing to do with you. If I had to pay a tax you can be sure I would never buy another song ever again. I wouldn’t buy it AND pay taxes for it. Furthermore giving the money artists that need the help? Seriously? It is bad enough to tax people, everyone, regardless of if they even download music. It is even worse to give that money to the people NOT making the music people are listening too.This is like giving welfare to people who either have a lot of money already, or giving welfare to people who could have money but would prefer to spend too much time on their hobby and not a job that actually pays the bills. Overall a bad idea.

    Idea 2 is actually good.

    • Visitor

      If this is Proper compensation I’d hate to see imporper… oh wait, we already have that…

    • Visitor

      There are plenty of problems with idea 1 but I think you are over reacting a bit.

      I think, (but I am not sure b/c idea 1 is pretty vague) that the person who is distributing the content pays the connectivity tax. The tax would be based on traffic to their site which contains material under copyright.

      You might say that the cost simply gets passed on to consumer. If that is the case, then at least it would put an end to free piracy

  3. Idea #1 is already being done.

    …on Isle of Man. DMN probably covered that debate back in 2009.

    It is not a new idea by any stretch, but it would be cool to get an update on how its going.

    #2 sounds good on paper, but…

    who will ensure that the $0.50 actually gets to the right people and not into the pockets of the record labels (the rights holders of the master recording)? And should the band member who left the band still get a share of the $0.50 donations? What about the session musician who sat in on a track? And how does the share get divided between band members? Does the manager get some of that? What about the booking agent who got them the gigs that made you like them in the first place? What about the guy who holds a lien on the touring van? If the band doesn’t pay up, does that guy get a share of the $0.50 donations?

    And so forth and so on.

    Its just soooo complicated that simple solutions are difficult to find in this business.

  4. Steven Corn (BFM Digital)

    Ok, so how do you define “artists” who would participate in the revenue pool? Is it anyone who releases an album, EP or even just a single? Then how do you define “need”?

    Oh yeah, and who defines “artist” and “need”?

  5. balbers

    So how does one define an artist according to rule #1?

    Let’s say I compose a song on my guitar. Just one chord, E major. And start singing some words. Total gibberish, but words. Better yet, lose the guitar and just knock a couple rocks together in rhythm. Record my hit song into my laptop and upload it to Youtube. Would I then officially be an artist?

    And by virtue of that, would I thereby be entitled to some of the monies collected as part of this internet tax? And (if I’m understanding it correctly) I would be entitled to a greater sum of these monies if I’m less popular than if I’m well known?

    Looks like I’ve got a project to do tomorrow…

    • mdti

      you are an artist if you have works registered with a copyright office and/or if you are operating under an artist statute, that is to say , that you are paying taxes on you artistic activities either directly or through a company of yours.

      or if many many other people say “you are an artist” then you probably are one.

  6. Clyde Smith

    I really hate the periodic suggestions to tax something like Internet connectivity and then give it to a particular group while not helping other groups that need help.

    I don’t fileshare illegally and I don’t want to pay taxes because others fileshare illegally.

    But if you want to tax rich people to make sure every child has food, shelter and proper medical care. I’m down with that.

    The button thingy is just another form of micropayments/donations. That’s being explored elsewhere and is interesting. It’s unlikely to solve bigger problems such as the fact that we let aging musicians (& other humans) who are poor live in totally fucked up conditions but that’s cause we’re apparently a culture of assholes. At least in the States we are.

    • mdti

      that’s about right.

      In france, the tax “solution” was abandonned years ago for the reasons you say.

      The french parliament also rejected two weeks ago the extensioon to computers of the tax on “audiovisual” (a tax that you pay if you own a TV, and that finances TV channels for fictions, documentaries and so on) for similar reason (the number one reason is that a computer is not a TV and then those who don’t watch TV on computers would pay the tax unjustly).

      The tax idea is not bad, i think i would pay it, but it is in fact the most shallow thinking of all.

      I can tell you this from France, a country where governments think a tax is the solution to all problems. It begins tio change now, as it solves no problem at all and has as much negative side effects than advantages.

      The tax was then adapated to other products to allow legal downloads: for example, music credits on your new credit card, special codes and coupons if you get the ++ meal in your fast food chain or favorite beverage etc etc…. partnership and sponsoring is what it has been now.

      The CEO of Universal in FR thought the partnership with société general bank to offer download credits was working very well (that was at a conference 2 years ago).

  7. Visitor

    Some other ideas posted by a DJ:

    1) Give Google the choice through legislation, of paying an appropriate royalty for every link to a copyrighted file they list or the option to remove such links immediately. Simplify the DMCA process for affected artists and labels. Do not allow Google to govern their own quota for DMCA takedown notices. They are one of the largest businesses on the planet with revenues to match so make them work for it. No excuses!

    2) Make filesharing sites pay a small royalty for every download they provide from their service. Even $.01 is better than $.00. It’s up to them how they recoup it but advertising and premium services should easily cover the cost allowing them to continue. Make them into responsible businesses.

    3) Encourage the public to share and download only through sites that pay royalties to content originators (artists). Make them aware that even without them personally having to pay for what they download their simple choice of which download service they use is important. Encourage the good sites and make pariahs of services who flout the rules. Public opinion is powerful and morality still exists.

    4) Services like Spotify should only be allowed to continue if they are 100% transparent about how they distribute royalties. At the moment they are very protective of how they conduct business leading to a lot of mistrust.

    Original post:

  8. Bas Grasmayer

    Where do I register as an artist so I can get some of the connectivity tax money?

    Why only distribute money from the connectivity tax to artists?

  9. Bas Grasmayer

    Also, number 2 would work well if more content-centric platforms would adopt a Flattr-like approach…

    Or Flattr would become somewhat of a standard.

    Anyway, any model based on donations does not suffice in my opinion. Artists shouldn’t let their work be reduced to charity. They (and startups, labels, etc) should strive to develop exciting products around their music so that they don’t have to hold their hand out for money… Instead, people would be excited to SPEND money on things offered by artists and their commercial ecosystem. “Please take my money! I need what you’re selling!”

    • Visitor

      “artists shouldn’t let there work be reduced to charity”

      that’s what it is now: you choose to help the artist by buying their music (charity), or you choose to hurt them by stealing their music (crime).

      “develop exciting products” — um, yeah, it’s called “songs”.

      the point is: no artist whose music is NOT being d’loaded illegally is asking for “compensation”. the artists who see thousands, (tens or hundreds of) of illegal d’loads would like to be compensated.

  10. Dubist

    I have envisioned the idea of option one for many years. Sorry but it’s not a tax…it’s a royalty payment. When Apple, Google, Microsoft and the ISPs profit from soaring sales of devices designed to download and play media, how can they NOT be responsible for participating in compensating the creators. I think rms may want to consider the wider ramifications here though. Film, TV, still images, and books are also being pirated. The only gate keeper in the chain that can track, report and pay based on the files flowing throught their servers are the ISPs. I would imagine that the ISPs would not have had the tremendous growth they have enjoyed over the past dozen years if getting media for free was not a part of the equation. We dont’ consider the BMI,ASCAP,SESAC payments made by radio and TV to be a tax but instead a royalty. We pay for it indirectly but rest assured the cost is passed along to the consumer. So why not a blanket license that ISPs pay to compensate creators much like traditional broadcasters already pay? Yes it will be messy trying to figure out how to distribute, but the traditional way of collecting from broadcasters and paying to writers, publisher (and performers in most countries) did not come about overnight. No it will never be totally “fair” but at least it will be better than free, which let’s face it, isn’t really working. If this hole is not plugged, there will ultimately be no reason to create music, art, write books, or create videos. I don’t know about you but that’s not the world in which I want to live.

    • Casey

      ISPs don’t profit off media. They profit off of leasing a connection to a consumer. That’s it. It doesn’t matter if music, videos, etc. flow through or not. They don’t care. They are not responsible for what the user does and therefore should in no way be responsible for paying anything to artists. As I have said before the internet providers are nothign more than a highway to take the user where s/he wants to go. You do not tax or charge royalties to the highway system.

      “I would imagine that the ISPs would not have had the tremendous growth they have enjoyed over the past dozen years if getting media for free was not a part of the equation.”

      No. There is zero evidence of this and no reason to believe any could be produced. The primary use for the internet is communication. Whether or not people download music illegally is irrelevant. They would subscribe anyway because the internet does so many other things. Look at internet connected smartphone growth. You don’t download torrents on smartphones, yet the growth is explosive anyway.

      “The only gate keeper in the chain that can track, report and pay based on the files flowing throught their servers are the ISPs.”

      No. They don’t. Most do not do any more tracking then they have to do for the feds. And being able to dig through all their traffic for when people consume music illegally is impossible. They don’t know what people are doing exactly unless they dig deep and even then they won’t be sure what they are looking at and both encryption and privacy laws come into play. Then even if they did find out, knowing whether or not something is infringing is extremely difficult. Not to mention the extreme cost.

      “We dont’ consider the BMI,ASCAP,SESAC payments made by radio and TV to be a tax but instead a royalty.”

      Big difference. Radio stations use music directly and deliver it to consumers for consumption. Music is more or less the main part of their product. ISPs deliver raw data at the request of the user. What they deliver they honestly don’t know or care. They are the pipe, nothing more.

      “If this hole is not plugged, there will ultimately be no reason to create music, art, write books, or create videos. I don’t know about you but that’s not the world in which I want to live.”

      There is no hole. ISPs don’t owe you anything.

      • Bald Headed John

        “ISPs don’t profit off media”

        Sorry Casey but you are wrong about that. ISPs profit off of media. Their whole business model is based on the transfer of copyrightable media from one server to an end user.

        If there wasn’t copyrightable media flowing through the internet, only a small fraction of people would bother connecting. The internet would still be a handful of scientists sharing data on a closed usenet group.

        ISPs wouldn’t be making as much money as they are today if it wasn’t for the copyrightable media that people consider to have value and then pay for the easy access.

        I would like to see how long any ISP would last if it didn’t transfer copyrightable media.

        • Casey

          ISPs are not content providers, they are network providers. They don’t sell copyrighted material, they sell access to a network. That is where they make their money. What people use the network access for is their own choice. To be honest most ISPs are in substantial amounts of debt and are not very pofitable anyway. Only in the minds of bloggers are ISPs making a killing.

          Would less people subscribe if they couldn’t access any media at all? Possibly, but that isn’t a scenerio which we will ever see. If people did leave they would simply raise their rates and we would be back where we are now. The question is, would less people subscribe if illegal media was blocked? The impact would go almost unnoticed. If people couldn’t access illegal media, they are not going to stop subscribing to the internet. They will keep paying anyway because they want access to the large variety of legal content and other uses the internet provides. So making them pay money for subscribers is unfair, because they are not profiting off of illegal media. They profit off of consumers. They are simply providing the pipe. ISPs are the airwaves, the wire. They are not the content.

          • Bald Headed John

            “ISPs are not content providers.” Yes this is true. I never suggested they create the content.

            I was pointing out that if there was no media to distribute, ISPs would be completely out of business. There would be no demand for the service they provide. As to whether ISPs are making a profit, well they could toss it all and try to make a living as content creators instead. More risk yet more profit if you are good at what you do. I think they would rather play it safe and wait for the long haul.

            You have asserted that the ISPs have no contrtol over what they are distributing. That is debatable. I think you will find quite a few attorneys from both sides of the net neutrality debate that will argue that point infinitum.

            Finally, I am not arguing that either idea in the article has any merit. They are full of logistical, legal and economic holes that only a politician would be foolish enough to pursue.

          • lifer

            So, uh, Casey. Did you say upfront which ISP you are representing in this conversation or are you just holding it down for ISPs in general?

          • AnAmusedGeek

            “I was pointing out that if there was no media to distribute, ISPs would be completely out of business. There would be no demand for the service they provide.”

            Yep..right – cuz people don’t play xbox live, twitter about the most trivial stuff, or post useless links of facebook. Of course, no one uses email either…Nor do they do shopping or banking online.

            C’mon – media could disappear off the web tommorrow, youtube could close down, and hulu/vevo could burst into flames….

            And people would still pay for internet connections

          • Bald Headed John

            Thank you for the input.

            I would be very interested to see a comparison between the amount of revenue generated from delivering email, tweets and low res photos to that generated by delivering music and video.

            Also, when arguing your point don’t start off by by asserting a fact that supports the opposing side of the argument.

            X-box live is fully copyrighted media and is very agressively protected by it’s attorneys as such.

          • Bald Headed John

            ….oh and I forgot we would have to throw out the entire online porn industry.

            I guess they don’t use up a lot of traffic on the internet either?

  11. Big Swifty

    So in Canada are they already trying a version of idea 1?

    Apparently, musicians are upset that the current administration wants to remove the subsidy.

  12. Tragon

    #1 is a lame idea, similar to taxing HDDs and blank CD/DVDs, because they *might* be used to store music or other copywrited matterial.

    #2 is out there and is called Bandcamp. You can stream and listen to as many songs as you like, and you can pay to download any songs you enjoy, pay the price the band decided (some may allow 0$ so they can atleast grab your email), and the band takes a 90% share of the sales. Not bad right?

    The best part? It actually works. I know because I use it for my band Lord Impaler, and we actually receive the money the moment they are being payed.

    Check it out everyone!

    (p.s. a little shameless plug: my band’s page is , in case you like melodic black metal or just supporting small bands)

  13. Solveig

    Dear Richard: I love your thinking. I loved it in 1985 (1986?) when we met at Bell Labs, where I think you were evangelizing GNU to Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan. You have such an intellectually disarming way about you, throwing out those fantastic (literally) ideas, and inspiring other people to figure out how to construct something completely new, beautiful, and functional from the broken shards. While many of your ideas may seem impossible at first glance, you are always a visionary who sees beyond the boundaries of what is to what could be.

    “Anything new, anything worth doing, can’t be recognized.” Pablo Picasso

  14. Reminds me of the Google gang.

    Stalman is actually in favor of protecting his own IP and has sued third parties over it over the years. Funny, eh? He likes copyright, when it has something to do with his own business.

  15. REMatwork

    These are the two big earth shattering suggestions? Reminds me of the guru that spent 30 years on the mountaintop contemplating the meaning of life and finally came down and said only six words: “toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches”.

    Emmett, the Digital Content Exchange

  16. Ujo

    I like idea 2. Maybe make the #Flattr button a standard for VLC or some of the other popular media players.
    I’m a Kenyan and I can tell you for a fact that African Music has traditionally and always been considered a communal thing. Art in most african communities belongs to the community / society and not to some people in particular. Ofcourse the artist has a cost of living and needs to gain from his / her work otherwise it becomes a very frustrating endeavour.

    Having people have the option to pay unanimously every time they download or play a song or whenever they feel like could actually work. It’s just a show of appreciation for the artist’s work and not really charity. It really is the future business model of music if you really think about it. Let people share music with one another without getting them to feel guilty about it. Because sharing something good just feels right, like posting a link you like to facebook. Now imagine if some sites with wonderful content required that we all pay a fee to share their wonderful content on the social media.