Some have attempted to force information to be physical objects: Copy protection, dongles, and other forms of Info Highway Ball & Chain. This sometimes sort of works, but generates quite a bit of ill will when it inconveniences legitimate users (horror stories mercifully omitted).
Others advocate free and unrestricted copying. This would be OK if creators of information could just walk into stores and pick up food and stuff free, move into any vacant dwelling without worrying about rent or mortgage, and get free use of communication links, electricity, and so on. But they can't, and are thus forced to spend time at things other than dreaming up free goodies for the rest of us.
Shareware sometimes works, if the user ever gets around to printing out the address, writing a check, putting it in an envelope with a stamp, and getting it into the mail. But it's so easy to just plan on doing it tomorrow.
So what's left? I have some ideas, based on the following principles:
So imagine some kind of Software Sharing Association you could belong to. For your membership dues you get the right to copy and use any software (programs, novels, poetry, etc.) put out by any other member.
As part of your membership you are given a little program (call it a Nielson Demon) that sits in your machine and every now and then calls up the Association's offices and tells it which software items you've been using, and how often. For privacy protection there could be some sort of cryptographic scheme such that the Association doesn't know which items you specifically are using, but does know how heavily any item is being used. The Association adds up the usage figures and doles the money out accordingly.
And note that not every user need accept the Nielson Demon. We need only a sampling, like the TV ratings. Perhaps those who agree to install the demon would get a dues discount to induce them to do so. This would probably get more acceptances than necessary, but not all Nielson Demons need be activated. The Associations could decide whose demons to activate and whose to leave dormant without telling any user whether their demon was one of the active ones. This would avoid some of the biases inherent in a self-selected sample.
Each copy of a participating program would include a Penny Demon that would send small payments in to the author of the program whenever the program was used. The payment rate would be stated up front as the price of using the program, and would be chosen so that over a program's lifetime a medium-heavy user would end up paying something near what we now think of as a reasonable price for a similar program bought in a store or by mail order. For most programs this should be painlessly small when considered over the short term, perhaps comparable to the cost of power to run a desktop computer.
So if you like the general approach, then instead of telling yourself and others "This won't work because...", try to think in terms of "Engineering work will be needed in this area." And think of all the things we can do once the problems are solved.
This page was created by Tom Digby and is copyrighted with a fairly liberal "fair use" policy.
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