A great constructive mind

Richard Stallman (aka RMS) is not just the founder and a leader of the free software movement. He is a great thinker about culture and the Internet. Furthermore, in all of these activities, he is a solution engineer. He just has given us another product of his constructive mind.

Those who try to put in place the new cultural financing models that are needed in the age of IT and the Internet struggle with a contradiction. They are convinced that the not-for-profit sharing of digital works between individuals is legitimate and does not require “compensation” to an alleged harm. In other terms, “compensation” should not be a design parameter for a good financing system : fair rewards and production needs are much better guidelines. Actually, taking compensation of right holders for the harm they claim to suffer from sharing as the basic parameter would lead to an unfair system. It would thus undermine the support of citizens, Internet users1 and the vast majority of contributors to creative works for proposals such as the creative contribution, the Kulturflatrate or Compartilhamento Legal. However, we know that in many – possibly all realistic – contexts, an ideal system, designed on the basis of fair rewards and production needs could face severe legal and policy-making obstacles, and risks not being put in place.

In my recent work, to appear in Sharing, I tried to tackle this contradiction by describing and modeling what would be the “best” system, and then minimally adapting it to cope with possible adoption constraints. RMS proposes another approach. Rather that bending the “best” model, he suggests to put in place a superposition of the “best model” (there to last) and an additional system (labeled as imposed on us by unfair requirements for compensation). I am not sure the idea will please everybody, but as a a preventive approach against enshrining unfair constraints in the design of a new social system, it is a very valuable contribution.

Of course, what is the “best” model is also an object of debate, and I do not agree on some aspects of RMS’ description of it. For instance, RMS has for a while advocated for rewards to be proportional to the cubic root (power 1/3) of “use”. I think this is too flat a function in the cultural domain (in constrast to social justice which call for different rules). I would prefer a power 2/3 reward function associated with a top-off mechanism to avoid distributing excessive rewards that inevitably fuel speculative behavior and serve no cultural purpose. The Swedish law for loan libraries2 creates a compensation mechanism, which I do not approve as loaning books should be a right without compensation. However, this compensation has an interesting top-off mechanism : when an author would receive annually more than the median wage, his actual compensation rate is decreased progressively, up to a level of being divided by 10 for sums above 120% of the median wage.

When, thanks to RMS, we will be discussing such aspects, we will have made a long way in the right direction.

This post is also available in: French

  1. The two categories becoming similar. []
  2. Thanks to Amelia Andersdotter for pointing me to this mechanism. []

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