Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Dean Baker

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research

January 24th, 2012 3:21 AM

The Surefire Way to End Online Piracy: End Copyright

The popular rebellion against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was an impressive display of democracy in action. The opponents of the bill were able to use the web and various social media venues to educate the public about the specifics of the bill. The resulting flood of e-mails, phone calls and letters caused the bill's congressional sponsors to cut and run.

While this revolt against the entertainment industry's effort to rein in the web was inspiring, there is a real issue at stake. It is getting ever harder for creative workers to get paid for their work.

This is seen most clearly in the music industry. Sales of recorded music in the United States dropped from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $7.7 billion last year. If sales had kept pace with inflation and the growth of the economy they would be over $23 billion today.

Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of this money stems from the work of small number of performers who are promoted by the major entertainment companies. The vast majority of singers and musicians get almost nothing from copyright protection.

However the answer to this problem can't be the SOPA route of closing off the web. The more obvious route is to develop alternatives to copyrights for funding creative and artistic work.

The idea of alternatives to copyright should not sound strange. There already is a vast amount of work supported through universities, private foundations and different levels of government. While the existing channels of funding are not sufficient to replace copyright-supported work, they can be expanded to fill the gap.

One route would be to allow individuals a modest refundable tax credit -- an artistic freedom voucher (AFV) -- that would allow them to give $75-$100 a year to support creative work. This money could either go directly to the worker or to an intermediary that supports specific types of creative work (e.g. an intermediary may finance action films, jazz music, or mystery novels).

To be eligible to receive money through this system a creative worker would have to register with the IRS in much the same way as a tax-exempt charity or non-profit registers. They would have to give basic information about what it is they do, just as charity for feeding the homeless or the Heritage Foundation think-tank must do to get and keep their non-profit status.

The IRS would not evaluate the quality of the work; it would simply have the ability to verify that a registered worker actually engages in the type of work claimed. It would also be desirable to require some minimal level of funds to be a recipient, like $1,000 a year per worker or organization, to prevent some of the most obvious ways to game the system.

The other condition for receiving the money is that the person would be ineligible for copyright protection for a substantial period of time (e.g. five years) after collecting money through the AFV system. This rule is to prevent the AFV system from turning into a farm system for the entertainment industry.

If someone makes a reputation with AFV funding, they would take a big risk by dropping out of sight for five years so that they could then produce work that was subject to copyright protection. This provision also has the benefit that it is completely self-enforcing. If a singer records a copyrighted record two months after his last check from the AFV system then the copyright is simply invalid. The singer will not be able to take any action against anyone who makes and sells unauthorized copies of their work.

From the standpoint of tax filers the contribution would be similar to a contribution to a charity. They would simply need some record of a payment having been made and could then deduct this amount from their income taxes or receive the sum as a negative income tax payment.

While there is a risk of fraud and abuse in this system, as with any system, there is far more opportunity with the current charitable contribution tax deduction. A wealthy person donating $10 million to a bogus charity would stand to gain $3.5 million from this fraud. The most an individual could pocket through cheating on the Artistic Freedom Voucher system would be the $75-$100 maximum contribution.

This funding mechanism would likely generate a vast amount of music, books, movies and other video material. None of this work would be protected by copyright. Rather than using SOPA-type bills to limit the Internet, creative workers would have incentive to spread their material as widely as possible. This would increase the probability that they would get more support through the AFV system in future years.

There may well be better ways than the AFV to support creative work, but the real lesson from the SOPA debacle is that we need to develop alternatives to copyright to support creative work. The institution of copyright dates back to the late middle ages. It may have served a useful function back then, but we will need something better for the Internet Age.

You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Enron billionaire John Arnold thinks everyone should believe him when he says we've got to cut pensions because he's so incredibly rich: John...

Mar 5th
4:20 PM
Read More

More in David Sirota's continuing series on the billionaire takeover of PBS: More PBS conflict woes as activists move to eject David Koch from board of...

Mar 3rd
12:35 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles