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The Voluntary Own To Share (VOTS) licensing agreement

On one side you have the dinosaurs who grew up in the industrial age. "mp3s are like a pair of shoes," they say. "If you have one without paying for it, you've stolen it."

On the other side you've got the kids who grew up in the information age. And when you try to enforce industrial age copyright laws on them, they laugh and hack your code. They say, "You want us to pay money for what we can have for free when we know perfectly well the artist sees little of it and that most of it will go to guys in suits who already have more money than we will make in our entire lives? No way, dude."

Telling people "No" just isn't working. And shaming them just isn't working. And we certainly can't catch them all and throw them in jail...

That's one thing: It's simply impossible to effectively enforce old fashioned copyright laws on digital files.

And they're onto something about IP law disproportionately benefitting the suits.

But there's another argument for why we hve to rethink ownership in a digital environment.

Digital files are not like a pair of shoes. Shoes are hard to copy-- you'd have to be a shoemaker. And if one person has a pair of shoes, nobody else can have that pair. Digital files are easy to copy (Non-Excludable is the technical term). And if one person has one, no one else is denied having it, too (Non-Rivalrous is the technical term).

That's different. It. Just. Is.

It is simply and obviously not "stealing" to share a digital file in the same way it would be stealing to take a pair of shoes from a shoe store without paying.

It's absurd that we have capitalist dinosaurs filing lawsuits against information age kids.

What is to be done?

The Voluntary Own To Share (VOTS) digital object licensing agreement:

  • If you have this digital object, you have it. So read it. Look at it. Listen to it. There is no law against it. You have nothing to prove. No questions asked.
  • The creators respectfully request that you donate some amount (own) if you intend to share the digital object with others.
  • No enforcement. It's voluntary. Plain and simple. End of story. No cops. No Big Brother. No law suits.

Why must it be voluntary? First, because to try to enforce industrial age copyrights on information age files requires a Big Brother level of intrusive surveilance. Second, there are people in poverty. Those people should have free access to digital art and information. We must accept the possibility that some rich people will take and not give in order to assure that other people can take even if they have nothing to give. Third, it's better if you share it without donating than not share it at all.

This is digital age stuff. It won't work for shoes any more than the shoe model works for digital files. The shoe store guy will still call a cop if you take a pair without paying for it. But we won't call a cop if you share our files.

What we're suggesting is a distinction between owning and having. There is a tendency to think, "If you don't own it, you shouldn't have it." But none of us own the air we breathe. There has to be some stuff we can have without paying someone for it. And in a civilized society there should be a whole lot that someone can have without paying someone for it. You shouldn't have to already have succeeded in business in order to experience the cultural artifacts of your civilization. Children in poverty are denied plenty; they should not be denied culture.

If you have something: Maybe you borrowed it, rented it, hunted it, or stumbled across it. If you own something: society says you have some special rights to it. Probably you traded some money for the right to say "I own it" instead of "I have it."

You have a VOTS digital object? To share might or might not be okay. (But it's not illegal!) You own a VOTS digital object? Share at will.

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