Friday, December 18, 2009

The End of Copyright

The Canadian government, like many others around the world, is coming under increasing pressure to conform to US, and now EU, copyright regimes. It is only a matter of time before we too have draconian copyright laws that levy ridiculous penalties for sharing, for being human. Good, I say; the sooner the better.

I think these new laws are good because they will only serve to hasten the inevitable, the end of copyright as we know it. I say the Canadian government should, after negotiating suitable concessions in other trade areas, capitulate and whole-heartedly pass all manner of restrictive copyright legislation. However, the next thing they should do is require prominent warnings.

Canadians should pass a law that states that every distribution channel of every bit of copyright-restricted content come with a prominent warning. These warnings, like the side-effect warnings on US pharmaceutical advertising, should tell every consumer just how the product is restricted. I'm not talking about the "copying this is against the law" warnings, I'm talking about warnings like:

WARNING: This product is distributed with restrictive copyrights:
* You are NOT allowed to make back up copies.
* You are NOT allowed to share this with your friends.
* You are NOT allowed to redistribute this work.

And so on. The wording should be explicitly spelled out in the law with specific phrases that must be used when certain conditions are met. Like the disease-photos we mandate be printed on cigarette packaging, these phrases would not be media-friendly. Every distribution channel needs to require these warnings. If you want to air a show on TV that you maintain the copyright to, then a warning must precede it. The same for playing a song on the radio, or selling a book in a store. Every bit if media that is protected by copyright must display prominent warnings. If you don't want to display the warnings, then modify your copyright. With this approach, Canada would both fully comply with international obligations while encouraging the end of copyright, at the same time.

I don't really expect this to happen, but it would be nice. It would speed the demise of copyright. However, even without it, copyright will self-destruct. It will just take a little longer. In the mean time, we will get restrictive laws and we will ignore them. Some of us will continue with copyright infringement, while others will stop consuming copyrighted material. It's not like either is a particularly tough choice.

The problem with passing restrictive copyright laws is that they only work if they are enforced. The only reasonable way to enforce them is through technology. And, as should be very obvious by now, the technological arms-race is clearly being won by the file sharing community. Like the War On Drugs, that still has people becoming heroin addicts while in maximum security prisons, the prospect of the War On File Sharing being a success is pitiful. Yes, a few people might be financially ruined, a few might go to jail for a while, but the torrent of humanity joining the file sharing community is not going to stop. New systems for sharing will be created faster than any systems for detecting. History shows this to be a fact. It is not going to change.

The other problem with passing restrictive copyright laws is that the people at the other end of the spectrum, those morally opposed to copyright infringement, will also be morally opposed to restrictive copyright. These people will support and embrace any business model, like Keliso, that provides non-restricted media. They will simply stop consuming copyrighted material. In the digital renaissance we are experiencing, it's not like they don't have the choice. A person could choose to only enjoy media from artists that eschew copyright and never run out of new material to experience.

Thus, faced with increasingly restrictive and draconian copyright laws, people will either choose to ignore them, relying on increasingly stealthy copy systems, or they will simply, in protest, stop consuming this copyrighted material. The only people consuming restricted media will be the people that don't care about copyright, ignoring it while copying the media for free. If the only people paying are only willing to pay for non-restricted media, then the people in the business of distributing media will have no choice but to distribute non-restricted media. In an environment like this, which is the direction we're heading in, the existing copyright regime will die. It is inevitable. It would be nice if the Canadian government instituted a pharmaceutical side-effect like warning system to speed the collapse, but it's not necessary.

You can view more about Keliso here

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Strength, Weaknesses, and Desire

"If Keliso is such a great idea, why are you trying to sell it instead of doing it yourself?"

I get that question a lot. Unfortunately, to the people that matter most my answer makes the least amount of sense. The people that could carry Keliso forward, that could make it a success, are the kind of people that enjoy throwing themselves into an all-consuming commitment, that like being rewarded for risk. Quite honestly, they like working hard. I don't. Paul Graham said: "That's the essence of a startup: having brilliant people do work that's beneath them." I fully agree, my first job after college was working for an absolutely brilliant man, trained in geography, doing electronics design for marine research. Well, he spent a lot of time doing accounting, and taxes, and other mundane tasks. He built a successful company, and destroyed his marriage in the process.

I consider myself to be an intelligent and capable person, though I have met people I consider far smarter. I'm fairly certain that I could take Keliso through to completion, that I could do the accounting and taxes, write the code to make it work, hire the right people when it came time, and all the other aspects of building a startup. I just don't want to. I like my life the way it is; I have a great job that I, for the most part, love doing. Certainly, I'm doing less of what I don't feel like doing in my hourly job than I would be doing working for my own startup.

A long time ago, after spending years designing specialised computer systems, I realised that to progress I would have to either move or start my own company. I loved where I live, so moving was out. So, I went to one of those small business development seminars that governments put on. The first thing they did was hand out an "Are You Ready to Start a Business" checklist: Are you willing to work 16 hour days? Are you willing to work 5 years without a vacation? On and on it went. My answers: no, no, no... I switched careers and went into computer maintenance instead; I traded the small-business world for a dependable paycheck and a pension. No regrets at all.

"But surely..." people ask, "if the rewards are great enough, wouldn't you put the effort in?" Honestly, yes, but the rewards of building a successful startup don't really appeal to me. Sure, millions of dollars would be great, and I do think Keliso will make its builders at least that, but - and this may sound strange to people interested in startups - this kind of money isn't that important to me. I make more than enough money with my current job; I don't feel like I'm going without. Yes, I can't go off and buy my own jet or a ticket to the Space Station, but those aren't really life-goals for me. For the life-goals I do have, I'm more short of time than money. I would rather spend my time working on an open-source project, or puttering in my hobby machine-shop, than sweating out a startup.

I am, by nature, a person that likes to fix problems. My nickname is "FixerDave" for a reason. I want to fix everything, from motorcycles to computers, emotions to social ills. My deep interest in philosophy is centred around morality and its problems for society, problems I want to fix. Keliso is the solution I came up with to solve the looming problems that virtualising the distribution of content were beginning to cause, problems that have now been headline news for years. I also come from a family of extreme original-thinkers, people that were never in "the box" to start with. My father build a sawmill out of used car parts, from a design he came up with himself. This seems perfectly normal to me. I can't help but come up with original solutions to other people's problems. It's in my nature. Unfortunately, it's not in my nature to follow the bigger ideas through to conclusion.

Often, like my father's electric six-wheeled stair-climbing hand-truck (that pinned him to the wall at the top of the stairs - he wasn't very good at control systems), I see my ideas being sold years after I've come up with them. Some other person had the same idea and also had the ambition to follow through. I suspect that every good idea has many separate creators, coming up with the same general concept over and over again, until the right idea gets to the right person. I'm surprised that the system I envision in Keliso has not already been developed and put into operation. When this solution came to me, I thought it to be so obvious that other people must be working on it. Years have gone by and no one has even tried.

I've come up with a lot of ideas over the years, as is my nature. I've done a few, the simple ones that solve my own problems, but Keliso is the best. It's so good, and so clearly profitable, that I can't bear to just abandon it, knowing that someday, somebody will recreate it. I also can't bear the thought of just publishing it and walking away. Sitting back watching others profit so much from my great idea would be too much. I've tried to find local people, startup kind of people, to carry it forward, but that petered out. I've been dragged into the startup process myself but, without the drive and commitment required, this too failed, as I expected. I know myself and my capabilities. For years, this has been going on. Keliso has weighed upon my mind, occupying my time.

These years have been productive; Keliso is now a much-improved design. The early problems with scalability are now solved - Keliso can expand exponentially without issue. The original design involved rather a lot of money-handling - now there is none as PayPal does all the work. This rework also created an immediate and profitable revenue stream for Keliso; another obvious solution, when you see it. The original design was vulnerable to fraudulent or illegal content - again solved in the revised design, in a unique and powerful way I might add. Keliso has occupied quite a bit of my time over the years, and I've enjoyed solving the design problems. But, I've gone as far as I can go with it. Improvements in design will have to wait until users point out the unseen flaws. Now, Keliso just weighs on me, occupying my time, demanding that I do something to free it.

The problems that Keliso solves are all around us. Artists, photographers, writers, and even programmers are becoming desperate as the old mode of selling copies of their work fails. Some lash out at those who would "steal" their work, others attempt to gather donations. Musicians resort to live-performance, programmers give up and just work for free on stuff they care about. Everyone wants a better way. The world needs Keliso, or something like it. It solves so many real problems that even a flawed implementation would likely be wildly successful. People are so desperate for a solution to these problems that something will happen soon. Something has to break the log-jam that is building up.

Paul Graham also wrote: "
Going into business is like a hang-glider launch-- you'd better do it wholeheartedly, or not at all." While I would dearly love to see Keliso launch and succeed, I know, in my heart, that I'm not the right person to fly with it. Are you?

You can view more about Keliso here

Sunday, August 2, 2009

War and Revolution

Viva La Revolution! The Information Age is upon us. Yet, the battles still rage, on and on.

The Old Guard fights to keep things in the past, they fight to stem the tide that is sweeping past them. It is hopeless. They martial their armies of lawyers to wage war in the courtrooms, their armies of political lobbyists to make new laws, new weapons, to continue the fight. It is all in vain. Yes, they win battles, here and there, but the war was lost long ago.

How could it be otherwise? Technology has yet again radically changed the business environment. It's not the first time and it won't be the last. In any revolution, there are those that cling to the old and established ways and there are others that catch the new wave. Revolutions are when the Old Guard, the established businesses, get rattled out of their dominant positions; revolutions are when the new Henry Fords and Bill Gates rise to fame. They are often messy affairs, these revolutions, with people from top to bottom displaced from their comfortable positions. When the tide comes in, everyone in the way will have to move, eventually, it's only a matter of time. Those that wait too long, that cling to the past, suffer the most.

Some will try to profit from the new while holding onto the past, like a stable boy offering to wash and bed your car for the night. These people don't seem to understand that you don't need what they offer, you can drive right past their roadhouse, like the last five down the road. You don't need to stop every twenty miles, you don't need a stable boy to care for your car as if it were a horse. The smart people, riding the new wave, understand that what they need to do is sell fuel for the car, and maybe a car wash. Like it or not, the horses are going away. These forward-thinkers are the winners in a revolution. These winners realise that a revolution has happened and that they need to abandon the old ways that no longer make sense, that they need to embrace the new and find ways to profit from it.

The Information Revolution has fundamentally changed the business environment. Most notably, it has destroyed the Industrial Age notion that information can be packaged, distributed, and sold like physical stuff. The story in the book, the music in the album, the photo in the poster, all information packaged for sale. The Industrial Age process of packaging copies of information into physical media and then selling that media the same way pots and pans are sold no longer makes any sense. The whole point of the Information Revolution is to take this physical media, this stuff, and virtualise it. We don't need the media anymore, just the information. What's more, making copies of this information, distributing this information, and consuming this information costs almost nothing. This is the Information Age; this is what it's all about.

We live in the Information Age, where information can flow between everyone, effortlessly, and yet the Old Guard fights to keep alive Industrial Age business practices. These business practices can't work. To illustrate this, imagine a hypothetical world where we managed to get into the Information Age without any publishing industry (yes, this would be unlikely, but it's just a thought experiment). Imagine two entrepreneurs brainstorming new ways to make money:
"I know, how about we pay authors for stories and then sell copies of that story on the Web?"
"Well, that's stupid, as soon as we sell the first copy, it will be shared by everyone. Why would anyone buy a second copy?"
"Oh yeah, I guess that won't work... how about we try ..."
The very notion of selling copies of something that can be copied for free makes no sense; anyone considering it would immediately discard the idea as silly. The only reason people are trying to do it now is because it used to make sense in the past, during the Industrial Age. We're in the Information Age now. It doesn't make sense anymore.

The Old Guard, in waging their hopeless war, has tried everything to turn the tide. They've campaigned to link copying with stealing, a notion as absurd as it is wrong. You can't take information from someone, only copy it; physical notions of stealing make no sense when applied to information. They've wage courtroom battles to protect their Intellectual Property rights, which do at least make some legal sense unlike the notion of stealing. They've tried to lock up their information with Digital Rights Management technology, only to have it removed faster than they can add it, leaving their sold copies harder to use than the freely copied ones. Their war is hopeless, lost before it even began.

The Old Guard touts their successes, their winning battles, while the tide has left them stranded. They trumpet the convictions of individuals while the masses have created, despite them, the greatest repository of culture that humanity has ever seen. The Peer-to-Peer distributed datastore now has just about every piece of cultural information that anyone has ever found interesting, freely available with a click of a mouse. This datastore, built by millions of people, is both a triumph of the Information Age and its logical outcome. How could it be any other way? Selling copies of something that can be freely copied is an absurd thing to attempt; the old Industrial Age business models are now anachronistic and useless. Proclaiming that this datastore is theft is about as useless as standing in front of your roadhouse shaking your fist at the passing cars. This is the Information Age, try to keep up. Viva la Revolution!

You can learn more about Keliso here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Living In Denial

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Canadian Copyright Law, the Consultation

As part of our WTO regulations, or so they say, the Canadian government has announced that they will once again try to update our system of copyright laws. As part of this process, they have announced that they are seeking input from the public and, while I remain most skeptical, I've decided to state my position. The forum the Canadian government has provided is here, and what follows is my submission, reposted here for posterity.

A new copyright system that will stand the test of time.

The problem we are currently facing within our copyright system is that it is a product of the Industrial Age. The current system worked fairly well in protecting individuals and corporations from predation by other corporations, an Industrial Age problem. However, we're in the Information Age now and the old copyright laws have been perverted to protect corporations from individuals, which is absurd. The existing copyright laws don't work this way, they can't work, and we shouldn't even try to make them work. We should toss them out and build a new system.

As the Industrial Age unfolded, and corporations sprang into existence off the ability to mass-produce stuff, there was a natural progression towards packaging and selling copies of 'ideas', a term I'll use to describe stories, songs, and other works currently defined as Intellectual Property. Mass-production technology and equipment was required to take advantage of this packaging, and this made the packaging and selling of ideas profitable for corporations. For example, while it was possible to sit down and copy the story from a book by hand, it was not economical to do so for profit. Only corporations had the resources to mass-produce enough copies of anything to make any difference and the legal framework that grew during this era reflected this. Copyright law works reasonably well to protect individuals and corporations from the greedy profiteering of other corporations that were attempting to mass-produce works that they were not entitled to. The more flagrant the un-entitled copying, the larger the target these corporations became, and, hopefully, the more money they could be sued for. However, this system fell apart during the Information Revolution.

In the Information Age, ideas don't need to be packaged. They exist as information and once produced they can be copied, transported, distributed, and consumed for virtually nothing. A story, a song, a movie, this site, everything digitised exists in an ephemeral state, merely a pattern of encoding. They aren't even the bits that they are stored in, just the orientation. Moving a song from one place to another doesn't make the original place lighter, the new location heavier. Nothing really moves, except information. Copying a song, a movie, or anything digitised is no different than telling someone an idea you had, a thought shared between friends. This is the result of the Information Revolution, the free flow of ideas, in whatever their form. Of course, this causes a few problems for corporations in the business of selling copies of ideas.

Corporations, claiming a erosion of profits, have pushed to use the old copyright system against individuals instead of other corporations. This makes no sense. When ideas are freely copied between people, or even millions of people as it the promise of the Information Age, there is no profit making, no legal target getting rich through ill-gotten gains, just individuals. The most flagrant violator, responsible for sharing huge quantities of protected information to millions of people, could be child with no income at all. What's more, said child might not have even intended to share with so many people. Copyright is a legal system designed to punish abusers through financial levies. How can this work against people that are not profiting from said abuse? Where will the money come from?

The reality of the situation is that in the Information Age, there is no longer any money in distributing copies of ideas. How could it be otherwise when it costs nothing to make a copy? The Industrial Age is over, replaced by the Information Age. Unfortunately, as with most revolutions, there is a messy side. Corporations, and the individuals that create ideas, must adapt to this new reality. Clinging to the past, attempting to enforce a legal framework that no longer makes sense, will only delay the inevitable. Things have changed, ideas can now be freely copied, and attempting to profit from the distribution of copies is an idiotic thing to do. Yes, corporations will fail, business models will have to dramatically alter, artists will have to find a new way to earn a living. But, these old business models and ways to earn a living did not always exist. They were products of the Industrial Age, but that age is done. We're in the Information Age now, and people are going to have to adapt to this new reality. So too will the laws.

How should the new laws look?

First, they must reflect the reality of the Information Age. When ideas; stories, songs, movies, anything that can be digitised; can be copied for free, the concept of "distribution rights" makes no sense. No one can control the flow of information once it has been published; any obstacle put up to obstruct this flow will merely divert the flow to another path. As such, laws that protect distribution rights must go; they are anachronistic and have no place in our future.

Second, ideas will always have creators and these people need this status protected. Within the academic community, people that copy the ideas of another are expected to cite their sources; to not do so is called plagiarism and is a serious academic offense. This concept must be extended through legal protection for all distributed works. Any distribution or use of an existing idea, in whatever form, must be accompanied by a citation of its source, the creator. Failing to do so should result in some form of punishment.

Third, the right to profit from an idea must be protected. Now, this concept must not be bastardised, like the current copyright system, to include the right not to have profits eroded through un-sanctioned distribution. Vague "potential future profits" cannot and should not be protected. However, if anyone is to actually profit from the distribution or use of any idea, then the creator of said idea should be entitled to at least a reasonable share of these profits. Assuming there is a clear citation path outlining all that have had a reasonable input, as would be the case if the second point were legally implemented, then legally established royalties would make sense.

If the above three points were implemented within a legal framework, Canadian creators of ideas would feel comfortable publishing them because they would know that those ideas would be accompanied by citations, thus improving their ability to raise income for new ideas. These creators would also have legal recourse if some corporation managed to find a way to profit from their ideas. Together, this approach will encourage publication, which is the fuel of the Information Age.

We have gone through a revolution and are now firmly within the Information Age. As with all revolutions, there is some turmoil and change. The Industrial Age concept of packaging and selling copies of ideas is an obvious loser and those profiting from this now-defunct business model must change. Protecting them through a flawed and unenforceable legal framework will only delay the inevitable. These people must find a new way to earn a living, just like the blacksmiths and stable-boys of old. We simply don't need them anymore. Many people decry that this change will leave artists, the creators of ideas, with no way to earn a living. However, this argument is absurd. If there is demand for what a person creates, then the business model to pay for this will evolve. If people want the creative output of an artist, they will find a way to pay that artist to create. Just because one approach, the selling of copies, has now failed, it does mean that there is no way for artists to earn a living. Yes, times have changed and some old ways of doing things no longer work but new ways have and will be created in their stead. The Information Revolution promises far more gain than loss.

As a follow-up to to this:

I'd like to point out that Keliso is part of the revolution and is a new way for artists to earn a living, even while their work is being copied for free. In fact, the system depends on people freely sharing this work; the more sharing, the more the artists are likely to earn.

You can view more about Keliso here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


$50,000 is a lot of money and, quite honestly, I have no expectations that 10,000 people will donate $5 to read my concept of a website. But, then, that's the point. It is a demonstration that funding a project through donations is very difficult.

Generally, few people are of the mentality that they should donate to something, excepting the obvious charity causes, even if they think it to be a worthwhile project. Sure, some do, but most don't. Why should they? The people that donate aren't going to receive anything more than those that don't. So, as game theory would say, if you want the results, the best bet is to wait for other people to donate, assuming you're not in a rush. It takes less effort.

Keliso is a system that turns this on its head. It manipulates game-theory by creating an environment where people compete with each other to donate first, to donate the most. Actually, it's an exploit of human nature, a way of tapping into basic desires and using this energy to fuel the production and release of content.

If the Keliso system were up and running, then people like me could start a production and have a reasonable chance of getting the funding they need, if they work at it. However, the system doesn't exist yet and people like me have no place to go, no real hope of any return on investment. It's a classic Catch-22. I need Keliso to fund the release of Keliso.

What I am expecting, or at least hoping for, is that I'll catch the eye of some corporate type that is looking for the next big thing on the Net. Either that, or a group of people that have already successfully been through the startup process and are looking for their next project. I don't have the resources to make this project work on my own. Well, I could take the time to create a company, code the site, and do all the other things required to get it built and out there. But, my time is more important to me than the results. The risks of creating a startup, for me, outweigh the potential rewards.

I want Keliso to be created and made available to the people who need it; I designed Keliso because I think it solves a very significant problem, a problem I want solved. However, shortly into the design, after the solution to the problem hit me, I realised that it was a great business opportunity - too full of potential to just give away. I've been stuck ever since.

This blog is my latest and last approach to getting unstuck. Either I get donations to $50,000 (unlikely) for publishing it, a corporate buyout for the idea and money to not publish it, an offer to work with a startup that wants to see the idea through to fruition, or I keep writing until, eventually, the answer is so obviuous that intelligent people can see the solution and just go off on their own to do it. Sooner or later, one of these options will happen. Sooner or later, someone will build Keliso, or a similar system, and realise the huge profit-making potential it has.

Do you want to be that person?

You can view more about Keliso here

What is a Production

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What is Keliso

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