I’ve been following the progress of MaidSafe for a while, as I’m very interested in the possibilities a decentralised Internet has for the music industry. In particular the potential it has to break down monopolies and cut through the layers of middlemen that the industry is particularly fond of creating; and making the connections between the artist and the audience as short and frictionless as possible.
My views are formed from my experience as a musician, artist manager, label owner, and from negotiating download service agreements with distributors, indies and major labels.
I work for a company called Linn: we make networked music systems and technology based on principles on open systems; so this whole project is very much up our street.
I’d like to add a few thoughts as to why PtP should not be implemented as currently proposed:
The network shouldn’t determine the value of art
I believe that value of art—be it music, film, visual, or anything in between—should not be assigned at a network level, in the same way resources are. This would be to assign objective value to something which intrinsically has subjective value, through an arbitrary measure, such as file size.
An open market is an effective way of establishing subjective value, and as such the sell-price should be in the hands of the artist
Business models should not be imposed on artists
Creative endeavours and making art can be cheap and quick, or it can be devilishly expensive and risky. There are as many different business models as there are sub-genres, so it is a mistake to impose one globally—or assume that one will become prevalent—be that pure PtP, pay-what-you-want, or a giant tip jar.
An example: the idea that recorded music is really just a marketing tool for live performance—and that the concert hall is the only place musicians can expect to get paid, or set their prices—is a romantic notion, but also a fallacy:
Many recorded works cannot be performed live; Many musicians cannot perform live; Some music cannot be performed live; Live music, although related, is not the same art-form as recorded music.
It’s a similar argument to: all movies should free to promote theatre. It’s a different art-form; there art artistic tools and a palette of materials that are distinct in each art form not available in the other. The same is true of recorded music vs live performance.
MaidSafe should not seek to impose a particular business model on artists, but give them flexibility to choose their own.
The artist is not the uploader
Establishing who the artist is is difficult. In, the case of music, the artist is rarely a single person or entity. Often there are multiple artists involved, and it’s not always the individual performing the work that can be considered the primary artist.
Even setting aside—very common—intellectual property (IP) licensing agreements like simple record deals (where the owner of the recorded music IP is not the artist), the most basic and grassroots music projects are, more often than not, collaborations between artists. E.g. a band; with each individual contributing to the composition, and a single member composing the lyrics.
Additionally, in my quite extensive experience, the first uploader of a work to music services such as this is most likely not be the original artist, but be a representative, or record company. This is notwithstanding the file-sharing scenario of course.
With a goal of a decentralised music industry achieved, we would most likely see significant simplification of commonplace contractual relationships and chains, however they will not be reduced to a the basic level modelled by a PtP scheme; Particularly if it has no way of accounting for joint ownership of IP, or transfer of IP, which is problematic insomuch as it does not take account of real-world, human relationships which are unlikely to change, even if the industry structures currently imposed above them undergo wholesale revolution.
It rewards inefficiency
As a little aside, assigning the value of art based on file size is inefficient and a poor use of resource. File size and quality cannot be linked. For example, a losslessly compressed music file, would be worth less than its uncompressed equivalent, despite having identical content.
An alternative proposal
If you will indulge me, i’d like to present an alternative approach, comprised of three layers. (And please excuse some of the somewhat nascent terminology here).
- The Network Layer
- The Platform Layer
- The Curation Layer
The Network Layer
This is SAFE network as conceived, without the PtP facility, serving as the infrastructure to a decentralised record industry.
The Platform Layer
This is where a music platform is created allowing artists and musicians to determine their sell-price, with smart contracts dealing with—potentially complex—obligations arising from artist collaboration or other business and contractual relationships.
Different competing platforms could also emerge, be them pure single artist distribution with more raw pricing with the assumed risk/reward, or say co-operative models where artists pool resource and then establish equitable royalty distribution amongst members.
The platform layer would also be the preserve of the music/art metadata—again another complex yet critical issue—and could also provide an avenue for some form of arbitration, measures of trust etc.
The Curation Layer
This is where services such as Spotify, Tidal and the like set up shop. And of course other kinds of broadcasters, and music services.
Rather than being monopolising middlemen as they tend toward currently, they focus on and compete in what they do best: curation, user experience and financial services. They are there to provide an effective end-user experience and smooth out the bumps of price fluctuation and complexities of platform layer access.
Curators would be able to set and present their own buy-price, along with other parameters, to the platform layer based on their own business model and strategy.
Let’s not make the same mistake twice
The centralised nature of the internet has lent itself to domination by corporations that reap huge financial rewards by offering advertising alongside creator’s content; whereas the creator is hardly rewarded at all.
Let’s make sure we don’t fall into a similar trap with MaidSafe and the approach to the arts.
The solution is decentralisation, but in a form that hands genuine control back to the artist. This is what we should be seeking to achieve, and not simply a proxy for it.