February 25, 2005


The ability to share and enjoy music is inherent the music itself. No matter what the MPAAs and RIAAs of this world want us to believe, music is not just another merchandise. It is not like a scoop of ice-cream that you enjoy more if you have the whole thing yourself. Music is meant to be exchanged, loved, discussed and sometimes cherished.

Notwithstanding the lawsuits, the advertisements, and admonishments - music will be shared. It is not music piracy - that is something that has been shoved down our throats by the powers that be. Sharing music is natural, that is what humans do - we do not sit in our cubicles listening to music and slamming on the pause button everytime somebody comes within earshot. And humans are not thieves either. We do not live to cheat someone of their ability to earn a living. Each and every one of us understands that we need to earn a living and therefore we are willing to share a bit of what we have in order to allow someone else to live.

The mechanism that can work therefore has two primary requirements

  • The same mechanism should be used for buying and sharing music.
  • Music should be cheap, damn cheap - not 99 cents, but 5 cents a song.

Let's call this portal iMusic. Now iMusic is a p2p portal. It is probably built using the Gnutella protocol and also allow bit torrent to exchange files. Now, the network has two kinds of users - customers and authorized resellers. Authorized resellers are authorized outside the system, probably by the music agency themselves, and are allowed to "sell" music. Also underlying the the entire portal is a paying mechanism geared for small denomination high volume transactions - something like paypal. And unlike eBay that has a one way redirection, PayPay here talks back to iMusic too.

Now every user on iMusic has a "buy ratio". This is like the credit rating on iMusic. This is the ratio of the number of songs you bought to the number of songs you downloaded for free. The smaller this number is, you are a freeloader, while a 100 means you only buy music and dont download anything for free at all.

Your account 'knows' all songs that you bought/traded. Others only know your "buy ratio". You decide the buy ratio levels you want to trade with. This is something like the upload/download ratios that are currently in use on the varius p2p sites. However this tracks based on actual transactions - either a successful copy or a buy. The smaller this ratio is for you, the more difficult it is for you to find users who will want to trade with you for free. Ofcourse your Search will show you all the possibilities, making your trading process all the more tempting but difficult to complete.

Whenever you like a song, or know you will like a song and dont want to bother with Searching and downloading, you connect to one of the authorized resellers and buy a song from them. Of course, authorized resellers could be a lot more creative and sell you "plans" with them. A user can sign up with one or more "plans" or just go to any authorized reseller to buy a song. Of course why would you do that, because the more loyal you are, your reseller could positively impact your buy ratio by registering more "buys" on your behalf. Frequent flyer miles anyone?

The iMusic marketplace will thrive on the existence of opposing forces to prevent large scale piracy. Users want as high "buy ratios" as possible so that when they want to check out new songs, they do not have to go through too many "You do not have enough credit to access the song shared by this user!" messages. At the same time, a user's own threshold limit will determine his standing with other users.

iMusic will also spawn a reseller program and associated competition to drive down prices. The reseller program will be handled by a central "reseller clearing house" that in a way owns the entire iMusic mechanism. All artists are affiliated to this iMusic mechanism. Each successful sale entails a small payment from the iMusic clearing house to the artist and subsequent recovery from the resellers. Ofcourse the market between the artists themselves on the iMusic clearing house will result. If an artist prices a song too high, people will still listen to it, but will use their credit from other "buys" to download the song for free. And of course, too low means that unless the song is a phenominal hit with a high buy percentage, not enough money will be recovered.

Songs and their associated advertisement: Each copy of a song on the network is either introduced by the artist, or by users as rogue copies. Rogue copies will be abundant at first, but they will stand out in all seaches as "unknown source". All authenticated copies keep track of the number of times they were bought to the number of times they were traded, giving them a buy ratio as well. The buy ratio along with the trade count gives an indication of the top of the charts as well.

Of course, there will also be associated sites and ratings and chat sections and forums for discussion of the latest in everyone's own queer music tastes. There will be the inevitable "Save this band" promos, so on and so forth.

On the whole iMusic will be a full blown market place, allowing a direct interaction between the artist and the users with a secure, simple and small payment mechanism. It will allow sale and trade - and most importantly treat customers like customers are not thieves.

Bet you've heard this before!
-- ravi

February 16, 2005

Freedom to Share

The thing about thought process for me, is that it does not go forward unless there is a IO port attached to it. In other words, if I ever had to think a thread through, I need to either be talking or typing or wriggling toes in the language of the three toed sloth.

So, as it happenned, I knew deep down that I felt quite strongly about music, piracy, sharing etc. However, never got to put down ideas, and never realised how much it affected me.

So, we were walking down home after a particularly indifferent movie, and this topic came up. So the thought process ran. When you are faced with having to justify yourself to a particularly sharp and acid person, your brain wakes up cells that were never used to be awake, cleans up cobwebs and cranks up the storage devices. And the results are particularly consistent. Till, you plan on putting things on paper when you start to choke, under self doubt.

But, this is my blog, so what the hell.

Lets start with a question. When HBO tells you, "Say no to piracy" and be HIP and what not - what exactly are they telling you. Are they telling you to stop buying stuff you think is pirated off the vendor on the corner, or are they telling you to stop downloading stuff from the internet, or are they asking you not to watch a movie with your friend. HBO in its clips seems to say the first thing, MPAA in their lawsuits seem to say the second thing, and companies like Microsoft with their DRM ideas seem to say the third.

On the whole, they are pretty confused about it, but ask any one of them, and they will tell you to respect "Intellectual Rights". Granted, I want to respect intellectual rights - but will that mean they will stop treating me as a thief?

That is the crux of my problem with the entire anti-piracy thing. I have already been labelled a thief. Read the small print written by some lawyer on your CD you bought. You did not buy music, you bought some rights to do something with music - like listen to it. And whenever you do anything with the CD you bought, which has not been explicitly okayed by the small print, you are a thief. You go to a friends party and play it in his player loudly - you are a thief. You rip the CD to play in your HD player, flash player, car-mp3 player and a backup copy - you are a thief. And for a CD you supposedly bought, you dont own anything about the CD, not the songs, not the artwork, only the plastic. And unless proven otherwise you are a thief.

I would still consent to being labelled a thief, if music and movies were priced any cheaper. Technology has driven down the cost of music and movies. Songs can now be recorded and mixed at home on a laptop. You no longer need expensive recoding studios and their costly help in making music. But music is still priced the same. Artist costs and their profits are shrinking, but the end price is still the same. And who is getting an increasing slice of the pie - RIAA, MPAA and the rest of them.

One could have argued a decade ago, that these were very important and worth more than their share of cut in on the music prices. They helped artists get launched, the paid for recording up front, they help advertise, they promoted and most importantly they distributed. But today, it is no longer that crucial. The growth of the Internet has put a critical question mark on the reason for the existence of such associations. Downloading costs next to nothing, the Internet looks after advertising and it does a much better job than the RIAA ever could. The Internet breaks even faster, helps artist make money faster, reaches out to all kinds of audiences, does not differentiate between a super-hit or a hit or a moderate hit or a niche hit. It does not differentiate between rock or pop or hip hop or techno. It does not differentiate based on age, religion, region or sex. And the MPAA/RIAA are not happy.

Not only are they not happy, but they dont want to accept this change. Making costs are dropping, selling costs are dropping, shipping costs are dropping, advertising costs are dropping, reviewing costs are dropping, but the CDs are still priced the same. And all users are thieves.

This is why I dont care for their message against piracy. Of course I respect the artist's rights, of course I want to pay him. But I want to pay only the artist. I want to play a small and reasonable amount. I want to pay for songs I like, not entire albums. I want to share it with friends and when they like it, I want them to fully own the song by paying a similar small and reasonable amount. And most importantly, I dont like people calling me a thief.

Next post - mechanism for such a world.

etc etc long live robin hood
-- ravi