Music As Public Utility

Ted Nelson proposed that instead of copying digital media, we should effectively keep only one copy of each cultural expression — as with a book or a song — and pay the author of that expression a small, affordable amount whenever it is accessed. (Of course, as a matter of engineering practice, there would have to be many copies in order for the system to function efficiently, but that would be an internal detail, unrelated to a user’s experience. As a result, anyone might be able to get rich from creative work. The people who make a momentarily popular prank video clip might earn a lot of money in a single day, but an obscure scholar might eventually earn as much over many years as her work is repeatedly referenced. But note that this is a very different idea from the long tail, because it rewards individuals instead of cloud owners.

In Ted Nelson‟s system, there would be no copies, so the idea of copy protection would be mooted. Creative expression could then become the most valuable resource in a future world of material abundance created through the triumphs of technologists.

We routinely spend more money incarcerating a thief than the thief stole in the first place. You could argue that it would be cheaper to not prosecute small crimes and just reimburse the victims. But the reason to enforce laws is to create a livable environment for everyone. It‟s exactly the same with putting value on individual human creativity in a technologically advanced world.

In the same way, the maintenance of the liberties of capitalism in a digital future will require a general acceptance of a social contract. We will pay a tax to have the ability to earn money from our creativity, expression, and perspective. It will be a good deal.


John Cage has a good line that fits here: “I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.”


• Unrestricted legalized access to music • “Everybody uses everybody pays” — but “feels like free” • Payments are bundled and/or opt-in • Based on a voluntary collective license • Rates vary by country • The flat rate is only the beginning of $ flow • Creates a very powerful Music 2.0 ecosystem


Music is no longer a product but a service. Music became a product with the advent of recording (records, tapes, CDs) and the formation of an industry that quickly figured out that selling the bottle can make a lot more money than only selling the wine. For the future, think of a “record label” as a “music utility company.”

When the gates are finally opened, and Liquidity is the official mantra, music will become truly ubiquitous, and revenues will start to flow from previously unimagined (and unattainable) sources.

2. a bigger pizza makes more slices — and why the music industry is heading towards lower prices and higher values

The real problem in the music industry is not file-sharing, piracy, or lack of consumer interest in actually paying for music. Rather, it’s that the industry is way too slow in baking a bigger pizza. Rather, many incumbents are still obsessed with snapping up the same, small slices from under each other’s noses as quickly as possible.

The bottom line is that we need to spur a new wave of music consumption and create a larger market altogether — a market that could have 9 out of 10 consumers buying music, not 2.5 out of 10 as is the case in the U.S. today. Better yet, if we could get 98% of all consumers to buy into a “basic music” subscription on any and all digital channels (TV/ cable, satellite, radio, Net, mobile, Wi-Fi…) for something like $3 a month we would all of a sudden have a huge and very tasty.

But most important, the overall music consumption and use will steadily increase, and — if the industry can manage the transition to a service-based model — can eventually bring in €50–90 per person per year, with 75% of the population in the leading markets as active consumers — the pie will be three times as large.

This can be compared to the obligatory license fees for public television and radio that most European residents already pay every year. Similar levies, taxes, or bundled fees are likely to be established for basic content services that will be available on digital networks, such as for wireless carriers, Wi-Fi providers, and ISPs that may yet end up paying a flat fee for some basic content services for their customers.


We’re talking about music that is as “freely” (but not for free!) available and as omnipresent as water or electricity, with everyone paying and everyone using, and with ubiquitous coverage, accessed via an infinite number of entry points (Net, cable, wireless, satellite…), on many different devices, and in many different shapes.

It is a system where all users, and/or their service providers (!) would happily make small, “feels-like free” payments to be able to access a large pool of music, without restraints: all-you- can-eat, anytime, anywhere. A system where the works of any creator could easily be found and made available for discovery, where music could be used and compensated for, simply by virtue of being in the pool — and in the essence, proportionally to the actual use of their works. Sounds an awful lot like Cable TV or radio!

Ubiquity is a good, and will create a pool of money for all involved parties, a pool that will only be the very first starting point for a increased monetization of music.

3. access to music will replace ownership: Soon, consumers will have access to “their” music anytime, anywhere, and the physical possession of it will in fact be more of a handicap, or a knack of collectors. Music will feel (and act) like water. multi-point access to music will be the default environ ment, allowing consumers to fill up their music devices at air- ports, train stations, and in coffee shops and bars, using all kinds of wireless connections as well as other on-demand and ad-hoc networking technologies.

4. the software pro: The (performing) rights organizations (PROs) as we know them will likely fade away. Complete technology solutions comprised of watermarking and fingerprinting, so-called DRM and (better) CRM components, monitoring, admin/accounting, and instant payment solutions will do the job quicker, cheaper, and, of course, with complete trans- parency. . transparency wins.

Every single track will have a unique ID, a unique finger- print, watermark, DNA, with a central registry maintaining the data. Every use of every track on any and all digital net- works is therefore likely to be tracked and documented, and — much like the stock market — rights holders and creators will be able to track these actual usage details pretty much as they happen. Payments for each use will be instantly trackable, transparent, and more or less instantaneously transmitted, handled by software solutions that have already been available for quite some time now.

“The future is already here — it’s just unevenly distributed.” —

William Gibson

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