NewTeeVee has homed in on VODO. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to answer their questions (NTV, if you’re listening, try us again, and we’ll have more time after the 11th!) However, now is probably the time to say that we’re in development with VODO as of the beginning of June, the technology questions have pretty much been ironed out (for now), and we won’t be using fingerprinting in any of the initial stages of the project. However, the model of helping to create and sustain a distributed donation infrastructure is still at the center of what we’re doing.
There are a few reasons we’ve decided not to go with fingerprinting. The most important, probably, is concern that using ‘rights management’ technology, even to manage a non-copyright based donation system, is problematic even if it worked, which it might very well not. As we thought about this problem in detail, we were able to arrive at a simpler solution which will be much swifter and cleaner to implement.
It’s also unclear how successful a P2P donation service would be. The Steal This Film team points to the recent online experiments by Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails to show that donations can work, but one could argue that those were singular instances of highly successful bands leveraging their existing communities.
That’s totally true, but isn’t the point that the interest of these big artists shows that donation has become a significant way for creators to earn money? We expect to see more medium-large artists turning to direct donation as a way of sustaining their work and themselves as revenues from other, copy-restriction-based sources inexorably fall. VODO does not aim to solve the problem of how to promote artists and bring their work to the attention of filesharers, but there are existing mechanisms that will almost certainly be increasingly re-oriented towards that activity, and new ones that could be built. In a way sites like Last.FM are actually better oriented towards this kind of thing than they are to converting listeners to traditional sales, so hooking them to a donation infrastructure makes good sense.
In fact, P2P advocates have had little success with similar ideas in the past: A few fans of the original music-swapping service Napster founded a donation service called Fairtunes back in 2000. The idea was to collect donations for bands that were popular on the file-swapping service. Fairtunes even built a donation plug-in for the then-popular MP3 software Winamp, much in the same way VODO wants to become part of video players.
The service got some major press coverage, including an article in Time Magazine, but attracted only little spare change. Overall, Fairtunes made about $20,000 and finally closed down a year after its launch.
We’ve of course looked into the Fairtunes story and discussed it a bit. The fact that they were actually collecting donations for people and then trying to cut and send them cheques is scary. We think it’s really important to design a system like this so that it’s scalable. We’re a lot further on than the Napster days now, and there’s a lot at stake. (And by the way, we’re not being vague about the details of the system because of being sneaky and proprietary, but because — as happened with STEAL THIS FILM II — it’s pretty likely things will change before release!)
Thanks for your interest, NewTeeVee!