The Benefits of Providing Free Digital Products

Here is a way we can solve the music, movie and software pirating problem, and while we're at it, provide real economic opportunity for millions of aspiring creative people.

The solution is to set up a system where all digital products are made available free to everyone online and paid for out of the general budget. The people as a whole wouldn't spend a dime more than what the public already spends on digital products, yet it will mean everyone can download every song, movie or software program they please. Just imagine collecting every song done by all your favorite artists, all the great movies, dozens of video games, and all those software programs you wish you could afford but can't. I think everyone would agree that such a situation would be as good as it can get for consumers, and it could be genuinely welcomed by providers as well.

Here's how it would work. First we look at how much income each individual supplier of digital products made in the year before this program goes into effect. Then government guarantees that those companies will make the same amount the following year while the companies provide free downloads to whoever wants them, via government servers. The number of times a particular product was downloaded in the first year would be divided by the income the company made the previous year. This would establish the price the government would pay for each download in following years, which could always be renegotiated in order to insure payments remain fair.

Large, sophisticated software programs currently sell for more money than smaller programs and are far more expensive to produce. By matching the previous years income, government would end up paying more per download to some companies than to others. After the first year it would be necessary to classify computer programs into 3 or 4 categories reflecting the cost of production so that new startups would be paid appropriately. Video games are also computer programs and would use this same type of payment structure.

Movies and music would have a payment structure based upon duration, and payments would be higher for downloads than streaming product.

It costs next to nothing to deliver digital media over the Internet, and that's why an unlimited number of copies can be distributed for far less money than current distribution methods. Companies can continue marketing physical products and would not be obligated to join the government distribution network, but those which do would be making their products available free to consumers and it's hard to compete with free.

And not just large media companies would be paid for digital products. Individual artists and programmers would be paid at the same rates. This makes it possible, given sufficient promotional efforts, for talented but currently unrecognized artists and digital product developers to make a living. People creating those great 3-minute viral videos would actually get paid a little something for their efforts if enough people looked at them. Visual artists would be paid for downloads of images, and everyday people would be inspired to invest more time in creative work because they would have the tools to do so, and even a way to make money at it, though we may be talking only fractions of a penny per download or view.

Not only would this system cost no more than we are already spending while enabling everyone to enjoy every song, movie and software program ever made, while totally eliminating pirating, free software means serious tools would become available to millions of less fortunate people who would otherwise never have the opportunity to develop valuable skills. Educational programs would include everything from typing to math, science and physics, as well as the most sophisticated art, music and video editing software available. And once the skills are learned, many creative individuals would be able to make a living using the digital media distribution system. Anyone with a computer and access to the internet could download home study programs and achieve a free education, even receive official diplomas after passing government sponsored exams.

The only downside is that many unnecessary middlemen like physical record stores are likely to go out of business. But such businesses are already doomed by illegal file sharing, which, like recreational drug use, will never be stopped by law and punishment. Pirating costs the entertainment industry alone billions of dollars every year, and many long established record stores have already been forced to close. Since it is impossible to stop digital pirating through conventional means, the only effective solution is to eliminate the problem altogether by making digital products free.

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