Spreading Data to Spread Wealth

It’s worth considering an alternative approach to intellectual property, based on original principles in the constitution (as opposed to narrow commercial interest).  Starting from the assumption that work can be automatically identified in or out of context via watermarks (digital data that can be recovered even if the song is distorted or remixed), and that compulsory licensing has been a net positive for artists, industry and audience alike, it becomes possible to consider radical, transformative change, on the order of the development of radio, tv and the mass media.  With those simple assumptions, we stand on the threshold of a new age and step back from the abyss.

On the business side, it becomes a simple matter for anyone to appropriate at recontextualize any song at any time.  It’s success would generate income for all the authors, and machines can define shares based on recoverability of watermarks.  While the remixer might share in the profits, the creators can be compensated on whatever basis we decide is fair.

From an artistic perspective this sort of world already exists. Politicians and terrorists, as well as culture jammers, already re-appropriate and distort information.  This reality highlights the need for dataesthetic analysis: Most corporate logos stand up to this distortion, while politicians (with mouths and image-making apparatus running 24/7) do not fare so well.  The principles of dataesthetic design are the only rational response to maintaining the integrity of images: controlled databases, fully modular objects that cannot be separated from links, and other tactics are fundamental.

Socially speaking, this paradigm’s value is more obvious: How many diseases would already be cured, if health care records were stored in secure networked relational databases as opposed to ad hoc collections of paper and proprietary incompatible digital systems?  More directly: How many patients have died for lack of a functioning health care network records system, and how much extra do we pay in real costs for this failure of information?  Drug and procedure safety and efficacy, not to mention emergency services can monitored on an on-going basis, and drug or prescription abuse, and fraud more easily identified with networked records.  Individual’s records can be protected in relational databases for personal privacy, while the content (stripped of identifying context) can be used for any sort of research imaginable.

There are very real costs for our dysfunctional approach to information and intellectual property.  It not only colors our interaction with each other, and costs industry millions in lost opportunity, but there is a very real price in our collective health and security.

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