20 Mar 2016

Donations Are a Solution to the Piracy Problem

A question that often comes up in discussions about piracy is how content will get created if no one pays for it. One answer is donations. You should be able to donate to any artist, author, movie or TV show. Imagine you’re a Star Trek fan and deeply enjoyed a lot of Trek without paying for it. You know want to give back and support what you like. How might you do that?

One answer is to buy some Trek TV series or movie or soundtrack, even if you already have a pirated version. You don’t even need to download it after paying for it, since you already have it.

The problem with that is that you’re supporting and endorsing DRM when you pay for DRM’ed content. I’m not willing to do that.

Maybe donations are an answer. You should be able to donate to any movie, TV serial, documentary, music album or other creative work.

The donation UI will clearly tell you that donating does you give you the legal rights to the media. Otherwise, donations set up a huge loophole where everyone pirates and then donates a tiny amount (think ₹1) to buy the rights to it. This discourages the people who are currently paying from doing so, because there’ll no longer be either a legal or a moral reason to buy something at full price. So, the donation UI will clearly tell would-be donors that donations don’t buy them the rights to the work they’re donating. In fact, that’s the definition of a donation — money given away without expecting anything in return [1].

Taking this one step further, you should be able to donate your pre-tax money.

Taking it another step further, you should be able to donate some of your  tax dues to artists instead of paying it to the government. The actual tax due reduces by the amount you donated. If your tax for this year is 80K, and you donate 10K, then you pay only 70K as tax to the government. This way, donations are free to the donor. Instead of us paying tax to the government and having the government using some of it to support art, taxpayers can directly support artists.

There can be multiple limits on this. An individual artist can have a cap on how much such donations she can receive per year, which could be the highest tax slab. And a cap on their net worth. Ultra-rich artists (say with net worth ₹100 crore or above, like A.R.Rahman) wouldn’t be eligible under this scheme. An individual taxpayer may be able to donate only ₹10K a year, to prevent rich people from having disproportionate influence on what art gets created. There could be a limit on the total amount that can be donated per year under this scheme to all artists in aggregate. Say a billion dollars a year. There are many ways to tweak such a scheme, and limit it to achieve the goals the government wants to achieve.

Donations a way of supporting content, and answering the question of “How will content get created if everyone pirates it?”

[1] It will also offer a guarantee that information about your donation won’t be used to investigate piracy and prosecute you.

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