Why do you think they call it Red Hat?

“Linux sort of springs organically from the Earth. And it had, you know, the characteristics of communism that people love so very, very much about it. That is, it's free.”

—Steve Ballmer

“Happiness isn't something you experience, it's something you remember.”

—Oscar Levant

“Be courageous; it's the only place left uncrowded.”

—Anita Roddick

“It's not that we didn't like him as a spokesperson, we just liked him a whole lot more as a taco.”

—Conan O'Brien impersonating the Taco Bell decisionmakers.

“The future is no place to place your better days.”

—Dave Matthews Band

“Ways may someday be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home.”

—Lewis Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice, in a 1928 dissent that later became law


“It's personal. That's my entire philosophy of radio.”

—Larry Josephson

My favorite moment on “Saturday Night Live” was Paul Shaffer's impersonation of Don Kirshner, the helmet-haired, hyper-tanned record executive whose own syndicated rock concert often followed “SNL” on local NBC affiliates. In April 1978, Shaffer, playing Kirshner, introduced The Blues Brothers for the first time. “No longer an authentic blues act”, he said, The Blues Brothers had become “a viable commercial product.”

Even then, Kirshner was an anachronism. It was already clear that the difference between authentic and commercial was the industrial heft required to make and move goods whose appeal was no less manufactured than the goods themselves. Commercial music and commercial broadcasting were two gears in the same machine: the business of stimulating and filling appetites for large quantities of music in the smallest possible varieties. “Saturday Night Live” was part of that machine as well. What else was on TV at that hour? Or ever?

Radio was hardly any better. Even the largest cities had fewer than a couple dozen signals that didn't fade within a few exits of downtown. For music stations, you could usually count the choices on one hand. Every one of those few stations tried to attract the largest numbers of listeners with the smallest varieties of tastes, so they could sell those numbers at top dollar to advertisers. The result was demand as homogeneous as supply, plus the ironic notion that the narrowest tastes comprised the broadest markets.

Also ironic was the belief that listeners comprised markets in any real sense. By the economics of commercial radio, listeners were the product, not programming. Stations and networks sold time to advertisers, not programming to listeners. Music and other programming was just bait. What listeners really wanted meant approximately nothing, which is what they paid for the goods. After all, they were consumers, not customers.

So can we blame them when they give music to each other at the same price?

Well sure. That's what the record industry has been doing by attacking Napster and wringing its hands over the “stealing” of copyrighted music that occurs when one music lover shares his or her MP3 collection with others over the Internet. They are joined by none other than our own leadership. Eric Raymond inveighs on behalf of artists' and record companies' right to distribute their property as they see fit, regardless of how easy it is for customers to share that property without anybody's consent. In a Linux Journal guest editorial, Eric writes, “The real point is that by 'sharing' without the artist's consent, you deprive him of the right to control and dispose of his work. The real question is this: are you going to support the artists, or steal away the few shreds of autonomy they might have left?”

Let's assume we answer “yes” to the first part of that question. The next question is, “Can we make a market where nothing is scarce and everybody can take what they want?”

Courtney Love points the way:

I'm looking for people to help connect me to more fans, because I believe fans will leave a tip based on the enjoyment and service I provide. I'm not scared of them getting a preview. It really is going to be a global village where a billion people have access to one artist and a billion people can leave a tip if they want to.

It's a radical democratization. Every artist has access to every fan and every fan has access to every artist, and the people who direct fans to those artists. People that give advice and technical value are the people we need. People crowding the distribution pipe and trying to ignore fans and artists have no value. This is a perfect system.

Is there a tip jar system out there already—or at least the beginnings of one?

Indeed, there is. We call it public broadcasting. Get past the noncommercial nature of the institutions that sell the service, and their often pathetic appeals for “support”, and you see the model at work. In some cases it works better than the advertising model, for the simple and efficient reason that the broadcaster's consumers and customers are the same people—a market grace advertising-supported broadcasters have never enjoyed (and paid subscription media like the one you are reading now have enjoyed, thank you very much).

Case in point. San Francisco's KJAZ was the longest-running commercial jazz station in the country until a few years ago, when its owner fell into deep debt and had to unload the property, which had been making money—not much, but enough to stay profitable. The owner made an appeal, and listeners sent in well over a million dollars in donations: more in a few weeks than the station made in a year from advertising, and none of it tax-deductible. It wasn't enough (the owner needed many more millions) and the donors got their money back; but further proof of the market model came when one of the local noncommercial stations picked up the format full-time, and reportedly made more money selling programming to listeners than KJAZ ever did selling time to advertisers.

I would gladly pay to play or hear anything I love. Right now, I pay to listen to four public radio stations and one public TV station. I don't see my purchases as “donations”, although I'm glad to claim the tax deduction. I see it as a tip jar system. And I would love to see some infrastructure built around it, so I could automatically make micropayments (or macropayments in a few special cases) for using artist-controlled material.

Why not set up a micropayment system for everything on TV, making TV a completely