A Successful Linux/Open-Source Business Model

by Tom Poe

Copyright must be sufficiently robust to support a vibrant, diverse, and innovative sector for the creation and distribution of original expression. At [the] same time, once copyright has given sufficient support to creative autonomy, copyright's constitutive objectives are better served by placing works in the public domain than by continuing to transfer consumer surplus to copyright owners. At that point, so long as public domain works are adequately available to the public, continued protection would place an undue burden on authors, all of whom borrow from existing works in creating new ones, and undue cost on those who simply wish to read, see, or hear such works. Or, put in economic terms, once copyright's democratic goals have been substantially funded, consumer surplus is better allocated to subsidizing both transformative and nontransformative uses of existing works for a broad array of educational and cultural purposes.-- "Copyright and a Democratic Civil Society", Neil Weinstock Netanel, 106 Yale Law Journal 283 (1996)

Unfortunately, these words and their associative meanings will have to be placed in the drawer for historical artifacts. The bottom line at this time is that between the Berne Convention and the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS), the US is "locked in" pretty much on the copyright term issue. Seems that this global commercialization trend requires that we match the country that offers the longest and most advantageous copyright (that includes the patent arena as well) protections. Well, we've done that and more. The US holds a twenty year edge or more in most categories of copyright and patent protection. Little will be occurring in the challenge to get us back to the "good 'ol days".

So, what to do? Well, we need to talk about the Public Domain. It seems to have all but disappeared, along with the original intent of copyright. The Public Domain will have to be rediscovered. Incentives for placing works in the Public Domain will have to be invented. Forget the copyright owners; they can go stew in their juices. As Don Marti would say, in the spirit of Linuxmanship, "Sell the benefits, not the features."

Turning the Tables

What if? What if there was a nice way to provide incentive to those who would create and innovate solely on works placed within the Public Domain? No protection, just incentive. No fabulous wealth unless, luck would have it, the creator happened to hit on the right marketing strategy to attract an audience and provide merchandising products that, along with tours, personal appearances, concerts, exhibits and offers of commissions for further works, produce wealth. I believe I just described one of the fathers of the Public Domain ilk, The Grateful Dead, and their system is remade in the image of Open Studios.

Open Studios is a nonprofit organization dedicated to broadening the base of our precious Public Domain. The folks at Open Studios are developing a "model" (version 1.0 is up and running) that creates community-based recording studios. These facilities provide free recording services for the residents of a community and the surrounding areas. In return, the users of the facilities are encouraged to place their works in the Public Domain. Open Studios provides a comprehensive package of services and products. As a 501(c)(3) (application pending) charitable organization, it does not envision making money. It does, however, fill out the grant applications, public-private partnership agreements, federal, state and local funding opportunities and assist communities in garnering the resources that might be missing in order for the facility to be built and operated at maximum efficiency.

A community that needs experts in the recording field can work with Open Studios to identify solutions. A community that needs computers to set up networks between the schools and the community-based studio can work with Open Studios to accomplish that task. And the list is ever-expanding. One of the primary functions of Open Studios lies with its' interest in developing curricula and programs that meet the local needs of the community-based studios. Marketing courses, internet courses, business courses, music-related courses, these all contribute to preparing young and old artists alike for a professional track that doesn't include Hollywood but does include Linux and the Internet.

Those who might be concerned about placing their musical works on the Internet and losing money need not worry any longer. The Internet is a remarkable vehicle for building an audience. That audience will grow, and the opportunity to market to that audience includes such things as merchandise, tours, concerts and commissions to create new works. Imagine for a moment an artist that creates a "love song", places it on the Internet and offers that song, along with another, in a heart-shaped device on a necklace. How many teenagers and lovesick adults would buy it? Imagine a device that plays Public Domain songs, lets the user blog, e-mail and possibly do a little desktop publishing, and the computer is plastered with the artists' names. Yes, we have entered the musical designer series for technology devices world. Of course, we haven't begun to cover webcasting and the webcasters who will not only give artists exposure but who will also sell and market with and for them.

This is a wonderful age for music and for the Public Domain. It's also a wonderful age for all forms of creative works, with authors able to use the Internet to further their careers by placing works in the Public Domain, and selling books, tours, speaking engagements and, yes, designer merchandising.


Open Studios is built on Linux and open source. Other media facilities will be built using Linux and open source. Think about it; the world is ready and waiting. The explosion is coming. Can you hear it? There will be an Open Video Studios. There will be an Open Observatory Studios. There will be an Open You-Name-It Studios. That's what Linus Torvalds started, and with the Internet in front of us, Hollywood and the publishers will have to move over. Each facility is a focal point for expanded use in meeting the needs of the local community. Each community will be able to cost-effectively build networks around the facility because of the capabilities that Linux and open source provide.

The Creative Commons

Creative Commons has a web site, and you are encouraged to visit it soon. Some of our country's most esteemed legal counsel have joined together to provide a "new and different" kind of copyright. This we call the Public Domain. You and I have been given access to the legal services that might otherwise prevent the movement of creating a Commons for the People and to make possible the ability of individuals to follow an alternative professional track to what the big business folks offer. The University of North Carolina's Ibiblio.org project makes it possible for you and I to build a repository for Public Domain works that will dwarf the copyright folks clean out of sight. These are two of the most critical considerations, along with the Internet, that make it possible for the world community, within a brief moment in time, to change the way our world works--in favor of the individual and democracy. Walmart has driven small entrepreneurs out of business wherever they have established themselves. But, that doesn't mean their model will work on-line. They, like their counterparts in Hollywood, will have to earn their market share. And on-line, we are all on the same web page, so-to-speak. What that means is you and I can compete with the big guys. And with the Public Domain on our side, guess who's going to win this one!


The Internet has brought us the Digital Age, or something like that. What we see is a bright future for the Public Domain, now that the Copyright folks have decided to die with the past. Hail to the Public Domain and the designer merchandise era. This sounds a lot like the copyright party line, doesn't it? Wonder why?

Tom Poe is one of the cofounders of Open Studios. You can visit the Studio for Recording web site.

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