Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce A fresh approach to copyright works wonders

A fresh approach to copyright works wonders

Back in December, the Mexican-American stand-up comedian Louis C.K. did something that was way out of left field. He  had one of his shows recorded by professionals and put it online for sale. No big companies involved, no trimmings. And no DRM.

He cut out the middleman altogether and offered more an hour of quality stand-up for $US5. That isn't a typo. It cost five American dollars.

There was no encryption on the files he offered - it was DRM-free and would probably have been priced at $US50 or more had any of those so-called members of the copyright industry been managing the show. Of course, he would have got a very small percentage of the sale amount.

To those visiting his website, he had some simple words to say: he was doing this as an experiment and it was up to the buyer to do whatever they wanted to do with their purchase.

His appeal was very simple:

"Look, I don't really get the whole 'torrent' thing. I don't know enough about it to judge either way. But I'd just like you to consider this: I made these files extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without 'corporate' restrictions.

"Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I'm just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can't stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the show, and let other people find it in the same way."

The response blew him away. When the total sales reached $US1 million, he decided he had to say something. He put up a screenshot from his PayPal account to prove it.

He gave away $US250,000 as bonuses to the staff who help him produce his shows. Another $US250,000 went to pay for the special production costs and the website he had built to sell the show. He gave away $280,000 to a bunch of charities and kept the balance for himself.

Louis has now put up a few more shows for download. He hasn't become greedy - the price is still $US5. And he is one of those elite comedians in the same class as Dave Chappelle.

Another American comedian, Aziz Ansari, has followed Louis' example.

There's a lesson in this somewhere for the middle-aged men who comprise the copyright industry and who are looking to squeeze every dollar, rouble, kopek, rupee, dirham, dinar and pound out of consumers and use the force of the law to sue every man, woman and child who downloads a media file.

But I doubt they will learn from Louis. They lack the basic intelligence that he appears to possess in abundance.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.