Mark Pesce, Mark Deuze and Trebor Scholz on sharing vs. profits

As a companion to the excerpt below, I recommended reading the conversation/interview between Trebor Scholz of the Institute of Distributed Creativity, with Mark Deuze, a keen observer of participatory developments. Against the positioning of Trebor who insists of the exploitation of the sharers by capital, Deuze gives a nuanced and complex picture of the mutual relationships between those who share and the proprietary platform owners.

Mark Pesce’s intervention, which backdates to November 2006, is a great complement to those insights. Our excerpt is but a small part of a fascinating commentary which we recommend reading in full.

Sharing vs. Profits: the answer is transparency of motives

“Sharing information carries its own costs and rewards. Much of the work of arbitrageurs draws from some “inside information,” which, were it widely known, would rectify the market inequity the arbitrageur profits from. Thus, there are some situations where sharing presents such a great threat to profit that the drive to fairness is effectively silenced. In most other situations, the sharing of information confers benefit both on the individual offering up the information and the community which receives the information. Individuals identified as experts in a particular area gain in social standing within their communities; this is a form of wealth in itself, and though less tangible than cash, should never be discounted. This social calculus serves as the foundation for many communities, and it is both delicate and constantly in flux: members in every social network are constantly jockeying for position by sharing, aggregating, or critiquing the information.

When the wealth of a community leaves that community – when it is committed to print, or licensed out a commercial organization – problems immediately arise. The first of these is the question of authorship: is the creator of the information being recognized as the author the work? If so, the social calculus of expertise expands into a new sphere. If not, it will feel like theft. Next comes the question of money: who profits from the work of another? Qui bono? If the host of the community takes the content generated by that community and realizes profit from that content, the creators of that content will immediately be afflicted with a number of conflicting feelings. Assuming that attribution has been passed along, there is no loss in social standing. But to see someone else making profit from work freely shared strikes at the very heart of fairness. More significantly, this problem will not be solved simply by offering content creators a license fee for their content. They’re not in it for the money. They are not professionals. Their motivations have everything to do with the sharing of expertise in a context that is all about social standing and not about commerce. Mixing these diametrically opposed influences will quickly result in a spiraling series of crises, leading inevitably to the collapse of the community, once its members realize that they’re being “ripped off.”

The only possible solution that would satisfy both the desire to share and the desire for profit relies on a persistent transparency of motives. The host must enter into a negotiated agreement with the members of the community which sets all ground rules for the use of community-generated content. Furthermore, these agreements must be negotiated on an individual basis, so that every participant in a community has the ability to opt-in or opt-out of the exterior financial arrangements of the community. This doesn’t make the situation any less fraught, because financial motives will still come into conflict with the intent of the community, but it does ensure that everyone understands and accepts the rules before they participate in the process of knowledge creation. That will go a long way toward keeping tempers cool when conflicts arise.”

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