[ExI] The Street Performer Protocol

PJ Manney pjmanney at gmail.com
Mon Sep 3 05:04:42 UTC 2007

On 8/27/07, Emlyn <emlynoregan at gmail.com> wrote:
> "We introduce the Street Performer Protocol,  >http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue4_6/kelsey/

Forgive the long post, but I'd like to address the different problems
in Kelsey and Schneier's paper "The Street Performer's Protocol and
Digital Copyrights" and Emlyn's subsequent analysis as I see them, as
someone who works within the existing system daily and would love to
see a new system that benefits creators and stops them from being
content slaves.

In general, I think the paper is exactly what you would expect
cryptographers to write: it's about protection of digital information
transfer, not about content and why people make it, sell it or and buy
it, which is what an economic system stands on.  And that's what
they're proposing – an economic system.  Only it's just a system,
without the economics.

Who the New World is Up Against

First, let me repeat what you probably already know (and if you really
do, you can skip this and the next paragraph): Beyond the entrenchment
of the distribution companies and the 'war on [copyright] terror' they
wage hand in hand with the US Government, let's remember that the
reason the war involves the US Government against the rest of the
world is that most of the content being pirated/shared/appropriated is
filtered through the US, who gets its cut.  That is not to say that
there isn't perfectly good content made in other countries that people
want.  It means that the US distributes more content people want than
any other country on Earth.  Media (which includes hardware, software
and content for entertainment and information) is arguably the US's
single most important industry, based on both money and influence, and
if you appropriate enough of anything, you're sure to run afoul of the
big guys: News Corp, CBS/Viacom, Disney, NBC/Universal, Time-Warner,
Sony.  Each of them is a vertically and horizontally integrated
multinational corporation.  Hence the major distribution companies who
drive the copyright infringement train utilize US market forces and
political leverage, even if their parent companies are based overseas,
like Sony.

They are a very united front, with extraordinary political leverage
through organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America
and the State Department.  For instance, the MPAA was responsible for
twisting the Swedish government's arm to prosecute Pirate Bay.  Or no
more US media product to Sweden.  Think about that for a moment.  You
may think the MPAA, RIAA and the rest of the gang are dinosaurs, but
they'll stick around longer than you think.  As I write, they are
systematically destroying entertainment labor unions and if they are
successful at the next round of Screen Actor's Guild, Writer's Guild
and Director's Guild negotiations this year, the union system will be
finished for good.  [Yes, yes, I know the libertarians among you are
cheering.]  And everyone working for them will be doubly screwed until
the paradigm changes in their favor.  And who knows when that will be.

That's the long way of saying they won't go quickly or quietly.
That's the bad news.

There IS a growing group of independent, artist-owned and operated
distributors developing, like record-labels, publishing houses, etc.
But few of the profitable companies can resist the suitcase full of
cash or stock options when the big boys come knocking.  They all
eventually go for the greenbacks and trade in their youthful renegade
dreams for the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  Bling, baby.
That's what REAL social status is all about.

[BTW, Bling is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  It makes a culture where
creators are taught to aspire to Bling.  Creation is not a goal, but a
means to an end.  And we have to live with the mediocrity.  But that's
another essay.]

The Real Behavior of the Economic Audience-Person

Why does someone spend money for a work of art or entertainment?  To
bond through common experience.  To escape, through mental
transportation or transcendence.  To experience catharsis.  Only when
the art/entertainment is expensive does the concept of status become
an issue.  Then it's about ownership and its directly proportional
relationship to the increasing size of one's male genitalia, not
experience.  Most people own a Rolls Royce to say they own a Rolls
Royce and feel like a big dog, not for the driving experience.  It's
the same with Picassos.  Big paintings = big penises.  (More on that

Regardless of our motives, we buy to experience happiness, however it
turns us on.

But how do people know that work of art/entertainment will do that, so
they are ready to part with their hard-earned cash?  Marketing.  And
how does marketing work?

By someone vetting the product beforehand and promising your life will
be better by consuming it.  I can't emphasize this enough.  Reviews,
word of mouth, promises of emotions to be experienced.  "You'll laugh,
cry, and beg for more!"  Stupid ads with quotes from people you've
never heard of but assume must know something, because it's them, and
not you, quoted in an ad or on a dust jacket.  Images of people who
look like you, have lives like you, but are happier than you.  Because
they bought [fill in the blank].

As for the status model, to put it even more crassly, the Wannabe Big
Penis buys the Big Painting because someone with a Bigger Penis bought
one before him and therefore vetted his choice.  His real reason is he
wants to join the Big Penis Club and wave his around.  Wannabe Big
Penises don't buy from unknown artists, because appreciating art for
art's sake isn't the issue.  If they do, then they are true art
connoisseurs and patrons and they really do have big cojones.  And
they are increasingly rare (see the Bling argument above) and deserved
to be cherished for the precious species they are.

The SPP model is dependent on a wishful expectation of future output.
That just doesn't cut it when parting with real money.  People shop to
find the best value for their money.  If they blindly invested in
entertainment, as the model depicts, every movie star and famous
author and singer would have a hit every time they worked, just
because at one time, they did something people really liked.  Sure,
die-hard, indiscriminant fans might, but they are not enough to
generate the kind of income the authors assume.

As for Emlyn's Coca Cola reference, we know Coca Cola's good
because... someone told us.  Then we tried it, we liked it and we had
the same experience again, because the Coke experience is infinitely
reproducible.  If Coke came out with a new flavor, I wouldn't try it
just because Coke made it (mostly because I know their other products
are nowhere as successful as their first one).  I'd wait to see if
anyone else liked it, after the fact.  But by then, based on the
pre-pay SPP model, it's too late.

In the movie business, part of the SPP model already exists as one of
the benchmarks studios use to assess a project's worth in the first
place: "Can this star open a movie?"  'Open a movie' means enough
people will see it opening weekend to make it a hit, just because the
star is in it.  The movie business likes to say only a handful of
people in the entire world can open a movie, but in reality, no one
can (well, maybe Will Farrell can...).  I can name dozens of movies
with Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Julia Roberts, etc. that no one went
to see.  Obviously, it's the same in publishing, music, etc.  There is
no such thing as a "sure thing."  That's why the entertainment
business is structured so that one giant, blockbuster hit pays for the
nine other underperformers and outright flops.  Executives cling to
the commonly accepted 'open a movie' fallacy so they can sleep better
at night.

The New Economic Landscape

The coming art/info/entertainment world is a flooded landscape of
endless content, where hundred-million dollar movies and a hit-maker's
single compete on the same playing field as naked dancing and
fart-a-thons on YouTube.  There is too much product and not enough
time or money to consume it all.  And it's only just begun.  Already,
the economic model is entirely about how to get the audiences'
attention long enough for them to want to buy the product.  If you
don't give them something to attract them, keep them and then
reinforce the choice with a positive reaction, you've failed before
you've started.  How does the SPP model work at all in an economic
system where attention, and not product, is the rare and valued

The Problem with Sponsors

Sponsor status only works in sub-cultures where financial influence
over creativity buys social status and the buyer has money to burn.
That's the nouveau riche and old money's noblesse oblige.  It's
possible this model could create a new social status symbol among the
masses, but given their limited resources, it's not probable.  At
least until technoutopian nano-abundance, and then we're all
artist-performers in Techno Heaven.  ;-)  I don't think the average
person can afford to play the sponsor game when they are already up to
their eyeballs in debt over status markers like shelter and
transportation, which are far more crucial expenditures.

Also, with money comes a desire for control and recognition.  Who's
going to get the press: the creator or Daddy Artbucks, who made it all
possible?  Already, the media itself wants to be the story and it's
getting less and less interested in the product as… well, product, as
opposed to promoting the brand (Disney, Fox/News Corp, etc.) it came
from as the ultimate product.  Again, it all comes back to the
economics of attention.

If PBS's model of sponsorship actually worked, the US Congress
wouldn't have the power to regularly threaten to end its existence.
PBS exists because of American tax dollars as much as sponsorship and
is therefore beholden to politics.  And most of the sponsorship is not
corporate, but from educational foundations that give money to worthy
causes.  They are a small (and growing smaller) resource, as many
foundations have discovered other worthy causes, like ending malaria
and polio.  Or universal literacy.  I know personally how hard it is
to get non-educational sponsorship for television.  Unless you're
giving the sponsor exactly what they want, which usually amounts to
your product-as-ad for the sponsor or the promise of exclusivity with
the distribution company, which is not in the distribution company's
best interest, you've got a hard row to hoe ahead of you.

Technological delivery systems

Online books are nowhere near ready for mass acceptance, you early
adopters notwithstanding.  It's hard for electronic books to beat the
easy, transportable and bug-free technology of a paperback or
hardcover.  Maybe in a few more years, but right now, the delivery
systems for books suck.

Below is an interesting analysis based on Stephen King's experience
online-publishing The Plant…


…which Jon Katz describes as not about the technology itself, but
about how publishers don't understand how the technology can be used
to their best advantage.  Simply put, they don't take advantage of the
economics of attention.

Either way, distributors are not getting it.

The technology behind future media convergence already exists.  It's
those pesky distributors who control enough of the content, technology
and pipelines who are holding it up to milk their model for as long as
they can, even as it falls to bits under them.  And why not?  Anyone
ever heard of petroleum?  Yes, yes, I know the oil business is a
different economic model, but one of the reasons the energy industry
isn't enthusiastic about alternative sources is because the cost of
infrastructure and the uncertainty of a new economic model is too high
to justify not milking the old one to the end.  It's the same with
entertainment.  Sell the proles a VHS, then a DVD, then a HD-DVD to
justify selling them the same movie again and again, but don't change
the economic concept of distribution.  The costs and risks are far too

Which takes us right back to the beginning.

There must be an alternative to the present system.  I just don't
think the SPP model is it.

I'd love to know your thoughts.


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