The Commons Hostage is a website which lets you, as an artist, encourage your fans to pay you to release your work for free, as in free speech, to get paid for letting your fans copy your stuff.
We believe that all ideas are inspired by other ideas, that there is no such thing as an "original" idea. That everything in the world of human culture is inspired by other things, and can itself in turn be a possible inspiration to others.
We believe that to try and stop people copying human ideas is counter-productive both because it restricts the evolution, and so improvement, of those ideas and also because it stops you sharing ideas with your friends.
Imagine two artists. It doesn't matter what art they practice, it doesn't matter their political affiliation or their media of choice, just imagine that there are two.
One artist insists that his or her fans pay for access to their work. They demand that for every copy made they are given five pounds, or five dollars, or five pennies, or five cents, or a fraction of a fraction of whatever currency they happen to accept at the local bar.
The other artist allows their work to be spread freely, indeed they encourage their fans to copy and spread their work as far and wide as possible.
Assuming the art is equally good in each case, which artists will have more influence over the future? Which will affect the minds of their audience more? Which will have a larger audience?
If art has a point other than the art's sake itself, we think it's to affect the minds of the audience and we think that's best done by encouraging the audience to spread the ideas far and wide, not by telling them they may not pass on those ideas to their friends, their relatives, randoms they happen to meet at a party or indeed to anyone at all without difficult to understand restrictions and legal complications.
Art, to be maximally effective, needs to be maximally spread.
And yet artists want, and deserve, to be paid.
Traditionally, artists restrict the copying of their work, insisting that they can be paid for each and every copy which is made. Nobody is allowed to listen to, or own, or share their work without first paying the artist to do so. And this worked okay, for a while, when copying was already an expensive thing to do.
Unfortunately this is utterly counter productive, especially in the modern era where copying is cheap, so cheap it's almost free.
The artist wants to spread their ideas far and wide, to influence their society, to affect the minds of everyone in it. Yet they also insist that people pay for the privilege.
As any economist will tell you, making people pay to do things reduces the likelihood that they will do that thing. Insisting on payment for every copy reduces the number of copies made which in turn reduces that artist's relevance to, and ability to affect, the society in which they operate.
Yet artists need to be paid. If they aren't paid for their art, they have to tend bar or wait tables or program computers or administrate corporate meetings for a living. They can't spend all their time dedicated to making their work better.
So how can artists get paid to encourage the sharing of their work?
The answer is obvious in retrospect: Get fans to pay for the right to share.
Rather than asking his or her fans to pay for work they have already released, the artist asks their fans to club together to pay them to release work to the commons.
What is the commons? It's the pool of ideas, music, images, words, gestures, memes, the pool of art which is available to all mankind. The pool from which all art is inspired, from which all ideas spring.
Fans can club together to pay an artist to release his or her work to everyone, everywhere, for any purpose. To release it to the commons, for the common good.
The creative commons was designed for just this purpose. To release work into the pool of humanity's ideas to be freely reused and copied and modified and changed in order to create and influence the next generation of ideas.
The creative commons imposes as few restrictions as possible on the copying and re-use of ideas in order to make those ideas easier to spread, easier to use, easier to influence the next generation. The only restriction is that you allow others the same freedom as you yourself have taken. That once a work is in the commons, it can't be selfishly withdrawn.
How does an artist encourage his or her fans to pay for the work to be released into the commons?
By holding it hostage, by ransoming it, by releasing it only when their fans have raised what it's worth! You can't pirate a track nobody has yet. You can't copy a film the world's only seen a trailer for.
The Commons Hostage is a website set up to allow you, as an artist, to ask your fans to pay you to release your stuff for free. You agree to let them copy it, to share it, you encourage them to do so in fact since copying and sharing your art is what makes your art valuable, what enables you to affect the future, to affect your culture, to change your world.
The problem is, if the artist releases the work, and the fans don't pay, then the fans get the work for free. If the fans pay and the artist doesn't release the work, or it's rubbish, then the fans lose money.
How do your fans know that the work is worth paying for? How does the artist guarantee payment for their work?
In fact this problem is solved, it's a classic prisoner's dilemma.
Rather than making it an all-or-one thing, rather than releasing (or not releasing) the entire work to the global human culture, the artist serializes the work. Releasing each section only as the fans pay to have it released.
The fans then only have to pay for the release of work which they think is worth the money, and the artists only has to release work gradually, as their fans prove that they will pay.
Well, that's the theory at least. How well will it work in practise? We figure there's only one way to find out. checkout the work released this way so far, or join us, release some of your work, let your fans know and see if it'll work for you.
If you are an artist: you can serialize your stuff and release it through the Commons Hostage system. Let all your fans know, find out how well it may work for you.
If you are a web designer: You can build a better set of graphics and CSS files for the Commons Hostage site itself, and email them to email@example.com so as to improve the site itself.
If you have any money: you can donate to the Commons Hostage projects, and help prove that this publishing model can work. Finds stuff you like, pay to have more stuff like it released to the world.
If you have friends who are artists: you can point them here and encourage them to try this new publishing model.
If you have a facebook/twitter/etc account: you can post a status-update about this site and get all your friends to check it out.
If you would like to share some art: you can write to the artists who made it and suggest they use the Commons Hostage system to give you the right to spread it.
If you just want more free stuff: you can donate to a commons hostage project and show our artists that they can make money by letting their fans spread their art.
We have a user manual, to help those who can't figure out how to use the site just by it's incredibly intuitive interface. If you are an artist who'd like to release stuff through the Commons Hostage system, you can read it by clicking here
Yes, we are in beta. You'll notice how the site is not as pretty as a website might be, and how there are many missing features.
You can help push us up from beta by donating to the Commons Hostage Project. The more you donate, the more money we'll have to give people to pay them to make the site better, prettier, more customisable etc.
We're trying to use the Commons Hostage payment system to fund the Commons Hostage Website!
If you think this idea is valuable, you can pay to make the features available to everybody. If you don't, you can continue to restrict your fans' ability to spread your work, continue to prevent them sharing your work with their friends. Continue to use the payment model that makes record companies treat their customers with court, fines and imprisonment.