Open Letter to Julia Hilden on her article about pay-per-use

I just read your article on per use payments.

I think there are two serious flaws in per use payments:

(a) Good works of art need to last

As you stated correctly, I define myself partly through the media I "consume".

This does mean, that I want to have the assurance, that I can watch a great movie again a few years in the future.

Imagine this scenario:

  • I found a really great book, read it and got entranced.
  • It's 20 years later, now. and I want to read the book to my children.
  • Suddenly I realize, that I'd have to pay for it again to be able to read it, but it's no longer available, because the company I bought it from on a per use basis died 10 years ago, and no one took over, because the management of the book became too costly to be paid for by the few people who still wanted to read the book in that year.

(b) Technical realization

For per use payment, someone must monitor, how often I use a work of art, and that means, someone must have data on my behaviour, which isn't in the least compatible with personal data protection.

Also, to enable per use payments, you need DRM: Digital Rights Management, which needs to be spelled "Digital Restrictions Management" to account for its effect on end-users, because it restricts me from looking a second time at a file which I already have on my computer.

Without DRM you can't control my use of a document I downloaded to my computer, because it is on my territory which only I control.

With DRM the control of my computer switches to the manufacturer of the DRM, who restricts my useage and only allows me certain actions.

Naturally the DRM-master is then able to monitor and control my use of digital works, but the price for this is giving my personal domain into the hands of someone who isn't necessarily trustworthy (or would you trust microsoft with your new anti-microsoft book, just to name an example?).

There's a quite nice read on the dangers of going through with your proposal on the web, and the prospect is even smaller than yours - it's only about keeping people from passing on books (for which you also need DRM), but it shows what will likely happen, when you the technics for realizing your idea are deployed:
Right to Read

And there is another one. Since your scheme needs DRM to enforce per use payment, this one might also be interesting to you: Can you trust your computer?
Can You Trust

(and please keep in mind that even today a physics book costs up to 150€, even though it costs far less than that to produce it and students don't have much money, so pay per read wouldn't magically lower prices).

So, while pay per use sounds nice and fair from a distance, it grows into a maze of trouble when you take a closer look.

Best wishes,
Arne Babenhauserheide

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