DRUMS: In search of a file-sharing solution
A work in progress, by Scott Matthews (and friends)

What's this all about?
This document is a rough working draft, an outline, a work in progress. I hope it will continue to evolve into an increasingly detailed, compelling, and plainly productive step toward resolving the mess of the copyright wars.

The intention is for this document to be reasonable to both the established copyright industry as well as to those who seek a new copyright system. The intention is to enrich the environment for creating and consuming digital works by enriching the environment for developing new applications and services to interact with these works.

The intention is to suggest a step forward that won't piss anybody off.

I'm burned-out by all the P2P brawling, why should I read this?
Well, don't read it looking for an "alternative compensation system" because you won't find one here. Instead, read it for a new file-sharing rhetoric, and a new idea that just might work. Read it with a critical eye, and please make suggestions.

What's the nutshell?
My proposal is a new centralized/distributed metadatabase of authored works. The structural idea is vaguely modeled on DNS, along with the a la carte rights granting system of Creative Commons. I call it DRUMS, for Digital Rights Uniform Metadata Service.

Essentially, the idea is to create a central database, along with an authority (or a handful of authorities) that can add/update it. The root DRUMS database would likely include data such as author names, work titles, publication dates, types of work, file checksums, flags indicating which rights remain reserved and which rights have been granted, and so on. It would not contain the actual works themselves.

The root DRUMS database could then be propagated out across the Internet, in a fashion similar to DNS propagation. These distributed DRUMS databases could be queried via a simple and standard protocol, and/or portions of them could be published via protocols like XML/RSS.

How does this resolve the P2P situation?
It doesn't. Instead, it provides a new platform upon which new applications and services can be built. The platform would benefit from a substantial "network effect" produced by the collected aggregation of works, and could compete with P2P.

I have no idea what you're talking about.
Yeah, sorry, the thing is, it's actually a pretty simple idea and I want to be sure you get a feel for what I'm suggesting -- perhaps some examples would help...

Imagine that an author adds new works to the DRUMS database via their authorized provider, and marks them as free for non-commercial use. Once the root DRUMS database has been propagated out across the Internet, a Web site might query it for recent additions that are marked free for non-commercial use. The results could be presented as a playlist to a DJ who reviews them and picks favorites, which then get published into an RSS/BitTorrent feed.

Or, enterprises could develop proprietary satellite systems that add value by merging proprietary data with data from the central DRUMS, or others may provide 'data mining' type services.

Or, you could simply search the database to determine who has rights over a given work, without having to stumble through endless paperwork, or needing to hire an army of lawyers.

With a communal metadatabase infrastructure, many new applications and services would be possible, following both traditional and unconventional copyright models.

I've read down this far, now what?
First thanks, I hope I managed to get the idea across. But it's very much a work in progress and all sorts of questions come to mind:

  • Does DRUMS seem like a positive step forward?

  • Does DRUMS sound useful?

  • Will the established copyright industry see this as move forward?

  • Will alternative copyright system fans see this as move forward?

  • What technical details should be tackled first?

  • Should something like this be managed by the government or a standards body?

  • What other questions should I be asking?

    Please let me know what you think!
    Send questions & comments to:

    Who am I? I'm Scott and I write and sell Andromeda, PHP/ASP software for playing music over the Web.

  • As discussed by:
    IPcentral -- Progress and Freedom Foundation's Center for the Study of Digital Property
    David Weinberger -- author Small Pieces Loosely Joined, co-author Cluetrain Manifesto
    Siva Vaidhyanathan -- Department of Culture and Communication, New York University.
    JD Lasica's New Media Musings and Darknet
    Creative Commons' weblog
    bIPlog -- Berkeley Intellectual Property Weblog
    The David Lawrence Show

    Reviewed and deemed reasonable by:
    Mary Hodder
    bIPlog, Napsterization
    George Hotelling
    90% Crud, SongBuddy
    JD Lasica
    New Media Musings
    David Lawrence
    The David Lawrence Show
    Sébastien Paquet
    Many-to-Many, Music Metadata Wiki, National Research Council Canada
    Derek Sivers
    CDBaby, HostBaby
    David Touve
    Joystick, Digital Music Weblog