The creators of the copyright-critical movies Steal This Film and Steal This Film 2 are building a platform aimed at helping filmmakers get paid for releasing their works on file-sharing networks. The project, which goes by the name of VODO (it stands for “voluntary donations”), is based on lessons the two filmmakers have learned from publishing their own movies for free on the Internet.
The Steal This Film Project was partially underwritten by grants from the British Documentary Film Foundation, but the filmmakers also asked their audience for donations. The duo was recently quoted as saying that an estimated 0.1 percent of Steal This Film’s audience ended up donating within the first two months of its release. Their hope for VODO is to get a response rate of up to 15 percent. So how do they want to reach this lofty goal? By plugging themselves right into the P2P distribution chain.
The idea is to make VODO a feature of P2P clients as well as media players, so users can donate right when they download or watch a movie. VODO also wants to use video fingerprinting to reliably recognize downloaded movies so that filmmakers can get their fair share. From the VODO web site:
“VODO benefits lie in distributing payments out to players and downloading software, making it as trivial as possible for donors to initiate voluntary donations when they feel most ‘connected’ to the artist: at the point of enjoyment of the media.”
The project just started out, and VODO’s web site doesn’t go into a lot of detail. One way such a system could be implemented is through plug-ins. The popular BitTorrent client Vuze already features plug-in architecture that could be used to add a donation button of some sort.
The video fingerprinting idea is little more ambitious. VODO’s web site states that it wants to develop an open-source video fingerprinting solution this summer, but is still looking for developers to do so. Video fingerprinting is a task that has proven to be difficult in the past: Many video-hosting web sites have started to implement commercial fingerprinting solutions in recent months, but our own tests have shown that these solutions generally don’t work all that well, resulting in many clips falling through the cracks.
It’s also unclear how successful a P2P donation service would be. The Steal This Film team points to the recent online experiments by Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails to show that donations can work, but one could argue that those were singular instances of highly successful bands leveraging their existing communities.
In fact, P2P advocates have had little success with similar ideas in the past: A few fans of the original music-swapping service Napster founded a donation service called Fairtunes back in 2000. The idea was to collect donations for bands that were popular on the file-swapping service. Fairtunes even built a donation plug-in for the then-popular MP3 software Winamp, much in the same way VODO wants to become part of video players.
The service got some major press coverage, including an article in Time Magazine, but attracted only little spare change. Overall, Fairtunes made about $20,000 and finally closed down a year after its launch.