The world is flat (rate)

April 30, 2008 § 2 Comments

Today was CopyCamp2 in Toronto: a conversation about art, copyright and the Internet. Lots of fun examples of remix art. More Linux stickers and Internet savvy artists than last year. And a few boring culture bureaucrats playing broken records. Not a bad cocktail, all told.


The strange highlight was a session by Paul Hoffert, ex-hippie musician, Berkman fellow and founder of a new company called Noank. Their web site says:

Noank’s mission is to license and distribute digital content globally while fairly compensating content owners, using the most efficient, sustainable, and effective business and technology systems. Noank’s motto is "limitless legal content flow."

The idea is simple: blanket content subscriptions charged by ISPs for all the content you can eat. Users just grab content P2P-style the way they do now. Content creators get a slice of the subscription revenue based on the popularity of their materials.

What’s interesting is not the idea on its own (it’s not new), but the fact that Noank may actually make it happen, and at scale. They have a contract to offer their service to 25 million Chinese students in partnership with the ISP that serves all universities in China . Each student pays $20/year for all the online textbooks, movies and video they want. And, Noank has already signed up 40% of the content providers they’ve targeted, including all of the Chinese ones and a bunch of global majors.

More interesting is that fact that Noank will split revenue with anyone who owns content and signs a contract with them, even if they’ve already open sourced it. A case in point is MIT Open Courseware, which is in huge demand in some Chinese universities. MIT could put its lecture videos on the Noank P2P network and then claim a piece of the action, even though the material is available under CC free on the web. If it works, this both helps with both international bandwidth issues and allows those who produce open content to bring in money.

Is there are catch? Yes, of course. Noank uses super invasive client software to track the popularity of materials. Each use of each textbook, movie or video is recorded at the file system level on your computer. There is a piece in the client that anonymizes all this info before it is transmitted back to Noank. That may reassure you. It may not.

A final note: Noank’s decision to start in China — and to go to Russia next — is worth paying attention to. As Paul stated in his talk, these are places with copyright cultures very different from those in the west. And, they are such big consumers ands creators of content that they will eventually influence how new business models and copyright play out globally. Noank figures such places make good terrain to hammer out their ideas. They are quite right. It will be interesting to see where (and if) this goes: good, bad and / or ugly.

§ 2 Responses to The world is flat (rate)

  • MCM says:

    I heard about that session and wished I’d been there. At the last session of the day I attended, we discussed the idea of how to get accurate data about P2P usage without those invasive techniques. One idea floated (and I think worth pursuing in some fashion) is to ask a handful of private torrent trackers to track and anonymously submit statistics on file transfers (probably on a monthly basis, and obviously to whatever privacy standards they would require)… purely as a proof-of-concept, but one that I think would help work out the kinks in the system in a way that wouldn’t offend the sensibilities of privacy-loving people in the western world.

    This comes back to my growing feeling that the answer to the P2P question lies solely with the coders and hackers, and not with policy people. The coders have to design and execute a model before the suits can say “yes, that’s what we need”.

    We’re so close to an answer, it’s maddening.

  • AndrewRens says:

    Hi MarK

    I have commented rather sceptically on the Noank aggregation model at my blog:


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