Chad Perrin: SOB

12 January 2009

Open Works Escrow

Filed under: Geek,Liberty — apotheon @ 01:42

A while back, I seem to recall running across a Website that offered a micropayment escrow management service. It went something like this:

  1. You set up an account for a particular project.
  2. You set a reserve price.
  3. You promise to complete a given project once the reserve price is met.
  4. People donate money.
  5. The money goes into an escrow account.
  6. When the reserve price is met, you produce what you promised, and it is released to the world for free.
  7. When you produce what you promised, the money is released to you.

It was probably a year or two ago that I found this. A couple months after I found it, I couldn’t remember what it was called, and I haven’t been able to find it again since — nor anything like it. At the time, it had been used successfully to fund the authoring of novels and recording of classical music. With that in mind . . .

  1. Does anyone know where this site (or something like it) could be found?
  2. If not — is there someone out there that would like to partner up with me to make this happen?
  3. Failing that — is there someone out there who’d make it happen without me?

Note that, in the creation of a service like this, there are certain things I’m not prepared to do:

  1. I don’t know the first thing about the legal minutiae of managing other people’s money with a service like this. As such, someone better versed in such things needs to be brought on board — as an employee, on retainer, or as a partner.
  2. I absolutely do not have money to put into this. I mean, I could maybe afford something like domain registration and, if we’re really sure it’ll turn a profit, virtual server hosting — but for real money, I’m not going to be much help.
  3. If I’m involved in such a project, I don’t want venture capital firms taking control of the business model or getting 90% of the potential profits.

There are also a few things this service would have to provide, whether I’m involved in its creation or not, to really scratch my itch:

  1. Use of the service should not be effectively limited to people with money, so generating profits with up-front costs (e.g., “pay $100k and we’ll set up your escrow account”) is “bad”.
  2. A “bounty” mechanism needs to be in place so that unsolicited escrow accounts can be set up to serve a popular need — then a developer who delivers can claim the bounty. To really work well, I think such bounties would probably have to be claimable only by developers who already have a good reputation on the system.
  3. The service should absolutely not be limited to software development. When I say “developer”, it should be understood to include people who develop music, fiction prose, independent films, installation art, whatever.
  4. To meet escrow/bounty requirements, everything should be released into the public domain or under a recognized open source, free software, and/or copyfree license (and perhaps other standards of open work licensing — I’m open to suggestions).

To ease the process in the case where people want to use their own licensing terms that meet the spirit and letter of one or more of those classes of licensing, or to use a license that isn’t already officially approved by one of those sets of standards, I’d be only happy to provide on-site support for expedited copyfree approval/certification, though for “expedited” I think I’d need to make sure I got a share of profits or some other compensation if I’m not otherwise involved in the process (if only so that I can afford to spend the time going over the licenses in a timely fashion; time is money, as they say, and I still have to try to make a living somehwere).

I would, of course, lean toward OWL as the choice for default distribution terms, with public domain as my second choice. I would not play favorites as far as blocking any given license that satisfies the requirements outlined above from inclusion in a list of options.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License