SF Author David Brin, Prof. Jane Bambauer, Prof. Mark Lemley, and I …

will be talking about Internet economics and micropayments on Zoom today (Sept. 18, 2020), 2 to 3 pm. [Bumped.]


We had a very interesting and enjoyable preliminary private conversation on the subject a couple of weeks ago (just for The Practice Effect), and I much look forward to this public version. Please join us! Here are the details:

UCLA Law's AI Pulse Project and University of Arizona TechLaw present:

The Brinternet: A conversation with futurist and science fiction author David Brin and Professors Jane Bambauer, Mark Lemley, and Eugene Volokh, moderated by Professor Ted Parson

What: Is the dominant advertising-supported business model for Internet news and opinion unsustainable?  In a pair of essays published on Evonomics, David Brin says yes. But alternative models, including subscriptions and paywalls, also increasingly appear unrealistic for most apps and content producers. Can micropayments (in the 1 to 5 cent range) solve this problem?

When: this Friday, September 18, 2020, 2:00 – 3:00 PM Pacific time.

Register to attend here.


David Brin is an astrophysicist whose international best-selling novels include The Postman, Earth, and recently Existence. His nonfiction book about the information age—The Transparent Society—won the Freedom of Speech Award of the American Library Association.

Jane Bambauer is a Professor of Law at the University of Arizona. Prof. Bambauer's research assesses the social costs and benefits of Big Data, and questions the wisdom of many well-intentioned privacy laws. Her articles have appeared in the Stanford Law Review, the Michigan Law Review, the California Law Review, and the Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. Prof. Bambauer's own data-driven research explores biased judgment, legal education, and legal careers. She holds a B.S. in mathematics from Yale College and a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Mark Lemley is the William H. Neukom Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and the Director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and is affiliated faculty in the Symbolic Systems program. Prof. Lemley teaches intellectual property, patent law, trademark law, antitrust, the law of robotics and AI, video game law, and remedies. He is the author of eight books and 181 articles, including the two-volume treatise IP and Antitrust.

Eugene Volokh is the Gary T. Schwartz Professor of Law at the UCLA School of Law and an academic affiliate at the law firm Mayer Brown LLP. He teaches First Amendment law and a First Amendment amicus brief clinic, and has taught copyright, criminal law, tort law, and a seminar on firearms regulation policy. He has been writing on the Internet and the law since 1995.

Edward A. (Ted) Parson (Moderator) is the Dan and Rae Emmett Professor of Environmental Law, faculty co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, and the director of the AI Pulse Project at UCLA School of Law.

Background reading: 

Advertising Cannot Maintain the Internet. Here's the "Secret Sauce" Solution.

Beyond Advertising: Will Micropayments Sustain the New Internet?

Neither micro- nor macropayments are required to attend this conversation.

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  1. Good ol' David Brin.

    I'll be honest. I enjoyed his novels greatly. But he hasn't published anything lately that I've seen. IE, the last 10 years or so.

    1. The Practice Effect was amazing, but really only a short story, padded out to (slim) novel length. Just about knocked me down when I figured out what was going on. The Sundiver series, most everything else I've read, all great stuff.

    2. Existence, Copyright 2012.

  2. "SF Author David Brin, Prof. Jane Bambauer, Prof. Mark Lemley, and I …"

    ...walked into a bar?

    1. I don't think David Brin is a member.

  3. Nice.

    David Brin and Steve Jackson (of Steve Jackson Games, an early key sponsor of the Electronic Freedom Foundation) collaborated on a roleplaying game. Surely there is a Volokh-Brin collaboration in the offing!

  4. Looks like fun. Liked Brin’s work. First met EV in real space at one of Mark Lemley’s UT Austin Cyber Law conferences over 20 years ago. Lemley would get the best minds together every year for that conference. Mark let me talk at his Patent Law conferences, but the people he had speaking at his Cyber Law conferences were way beyond me (though most of us had been involved in the Cyberlaw-L list since 1990 or so). Always one of the intellectual high points of my year. Then he moved to Berkeley (and thence Stanford), while I moved to Phoenix.

    I signed up. Looking forward to the discussion. But I note that there really doesn’t seem to be any way to charge micro fees here. ????

    I agree that subscriptions and paywalls as a business plan appear to be headed for failure. I don’t, and won’t, sign up for either. Mostly, I can get around them by some trick, such as opening articles in an “Incognito” tab (the terminology used by Chrome). And I just quit clicking on sites that don’t give me an easy way around having to pay. On the other side, advertising often seems to be getting more and more out of hand. Popover ads are bad enough, but we are getting to the place where I sometimes have to click to dismiss two popover ads now to be able to read a single article. Would I be willing to pay 1¢ an article to make the advertising go away? Maybe not. But there is a point for me where I would. Maybe 0.1¢ (I am basically cheap, if you haven’t figured that out already). The nice thing here is that there is no reason to limit ourselves to integral multiples of some arbitrary metric of value. Charging $0.001357 for an article is almost as easy to implement as $0.01, $0.02, etc.

    1. I agree with that low a micropayment price. It astonishes me that YouTube TV wants something like $45 a month, and Disney wanted $30 just to watch their latest movie; there are way too many possible streaming choices, all with way too many independent choices, for me to sign up with very many of them, especially considering how little I watch (3 shows a week, average?), and while I do read more web pages, I'd consider a buck a night to be too much.

      1. The price of $30 to watch the Disney's latest movie (live-action Mulan) is exceptional and should be understood as an attempt to replace the revenue that would have been generated by a theatrical release.

        The $65/mo (it's gone up since you checked, I guess) for YouTube TV is effectively a basic cable replacement: you get a bunch of Viacom, Tuner, and Discovery channels. You get a significant chunk of basic cable. But if, like me, you are still paying for cable, then you don't need to go anywhere near it since these channels and the on-demand functionality are included.

  5. Looks like I missed the discussion.

    Anyway, given that people have been pushing online micropayments for half a century (see Ted Nelson and Project Xanadu) and vast quantities of R&D dollars (IBM, DEC, various startups, a W3C effort, etc.) without success, I just wondering what people still pushing them are smoking.

  6. Golden Age of TV is definitely BTVS to Battlestar Galactica.

  7. Interestingly discussion. A lot of bright minds there. A little different proposal from what they expected. I think that it was Brin mostly, but their plan seemed to be micropayments with repudiation. Not sure why they need the repudiation part, if the micropayments were low enough not to cause pain. The panelists seem to believe that the point of pain is above the 5¢ or 10¢ level. I think that for them, that might be true - but they are long tenured professors or successful science fiction author. Not typical, in their fiscal pain level.

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