During one of the many beer-soaked after-hours events where much of the real work gets done at the South By Southwest conference, a gentleman sidled up and hissed “So, are you into weed?” and proffered a slim silver box.
“Well, uh, thanks, but…”
Before I could finish my awkward yet heartfelt refusal, he opened the box to reveal a stack of business cards that read:
Steve Turnidge, Founder, Shared Media Licensing, Inc., weedshare.com
He then went on to describe a fascinating music distribution scheme that encourages music sharing while also benefiting artists and the people who share the music. It goes like this:
An artist or an artist’s representative signs up with an Independent Content Provider (ICP), who helps set up a rights-holder account, verify rights clearance, and, optionally, promote the work. The artist converts the material they want to distribute to unprotected WMA files and adds the metadata that provides such information as artist name, track name, album name, etc.
The work is submitted to the ICP, which has the material “weedified”—that is, encoded with Weed’s special Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption. Once weedified, the material can be distributed in any way the artist likes—from the artist’s website, over peer-to-peer networks, from newsgroups, or via email.
So far none of this out of the ordinary, but here’s where it gets interesting.
The Weed DRM allows the listener to play the song three times for free—with full fidelity, all the way through. On the fourth go-round, you’re asked to pay whatever price the artist demands for the track. Once purchased you can play the track on up to three Windows PCs (Macintosh is not currently supported but will be in a couple of weeks) and burn the track to CD.
Once you own that track you’re welcome to share it in any way you like. Those people who receive it can likewise listen to it three time and then are asked to buy it. If they do purchase it, 50 percent of the purchase price goes to the artist (just as 50 percent of the price went to the artist when you purchased the track), 20 percent of the purchase price goes to the person who shared it, and 15 percent goes to the people behind Weed.
Where does the rest of the money go?
As the track is passed along, people up the sharing chain continue to make money. For example, Bubba buys a Weed file and shares it with JoJo. JoJo buys the file and Bubba earns 20 percent. JoJo shares the file with Betty Lou. Betty Lou buys it and JoJo gets 20 percent and Bubba gets 10 percent. Betty Lou shares the file with Goober. Goober buys it and Betty Lou earns 20 percent, JoJo earns 10 percent, and the original sharer, Bubba, gets 5 percent. Yet for all transactions, the artist continues to earn 50 percent of the full purchase price.
Sound like multi-level marketing? That’s exactly what it is. The difference between this and so-called pyramid schemes is that potential buyers have three chances to sample the product and there’s no buy-in cost. The advantage it shares with other multi-level marketing schemes is that it provides monetary motivation for users to spread the material around. Best of all, the artist is fairly compensated.
If you’re an artist or music consumer, it’s worth checking out. You can do so at