What is VODO?

VODO is trying to help solve three problems:

(1) How do we get works (texts, films, music) distributed efficiently and widely using current peer-to-peer and filesharing technologies?
(2) How do we market these works in a way that can help artists gain widespread recognition?
(3) How can we help creators distributing via filesharing systems to develop a sustainable and even profitable, practice?

We approach these problems by, first, gathering quality “unpublished” content (books, films, music) from a variety of sources. These may, for example, be commissioning boies who know about work they’ve comissioned that couldn’t be or wasn’t published; they may be “slush-piles” from literary agencies; they may be first albums submitted directly by bands, or offered by managers. (The fact is that a lot of great content will never make it to a mainstream publication –– for a variety of reasons that we won’t go into here, but NOT just because they’re not good enough.)
Second, we filter the content. Once it’s uploaded, we allow VODO’s Regular Supporters to download or stream any work they like, in order to comment and vote on it. Taking into account these votes and comments our team select works to distribute.

Third, we are bringing together some of the world’s largest P2P services and sites to help promote and distribute winning works. Works selected are promoted prominently to our ‘Distribution Coalition’, which has many millions of eyeballs. The promotions we place on these pages will link directly to the works, which will be seeded in partnership with Bittorrent and other filesharing services.

Finally, at the core of VODO is a commitment to providing revenue for creators of media content, in a world in which the systems for distributing, copying and viewing that content are cross-territorial, rapidly changing and difficult to predict or control.

Put simply, we provide a freely accessible “look up” table that stores hashes of works we’ve helped distribute, against payment details (e.g., PayPal) for producers. With this table, any site that implements the VODO system can offer donation links for VODO works. In time we’re aiming to extend this to all sorts of works, even those not published by us. But as you can guess, this will take some time!

With the system we’ve developed, we’ll be able to let consumers of media shared through P2P networks make voluntary donations to our creators wherever their works are shared.

BACKGROUND

Until recently the assumption has been that if consumers cannot be made to pay for copies of media obtained through traditional channels, revenue is entirely lost to creators. However, content/distribution projects such as Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ and our own STEAL THIS FILM 1 & 2 have shown that a proportion (in Radiohead’s case, 38%) of people consuming media through P2P networks are willing to make entirely voluntary donations.

If a small proportion of the massive amount of P2P users downloading works through VODO decide to donate on a regular or semi-regular basis to some of the artists whose works they are sharing, these creators would be able to build an excellent means of support. One of the advantages of direct, after-the-fact donation is that there is no friction and much, much more of the money makes it into the artists’ pockets.

VODO makes it easy for users to donate and is part of a culture in which it will become normal for them to do so. We think there is a great opportunity for small-to-medium sized media producers to maximise usage of efficient, free P2P networks by encouraging free copying and distribution of their materials, while actively seeking voluntary supportive donations. We also think that around works distributed this way, we can build all sorts of new revenue channels for creators.

Films and music establish a powerful relationship between ‘producer’ and ‘consumer’. One of VODO’s key benefits lies 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.

VODO began in 2006 as the Pretext project, which was kindly supported by a grant from the Arts Council of England (ACE). Pretext’s aim was twofold: to distribute quality, minority texts over the internet, and to find a model that could remunerate authors while they did it. Back then, Pretext was Jamie King, artist/programmer Jan Gerber, then-CC-UK head Christian Ahlert, Hannah Upritchard and noted author Hari Kunzru.

To cut a long story short, it took us just less than two years to realise that ‘revolutionising’ the publishing industry was VERY hard way to tackle the problems that really interested us: how online distribution was changing what it means to communicate, to ‘get published’, to be a creator and an author in the ‘network society’. In the meantime, two of the original team — along with other friends — happened to make STEAL THIS FILM 1 and STEAL THIS FILM 2, which represented some of our thinking around this topic, live and very much in the public eye.

Artist/programmer/guru Sebastian Lutgert was another person instrumental in developing the ideas behind VODO during late 2007/early 2008. Sebastian and Jan are now working on the very significant Pad.ma system, mostly from Mumbai, India.

After STEAL THIS FILM, we focused on the core question how to distribute content of all kinds using existing P2P infrastructure (i.e., without re-
inventing the wheel!) and how to sustain content producers while doing it (i.e, get them paid!) A third, and equally important question circulated through much of our pragmatic research: how to help creators get as much attention as we’d got with the STEAL THIS FILM project. Without attention, you might as well upload your work to YouTube and hope for the best — not an enticing prospect for many.

So we came up with VODO, short for ‘voluntary donations’ but really much, much more than that. VODO is the publishing system we first started
trying to create with Pretext in 2006; it’s the distribution system that filmmakers all over the world have been wanting ever since they knew about distributing films online; it’s the same attention-gathering machine that was behind STF — only much, much more powerful.

In short, VODO is the culmination of a lot of thinking, a lot of work and lot of goodwill. From the initial funding offered by ACE, we were carried
through by grants from the OSI’s Information Programme, support from the BRITDOC Foundation and the UK’s Emerald Fund. We know that in the current economic environment, finding funding to continue developing VODO is going to be tough. That’s why we’ve designed VODO to be lean, simple and easy to maintain.

Today, VODO’s core development team comprises filmmaker/technologist Jamie King (UK/transient), programmer/activist Rama Cosentino (Argentina), documentarist/advocate Adnan Hadzi (UK), and BRITDOC’s delightful Jess Search (UK), who sits on our as-yet-not-really-existent board. In addition we’re delighted to welcome Stu Tilly (Shooting People) as a collaborator, and Pixeco, who’ll be helping us out with design before we go live.