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New Media Rights Awarded Grant for the Web

Art Neill and Shaun Spalding

California Western’s New Media Rights (NMR) Program has been awarded a $20,000 grant from Coil, Mozilla, and Creative Commons as part of the collaboration’s Grant for the Web.

Grant for the Web is a $100M fund to boost open, fair, and inclusive standards and innovation in web monetization. It is funded and led by Coil, working in collaboration with Mozilla and Creative Commons.

“There are currently many business models in place to monetize the web, including advertising, paywalls, subscriptions, and data mining,” states the Grant for the Web website. “At best, these models are inconvenient. At worst, they violate our privacy, expose us to malware, needlessly increase our data charges, and are nearly impossible to track.”

“Right now, if you want to support your favorite YouTube channel, they’ll earn 1/10th of a penny when you watch their videos, assuming you don’t skip the ad before each video,” said Shaun Spalding ’11, NMR’s Assistant Director. “Google and platforms like it may take another 30-70 percent cut of that. The video creator is left with very little, while YouTube, which takes this small amount from every video on its platform, becomes a giant,” continued Spalding.

“Reimagine a world where you can decide that anytime you watch content from one of your favorite video creators, you can tell your browser to give that channel 5 cents automatically,” explained Spalding. “In exchange, you don’t need to see any ads, no platform can take a commission from that 5 cents as a middle man, and your favorite creator can make a more sustainable income from the same number of viewers.”

“This technology exists now; it’s just not widespread. The grant we received allows us to support projects that are currently making this more widespread,” said Spalding.

The grant supports technology, tools, and infrastructure that innovate how online content is monetized. One example uses the “Interledger” protocol, an open protocol suite for sending payments across different ledgers.

“In simple terms, imagine that every website or social media page could be equipped with technology where you could transfer a small amount of cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin) to it,” explained Spalding. “With Interledger, it wouldn’t matter which cryptocurrency you used: Bitcoin, Etherium, Litecoin, etc., it would all—in theory—convert seamlessly.”

The grant also supports experiments in the creation, distribution, and discoverability of monetized content. “This is a perfect fit for New Media Rights since our work is equally distributed between creatives and innovators,” said Spalding.

“We proposed to Coil/Mozilla/Creative Commons that we would provide subsidized legal assistance to their other grantees, who are making content as well as developing new software technology,” said Spalding. “These grantees might not be able to afford legal services because their granted budgets are very small and targeted. What’s extra exciting is that they’re specifically making efforts to award grants to projects run by traditionally under-represented creators.”

According to Spalding, when creators do not understand the extent and limitations of copyright and trademark laws, it acts as a chilling effect on creativity. Lack of information often encourages creators to distribute their work to a more limited audience for fear of exposing it to greater scrutiny and potential liability from a larger audience.

“We have the capacity to provide this expert information, for either free or far below typical market rate, to grantees to ensure the money they receive is well spent, rather than spending it on expensive lawyers who may have limited expertise,” said Spalding.

This way, added Spalding, the projects start on a secure legal footing such that they will not, in the future, be subject to attack and shut down because they violated a law or forgot a technical detail during their startup phase.

NMR has now begun working with grantees under this award, conducting one-on-one consultations, and providing legal assistance where necessary.

NMR Executive Director Art Neill stated that this will be an opportunity for California Western law students to work on the cutting edge of internet law, and to change the internet for the better. “By providing legal services for Grant for the Web clients, California Western law students will be on the frontlines of creating a more healthy, equitable internet for creators and users. The internet’s current reliance on advertising clicks supports the spread of eye-catching misinformation, as well as privacy invasive data collection. The growing demand for data privacy protection could allow alternative monetization strategies to succeed where previous efforts have failed.”

“This grant enables us to help increase access to the full capacity of the internet, both for content consumption and content creation, for communities and individuals that have historically been marginalized, disadvantaged, or are without such access,” added Spalding. “We hope that we can use what we learn from Mozilla’s initial seed support to continue to support people using alternative web monetization technologies even after the grant period is over.”

About New Media Rights: New Media Rights is an independently funded program of California Western School of Law, a 501(c)(3) non-profit. It is a program that provides preventative, one-to-one legal services to creators, entrepreneurs, and internet users whose projects require specialized internet, intellectual property, privacy, media, and communications law expertise.