Should Users Earn Dividends When a Site Sells Out?

A social networking site recently got bought by AOL for $850 million. That’s a whole lotta bread. Billy Bragg tells the New York Times that the musicians deserve a slice. The Royalty Scam:

The musicians who posted their work on are no different from investors in a start-up enterprise. Their investment is the content provided for free while the site has no liquid assets. Now that the business has reaped huge benefits, surely they deserve a dividend.

What’s at stake here is more than just the morality of the market. The huge social networking sites that seek to use music as free content are as much to blame for the malaise currently affecting the industry as the music lover who downloads songs for free. Both the corporations and the kids, it seems, want the use of our music without having to pay for it.

Of course, the musicians are in fact different from the investors. As Techdirt points out, It’s Not Exploitation If You Chose To Take Part:

Bebo offered musicians a chance to promote themselves (for free) to its community. Musicians accepted this offer, and in exchange, provided their music for free. […] Investors made a very different trade. They traded money for equity. […] Complaining after the fact about what happened is like selling a bunch of wood to a builder for a few thousand dollars, and then complaining when he turns that into a million dollar house. Was the wood seller exploited?

But still, this raises an interesting point. Imagine if the next generation of social networking site offered a piece of equity in the business to its users. There are many ways this could be implemented, and none of them would be legally simple, ha ha, but it could be pretty cool. Get paid to surf the internet!

Billy Bragg’s latest album, Mr. Love & Justice, is out April 22 on Anti.

MP3: Billy Bragg – “Mr. Love & Justice”

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