What is an Alternative Compensation System?

There are actually a few different meanings for the term “alternative compensation system”. In general, it simply means that the author of a given work, or copyright holder of a given work, will receive payment or compensation through some means besides simply charging users for the license to use the content.


In a general sense, alternative compensation systems, or ACS, are used to refer to any scheme where the artist, him or her self, finds a way to make money on their work without actually charging their customers.


Some of these methods might include…


Banner Ads


For years now, print magazines have been making the majority of their revenue through advertisement, with subscription and sales fees really only covering the costs of production and distribution. Of course… this is taken to extremes by some magazines, like say, those make-up magazines where you won’t even read the table of contents until you’ve been through well over two hundred pages of advertisements.


Advertising has become an excellent way for web-comic artists to make a little money with their work, without having to charge membership fees and so on. By allowing advertisers to place ads on your comic’s site, for either a flat fee or a per-click compensation scheme, a web-comic artist can easily make a comfortable living while still providing free content.




Since you can put just about anything on a t-shirt or a coffee mug these days, and at very little cost to yourself, through online print-shops and similar services, many artists choose to distribute their work for free, online, and then to maintain a shop, selling t-shirts and other merchandise with the web-comic characters printed onto them, or in the case of internet culture phenomenon Homestar Runner, even selling toys and so on.


This is, technically, charging money for items, but it differs from traditional sources of author-income by the fact that the actual content, the web-comic or short stories or videos or whatever it may be, are offered for free, while the more dedicated fans can support their favourite online artist by sporting t-shirts and baseball caps and so on.


In Terms of Copyright Law


The more official definition of alternative compensation systems was first suggested as a response to the problem with software and media piracy. There were worries that artists would eventually see piracy put too large of a dent in their income.


As we’ve seen, people keep pirating, but musicians and filmmakers still manage to make ends meet somehow, so, in the eyes of many, the want for initiating some legally defined ACS, is seen as somewhat outdated and naïve.


A number of proposals have been put forth for somehow collecting money to pay authors of software or media that becomes easily pirated. These have included…


Income Taxation


For obvious reasons, this one isn’t really taken seriously. Software and media piracy has never really put a big enough dent on anyone’s income to justify taking money from the public to pay wealthy artists what a number of unscrupulous peer-to-peer traders may or may not have stolen from them.


Blank CDs


Because many pirates use blank CDs and blank DVDs to store or sell pirated software and media, an extra fee for buying CDs and DVDs has been suggested by some. Again, this is seen as somewhat unfair. The vast majority of people buying blank CDs and DVDs are not using them to commit piracy. There’s really no justification for charging someone “piracy taxes” when they only wish to put some home videos on a DVD. Likewise, software and media pirates not willing to shell out for the actual CDs would probably not be willing to shell out for blank CDs which cost almost as much as the album that they plan on pirating and burning onto that blank CD.


The Real Problem


The real problem behind the idea of ACS is this… the idea would be to basically phase out the traditional consumer model for buying music and movies and other media. Basically, what we now think of as pirating would become the primary means of getting music, while the federal government takes money from you, whether you’re downloading music and movies or not.


Nobody with a lick of common sense needs to be told why that’s a bad idea. An art and entertainment industry regulated and controlled by the federal government doesn’t have anything to do with the American principles of a free market and freedom of speech.

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