Giftfile System: Properties And Uses

This document provides a terse description of the giftfile system. It is intended as a supplement to the overview presented in the Giftfile Project web site ( After laying a foundation with a few definitions, it describes the properties of the system, and finally provides some hints as to intended use. What you won't find here are motivations, detailed rationale, or comparisons with similar or opposing systems—you'll have to wait for the book!

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a nonproprietary intellectual work of authorship, or collection of such works, that is distributed in the form of a computer file and is labeled according to the specifications of the Giftfile Project
giftfile payload
the actual work of authorship
payload author
the creator of the work. A payload may have more than one author.
giftfile certificate
digitally signed information about the work, including publisher contact and rights
giftfile publisher
the entity who publishes a giftfile. Publishing implies making the giftfile payload and certificate available to the public. The publisher is not necessarily the payload author.
general term for both authors and publishers
giftfile consumer
an entity that donates money in return for benefit from giftfiles
a nonprofit organization that accepts donations from giftfile consumers, enables the allocation of donated money to certain giftfiles, and grants money to giftfile publishers accordingly
giftpool transaction
a giftpool dealing such as the receipt of a money donation, the allocation of donated money to a giftfile, or the grant of money to a giftfile publisher
giftpool server
a network-accessible computer system, operated by a giftpool, which processes giftpool transactions
giftpool client
any software which communicates with the giftpool server
allocation privilege
an amount of money that a certain giftfile consumer has the privilege to allocate towards giftfiles
grant privilege
an amount of money that a certain giftfile publisher has the privilege to request from a giftpool as a grant


Giftfiles may take the form of a file containing both the payload and the certificate. They may also take the form of a payload file and separate certificate, where the certificate is not necessarily in file form.

Giftfile certificates are digitally signed by the publisher. The content of the certificate includes a description of the rights that allow the publisher to distribute the payload, and a reference that will resolve to the payload resource (that is, the URL of the payload file).

The act of creating a giftfile requires no interaction with a giftpool.

The act of using a giftfile requires no interaction with a giftpool.

Giftpools do not host or distribute giftfile payloads. Payload distribution is the responsibility of the giftfile publisher.

Giftpools are operated by nonprofit organizations. They are chartered to collect donations from the public in support of the continued existence of a wealth of nonproprietary works. With the guidance of the public, giftpools distribute collected funds to producers of nonproprietary works.

A giftpool is not a bank or payment service. When a giftfile consumer donates money to a giftpool, that money belongs to the giftpool—to be used according to its charter. Giftfile consumers and producers have accounts with a giftpool which denote amounts of money they may allocate towards giftfiles or request as a grant to themselves. However, these amounts are privileges which are subject to the discretion of the giftpool.

Since nonproprietary intellectual works, as defined by the giftfile system, are a public benefit, giftpools can fall under tax laws particular to charitable organizations. Donations to a giftpool can be tax deductible.

In order to make efficient use of the existing financial infrastructure, giftfile producers and consumers must transact with a giftpool in lump sums. In contrast, transactions that take place entirely within a giftpool can be of small amounts. Allocations to a specific giftfile can be as little as .01 USD.

In order to cover operating costs, a giftpool will give a giftfile consumer less allocation privilege than the amount he donated. Likewise, a giftfile producer will have less grant privilege than the total allocations made to her giftfiles. These two differences, known respectively as the donation and remittance friction, are of a fixed amount that is independent of the amount transferred. Frictions are published by the giftpool.

Because donation and remittance frictions are constants, giftfile consumers and producers have control over the efficiency of their money transactions with the giftpool. For example, consider a giftpool with a remittance friction of $1. A giftfile publisher, Ms. Jones, redeems $25 of grant privilege from the giftpool on four occasions. Another publisher, Ms. Lee, redeems $100 of grant privilege on one occasion. Although they both used $100 of grant privilege, Ms. Jones received only $96 in cash, while Ms. Lee received $99.

There is no friction on transactions within a giftpool.

Once inside a giftpool, money donations can circulate endlessly. Money allocated towards a producer's giftfile counts not only towards her grant privilege, but also her allocation privilege. So instead of requesting a cash grant, she can choose to allocate the money to the giftfiles of other producers. Such action yields a barter economy for nonproprietary works.

After initial setup costs, the operation of a giftpool is self-sustainable. Giftpools fund operations with donation and remittance frictions, and with interest received from the float of collected donations.

The operation of the giftfile system is decentralized. Several giftpools may exist as a network. They compete with each other on merits such as efficiency, reliability, supported currencies, and supported payment types.

Giftfile publishers associate their giftfile with a particular giftpool. Only that giftpool interacts with the publisher to pay resulting grants. In contrast, giftfile consumers may use any giftpool to allocate towards the giftfile.

Money to be transferred from one giftpool to another is aggregated until it reaches an efficient lump sum. If the destination giftpool has a reciprocal transfer pending, the amounts may be cancelled, improving efficiency even more.


When the payload of a giftfile is installed on a computer, the giftfile certificate should be placed in a local database. The database may allow various queries about the set of giftfiles installed on the machine. Combined with other data such as file type and usage information, the user can perform advanced operations such as "divide $10 among all giftfile music tracks I've listened to in the past month".

Giftfiles may take part in the semantic web. Their machine-readable metadata can be captured by search engine crawlers, enabling web searches that are specific to nonproprietary works.

The giftfile system allows the notion of "donate now, pay later". Although a newcomer may be interested in donating a small amount toward some giftfile, he may be unsure if he will encounter enough useful giftfiles in the future to warrant a lump donation to a giftpool. To alleviate this dilemma, his client software may allow him to accumulate allocations without contacting the giftpool server. Once his promised allocations reach some threshold, he then sends payment to the giftpool and the pending transactions are conducted.

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