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Copyright and Technology in 2013

November 18, 2013 Leave a comment

Last month’s conference on copyright and technology provided plenty of food for thought from an array of speakers, organisations, viewpoints and agendas. Topics and discussions ran the gamut of increasingly obvious “business models are more important than technology” to downright bleeding edge “hypersonic activation of devices from outdoor displays “. There was something to take away for everyone involved. Read on for highlights.

The Mega Keynote interview: Mega’s CEO Vikram Kumar, discussed how the new and law-abiding cloud storage service is proving attractive to professionals who want to use and pay for the space, security and privacy that Mega provides. This is a far cry from the notorious MegaUpload, and founder Kim Dotcom’s continuing troubles with charges of copyright infringement, but there are still questions about the nature of the service – e.g. the end-to-end encryption approach which effectively makes it opaque to outside scrutiny.  Read more about it here.

Anti-Piracy and the age of big data – Mark Monitor’s Thomas Sehested talked about the rise of data / content monitoring and anti-piracy services in what he describes as the data driven media company. He also discussed the demise of content release windows, and how mass / immediate release of content across multiple channels lowers piracy, but questioned if this is more profitable.

Hadopi and graduated response – Hadopi’s Pauline Blassel gave an honest overview on the impact of Hadopi, including evidence of some reduction in piracy (by factor of 6M-4M) before stabilsation. She also described how this independent public authority delivers graduated response in a variety of ways e.g. from raising awareness to imposing penalties and focusing primarily on what is known as PUR (aka ‘Promotion les Usage Responsible’)

Auto Content Recognition (ACR) and the 2nd Screen – ACR is a core set of tools (including DRM, watermarking and fingerprinting), and the 2nd screen opportunity (at least for broadcasters) is all about keeping TV viewership and relevance in the face of tough competition for people’s time and attention. This panel session discussed monetisation of second screen applications, and the challenges of how TV is regulated, pervasive and country specific. Legal broadcast rights is aimed at protection of broadcast signals, which triggers the 2nd screen application, (e.g. via ambient / STB / EPG based recognition). This begs the question of what regulation should be applied to the 2nd screen, and what rights apply? E.g. Ads on TV can be replaced in the 2 screen, but what are the implications?

Update on the Copyright Hub – The Keynote address by Sir Richard Hooper, chair of the Copyright Hub and co-author of the 2012 report on Copyright Works: Streamlining Copyright Licensing for the Digital Age, was arguably the high point of the event. He made the point that although there are issues with copyright in the digital age, the creative industries need to get off their collective backsides and streamline the licensing process before asking for a change in copyright law. He gave examples of issues with the overly complex educational licensing process and how the analogue processes are inadequate for the digital age (e.g. unique identifiers for copyright works).

Sir Richard Hooper

Sir Richard Hooper

The primary focus of the Copyright Hub, according to Sir Richard, is to enable high volume – low value transactions, (e.g. to search, license and use copyright works legally) by individuals and SMEs. The top tier content players already have dedicated resources for such activities hence they’re not a primary target of the Copyright Hub, but they’ll also benefit by removing the need to deal with trivial requests for licensing individual items (e.g. to use popular songs for wedding videos on YouTube).

Next phase work, and other challenges, for the Copyright Hub include: enabling consumer reuse of content, architectures for federated search, machine to machine transactions, orphan works registry & mass digitisation (collective licensing), multi licensing for multimedia content, as well as the need for global licensing. Some key messages and quotes in the ensuing Q&A include:

  • “the Internet is inherently borderless and we must think global licensing, but need to walk before we can run”
  • “user-centricity is key.  People are happy not to infringe if easy / cheap to be legal”
  • “data accuracy is vital, so Copyright Hub is looking at efforts from Linked Content Coalition and Global Repertoire Database”
  • “Metadata is intrinsic to machine to Machine transactions – do you know it is a crime to strip metadata from content?”
  • “Moral rights may add to overall complexity”

As you can probably see from the above, this one day event delivered the goods and valuable insights to the audience, which included people from the creative / content industries, as well as technologists, legal practitioners, academics and government agencies. Kudos to MusicAlly, the event organiser, and to Bill Rosenblatt, (conference chair), for a job well done.

Next Stop: I’ll be discussing key issues and trends with Digital Economy and Law at a 2 day event, organised by ACEPI,  in Lisbon. Watch this space.

DRM, Content Protection, and the future of the Web

October 14, 2013 Leave a comment

I remember once when the mere mention of DRM stirred up such a frenzied reaction of blood boiling anger, outrage and disgust, from even the meekest of the meek. Thankfully those days are long gone, and DRM has been largely forgotten, or has it?

DRM Wordle

DRM and the Web

Sadly no, because DRM recently reared its dramatic head yet again following a decision by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to bring video content protection into scope for discussion in their HTML5 Working Group. So what does this mean? Well, it depends on who you ask of course, because the usual pros vs. cons battle lines, championed by various organisations and pundits, have opened up with distinct perspectives on the matter. The following are summary points, culled from a quick web search on the topic.

Some viewpoints in support of the decision:

  1. Sir Tim Berners Lee on Encrypted content and the Open Web – reiterated that W3C staff remain passionate about the open Web, and indeed abhor certain forms of content protection and DRM. However, he went on to explain how putting content protection in scope for discussion is the lesser evil, given that exclusion of this topic from the HTML WG discussions will not necessarily exclude it from anyone’s systems.
  2. W3C Encrypted Media Extensions (EME) Editor’s draft 17th September 2013 – According to the abstract, “the proposal extends HTMLMediaElement providing APIs to control playback of protected content.”  Also, the specification does not define any particular content protection or DRM system, but instead it defines a common API that may be used to discover, select and interact with various such mechanisms / DRM solutions.
  3. ArsTechnica “DRM in HTML5 is a victory for the open Web, not a defeat” – In this post, Peter Bright argues that EME will happen, one way or another, especially given how some important companies (i.e. Microsoft, Google and Netflix) are actively developing the specification. Furthermore, distributors of protected video content already use DRM, albeit outside the Web (e.g. via Microsoft’s Silverlight, Adobe Flash and / or mobile Apps). Finally, he concludes that EME will provide a way to deliver protected content via the Web instead of just using proprietary applications and plug-ins.  .

Other viewpoints against the decision:

  1. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “Lowering Your Standards: DRM and the Future of the W3C” – The EFF strongly objects to the inclusion of “playback of protected content” into the scope of HTML Working Group’s new charter, stating that such a move would mean the controversial Encrypted Media Extension could be included in the HTML5.1 standard, which would effectively cede control of browsers to 3rd parties (i.e. content providers). Furthermore, they argue, this could ultimately damage the W3C’s reputation / perception as guardian of the open Web, and that other media formats (e.g. images, fonts and music) may push for equivalent content protection standards, over a rapidly fragmenting Web.
  2. Boing Boing “W3C’s DRM for HTML5 sets the stage for jailing programmers…” – Cory Doctorow discusses how the decision will open the possibility of punitive fines or imprisonment for programmers who dare to attempt improving web browsers in ways that displease Hollywood.
  3. DefectiveByDesign “Tell W3C: We don’t want the Hollyweb” – Calls for the W3C to reject the EME proposal, stating that it would damage freedom on the Web and enable unethical, restrictive business models, as well as proliferation of DRM plug-ins needed to play protected media content.

Regardless of which side you take in this debate, it is probably disingenuous to think that DRM ever went away, if anything, it has in fact been thriving in various digital content services and technologies, well outside the limelight and notoriety it had in the past – perhaps until now. One of the key things I learnt during my sojourn into the DRM debate over the last decade, was that most content businesses are ultimately pragmatic in nature, and they now understand that suing customers (or casual pirates depending on viewpoint) can be suicidal, hence the move away from dramatic headlines and into developing services that users actually want to use and pay for.  The saying holds true that the only good DRM system is invisible or transparent to the end user or consumer.

It could be argued that this current debate has arisen because the Web is designed, and perceived by many, to be open and universal, but it is this selfsame universality that allows even potentially restrictive models to have a place on the Web. In fighting for its own survival, and by openly considering inclusion of something like content protection, the W3C is actually living up to the open and universal remit of the Web. However, a real danger remains that commercial interests (aka content businesses) will almost certainly seize this opportunity to compete using flawed and restrictive business models, which will only throw DRM in the faces of their users, and possibly restart litigious campaigns against their users, once the latter decide again that unrestricted (and literally free) content is best. Truly, those that don’t learn from past mistakes are only doomed to repeat them.

In conclusion, although this is probably more than a mere storm in the proverbial teacup, the signs portend that this too shall pass into the annals of DRM aftershocks, in the grand scheme of things.  I say this with some confidence because whilst the DRM battle rages on, the world of digital content, copyright and the Internet continues to evolve new opportunities and challenges that will reshape the digital landscape. A recent example concerns the IP value of curation, e.g. playlists, as a candidate for copyright (e.g. see Ministry of Sound versus Spotify)

BTW:  I will be moderating a panel session, discussing Over the Top (OTT) video content protection, at the Copyright and Technology 2013 London conference, later this week. My panel of experts will most likely have something interesting to say about DRM and the Web. Why not join the debate at the event, if you are in London, otherwise I’ll keep you posted on this blog.

The Startup Kids

May 30, 2013 2 comments

Digital innovation is becoming the norm for young startups these days, and the resulting shift in culture and attitude that comes along with it is now pervasive in the Silicon valleys, alleys, glens, and roundabouts of this world. However, this wasn’t always the case, and it only takes a good documentary to show just how far things have moved on from the days of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to the current crop of digital wunderkinds.

 

BCSStartupKids

BCSStartupKids

 

Early this month, I attended the screening of The Startup Kids, a documentary film about said young digital startups, courtesy of BCS Entrepreneurs specialist group, and I wrote a review for it here. Suffice it to say that the cast of subjects interviewed on this hour long film read like a who is who of young digital entrepreneurs and included founders of such popular services as: Vimeo, Soundcloud, Kiip, InDinero, Dropbox, and Foodspotting to name a few. The topics covered include: what it takes to be a real digital entrepreneur (e.g. words like obsessive, passionate, workaholics come to mind), and why only the smart, flexible, and incredibly lucky few ever make it all the way. All in all, it was a really good and insightful documentary

Thanks to the BCS Entrepreneurs, and the Innovation Warehouse, for hosting this fun event, and here’s hoping for more such events in the future.

Copyright And Technology 2012 Conference

June 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Yesterday saw the first UK edition of this annual conference, which took place in London’s Kings Fund venue. The full day conference featured panels and expert speakers on that most interesting, challenging and potentially lucrative junction of copyright, content and technology. And, another buzzword for the ‘social’ melting pot – Social DRM!

Copyright And Technology Conference Word Cloud

Copyright And Technology Conference Word Cloud

The event format involved the usual keynotes and plenary sessions, during the morning segment, and a split into two streams, (covering technology and legal aspects), in the afternoon. My key take-aways include:

  1. User education on copyright content infringement is far too one-sided. According to expert copyright lawyer, Andrew Bridges, potential infringers / fans need ‘credible teachers’ with a more balanced agenda
  2. Traditional Hollywood release window is under threat (from user demand for content, here and now!)
  3. Piracy data collection / analysis are increasingly used by big content owners (e.g. Warner Bros and Harper Collins) to identify potential demand for specific content, via pirate channels. An interesting question by conference chair, Bill Rosenblatt, was whether content providers saw any potential for combining piracy data collection/analysis with social media buzz analysis, in order perhaps to help identify new market opportunities, remained mostly unanswered
  4. Media monitoring organisations can collect and analyse, (with consumers’ permission), actual usage data from user computers. According to the speaker from Warner Bros, their research apparently confirms claims that HADOPI has had an impact, with a recent decline in Peer-to-Peer file-sharing, in France.
  5. According to MarkMonitor, a high proportion of pirated ebook content are in the PDF format, which some think may be a result of easy portability between devices. Also, according to Harper Collins speaker, key motivational factors for ebook piracy include: Pricing, DRM and territorial restrictions.
  6. In the Technology stream, the panel on content identification (e.g. via fingerprinting vs. session based watermarking) discussed creation of content aware ecosystems using Automatic Content Recognition
  7. The term ‘Social DRM’ (a buzzword if I ever heard one) is the use of user information to uniquely identify digital content (and to potentially name and shame file sharers), as described by CEO of Icontact. One attendee grilled the presenter about ways and means to crack it! Apparently, the term Social DRM was coined by Bill McCoy at Adobe (now at IDPF), and is really just watermarking content with personally identifiable information
  8. Bill Rosenblatt described LCP (Lightweight Content Protection) for ePub as being somewhere in the middle of the content protection continuum (i.e. between no DRM and very strong DRM). Also, he observed that thepublishing industry stance on DRM is still in flux, and that genres such as (sci-fi, romance, IT) were mainly going DRM-free, whilst other e.g. higher education still used strong DRM to protect content
  9. Finally, my technology stream panel session on Security Challenges of Multi-Platform Content Distribution saw key contributions from experts, with multiple perspectives, from: a Security Consultant (Farncombe), DRM Provider (Nagra), Business PoV (Castlabs) and Content Provider / Owner (Sony Picture Entertainment).

Overall, this was a very good first outing for the Copyright and Technology conference in London. The co- organisers, GiantSteps and MusicAlly, did a great job to pull it off, despite disappointment (by last minute cancellation of a keynote) from the HADOPI Secretary General). I would certainly encourage anyone interested in the opportunities and challenges of content, technology and copyright to attend this conference in future. And yes, Social DRM is my new buzzword of the month!

An IP System Fit for the 21st Century

Last week, I attended a breakfast meeting at the House of Commons to discuss and reflect on practical issues around implementing recommendations of the Hargreaves Report, as well as ways in which the IP system can be evolved to better enable the benefits from 21st Century business and technology opportunities.

UK House of Parliament

UK House of Parliament

This event, organised by the Industry and Parliament Trust, featured brief talks by Professor Ian Hargreaves (author of the IP Review report & recommendations – download it here), Ben White (Head of IP at the British Library), and Nico Perez (co-founder of startup, MixCloud), plus Q&A style discussions with the attending group of politicians and business people from relevant industries. Some key observations and comments are:

  • London has the largest cluster of IP related start-ups, as well as the biggest hub for VCs, in Europe
  • There has been a lot of international interest in the Hargreaves report and recommendations (the good professor regularly gets calls from interested observers across the globe). Also, the review findings and recommendations had good traction with the UK government.
  • Digital economy versus creative economy; are they one and the same (i.e. is there and/or should there really be a difference)?
  • The larger creative industry players (e.g. publishers), and their lobbyists, are not in full agreement with the review findings and / or recommendations, and remain firmly resistant to change
  • According to one attendee, the interests of creative stakeholder (e.g. content creators) were not well represented or served by the review findings and recommendations
  • Collecting societies act like de facto monopolies, which can make life difficult for some more innovative start-ups
  • Broadcast TV players are trying to innovate and catch up with what consumers are already doing in their homes, but the current IP system is not sufficiently geared towards enabling such initiatives.

Note: Further information, comments and observations can be found in the IPT blog post about this event.

The upshot of the above points, in my opinion, is that a new / evolved IP system must really be geared towards dual targets, i.e. to help simplify and facilitate the use and reuse of IP works, especially in the digital realm. Such a focus would undoubtedly go a long way towards addressing the legion of non-technological challenges faced by most innovators, entrepreneurs and investors in the creative digital industries. For example, according to an article (see: The Library of Utopia), published by MIT technology review, “the major problem with constructing a universal library nowadays has little to do with technology. It’s the thorny tangle of legal, commercial, and political issues that surrounds the publishing business.”

These are pretty much the same issues to be found in similar ventures within publishing and other major creative industries, e.g.: Music (think cross border licensing for the much vaunted Celestial Jukebox), or a global film and image library (e.g. a mash-up of Hulu, Netflix, Corbis and Getty Images). In all cases, technology is not the stumbling block, because the bigger challenges lie with any combination of: business strategy, commercial models, legal / political / cultural mindsets, encountered along the way.

Having said that, it can be argued that such hurdles are not sustainable, for various reasons, not least of which is that individuals (or customers, casual pirates, consumers, freetards etc. – take your pick) are already way ahead of the curve in terms of digital content / technology, and will often use it exactly as they see fit.

This means that established incumbent players in the creative industries are forever playing a reactive / catch-up game, instead of pursuing or encouraging discovery of the next big thing. As a result, most disruptive propositions will invariably have a high impact on established business models, especially if and when they harness the natural instincts of individual users. An interesting example could be the recently launched Google Drive, complete with built-in OCR capability (which will enable users to digitize and search scanned content). Could this ultimately lead to a user generated version of Google Books?

To conclude, an IP system worthy of the 21st century is an urgent necessity, but there is also pressing need to keep in mind the big picture, which is that the Internet is a global enabler / platform, therefore any new IP system must likewise be global in scope. The UK, with its wealth of creative talent, plus such efforts as the IP review and recommendations, may be in a unique position to provide some leadership on the best way forward for IP in this 21st century.

How Can You Measure Real Value?

April 2, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since my last post, but then nothing much has changed, perhaps because, in real terms, a few weeks is really not that long, even in the fast-paced world of digital technology and innovation. However, it could just be proof of that old saying: “the more things change, the more they remain the same”, right?

Although, on the surface, it might not appear that much has changed, there are evident signs of continuous progress in several areas, including: technology and innovation; user experience and social networking / media / business; mobility and data of the large variety (aka big data). Many other experts and analysts, across various media and other channels, do a great job of observing / commenting on these topics and trends that I won’t bother trying to rehash them here.

In any case, the point I really wish to explore is that such developments, trends and indicators seem to point towards a new value exchange paradigm and/or system, sometime in the not too distant future. This notion is clearly described by Tim O’Reilly, at the last Strata Conference, where he talked about a fundamental need to find better ways for “measuring the economic impact of the sharing economy”. Among other things, he asks the key question, in my opinion, of how to measure the real value of sharing, particularly where traditional economic value yardsticks, (e.g. typical financial metrics), are no longer adequate for the task. He also described the often unmeasured benefits to be derived from the sharing economy (e.g. enriching an ecosystem of which you are part), versus the sometimes destructive impact of a profit-led, financially measured system (e.g. the contribution of global financial institutions to the current economic shambles). It would appear in this new paradigm that the way forward would involve “creating more value than you capture”, which, somewhat counter-intuitively, actually works to your advantage.

Perhaps this paradigm shift will be most realisable, (at least for the content industry), via a strategy of diversification and multi-publishing, which together increases the likelihood of better traction / success for content, via multiple touch-points, partnerships and hooks to end consumers. A couple of examples, which describe real life scenarios in e-book publishing and music licensing, are outlined below as follows:

  1. E-Book Publishing: A recent post on CopyrightandTechnology.com discusses Harry Potter’s DRM Free e-Book offering, which runs somewhat counter to conventional wisdom for publishing such valuable properties in fully DRM’ed electronic formats, for fear of piracy. However this works for Harry Potter on many levels, especially considering how this would complement and create further opportunities for their existing and future merchandising initiatives.
  2. Music Licensing: An article in the Berklee Music Business Journal examined the pros and cons of Coca-Cola’s equity stake in a music licensing startup. On the one hand, a major global consumer brand partners with a music outfit to source original musical content for its marketing campaigns; on the other hand the artistes, (often independent, unsigned and eager to be heard), get an opportunity to gain access to Coca-Cola’s global marketing might – which beats anything a record label can provide these days. Verdict: Win / Win!
  3. Streaming Movies: The key players in on-demand video streaming services, e.g.: Netflix, Hulu, Amazon (i.e. Prime and LoveFilm), and latterly Sky, all offer different value propositions to the consumer, but in my opinion, the winner/s will likely emerge from those that are willing to leverage multiple customer propositions / channels / formats (e.g. books, music, DVD and perhaps devices).

In conclusion, it is becoming increasingly harder to ignore such trends / evidence / indicators that suggest a move towards multiple consumer propositions (including pricing), multi touch points (channels / interactions) and multi-formats is rapidly gaining ground. This makes it even more imperative to find a better yardstick for measuring the real value of content, products and services for both suppliers and consumers. It seems to me that we’re likely heading for a post monetary value exchange and recognition system, and hopefully one that is more in keeping with the post-global realities of a digitally connected planet. I remain optimistic, and fully convinced that money is not, and perhaps has never really been, the best yardstick for measuring true value.

Translating Music Technology Innovation into Real Opportunities

February 22, 2010 Leave a comment

The Music 4.5 event in London will try to show how this can be done, by combining the main ingredients of: “music tech start-ups, serial entrepreneurs, investors, artists, band managers and key industry players” in a programme of events designed to enable them to share, exchange, inspire and network ideas with each other, and with you the audience.

It often seems like the first few months of each New Year are overrun by a veritable smorgasbord of major Events, Conferences and Summits that demand attendance (and / or attention at the very least). Presumably it’s a good way to kick-start the year and take stock of what the other guys are up to. It also helps companies to generate major buzz around new products, services and other hypeware. Some of the key yearly events of this ilk include:

  • MIDEM – January in Cannes, France. The premier global music industry event where all the big deals and announcements are made (only perhaps more-so in those heady pre-digital days. Sniff!).
  • The World Economic Forum – January in Davos, Switzerland. Annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, an international body that is “committed to improving the state of the world”. So there.
  • MacWorld – February in San Francisco, USA. This year saw the launch of the uber-hyped Apple iPad. It is the main event at which the Apple faithful gather to pray.
  • TED (Technology Education & Design) – February in Long Beach, USA. TED is all about “ideas worth spreading”, and this is where potential future Nobel Laureates come to share their thoughts / angst.
  • Mobile World Congress (MWC) – February in Barcelona, Spain. This is the mobile equivalent of the CES, and is where all new mobile products / services get prime time, (at least until next month).

So after the first couple of months, one might be forgiven for thinking that people must surely be struggling with severe event fatigue. But apparently not so, because of what can only be described as an insatiable appetite for yet more events, (and perhaps the perks thereof, think cute gift / goodie bags, air miles, and after party / networking sessions).

In any case, one can only conclude that said event organizers, speakers and attendees, (sometimes event entire industries), are still seeking answers for whatever ails them most in a dynamically converging digital landscape of disruptive technologies and beleaguered business models. To that end, it would be great if more focused events like Music 4.5 could provide some of those answers, where possible, in an environment that allows participants to roll up their sleeves and come up with real strategies and solutions to deliver the titular 4.5 percent ROI from music tech startups. Watch this space.

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Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.

Change is nigh – for Tablets, Swans and the Music Industry.

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Certainly seems like there’s a lot of change in the air, what with the threat of Apple’s latest toy to tablet PC dominance, or the challenge of streaming music services, and even news of Swans getting divorced! I wonder what’s next, and how will it affect the creative industries of music, film and publishing?

First of all, there were lots of opinions and perspectives on the ever changing digital media landscape at the just concluded MIDEM conference in Cannes, including:

  1. Perhaps as a sign of shifting attitudes, at least one major artiste and the keynote speaker did not offer the usual tirade against file-sharing, but actually appeared somewhat in favour of it as a “taste test” by end-users, (which roughly translates into something along the lines of “good quality works will be successful in spite of file-sharing”).
  2. There was also an interesting discourse on media and cultural change in an interview with the “Cult of the Amateur” author, Andrew Keen, who slated the amount of amateur rubbish being put out there in the name of reality shows and user generated garbage, erm content.
  3. Forrester’s Mark Mulligan provided some great insight on the state of the music industry and various emerging trends, challenges and opportunities, speaking of which, one panel session speaker actuallylikened mobile music apps to babies in that “they’re easy to conceive but hard to deliver!”.

But please don’t think this is just about the music industry, because here is an equally damning insight into the book publishing industry by Phil Cooke, a publisher and self proclaimed change catalyst. Interestingly, most of these observations were covered in Lawrence Lessig’s book, Remix, which I recently reviewed here for the BCS. It would seem that music, publishing and other creative industries are just playing catch-up with key messages from this book – which claims, among other things, that the future creative and commercial landscape will have room for sharing, charging and otherwise hybrid business models.

However, one dire trend that looks set to continue is the involvement of lawyers in the tensions between rights-owners and file-sharing fans or pirates, depending on your point of view. Hmmm, I wonder how much the lawyers charged those Swans for their quickie divorce! But, on a serious note, it might be easy to blame lawyers for any number of things, given they stand to make their fees one way or another regardless of outcomes, however the real problem is that, despite ongoing efforts to find a lasting solution, today’s Intellectual Property laws are still hopelessly unable to cater for digital content, Internet distribution and emerging consumer usage patterns. Period.

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Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.

The Death of Windows – Coming soon to a screen near you!

September 29, 2009 Leave a comment

No. Not that “Windows”, (just couldn’t resist the sensationalist headline). Instead this refers to ongoing debate about the questionable relevance of release windows in the context of digital entertainment. Basically, does it still make sense to employ multiple release windows when nowadays almost anyone can get illegal copies of films and music, sometimes even before the official release date?

This is not in support of piracy, in any way shape or form, but it does beg the question that illegal file-sharing may be addressing a demand that is left unfulfilled by the entertainment industry, i.e. “unfettered, and inexpensive access to any content, on any device, at any time and in any location that the legally purchasing customer wishes to enjoy it”.

And just what is so difficult about that you might ask, but industry people will undoubtedly try to reassure you, that is exactly what they would like to see too, if not for those pesky pirates ( …and their Pirate Bays, P2P filesharing, and expectations of free online content by those leeching Freetards and other “Long tailed” miscreants, grumble, grumble & grumble ). I suspect the underlying problem to be related to release window mechanism and the creation of artificial scarcity in order to generate / stimulate demand and fat-head (as opposed to long tail) revenues for each release window cycle.

In a creative industry that is accustomed to selling the same content over and over to its customers, the release window mechanism has been a great way to maximize return-on-investment for each successful title. However, with digital media (i.e. perfect copies), and broadband Internet (i.e. near immediate global distribution), this release windows model has struggled with the insatiable demand and expectations of instant gratification from a consuming public that has tasted the cornucopia of ‘free’ content online. This surely indicates that time has come to reconsider these release mechanisms particularly for digital content (e.g. music, films, books etc).

A recent Forrester report and blog post about music release strategies, has proposed a new windowing model which takes into account the growing importance of “free” and feels-like-free versions of works; but even this model does not go far enough in my opinion, because ultimately, any lag creates an opportunity for further content leakage. Perhaps the best solution would be to do away with any form of release windows and other artificial delays, which only create more demand / opportunities for leaked content, thus allowing the full focus of anti-piracy measures to remain solely on mechanisms of illegal content distribution, after the fact.

Is It Time For Copyright 2.0?

October 16, 2008 Leave a comment

The calls are getting louder for an updated global copyright system to better address the fast evolving digital content economy of a hyper-connected world. The key question, it seems, would be where best to start?

An excellent article by Lawrence Lessig, in the Wall Street Journal, spells out the futility of trying to govern a digital content universe with an analogue biased copyright system. He also suggests five key changes to the copyright system that should set us in the right direction, and I have paraphrased / extended / commented on them, as follows:

1. Deregulate amateur remix – non-commercial and/or non-professional reuse of digital content should not be so tightly regulated. Amateur creativity should be encouraged and if, God forbid, it makes any money then the original creator should get a cut. What?

2. Deregulate the “copy” in Copyright – copyright is centered around the act of copying a work, however the digital realm is pervaded by this very activity (i.e. pretty much anytime content is transferred, played or otherwise reused), therefore digital copyright enforcement should be more focused on the use of the work rather than, as is currently the case, the act of copying (or perhaps “even making available for copying”, to stretch the point).

3. Simplify Copyright – Please make copyright clearer, and simpler to understand, for mere end-users and other “casual pirates” of content. We are not all big media companies with access to expensive lawyers (and a vulture culture for forensic litigation). Enough said.

4. Restore Efficiency – copyright is an inefficient property system, but since technology now makes it easier to enforce, it should be the responsibility of copyright owners to maintain their own copyright after a shorter, automatic, 14 year term. Therefore copyright owners would need to clearly state their claim on a work after the initial term expires. Hmmm. Not so sure about this one, but I’ll defer to Mr. Lessig’s legal expertise.

5. Decriminalise Generation-X – Stop suing the youth. File sharing is not going to stop anytime soon and legal actions do not seem to have slowed it down or compensated artistes in any significant way. It is now time to explore various options for ensuring that artistes get paid even in a file sharing world, period.

It certainly all sounds like a load of common sense, but I’ll leave you to make up your own minds. In the meantime, I think the best way forward may also benefit from the idea that, in a global digital content economy, (where content flows easily across national boundaries), we should seek to implement and embrace a global framework for copyright, in order to lessen the reliance on national systems that far too often add undue complexity to the notionally simple concept of Intellectual Property. This is, in many ways, similar to Prime Minister, Gordon Brown’s call for an overhaul of the global financial regulatory system that would better serve the needs of a global financial economy. Perhaps the copyright system should also take heed before it suffers a similar fate.

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Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.