That’s What He Said

DRM, Intellectual Property and Sharing – The Larger Issue

Posted in Entertainment, Intellectual Property, Music, Technology by wolfsbayne on October 16, 2007

Close your eyes and imagine a world without art, music, software, movies or any other material that is protected by a copyright. This mind’s-eye vision doesn’t appear too appealing to me.

According to Steve Jobs, Michael Arrington and a few others, DRM should go the way of the LP and VHS. I’m not against DRM if it’s not a barrier. However, Steve’s DRM doesn’t play with anyone else’s DRM. Would we be having this discussion if Apple worked with other entities, such as Microsoft, to make a DRM standard? Probably not. If my Zune/Zen/iPod/Mac/PC all were able to accept content from each other, then there’s no issue with DRM. I’m glad to see DRM free files finally being offered by online resouces like Amazon and others.

It’s interesting that there are people who want to dictate to the creators of Intellectual Property (IP) how to distribute that IP. If there’s no DRM, what keeps honest people honest? Car door locks are right behind glass. I posed a question to Mr. Arrington asking if it would be okay to take everything from Techcrunch and distribute it elsewhere without any regard to Techcrunch’s copyright. He said my argument was flawed. I see it differently.

Any IP is protected under the terms of those who control the rights of that IP – usually the creator, but in some cases, a licensor of rights. Techcrunch, Apple, and Ozzy Osbourne, for example, all have at least one thing in common; they are creators of IP. If I distribute articles or other content from Techcrunch that violate their copyright, it’s wrong. If I distribute iPod clones or MAC OS X without an agreement from Apple, it’s wrong. Likewise, if I download or “share” (read: distribute – since the courts view it that way) Ozzy’s music from or with an entity or network that disregards the protections that are accorded in the music world, it’s just as wrong.

If you listen to music at a club or restaurant, there’s a fee to paid to a body for that privilege. If you listen to radio, you get commercials, which pay for the station’s operation, and there’s also an accounting of “spins” that translates to money for the artist and writers of the songs. Similarly, with satellite radio, you pay a subscription that takes care of the same costs and payouts in much the same way traditional radio works.

Remember old-school socialism, communes, love-ins, etc.? Those were supposed to be great ideas that “visionaries” lauded back in the day and failed miserably. I see the argument that all IP should be free as boneheaded as these ideas. The reality in this world is that there are more takers than givers and those that are industrious usually get tired of the slackers who don’t pay, help, or contribute. I’ll talk about benefactors (sponsors) picking up the tab in a bit.

If a few artists decide to use record companies or not has no bearing on whether or not art (music in this case) should be free in all cases. That decision always lies with the copyright holder under the laws of the U.S. and is delineated in Article 1 Section 8 of the Constitution to be under Congress’ purview.

Smart people realize that societies flourish when they have an environment that is conducive to the creation of IP – that’s the primary reason that sort of thing is covered in the Constitution. You may disagree with the duration of copyright protection, but at least it’s there.

Most P2P file distribution programs enable illegal file distribution and are the primary source of lost revenue with regard to digital IP. This isn’t conjecture, it’s fact. That’s why the courts keep smacking people on the hiney who get caught engaging in this behavior. I don’t think the P2P behavior is being curbed by fear of consequences though.

Regarding the “artists should only make money touring” argument, it’s not your decision to tell an artist that their copyright isn’t valid and that they should conform to your whims. Let’s not forget the filmmaker – how does he make money if people steal his movies? Does he go on tour? Nope, he’s just outta luck so that argument doesn’t help in the larger issue of IP.

Additionally, just because someone doesn’t like music prices doesn’t give them the right to distribute music illegally. Smoking more pot and engaging in its distribution doesn’t make that activity any more legal either.

One way to solve this problem is to legislate a use tax whereby all subscribers to every ISP are charged a monthly fee that allows them to consume much if not all of the IP they want. I started presenting this view back in the late 90’s. Finally, there is at least one company trying to do this in the private sector, Noank Media (they have a model they are proving in China first). Unless Congress gets involved, I don’t know that this approach will gain any traction here in the U.S. and with Congress involved that could potentially, and very likely, be a bad thing.

Another way to monetize in the current “I want everything free” climate, is for artists/IP creators to obtain sponsors, then the artist doesn’t have to sell their wares directly to the masses to eat and pay their bills. Sponsor pays artist, artist allows sponsor to use IP creator’s IP, likeness, etc. Sponsors and their brands get exposure along side the artist. Both the sponsor and the content creator will get their brands socialized in this way. This is probably the more likely scenario that will unfold as LiveNation is starting to work with music artists in a very similar capacity and they are paying huge sums of money to some of the top acts like Madonna, U2, Jay-Z, etc. to prove this model. As a content creator, getting your brand, identity and content socialized is a newer concept and one that I will be banking on with my next endeavor – more on that later.

The bottom line is this: if you want great art movies, software and music, we have to make sure the creators of that IP are getting the money they are entitled to. If that means paying them, or allowing sponsors to have access to audiences, then so be it. We need to have art and other great IP continuing to flow for us to thrive as a society.