Friday, December 9, 2011

OK, who put Copyright in my Freedom?

I read an interesting post about DRM and eBooks the other day (for the life of me I can’t find that link!) and one of the things that was talked about was the need for copyright control.

Control is the trick, isn’t it? I mean, you’ve slaved for months and/or years over your songs, short stories, novels, art, and by golly you don’t want someone turning around and mass producing it without giving you a fair cut.

But we live in the digital age. Information wants to be free. The original might be a canvas, or on 2” analog tape, or in a handwritten draft in your drawer, but once you digitize it and put it out there, you can’t maintain control. (and I assume you are putting it out there, i.e. on the interwebz, because if you aren’t you aren’t reaching your potential market. Unless your market is the Amish.)

So, let me say that again.

Once it goes into the world, you have no real control. Not that it’s always right, or fair, or whatever epithet you give it. But it’s true: once you let it out into the world you lose control. (That doesn’t stop people from having the illusion of control and suing Napster into oblivion)

You can’t stop piracy, you can only try to mitigate it.

So do we artists and content providers throw our hands up in despair? Maybe we buckle down and make DRM and copyright laws even more draconian. Or do we turn it all loose like the bands Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, who release their albums on a “pay whatever you like” zero-copy-protected creative commons open license?

Let’s go back to the problem of control. One thing to realize is that control is the old-model method for dealing with copy protection.

If the strong arm of the law can’t reign the copy-right violators in, codify the law into computer code (DRM) and force them to obey. The problem in the digital age is that any form of copyright control is like a game of whack-a-mole. DRM? A joke. Hordes of l33t h4x0rs are hunched over keyboards cracking content providers’ DRM as a morning exercise before their real hacks.

Copyright control, as used by the old guard, also has the negative effect of fomenting an antipathy between customer and content provider—comparable to the effect that censorship has on nations (i.e. in the same way that censorship creates more fervent curiosity and subversion, copyright control, such as DRM, encourages more circumnavigation and antagonism)

But there is a new model that seems to work.

It’s been called the iTunes model: Make the legitimate avenue of acquiring the product so easy, simple, so ubiquitous and NORMAL, that piracy is relegated to the outer fringes.

Notice that this model doesn’t try to stop people from copying the content; it just makes it easier and more convenient to buy it legitimately.

One sad truth is that piracy flourishes where legitimate copies are unavailable.

A book that comes out in the US may not come out in Australia for months. An album available on iTunes USA might not be available in Japan.

And if there’s something true about consumers of today, they hate waiting. And sadly there are some antiquated and despotic copyright/licensing laws to thank for that service gap.

Another part of the new model is value-added content, content (special packaging, author extras, personalized content, etc, etc) that can’t be replicated by privateers (pirates) easily. Such content de-legitimizing illegal content providers.

So in the new model, reliable and value-added content delivery mitigates piracy more effectively than methods of copy control. If information really wants to be free, well let's not try to hold back the tidal wave, but instead channel the energy of its inertia to sell content.

Your thoughts?

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