Copyfright system is set to die a horrible digital death…
And aviator pigs will do a fly-by at the funeral. In this brave new digital world, many frustrated content owners have resorted to using copyright law as a club with which to beat up both professional content pirates and other, perhaps less criminal, users of such potential weapons-of-mass-infringement as broadband Internet, Web 2.0 applications, and certain file sharing networks. Surely the time has come to update this system globally, but where to start?
The increasingly strident calls to evolve existing copyright laws into something better suited to handle the emerging digital content economy has so far only managed to produce what seems an agonisingly slo-o-o-ow reaction and response from incumbent IP law makers, governments and creative industry players. This state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely, especially as the need for more capable digital copyright system and laws becomes even more apparent. This is easily illustrated in a recent DRMWatch article about the Associated Press’s use of text fingerprinting technology to identify and threaten bloggers; or by the recent court order to produce all YouTube User Histories in the ongoing Viacom vs. Google billion dollar law suite. In order to make significant and lasting change to the global copyright system’s ability to cope with the emerging digital content economy, certain key facts / principles must be taken into consideration as follows:
- Digital content is held in bits AND copyright does not apply individual bits – Yes we all know that copyright applies to the replication and distribution of creative works, but it also originated in a predominantly analogue world; therefore a digital version of copyright may be best applied to the experience of content and not necessarily to the carriage or container of that content, as in yesterday’s analogue world. A concrete example of this sort of thinking may be found in the Owner Free Filesystem (OFF), a distributed file system which stores content data in randomised blocks across a network known as a brightnet. This effectively decouples ‘content’ from its storage and transmission medium.
- In much the same vain, consumers cannot “own” content bits but they may own the player device – Consumers need to understand that bought digital content is not the same as thing as analogue or physical content. We need to be more aware that all digital content is ultimately at the mercy of its associated storage, transmission and rendering mechanism (i.e. failure of which may render the content inaccessible or unusable). This supports the view that, in its digital state, all content is ephemeral; therefore new digital copyright laws / systems may be better served in addressing the human–digital interface. Perhaps the push for blanket levies on devices could be the way to go after all, but only if there is an effective way to ensure it is both fair, (which may require transparent usage monitoring), and equitable for all players in the digital content value chain.
- Finally, all efforts to evolve a more suitable digital copyright system must think global – After all we inhabit just the one world, and the Internet transcends traditional geo-political boundaries. In fact, there really are no such things as virtual worlds, third world, middle earth, or any other artificially created worlds out there, and this is quite a hard lesson for the old school content economy to stomach given the key role played by geographical territories in the structure and nature of existing rights and licensing models. However, this looks all set to change as we continue to witness the declining use of technologies like DRM to impose and uphold restrictive models of old (the latest example, as reported in the Register, involves Real Rhapsody’s music without limits).
In summary, it is unlikely that a suitable digital copyright system will evolve without a fundamental shift in perception by all stakeholders, but the signs are becoming clearer that the time has got to be sooner rather than later. Your comments, suggestions and criticisms on this one are most welcome.
Note: This post was previously published on my BCS DRM Blog, where you can find the original post, and reader comments, in the archives.