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Copyright and technology: glass half full or half empty?

October 11, 2014 Leave a comment
following on from my last post about IP and Digital Economy, I’d like to focus this one on the evolving role of copyright in the digital economy. What are the key recent developments, trends and challenges to be addressed, and where are the answers forthcoming? Read on to find out.
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Where better to start than at the recent Copyright and Technology 2014 London conference in which both audience and speakers consisted of key players in the intersection of copyright, technology and digital economy. As you can probably imagine such a combination provided for great insights and debate on the role, trends and future of copyright and digital technology. Some key takeaways include:
  • The copyright yin and technology yang – Copyright has always had to change and adapt to new and disruptive technologies (which typically impact the extant business models of the content industry) and each time it usually comes out even stronger and more flexible – the age of digital disruption is no exception. As my 5 year old would say, “that glass is half full AND half empty”
  • UK Copyright Hub – “Simplify and facilitate” is a recurring mantra on the role of copyright in the digital economy. The UK Copyright Hub provides an exchange that is predicated on usage rights. It is a closely watched example of what is required for digital copyright and could easily become a template for the rest of the world.
  • Copyright frictions still a challenge – “Lawyers love arguing with each other”, but they and the excruciatingly slow process of policy making, have introduced a particular friction to copyright’s digital evolution. The pace of digital change has increased but policy has slowed down, perhaps because there are now more people to the party.
  • Time for some new stuff – Copyright takes the blame for many things (e.g. even the normal complexity of cross border commerce). Various initiatives including: SOPA & PIPA / Digital Economy Act / Hadopi / 3 strikes NZ have stalled or been drastically cut back. It really is time for new stuff.
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Source: Fox Entertainment Group

  • Delaying the “time to street” – Fox describe their anti-piracy efforts in relation to film release windows, in an effort to delay the “time to street” (aka pervasive piracy). These and other developments such as fast changing piracy business models, or the balance between privacy vs. piracy and technologies (e.g. popcorn time, annonymising proxies, cyberlockers etc.) have added more fuel to the fire.
  • Rights Languages & Machine-to-Machine communication – Somewhat reminiscent of efforts to use big data and analytics mechanisms to provide insight from structured and unstructured data sources. Think Hadoop based rights translation and execution engines.
  • The future of private copying – The UK’s copyright exceptions now allow for individual private copies of owned content. Although this may seem obvious, but it has provoked fresh comments from content industries types and other observers e.g.: When will technology replace the need for people making private copies? Also, what about issues around keeping private copies in the cloud or in cyber lockers?
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Mutant copyright techie-lawyer

In conclusion, and in light of the above gaps between copyright law and technology, I’ve decided that I probably need to study and become a mutant copyright techie-lawyer in order to help things along – you heard it here first. Overall, this was another excellent event, with lots of food for thought, some insights and even more questions, (when won’t there ever be?), but what I liked most was the knowledgeable mix of speakers and audience at this years event, and I look forward to the next one.
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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.

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!

How About Some “Fair Trade” Music?

December 8, 2008 Leave a comment

And this time artistes get to be the wronged parties in the world-gone-mad state of the record industry. Ps. if you are a multi-platinum artiste, with a lucrative 360 degree deal, this may not apply to you.

Fair Trade music (thanks Dave Viney) is, to my mind, a succinct way of describing the enduring tension between labels, customers and artistes in the music industry. It conjures up an equitable division of both revenue and value between them along with clear cut responsibilities (e.g. artistes create music, labels promote it, and consumers enjoy it). But surely isn’t that the same as the original music industry model? Now I’ll go all consultant and answer “Yes & No”. Firstly, the original music industry value chain is not really broken, it just needed recalibration of the revenue slices in the digital music pie, and besides labels have always done a great job in marketing the artiste / work. Secondly, in the above scenario, the consumer does not necessarily have to pay money for enjoying the music; the fair trade system must be flexible enough to support non-monetary transactions.

In recent years, it has often been the province of music fans to come off as the injured party as a result of developments like DRM and illegal download law suites. However, it is really the artistes, especially newer ones, or the indie / alternative / niche variety, that have been the poor relation in the industry, (perhaps even more-so in recent times). The role of fair trade music, as already espoused by several examples, (you can google it here), is to ensure that all key stakeholders are equally represented / engaged in creating, and profiting from, tomorrow’s music industry, starting today. Some supporting evidence for this position is drawn from three very different events I attended in the last couple of weeks, as follows:

MusicAlly’s Mobile Music on the Dock – This event literally put mobile music on trial, in an attempt to understand if it had indeed delivered on much hyped promises (see full story here). The result was a draw by the way, but a recurring theme in the debate was that the mobile music players needed to engage better with artistes and their management.

The Future of Music – I presented a short lecture on this topic at the London Metropolitan University Business School, and some of the questions raised by attendees (which consisted mainly of prospective music business moguls and entrepreneurs) concerned the future of the artistes. They were clearly interested in ensuring that there remained adequate incentives for artistes to continue making the music that fueled the industry. This is also echoed in this blogpost about the upcoming music industry event, MIDEM, in Cannes early next year.

Leaders In London – This event, complete with a stellar cast of business gurus and thought leaders, dwelt a lot on the role of leadership during tough economic times. Jack Welsh, (legendary ex-CEO of GE), suggested, in response to a question from yours truly, that the music industry needed to innovate its way out of the current mess brought on by technology innovation / disruption. To my mind this simply spells out the need for innovative business models that must take into account the critical value of the artiste, among other things.

In conclusion, it would seem that the solution to the music industry’s woes could start with, or at the very least incorporate, the concept of “Fair Trade Music”, as a way to ensure the ecosystem of the future is both well balanced and in sync with the needs of the participants.

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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.

What Next For Music Retail?

July 15, 2008 Leave a comment

Given the current woeful state of the record industry, this is a key question guaranteed to get some interest / reaction from the industry stakeholders, and other attendees, at the Music Ally event of the same name which was held on Monday in Central London. So read on for some startling revelations. No really, read on...

The event was organised by Music:)Ally, a digital music information and research outfit, and was sponsored / hosted by Deloitte. The speaker line up included representatives from HMV, Omnifone and consultants from Conchango and Deloitte, as well an independent music business consultant. This event was done in the usual format of the moderator’s questions to the speakers; an open floor Q&A session followed by a post event networking session. Key messages and observations from the event include the following:

  • Music Ally Survey Findings – This survey of senior record industry people revealed, among other things, that: Album sales may well see a single digit percentage drop for next year, and that album prices could likely be down to £5 on average by 2012. Furthermore, the perception of the industry is that people will buy more music if it is easy to acquire (e.g. as soon as I hear what I like), and if it is cheaper in price and playable on multiple devices. Also that more “good” music would definitely be appreciated by the consumers
  • Better packaging – A potential strategy for music retailers would be for them to find better ways to tap into the emotional connection people have with their music in general, and physical products in particular, perhaps by packaging up special editions and/or increasing the use of the USB album format to shift digital copies
  • Adoption of ‘invisible’ models of music subscription – It was felt that digital music may not do so well if/when marketed as a commodity, and that there may be good opportunities to bundle it, so it appears to be free, as part of a subscription package (e.g. alongside TV, Telephony and Internet Access)
  • Issues with bundling – The push back on the above ‘invisible’ subscription model, came from a major music label attendee who felt that ISPs already had enough on their plate dealing with cut throat competition on price, (and operating on very tight margins), and therefore are very much unlikely to want to do anything that might add to this pressure. Unfortunately this does not help the major music labels which are still left badly in need of intelligent propositions for new business models to sell their music (preferably in the album format)
  • Dynamic pricing models – This touched on the potential for established digital music stores, such as iTunes, to exploit the long tail (i.e. old / niche music catalogues) with variable and cheaper pricing models to create a lucrative aftermarket. However, it was observed by a panellist that even this would also present its own challenges around what price to charge per song, track or album, and perhaps more importantly, how to value the old catalogues.

Overall these, and most other points on the night, simply served to emphasise the need for “something that works” for music retail, as soon as possible. Also it did not address a key question around what, if anything, can be done to evolve the current copyright / licensing regimes to better serve the needs of an emerging digital music business, or indeed the digital content industry as a whole. As ever, please feel free to add any thoughts / comments you may on this one too.