Thursday, February 26, 2004

Music to my ears

"My suggestion is to junk the current structure entirely and recast copyright as an exclusive right of commercial exploitation. Copyright owners would have the sole right to exploit their works commercially or authorize others to do so, but would not be entitled to control noncommercial uses."

This is what Jessica Litman said to Mikael Pawlo in a Greplaw interview this week. Let me repeat it.

"My suggestion is to junk the current structure entirely and recast copyright as an exclusive right of commercial exploitation."

Thank you, Jessica Litman, for putting it so succinctly. This is exactly the intuitive response that I call for in Common Rights.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Copyright or Not

Every other article I read on digital goods and copyright proposes one of two extremes, either:

1) Keep copyright as it is and shore it up with more laws, lawsuits, controls, DRM, and anything else you can think of to reduce the efficiency of digital distribution. Roughly the course we are on now.

2) Or, abandon copyright completely, allow free access to all content for everyone, and reward artists from a central fund. Many have proposed solutions in this category and one of the latest being an article in the Register by Andrew Orlowski interviewing Jim Griffin. This course has some merits but also disadvantages – how to collect the money, who distributes it, who gets to register as artist, and how can you stop people gaming the system.

In the past, Jessica Litman has called for a complete rethink of copyright, "Most fundamentally, I would argue, we need to fasten on some measure of a copyright holders' rights other than the familiar reproduction." but she is now proposing a hybrid 'copyright / free distribution' model that I fear might inherit the disadvantages of both.

Why not a third way; a totally new model for dealing with intellectual property? Collective rights where, for starters, it establishes everyone's basic right of access to an intellectual product, goes on to give the author singular rights to trade the product commercially, and goes still further to allow others to take 'shares' in these rights to the product and so support it, promote it, share it, and use it as they wish. This approach allows distribution models from single item purchases, to subscription or levy systems (Griffin bundles), to free promotional offers, all without DRM or technological controls.

Not copyright, not nothing, but something new.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

No future for DRM

Mitch Wagner has posted an article on why DRM won't work and also provides a few pointers to what the future might look like for media companies. Wagner rightly states, 'If people are unwilling to buy something, technology and law won't make them buy it.' and then goes on to ask the question:

'So what's the alternative? I don't know. Right now, digital media are available for free over pirate services over the Internet. How do you get people to be willing to pay for it? The technology and content already exist, what's waiting to materialize is the business model to harness digital media.'

Yet again, I would like to propose Distributed Intellectual Property Rights. Although the Collective Rights philosophy refers extensively to 'rights' and draws on some 'rights management' technologies, such as persistent identifiers and secure databases, these rights are granted to all individuals to allow access all intellectual work and they bear little resemblance to the rights granted to authors and publishers who control copying under copyright. The business model Wagner is looking for is one which will allow digital media to compete with free. DIPR creates the peer-to-peer Internet structure for such a model where creators can provide the 'essential services' to 'known' consumers and where these services can outperform the free. In the case of journalists part of this service is 'timeliness' as Wagner points out.

Read DIPR and tell me why this approach is wrong.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

In 1710 the copyright term was set to 14 years extendible by another 14 years. In 1842 the British said life-plus 7 years. In 1908 Berne said life-plus 50 and in 1998 Mickey upped the stakes to life-plus 70 years. When will the term tussle end?

I propose that if authors were to publish their work under the Distributed Intellectual Property Rights system the collective rights model would allow the author to choose the term of his or her controlling interest in the creative work.

"How can we possible allow this?" is the cry I hear from the Creative Commons camp and many others who take an interest in the issue. "Surely, no work will ever reach the public domain again!"

On the contrary, I maintain that the time for most works to reach the public domain would be reduced under DIPR for, unlike copyright, there is a cost, albeit small, to maintaining a persistently identified work. Under copyright there is no cost to maintaining the copyright after producing the initial tangible manifestation and this is why there is a group proposing the Public Domain Enhancement Act where for a fee of 1$ after a period of fifty years, say, a rights holder would be able to maintain their copyright if it was still worth 1$ for them to do so.

Better than this artificial public domain enhancement cost, the ongoing costs of maintaining a collective work in DIPR will persuade owners to relinquish their rights to a work immediately it has finished paying its way. Let the author decide when this time arrives and therefore the length of the term.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

In 'Who Owns New Knowledge?' Robert Reich highlights the digital conumdrum: "This problem didn't exist in the old economy. Most of the cost of any given product was in the making of it. But in the knowledge-based, digitized economy almost anyone can pirate almost anything, almost right away. In other words, the old rules about private property no longer work."

This, again, leads me to the question I keep asking: Why don't we forget the old copy rules and try a new system of collective property where communities of consumers share the product with the author? There are already examples of this principle at work such as Magnatune's open music experiment where they have found that consumers will pay more than the minimum asking price for the freedom to own and use the music with very few restrictions. Magnatune issues their music under the Creative Commons licence but, as I said before, if the CC principles were extended and took advantage of a true P2P environment imagine what other benefits might arise.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

How can you compete with free?

This was the title of the popular Digital Rights workshop at the World Economic Forum, Davos, and the participants went on to post the following requirements for a successful business model:

+ The appeal of simplicity
+ Convenience
+ A filtering function (to direct customers to what they want and/or personalize it)
+ A peer-to-peer mechanism or function
+ Possibly new and attractively designed appliances
+ Defined and undefined added value (quality, transparency, pricing structure/model)

Loïc Le Meur, one of the participants, went on to post the question, "What type of business models do you think will appear?"

I would like to invite the panel to take a look at the DIPR system. DIPR uses P2P protocols to exchange unique identifications that grant unrestricted access to the digital product - very simple and convenient for the customer. The same identifications provide filtering and metadata and access to backup copies to further help the customer. In addition, these dual identifications also establish direct but confidential, virtual, links between the author and the consumer which can then be used for all sorts of enhanced business transactions such as free samples, follow-up promotions, even rebates on successful products.

Because DIPR does not rely on DRM controls the customer can take their choice of any attractive reproduction equipment available!

How to compete with free? - Let the customer buy a collective share of the product. What does Peter Gabriel think?