The Final Pew Research Post – Digital Rights – they still have all the power

Ah, the last and final of our Pew Posts for this round. This week, we cover our last theme on digital rights management and sum up where we have been over our quick trip in the Pew Internet and American Life Project, the Future of the Internet in 2020. We’ve discussed the rise of the device, privacy, augmented reality and now we can focus on our last theme – Digital Rights.

Digital Rights, content and Robin Hood syndrome. There will always be those who want to take from the seemingly rich (read: organizations) and give to the seemingly poor (read: individuals), or simply believe that content should be as free as speech. And to them, the study offers one of its more visually engaging quotes:

“You cannot stop the tide with a spoon. Cracking technology will always be several steps ahead of DRM…” – Giulio Prisco, chief executive of Metafacturing Second Life, formerly of CERN.

This is one of those issues people just lie about out. Partially because we put them in situations where they feel they must.  I can’t say I know anyone under 30 who think the current approaches to rights management are normal.  I also know a number of people over 30 who feel similarly.  The best “selling” album on Amazon in 2008 was free:  Trent Reznor and his band Nine Inch Nails made more money giving content away.  And for those of you, like me, who follow the band, this must make the management types really feel like they have a head like a hole.  ReadWriteWeb actively chronicles the stories here )

Generation We, Y, Millenials
Generation We, Y, Millenials

Categorically stated, there are hosts of people who feel that content controls and rights managements structures not only reduce creativity, they impede collaboration (Construct attributed to Rob Salkowitz).   When we list the proponents of aggressive rights management, no one except the media conglomerates wants to shake their fists and rant.   Their approach to rights management was tractical when music was more expensive to distribute.  But when they have been so vehement, it’s hard to say “oops, we f*ed up. Never mind.”  Especially of course when there is any kind of cash on the table.

Producing and releasing content is actually a lot easier for the media company now as well, however that has not impacted their pricing models. No wonder many people feel that media companies perceive an entitlement to which they are NOT entitled.   Artists and other professionals, and even the companies supporting them do have a need to be compensated for distribution in some manner. But the vehemence only fans the flames of discontent against the entities that distribute – the companies, not the artists.

Change however, must come:  Tech Analyst Gartner predicted that Christmas 2009 will be music-CD free.

Based on IBM’s Institute for Business Value Ananlysis, the music industry will have lost 35% of its revenue – with even more of that shifting to new players.

Ok – so I never downloaded “free music. ” I bought all of mine but only because I expect technology to make what I need to do easier, not necessarily free.  And I love music. I have thousands of songs. All purely legal – something good and yet painful when I think of the investment.

What I find interesting, is that content sharing models actively point out the systemic flaws in the free or paid battle. Free content has a greater value the more its shared. If it is viewed by precious few people, you can say its free because it has little value.   However, recently, there are three youtube videos I have been talking a lot about. They are: 1. The Message 2. Generation We 3.  Insurance Company Rules . I haven’t paid a cent for them, but I have told hundreds of people about them.  The value of that content is determined by how broadly it is shared.  Does the same hold true for a piece of music or is the value determined by how much I paid for it?  I may listen to the song one time or 762 (preferably not all in one day.) Are we truly misaligned on how value accrues to content? When I look at models like Zuda Comics where the community tells the company how valuable something is, I think there is a better demonstration of market forces…

What’s more:  how far can rights management go in this “everyone’s an author” world?  Are the online reviews I write about books or shoes mine? Photos I put up on Facebook? Are they really mine? My tweets? If someone forwards any one of those things, should I be entitled to recompense?  How about the biggie here:  I am referencing a study created by Pew and adding my own spin – does that make it mine?


I remember when Wired magazine put out a CD designed to let you rip from it. Their argument was that content should become freer  and combinable in some way shape or form.   That was years ago, and technology has enabled so much more than the sad constructs we still live under.  Since media has become a consume-produce-share model, (paraphrasing something Clay Shirky said), we need to rethink how content is valued, dramatically reducing distribution costs.

On the flip side, even as users create and share content, there are still costs to exposing it.  We have to pay – or someone does – somewhere.

And as far as that IP goes…our team in IBM recently had a set of slides for a major study ripped off by a competitor.  Righteous indignation set in, as it does at big companies, and the lawyers went to work.  Is a PowerPoint slide IP? Lots of people will contend it is. I know I am not allowed to share some content I create. I also know that lots of it ends up out there. I often see other consultants presenting with slides I know I made first (or am deluded enough to think I did). Am I going to rush out and claim no fair?  Nope – it’s a free world.  Share and Share alike.


Cristene Gonzalez-Wertz

5 thoughts on “The Final Pew Research Post – Digital Rights – they still have all the power

  1. Came across a very interesting idea in a letter published in NYT regarding Digital Rights Management – letter addressed concern that search engines like Google is supplying free news, leading to revenue loss for newspapers, and gist of the idea was that web consumers need to pay for newspaper content viewed on the web – but to simplify matters where consumers are not paying for every newspaper they want to read material from, they make a small, monthly payment to the ISP provider, who then shares the revenue with news organizations based on how many hits they got.

    Republishing the letter here for additional details on the idea:

    Recent bitter columns by David Carr (“Papers Try to Get Out of a Box,” April 13) and Maureen Dowd (“Dinosaur at the Gate,” April 15) have justly complained that Google is supplying free news content to Internet users without proper compensation to the providers (newspapers and magazines) of such content. According to Mr. Carr, individual Web site subscription fees loom as an alternate.

    Bummer. The giddy freedom to flit from site to site is part of the Web’s appeal. So why not consider a radical alteration of the system that would preserve that freedom?

    Instead of paying individual news organizations a separate fee, why can’t the consumer pay a single special monthly fee to his Internet service provider (much like a monthly cable fee now) that would then make possible instant free access to however many news organizations join a group devoted to this project?

    After the Internet service provider took its cut, the revenues would then be split among the news organizations according to how many hits they get. (I know that Steve Brill and other publishing entrepreneurs have set up a company to provide such a service, but the I.S.P.’s, I reason, are an enormous installed base and could get such a journalism service running quickly.)

    For a scheme like this to work, Web sites, I suppose, would also have to stop freely linking to one another, a major shift in their philosophy. But is this shift worse than everyone drowning together for lack of income?

    It might take several years to generate decent revenues, but couldn’t a single distributed fee be a long-run way to preserve coverage and easy access to many sites — and also a way to refuse Google and other predators its content for free?

    David Denby
    New York, April 16, 2009

    The writer is the film critic for The New Yorker.

    1. Thanks so much for your interest – right underneath the title on the right there is an RSS button that should allow you to add it easily. Please let me know how you make out. Again, thank you for reading.

  2. Hi all – Jim Carolan, VP of Gartner User Experience and Design shared with me some additional data on Gartner’s perspective of the Music Industry from analyst Mike McGuire here:

    Mike starts with this compelling factoid:
    Conflicting reports as to YouTube’s revenue-generating potential were brought to us in the past week, and within the same news cycles, we also got news that the label’s industry group, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is going to eliminate its years-long campaign of suing alleged individual file-sharers.

    Jim also let me know that you can tap into Gartner’s Blog network at How’s that for value add in a tough economy? Thanks, Mr. Carolan!

  3. Here is more info for you from MIT Sloan (subscription only, sorry…) link:

    from the article: In his book Remix, Stanford”s Lawrence Lessig argues for a new approach. For the past decade, Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law at Stanford Law School, has been best known as an iconoclastic, inventive voice for copyright reform. In his new book Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (New York: Penguin, October 2008), Lessig argues that copyright law has not kept up with innovation and is in fact holding it back. Remix is of a piece with Lessig’s previous work, but it’s in the Internet arena, the focus of Remix, that he makes his most powerful arguments yet for revising copyright to enable innovation and create new markets. The Internet-enabled world of mashups and remixes — an intertwining of art that people create and art that people appropriate — has led us, Lessig argues, to a new “read/write culture.” More than just an observer, Lessig has been involved in developing new approaches to copyright. He’s a founder of Creative Commons, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that helps many companies and individuals navigate the uncharted areas between full copyright, where all rights are reserved, and public domain, where none are. Creative Commons licenses are intended to help producers retain copyright, yet at the same time allow the copyrighted work to be remixed or repurposed. Creative Commons licenses let the creators of a work of art (or software, etc.) control what others can do with the material they created. Some Creative Commons licenses permit anything, others permit some changes in some circumstances and still others have different rules for for-profit and not-for-profit remixing. The Creative Commons licenses Lessig advocates are quite timely in this age of Internet mashups — brand-new creations that emerge from the combination of multiple sources — but the friction between innovation, both technical and artistic, and rights holders is not new. Onstage at the TED2007 conference in Monterey, California, Lessig kicked off a rapid-fire talk…

    As I said, get more at…

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