The New York times is running a series this week which will feature a public debate regarding the necessity of copy protection:
This week, Bits will host a debate about copyright issues and technology between Rick Cotton, the general counsel of NBC Universal, and Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School. See the entire debate here.
Anyone interested in this debate should be sure to follow the public debate this week here.
More after the jump…
I think what is interesting about this debate (so far) and this issue as a whole is the entertainment industries insistence – not that they WILL place DRM on their works and only distribute them with that DRM attached but – that because their customers are unwilling to support a DRM based business model they need legislation to enforce that business model such that their customers have no choice but to support that business model.
I believe that it is beyond question at this point that technology is forcing the entertainment industry to innovate – in many cases their customers are showing them methods and means by which to create a new usage model. Instead of embracing the inevitable change innovating their core business models these companies are refusing and using their massive financial power to lobby congress and coerce their customers to support their current business model.
It is a simple failure of imagination…
Imagine if the RIAA spent what they spend now on lobbying and lawsuits to work with their customers to determine what they want, what their needs are, and what and how they are willing to pay for it. Imagine the array of new business models, the array of consumer services, products and choices that would be made available…
Lastly, I want to acknowledge that copyright is an important protection afforded the creator of artistic works. There is no – and should be no – question that the creators of those works own them and have the right to restrict their distribution. They do not, however, have the right to coerce a business model out of those works. If they want to offer them for sale – the market should determine what and how the copyright owner is reimbursed for their effort. If the market no longer supports what and how they want the consumer to pay… it is the business model that is in question – not the copyright.
To make this point clear let’s examine Wal-Mart and Amazon. The only distinction between these to retailing giants is how they go about offering their product. Wal-Mart builds “big box” stores which their customers physically go to in order to examine and purchase the items Wal-Mart offers for sale. Amazon builds a set of online software tools that allow their customers to – from anywhere – examine and purchase the items Amazon offers for sale. These are simply two methods for offering a set of goods for sale to consumers.
Now imagine that Amazon gains so much consumer preference that Wal-Mart’s sales begin to shrink dramatically. Would Wal-Mart be then justified to attempt to enforce controls which forced consumers to choose their business model over Amazon’s? Of course not. And that choice between two business models is exactly what the entertainment industry faces – electronic vs. physical distribution. Copyright is simply the shield the entertainment industry is using to try to enforce their preference for a business model based on the physical distribution of their content. DRM – in the name of copyright protection – is merely an attempt to make the new business model (electronic distribution) conform to the rules of the previous distribution model (physical media). What is clear is that consumers are actively rejecting that business model – note the continued reduction in music sales – as evidenced by all of the major recording companies choosing to offer their product DRM free.
I sympathize with the executives in the entertainment industries. They have lived in an innovation free zone for 60 years and I feel certain that they have fostered a corporate culture which neither seeks nor drives innovation – why would they have, it did nothing to enhance their market share nor their bottom line.
They would, however, be well advised to foster a culture of innovation… if they do not someone else will… and at the end of the day, the artists who are the engine of their business, will migrate to those companies that innovate that business model and thereby maximize what those artists are paid for the creation of artistic works.