Copyright Castles and Creative Tactics

Last week, there was a Forbes article that cropped up on Techmeme with what is likely to become a prophetic title: If Content Is King, Then Copyright Is Its Castle. The article centred on the argument that copyright is essential for creativity and included the following gem:

“Copyright compels creativity, it furnishes the incentive to innovate. If you limit the protection of copyright, you stifle the expression of self.” – Sumner Redstone, Chairman, Viacom and CBS

The thing with castles is that they were great in their day – walled fortresses that proved quite difficult to break into without dying in the process. But then, one day (well, it probably took quite a few), the tactics and technology changed. Invaders came up with 3 options: 1. Ignore the castle and just go around it; 2. Camp outside with a picnic and wait for everyone inside to start getting very very hungry; or 3. (unsurprisingly, most popular) purchase the latest gadget – canons – and blast the walls to smithereens. And so castles were doomed to decline and become tourist attractions (I live near a couple of them), and more than a few of their inhabitants died in the process.

The comparison with traditional media channels seems quite reasonable.

Lawrence Lessig has promoted an alternative viewpoint for quite some time now. He delivered a fabulous speech at TED – How Creativity Is Being Strangled By The Law. Anyone who has seen the short video clip of an alien being squashed by a glitter ball whilst singing Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ will love the Jesus version included in the talk…

Related links:

Filed under: Trends – Digital R? Management

Presentism and File-Sharing

I have finally got around to reading ‘Stumbling on Happiness‘ by Daniel Gilbert. It’s an absolute corker (that’s a good thing) of a book. If you want the shortened 20 minute version, check out his TED talk inserted at the end of this post.

The chapter I have just finished covered a concept called ‘presentism’ – our inability to accurately look forward or backward due to the bias of being in the present, i.e. we tend to apply our current context to past and future scenarios and hence usually get them completely wrong. It’s an important reality to grasp because it has huge influence on how successfully we use business intelligence – analysis tools that are supposed to help us make better decisions for the future based on past results.

Catching up on Techmeme news this morning, I linked through to a post transcribing an interview with a soon-to-be 10-year old – Inside the mind of a 9-year-old File-Sharer. Aside from the repulsive comments that make me despair of human nature, it was amazing to see so many comments berating the standard of parenting. All this because the 10-year-old could not see a problem with freely sharing music across the Internet.

Here’s a little secret – file-sharing has been going on for decades. I’m not aware there is any correlation between a child’s decision to share files and good or bad parenting skills. And some businesses have profited by encouraging it…

Back in the early 1980s, when I was at school, there was no Internet. We just made do with cassette tapes instead. The cool crowd in the playground swapped music. The nerd crowd swapped computer games. Whilst distributing mutant camels around school, I don’t recall ever worrying about depriving shops of their profits. It was about sharing the latest game with friends and none of us had enough money to buy them all.

Would I do the same thing now, as an adult? Nope. Most of my friends went on to work in I.T., unsurprisingly. As far as I know, we all pay our taxes and pretty much behave ourselves. I don’t think we turned out so bad, despite being a bunch of 10-year old ‘file-sharers’.

…Chatting to my mom, she pointed out it all started in her day with collecting cards. You got packs of them buying sweets and, when you ended up with duplicates (inevitably), you swapped your spares with friends to try and get a complete set. It was Star Wars characters in my day. Today it’s probably Big Brother contestants…

Sharing files when you are young is about sharing stuff you collect with your friends. Some businesses have encouraged it and profited (those dastardly card-producers who made sure you ended up with lots of C3POs and not a single R2D2), others lose out. Kids grow up and their file-sharing habits change.

Back to the happiness factor:


Post and be damned

Article in the New Scientist (subscription required to access full article). Subtitle says it all:

“Copyright laws are designed to encourage creative endeavour. But on the web, they are being used to silence and intimidate.”

The article highlights how section 512 of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) enables copyright owners to send ‘takedown notices’ to ISPs or web hosts without going to court. The onus is placed on the person who posted the materials to legally challenge the takedown notice, meaning most give up and remove the content rather than face expensive legal costs. Takedown notices are becoming an effective form of censorship.

The article quotes a couple of recent studies. One found that 47% of takedown notices concerned material that would likely be deemed fair use. Another found that 9% of takedown notices contained significant flaws that rendered them invalid. Regardless, more than half the content was removed. Interestingly, the majority of notices related to commercial sites run by competitors. Example given was a company that sent 15 takedown notices in 2004 to Google, demanding search results linking to its competitors be removed (the reason given: the web sites contained copyrighted phrases). Google complied and replaced the links with links to the takedown notices archived on the Chilling Effects website.

This post is filed under Blogs and DRM.

Copyright damages usability

Interesting article over on Wired – Thinking outside the box office (thanks, as usual, to http://tech.memeorandum for highlighting it)

The article makes a great point about why current copyright legislation increases piracy, i.e. it makes it difficult to use stuff in the way you want to:

I was channel surfing the other night and Gus Van Sant’s Psycho was on. It would be fascinating to do a mash-up of Gus’ version with Hitchcock’s version…

…So right now, I could do that at home and give it to a friend, just as something for them to watch on a Friday night. But we don’t live in a world where that can be made commercially available. So it goes underground. And underground is just a sexier word for illegal. It’s frustrating.

Here here! I would often like to include an image or media clip to stress a point in a presentation or article. But until we see better implementations of copyright and micro-payments, it is just too difficult and/or slow and/or expensive to do so. I lose the opportunity to help enhance my content (or else use the clip illegally) and the content creator loses the opportunity for additional recognition and revenue.

Hopefully the disruption and benefits that mash-ups are starting to provide, combined with efforts such as the work of the Creative Commons organisation, will push us towards a change that is long overdue. The technology is ready and (not always) waiting…

And while I’m on the soapbox, who thought it would be a good idea to plonk an anti-piracy advert at the start of film DVDs? As if it wasn’t bad enough having to sit through the copyright notice. For goodness sake, if it were a pirated copy, the pirate would have edited out both elements when making the copy, so all you are doing is annoying people who bought a legitimate copy of the film, lecturing them about something they didn’t do. Doh! Stick ’em at the end of the film (hint: there’s a reason why the legal small print comes at the end of a contract). It might help media companies if they didn’t keep giving people reasons to be annoyed with media companies…

Security versus Control

Microsoft has a (relatively new and not well known) technology called Rights Management Services (RMS). When used with Office 2003, it provides the ability to apply rights to individual documents and emails, enabling an author to control access and distribution. For example, if you wanted to send out an email containing sensitive data, and did not want any recipient to forward the email on to other people, you click a button and, hey presto, the email is sent with certain features unavailable. Recipients can not forward the email, print it, cut/copy & paste it and if they reply to the email, the original message is removed (they can’t even open it to read the email if they are not on the approved recipients list). Another example: if you have a document containing time-sensitive content, such as a price list, you might want to set an expiry date. Beyond the expiry date, the document can no longer be opened – this could prevent people from accidentally using an out-of-date price sheet when selling products. If you have a document you want to collaborate on with only a limited group of people, you can restrict who has the right to view, edit and print the document.

This ability is sometimes called document security, but that description is wrong and can be misleading. The accurate definition is controlling distribution of content. It’s a subtle but important difference. When a document has rights applied to it using RMS, the rights (lets call them ‘a lock’) live with the document. When someone tries to access the document, they will be challenged – the appropriate certificate (let’s call it a ‘key’) is required before the document can be opened. However, because the rights live with the document, and the document is allowed to travel outside the boundaries of a company’s own IT systems, the potential will always exist for someone, with suitable tools and patience, to crack open the document without a key. It’s just like a safety deposit box. You put items into a safety deposit box (locked) to control who has access to those items (the key holders). However, if you decide to leave the safety deposit box in the park, someone is going to pick it up and, eventually, they will get the box open by fair means or foul. That’s why you store the safety deposit box in a vault. The vault is the security layer. Yes, vaults do occasionally get broken into. But it’s a lot harder to do than taking that safety deposit box home and working on it in your own time, and when it happens, you know it has happened. The big hole in the wall and the people wearing balaclavas are a bit of a give away.

The Rights Management Service is a useful tool when you have a need to control distribution of content. It is not unbreakable – you can’t stop someone using a camera to take a photo of the document whilst it is displayed on their monitor screen – but it is a lot lot better than no restrictions at all when handling sensitive content, and is certainly better than traditional methods, such as sealed and recorded delivery of physical copies of the documents. If you want document security, you need to consider the vault – the store where the document will reside – and you need to consider the implications of allowing the document to be removed from that vault, from a security perspective.