Who is responsible for content protection? A digital bill of rights for head-bangers, geniuses and spring breakers
By Greg Dvorken, March 27, 2009
There is a concern among content creators that the Internet does not have a safety net to protect their assets. By content creators, I’m talking about artists of all flavors - from Metallica protecting their extensive library of head-banging genius, to Bill Gates protecting his latest version of Windows, to a college kid’s first keg stand photos.
Facebook’s recent privacy shenanigans (which blew up in the social network’s face, causing them to revise their policies) are just the latest example of content aggregators butting heads with those who provide it for them. Communities were created overnight, and the social networking behemoth reacted quickly, as well, revising their policies within days to quell the sleeping giant of artists who have had enough.
Here’s the issue: aggregators, such as Facebook, Google and YouTube, have become the modern equivalent of libraries, museums or galleries. They have begrudgingly gained the trust of the artist community because of well-lawyered licensing agreements dripping with virtuosity.
These agreements contain just enough favorable language to keep both for-profit artists (i.e., Metallica, Microsoft and Sony) and not-for-profit entertainers’ (said keg-standers) content under a veil of safety from the aggregators or the thieving… er, borrowing… public at-large.
However, there’s a deeper issue here that has been overlooked and could make all parties involved sleep better at night: a lowest common denominator standard of protection for all content. I hate using the term because of all the baggage that comes along with it, but a standardized Digital Rights Management approach (or basic digital watermarking) is what we all need. Seriously.
Face it, no matter what Mark Zuckerberg says, Facebook could be sold tomorrow to someone like Rupert Murdoch. If that happens, you can be sure that content will be parceled out like M&Ms at a kid’s birthday party, DRM or no DRM. However, by adding some very basic DRM or simple digital watermark to every photo, eBook, article, video and music file, artists could keep track of who is accessing their content and then decide how they would like it to be used.
Music studios could use this basic layer of DRM to keep track of supply and demand, helping to understand how popular bands actually are. I’m not talking about sales at the iTunes or retail level. I’m talking about what really goes on with ripping, burning, sharing, etc.
Photographers could also post their photos freely, knowing that if someone wants to borrow their creations, they can choose to be informed. The point is – it’s up to the content creator, tempered with a strong dose of user-friendliness.
There are more than 55 million Google results for “DRM,” and most of the chatter is negative because DRM is deemed too user-unfriendly and the smartest minds have been unable to crack the friendly code.
Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Apple and Nokia have been pushing DRM-free content to boost sales. Meanwhile, artists have been getting a smaller piece of the pie and losing more control of their content, all in an effort to hopefully strike the one-in-a-million mother lode. Metallica has fought back, as well as most of the motion picture studios, but they all made most of their money before iTunes was created. However, the new landscape of greater compression schemes and more bandwidth, as well as the increased thirst for highly mobile personal entertainment devices and networks could spell disaster for artists of the future if a solution isn’t figured out.
The main issue here is keeping track of the viral distribution of content, which has never been standardized. If the content is being shared outside of the retail transaction, content owners need to know this in order to understand the true value of their content. So, something as light as a digital watermark that does not interfere with the purchase or sharing of content is the right solution, as the amount of swapping can help artists understand the true demand for their art. All that’s needed is something which balances ease-of-use and measurement.
Perhaps our new national CIO, Vivek Kundra, can come up with a solution, working with guys like Bill Gates, Howard Stringer, Lars Ulrich, Annie Leibovitz and an unsuspecting college freshman? It would be fun to be a fly on the wall during that meeting!