Doctorow & The Future of Copyright

From the Guardian UK:

If copyright is to have winners and losers, then let’s start talking about who we want to see winning, and what victory should be.

In my world, copyright’s purpose is to encourage the widest participation in culture that we can manage – that is, it should be a system that encourages the most diverse set of creators, creating the most diverse set of works, to reach the most diverse audiences as is practical.

That is, I don’t want a copyright system that precludes making money on art, since there are some people who make good art who, credibly, would make less of it if there wasn’t any money to be had. But at the same time, I don’t think that you can judge a copyright system by how much money it delivers to creators[.]

This is just one of the better quotes from the latest Cory Doctorow column at the Guardian. I’d say that you should stop reading my entry right now and go read the column in its entirety while you have the spare time. For me, it gave me a perspective on an issue that I had been wrestling with in my mind for a long time. I was stuck in an infinite loop of the creator versus the common good, a revolving fight to allow content makers to control while still allowing people to build, use, or improve upon their creations. (This is what I get for being fair to a fault.) Here, in plain English (the Queen’s, not the colonists, for that matter), Mr. Doctorow lays a great foundation for determining how to approach copyright and the public interest that employs common sense criteria.

While Mr. Doctorow uses the music, movie, fashion, and architecture industries as examples of different cases of logical copyright assertion and consistent public interest doctrine, the industry I was looking for (and found missing) was authors in regards to ebooks. Given his history for giving away his own ebooks and getting companies to drop DRM on his books, I do have an understanding of his ideals for the market. And as much as I admire them, I understand that other authors and publishers may beg to differ. What I am wondering is if there is a balance that can be created so as to allow authors like Mr. Doctorow to drop certain copyright controls while allowing others to keep ebooks under their scrutiny (be it DRM or something else).

Obviously, it would be a system that allows for an opt out. That handles Mr. Doctorow’s end of that equation. But what would be the rights for those who opt in that make the most amount of sense for the author as well as the general public? A model based on print books is not going to work since the ebook resembles a music file more than its paper brethren. So maybe it’s time to dream up something new.

I have an idea, but it’s just that: an idea. So bear with me.

Why not create a pricing scale that reflect the balance of control between the author or publisher and the end user? To give an example to illustrate what I mean, let’s say you are shopping for an ebook by a popular author. A DRM, no transfer licensed ebook would cost $5; a DRM transfer limited ebook would cost $7.50; and a DRM free do-what-you-want-with-it no licensed ebook would cost $10. In other words, the cheaper prices reflect the assertion of author/publisher control of the material and the more expensive prices grant greater control or ownership. It’s a sliding scale in which the price determines the rights granted to the ebook.

Basically, you buy your way to the freedom you want for the material. Buy the cheaper DRM book and want the DRM free version? Pay the difference. Could people opt out of the scale and name one level of control and one price (even free)? Certainly. Under a scaling system like this, it doesn’t deny people who simply want to read without a concern towards readership. I believe that people will pay a premium for ownership, so why not utilize it as a revenue stream for the publisher or author? Yes, there are still concerns about piracy and authors that will only sell under one set of conditions. As this is an idea, I don’t have a firm grasp how to respond to those potential pitfalls. Hopefully, someone else reading this might have a solution. However, I think this is a step in the right direction for further development.

(As an aside, consider the fact that iTunes offered DRM free tracks at a premium before dropping down their price to compete with Amazon.)

Thoughts? Can something like this work?

Sunday Speculation: Copyright Cynicism

(I’ve always liked Will Manley’s sunday posts in the past, so now I’m going to steal the idea of asking a weekly philosophic question of the library community. YOINK!)

Ok, be honest: have you ever looked at a patron checking out the maximum number of audio CDs (either music or books) and thought to yourself, “That person is just going to go home and rip them into iTunes or burn them onto CDs”?

[raises his hand] I know I have!

But when it comes to people borrowing movies or books, the thought never crosses my mind. Even though we are now in the age of DVD and Blu Ray copyright crackers and the home photocopying machines, I don’t think that a person taking out the maximum number of movies is going home to copy them.

Is this just me? Is it just the history of music and computers has followed a different path? What do you think?

The AP is Mad as Hell and It’s Not Going To Take It Anymore

The Associated Press, a widely recognized prize winning news organization, has decided that it is not going to take it anymore. They are looking to control their content by adding a “digital wrapper” to stories so as to ensure that they are being read through licensed sources. This is intended to thwart unauthorized search engines and aggregators who derive profit through ads placed next to links to AP stories. Also, it will allow them to determine what is being read on individual computers and what sites people are gaining access to them. Furthermore, they want news sites that use their content to run the same software as part of a “digital permissions framework” that would inform the publisher of their permission obligations with individual stories.

I can’t even begin to describe all of the major problems and issues of this move (announced earlier this year but beginning to be implemented now). I think the right metaphor sounds something like this: after they realizing they had closed the barn door sans horses, the AP is going to where the horses are and attempting to build a new barn around their current position. Their next announcement has to be the invention of time travel which will allow them to go back to the point in time where internet practices and customs were being formed, insert their business model, and destroy this future free internet content timeline.

All kidding aside, there are some immediate concerns. First, while they have given assurances that no private information will be gathered, how can this be guaranteed? There is no denying the fact that a little piece of digital code is reporting information about a reader back to a centralized information center. (I’m sure that privacy advocates will have a field day with that one.) Second, what amount of web traffic constitutes the need for a site to obtain a license? While they have indicated that they are not interested in going after bloggers, their actions in the past have indicated otherwise. (And their announcement that even “minimal use” would require a license is not very convincing.) Third, what about web tagging sites like Delicious and Diigo? Does the sharing of links through these third party sites constitutes a need for licensing (for me or for the site)? Could aggregations of AP stories through these sites be considered a trigger condition for licensing? Fourth, what exactly does this mean for search engines? While the major players in the search engine field have licenses with the AP, how will their content control affect the results of a search? (On a related note, if I was an AP shareholder, I would be asking how this would not drive news content consumers to use other wire services such as the CNN, the BBC, and Reuters?)

The big looming issue here is that of copyright and fair use. As a librarian, I really can’t see how the AP is going to do an end run around fair use. Titles are not copyright protected and the use of a fraction of the total words of an article does not create a copyright breach. While I can appreciate and understand their desire to protect what they have created, it is not the way to do it in this business and computer culture environment. (I couldn’t even find one article that applauded this move for this post.)

We live in a connection culture where information and ideas are passed from person to person through links. And the more links you have to something, the more likely it is to be seen by others. Taking away those links is lowering the chances of your content being seen and passed to others. When companies are making billions of dollars through linking, why would you restrict or confiscate the very things that drive traffic and revenue? It makes no sense in light of other free content examples. (e.g. New York Times.) It’ll be interesting to see how it does play out, but I have a feeling I know how this one ends.

This is not the last call for the end of free content on the Internet. But it should be the last call for companies to stop trying to apply 20th century solutions to 21st century issues.