DRM and the meaning of value in a multiformat content world

I am in Hong Kong conducting a workshop and this blog is based on a discussion with one of the attendees. Like most of my blogs – this blog also comes from discussion with some pretty clued on people I meet online and offline globally. Although this took a long time to write, I think it adds value to my workshop participants and also to the community as a whole. I seek your feedback on this blog

Oddly enough, there are many organizations who claim to enforce their outdated views(such as the RIAA ) and others who claim to protect our freedoms such as EFF – but I dont find much information about what should content creators do taking a pragmatic perspective

The question is: When content spans formats – what constitutes ‘value’?

This is of course a well known question underlying the DRM arguments

My personal view is:

a) Content digitised from another format should ideally be seen as a form of viral marketing and not as a means to restrict as user(see caveats below)

b) People will always buy content in the richer or non digital format especially if they get something extra through that format (for instance a book will always have a value since it is easier to read for longer/complex topics online).

c) Formats will not cannibalise each other – for instance cinema and Vinyl records exist and indeed thrive in an era of digitization because they provide a different value/user experience to the user

d) Hence, content creators should not focus their attentions on restricting the digitization of their content but rather focus their attention on developing secondary formats or ancillary products for which people will pay – (for instance books and rock concerts) . These will complement the digital format and will provide the business model

e) The advertisement model will work for Digital content and the revenue from the advertisements belong mainly to the content creator.

In light of my views above, I used my own books as an example (and I was not clear if my thinking is correct with this analogy – and hence a place where I especially seek feedback)

I have historically blogged my books extensively. Yet, people buy them in paperback format implying that digitization does not affect content in the non digital format in a commercial sense.

Now consider this case, (a spontaneous example I used in my workshop)

a) Someone bought a copy of my book

b) They sat on a chair in front of a video camera and read it all out

c) The video recording was put on YouTube

What should I do?

Here are my options

a) Should I sue this person?

b) Should I sue YouTube OR

c) Should I view this person as a view this person as a viral advertiser? Contact the guy. Thank him. Contact YouTube and ask them for a share of advertisement revenue. In addition, also explore other video websites who will do the same. Find more such people (with time on their hands!) like the recital man – and ask them if they want to talk about my other books?

However, what I think I cannot do is – find out how to make money from these listeners/viewers directly i.e. take the revenue model which works in one format(books) and try to retrofit it and apply it ‘online’

This is the same problem with the music / video industry.

Consider this example: You bought a DVD for 10£. You digitised it and it was accessible on the Web.

You can play the DVD indefinitely for personal use. In the digitised version, the content can be played indefinitely but NOT for personal use. I.e. more than one person can access it.

The question then is – should the viewers pay (if at all) and how much?

Maybe a pay per view model can be devised. That is possible. License models have changed for example from per seat to concurrent user especially after the Web

In general, the restriction of content to a specific format is a failing business model (region coded DVDs for example).

So, my view is – if the format changes (book to digital) then the question is not of restriction but of leverage i.e. as I say above – We should not focus our attention on restricting the digitization of content but rather focus attention on developing secondary formats or ancillary products for which people will pay – (for instance books and rock concerts) . These will complement the digital format and will provide the business model

Here are some caveats

a) If the content is transferred to digital format but for personal use, most people will agree that this is OK.

b) If the content is already digitised on the Web and is available for a fee .. Then this can be seen as taking away revenue from the provider if another site starts selling the content or giving it away for free i.e. the content was intended NOT to be free in the digital format(and was not converted to digital since it was already digitised). It is however relatively easy to monitor the web – and respectable providers will remove content if you ask for any reason your content should be removed. Most people would agree that this is OK as well.

c) Where no alternate formats exist: Consider the case of my favourite content – Nat Geo Wild or David Attenborough’s flims – especially David Attenborough’s snow leopard footage – regarded as one of the most difficult to acquire . I think most people will agree that it is valuable content (try waiting in remote, cold mountains for hunting footage of an animal already on the brink of extinction). This was a three year quest! Also, there does not seem to be an alternate ‘offline’ model here(Snow leopard concerts?)

d) Degraded digital copies: Notwithstanding the above discussions re snow leopards – one could argue that a degraded digital copy(for instance a YouTube video of the snow leopard footage) would actually benefit David Attenborough and his team since it would actually increase their exposure to new viewers who would buy the DVD version of Planet Earth (and Amazon link HERE )

e) Perfect digital copies: While YouTube would be regarded as a degraded quality from the original – what happens when we have perfect copies?

f) Higher quality format: Staying with the same Planet earth theme, Planet earth actually is the first wildlife film to be filmed completely in high definition – which means when I get HDTV – guess where I am going to spend money again? In this case, I will justify it because I am personally a huge fan of this series and it provides an even better experience. Which brings us back to the argument of Vinyl and cinema – people will pay for experiences that they value

g) Content creator has the final word: While there should be no attempt to restrict the usage of content, the content creator should have the final word when it comes to the content usage in any site.

h) All this does not override existing principles such as Fair use

To conclude, I am not an expert in this space. I have asked Tim Wu and Susan Crawford

– Who I met at Supernova and whose work I follow since, for their feedback.

By the way, speaking of Susan Crawford – don’t forget One Web Day

And here is the snow leopard footage ..