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Oddly enough, there are many organizations who claim to enforce their outdated views(such as the RIAA ) and others who claim to protect our freedoms such as EFF – but I dont find much information about what should content creators do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

YouTunes: Pink Floyd and why don’t we pay for YouTube?


Today, after many years, I saw a video of a song which had a profound influence on my life.

This is probably my favourite video ever!

The song is Pink Floyd’s ‘Learning to fly’, and I saw it today on YouTube .

I spent (wasted!) most of the afternoon listening to this song.

On YouTube ..

For Free ..

The video of Learning to fly is deeply symbolic and metaphysical . It speaks of a young man leaving his secure existence and then ‘learning to fly’ at the risk of falling off a cliff.

I first heard that song when I was in a boring job in India and considered a job overseas – something which was a huge leap for me since I had never left India at that point.

I will talk more about why this video has deep symbolic meaning ..

However .. I must have viewed it at least 20 times this afternoon.

Why 20 times?

For one thing, I always found live performances of this song(and not the video which I was really looking for) – so even when I could see a DVD in store, there was no way of knowing if the DVD had the video(which I wanted) or the live performance(which I did not want). In case, you don’t know, Pink Floyd is actually more famous for its live performances (So, you get mostly live performances than video in DVDs)

Secondly, the search facility of finding video in YouTube is very useful(metadata is almost as useful as the data) as is a fundamental principle of Web 2.0 and we say in Mobile Web 2.0

Thirdly, the video had many other songs, which I may not like(although that’s not such a big issue in case of Pink Floyd!)

And finally of course, because I love the song and it has a deep meaning for me!

Let’s see where my allegiances lie: There are three players here: The producer(CBS/EMI), the artist(Pink Floyd) and the distributor(YouTube/Google)

Like many people, I am very much ‘pro’ Google.

I am a capitalist – hence I believe that CBS/EMI should get paid.

However, my biggest allegiance lies with Pink Floyd – who I definitely believe should be paid for my viewership!

Thus, most people, like me, are not opposed to paying and in fact, in this case, would be most happy to pay(for this particular song)

So, maybe what’s needed here is a iTunes like model for video (YouTunes!)

Maybe, micro pay for the song ‘third viewing onwards’?

This could well happen in my view

So, now coming back to why this song is so symbolic /metaphysical ..

There are other interpretations of this song – firstly it could be truly about ‘learning to fly’ since Dave Gilmour, who produced it, is a pilot . There is another explanation of ‘getting high’ on other things! But I prefer the metaphysical/transformational interpretation – which was so close to me when I first heard it.

Here is my interpretation ..

A young (possibly American Indian) man works on a mundane job(on a farm)

He is inspired by the hang glider and wants to fly

Cant keep my eyes from the circling skies; Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, i

But there is the sinister scarecrow in the background .. Doubts and the prophets of doom

At some point, the young man decides to fly

He is alone

No navigator to guide my way home

He goes to the cliff

He throws off his coat(his old persona)

He has almost flimsy instruments(feathers for wings) – the odds are against him

For one last time, the scarecrow appears – on the cliff!

And then he takes the leap ..

He flies ..

He soars above the scarecrow’s shack

And he transforms into a hawk .. And is thus metaphysically transformed

And he ends the song with

Theres no sensation to compare with this

Suspended animation, a state of bliss

Cant keep my eyes from the circling skies

Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, i

At the back of it all, there is a spirit who guides him .. as if to counter the evil scarecrow

Metaphorically.. The young man could be me (or you!).. Or for that matter anyone who has left home, embarked on a new venture, left a space of security and so on ..

Thus, it is an archetypal song

In fact, there was one comment on YouTube saying that it signified Dave Gilmour’s decision of managing Pink Floyd solo after Roger Waters left Pink Floyd!

So, I hope I see a (micro) PAID version of YouTube soon .. and that may not be such a bad thing for us all!

Lyrics from lyricsfreak

And here is the video! I hope you enjoy it. Its beautifully made with a wide angle lens(like Peter Jackson’s movies especially the Lord of the Rings)

Many thanks to my friend Claire Louise Hegarty – a Shaman .. for whom I was searching the song in the first place as an example of symbolic/metaphysical music videos.

Bill Jones – Global Village: e-government and DRM ..


Bill Jones of Global Village UK spoke in China in September where he discussed Mobile Web 2.0.

Bill has been a good friend to both Tony and I and travels around the world and discusses many innovative ideas at Government/country level, specifically in the areas of e-government and DRM.(Global Village won the European Union Guide Award for Online Excellence under the eContent program The award is recognition of the best in innovation that excels in generating novel ideas for e-government and Information Society development, and converting them into operative services.)

In this instance, Bill spoke at the Zhongguancun IT Festival, one of the largest in China on the topic of DRM. It takes place in Zhonggunacun which is the Silicon Valley of China located to the North west of Beijing in Haidian District which is the district near Tsinghua University (considered one of the top 3 Universities in the world along side Princeton and Oxford), and Beijing University. The event received national media coverage.

If you are interested in either e-government or DRM, please contact Bill/me and I will try and get some information. I have also asked Bill to contribute a small article to this blog about e-government and DRM and also about his talk in China relating to DRM