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Chris Hollander

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Shall We Pity the Entertainment Industry?

It may be hard to say yes or no, but what the SOPA debate and others like it have come down to is this:

1. The current media distribution model is not working for some companies.
2. They perceive their model as failing because of illegal acts.
3. These so called illegal acts are so pervasive that everyone and their brother has taken part of them on occasion, if not often, for almost a decade.

So do we then:
A. Ask the government to step in and help these companies implement their ideal business model with more crackdowns and legislation?
or
B. Allow the market, or some other force, to make these companies accept the current reality and either adjust and create a new model that is profitable or simply parish the way of the horse buggy and cassette tape?

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    Mar 20 2012: I believe that (B) is the answer, but the market won't find its balance until we succeed in reproducing the conditions that result in the familiar fairness that existed before content went digital and the Internet was born.

    IP owners are trying to solve their problem by making all digital content available only as (DRM-protected) services, but consumers have always had an option when no service suited them… they could buy and own a product. Unfortunately, plain (unprotected) files are not just de-tethered from suppliers, they are de-facto public goods, because the marginal cost of their replication and their distribution is essentially zero. We don't need to ban plain files. We don't need to end DRM-protected services. We DO need to add something new and fundamental to the mix. We need to create the choice of digital products that are as untethered, copiable, sharable, and versatile as plain files, yet are as singular, monetarily valuable, and transferable as tangible personal property.

    We really do need all three: plain files, DRM-protected streams and files for services such as rental, and Digital Personal Property (DPP) for true consumer ownership. So-called piracy won't go away either, but in a more fair world it will be less popular. Imagine how broken our physical-product marketplace would be if consumer ownership were banned and replaced with rental and subscription services. Yet that is precisely the state of our cyber-marketplace — everything is licensed, nothing is owned.

    Earlier this month I spoke at a conference of Consumers International (http://a2knetwork.org/infosoc2012), an umbrella organization of over 220 consumer rights groups around the world. My talk was on the work of the IEEE P1817 Standard for Consumer-Ownable Digital Personal Property (http://www.sweazey.com/P1817/CI_P1817slides.pdf). Everything in Cyberspace is synthetic; we can synthesize anything we want, even consumer ownership, with true autonomy and privacy.

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