Copyright and Technology 2010

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Last week’s event on copyright and technology has led me to the conclusion that a long-overdue dialogue is slowly taking place between two vital groups in the digital content economy, i.e. the legal and technology stakeholders. However, it also raised some questions about likely winners and losers in the evolution of a digital content ecosystem. […]

Last week’s event on copyright and technology has led me to the conclusion that a long-overdue dialogue is slowly taking place between two vital groups in the digital content economy, i.e. the legal and technology stakeholders. However, it also raised some questions about likely winners and losers in the evolution of a digital content ecosystem.
This inaugural conference took place in in New York City, and I was lucky enough to be invited to moderate a panel session on the role and future of DRM, and other content protection technologies, that inhabit the interface between copyright and technology. Below are some key messages from this event:

  • DRM is not quite dead. If anything it is alive and well, outside of “permanent Internet music downloads”, according to event chairman Bill Rosenblatt in his opening address, which was also a master class on the trajectory of challenges and developments in the battle between copyright and digital technology.
  • “Sopranos level” commercial piracy, as operated by sophisticated / profit-oriented criminal organizations, (i.e. not your ordinary file-sharing individual) have become the key focus of attention and anti-piracy efforts by major content owners. According to Viacom’s Stanley Pierre-Louis, organizations like Viacom are making every effort to find the “right balance to take advantage of new platforms whilst protecting IP”.
  • Innovative approaches are critical for video content monetization – For example, Ads are video too, and Google’s Shalini Govil-Pai described how more brands are now using YouTube to ‘prove’ their ads before putting them out via more expensive broadcast TV channels
  • Interoperability is vital. And initiatives like the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) will help “provide users with a choice of platforms”, according to Mitch Singer (CTO for Sony Pictures Entertainment). However, one notable absentee from this 50+ strong consortium is Apple which operates its own closed content ecosystem.
  • “You can’t monetize what you can’t identify”, therefore correct content identification is a critical element in any monetization effort. Technologies like Fingerprinting and Watermarking both play a large part in making this happen, but there’s still more work to be done, and implementation can be tough.
  • Progressive Response (aka 3 Strikes) and ISP level monitoring may be flawed – A telling question from speaker Gary Greenstein, (IP lawyer from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati) was: “What if you connect to your own music collection over an ISP, would that not be a false positive for copyright infringement”?
  • Rights Management is still a major headache – An observation from my panel session was that although DRM still has a role and future (even if by another name) in digital content monetization, by far the bigger issue for content owners remains the challenge of inadequate rights management for content. This is an area that is actively being addressed by companies like Teradata, SAP and Capgemini which together can deliver even more innovative solutions for IP rights management

However, there is still a lot of work to be done before copyright and technology can claim to work well together (see my session intro slides). One attendee’s poignant observation highlighted the relatively limited availability of legal content (perhaps as a result of cumbersome content rights models, infrastructure issues or outdated release window models), versus widely available but illegal / pirate copies that can be found online, sometimes even before commercial release of the product!
In conclusion, this was a very useful and timely conference given the high level of engagement and interaction (including the customaryTwitter commentary) between audience and speakers, right from the start. However it could have done with mixing up the legal / technology streams a bit more, but the overall feedback was positive, and I suspect many attendees, and the entire content industry, would benefit from more of this type of event and dialogue in the future. Hopefully the next one might even be held right here in London – aka the birthplace of modern copyright!
Jude Umeh is a senior consultant and enterprise architect, and you can follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn

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