Thursday, July 10, 2008
The heads of the G8 governments, meeting this week, are about to ratify the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (Acta), which – it’s claimed – could let customs agents search your laptop or music player for illegally obtained content. The European Parliament is considering a law that would lead to people who illicitly download copyrighted music or video content being thrown off the internet. Virgin Media is writing to hundreds of its customers at the request of the UK record industry to warn them that their connections seem to have been used for illegal downloading. Viacom gets access to all of the usernames and IP addresses of anyone who has ever used YouTube as part of its billion-dollar lawsuit in which it claims the site has been party to “massive intentional copyright infringement”.
It seems that 20th-century ideas of ownership and control – especially of intellectual property such as copyright and trademarks – are being reasserted, with added legal muscle, after a 10-year period when the internet sparked an explosion of business models and (if we’re honest) casual disregard, especially of copyright, when it came to music and video.
But do those separate events mark a swing of the pendulum back against the inroads that the internet has made on intellectual property?
‘A finger in the dyke’
Saul Klein, a venture capitalist with Index Ventures who has invested in the free database company MySQL, Zend (the basis of the free web-scripting language PHP) and OpenX, an open-source advertising system, is unconvinced. “In a world of abundance – which the internet is quintessentially – that drives the price of everything towards ‘free’,” he says. “People don’t pay for any content online. Not for music, not for video. They get it, either legally or illegally.”
Is that sustainable? “The model of suing your best customers and subpoenaing private information is doomed to failure,” Klein observes. “It’s putting a finger in the dyke. It won’t change the macro trend, which is that there’s an abundance of information. Copyright owners need to find new ways to generate income from their product. The fact is, the music industry is in rude health – more people than ever before are going to concerts, making it, listening to it. It’s the labels that are screwed. The artists and managers are making money. The labels aren’t.
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