Thursday, December 31, 2009

Content Consumption And Copyright Will Shape The Next Decade. What Then Must We Do?

2009 was a disastrous year, marked by personal tragedy for some and a general malaise for the many who create and license content. It culminates a decade in which the inevitable result of massive oversupply of digital content has been accelerated by an equally predictable global economic decline.

In stock photography, big companies have long held the perspective that photography is a “zero sum gain” marketplace in which the size of the pie is static, and the only way to gain revenue is to take market share from others. This strategy manifested itself in massive discounts (over 90% in the case of microstock) from recent pricing models, which has dramatically reduced the size of the pie at a time when quantities of use are experiencing explosive growth.

Though photography is economically small when compared to the music and movie industries, it is the most broadly consumed type of intellectual property on the Internet. We are experiencing a dramatic shift of revenue and power as the Internet becomes the dominant channel for both the distribution and consumption of digital content. Efforts to transition the economic rewards for creators into the Internet Age are being opposed by some with personal or corporate self-interests, sometimes without regard for ethics, truth or fairness.

The 2009 content survey by Creator’s Circle Magazine confirms other reports that half to three-quarters of Americans think it should be OK to take the intellectual property of others for personal use. Copyright infringement violates Federal law. While copyright is the foundation on which content industries are built, it also stands in the way of shifting that wealth from rights holders and distributors into the pockets of the equally powerful technology providers that benefit most from free content. (Senator Orrin Hatch stated in ’09 that copyright piracy costs the U.S. $58 billion in output, 373,375 jobs, $16.3 billion in earnings, and $2.6 billion in taxes.)

So, what’s a government to do when over half of its citizens are eagerly engaging in breaking Federal law and its major industries are battling over rights?

In 2010, a great battle about copyright will enter global headlines. Skirmishes will occur everywhere from blogs to the hallowed halls of national legislative bodies. Combatants will carry the banners of “orphan works”, “three strikes” and other catch phrases. The greatest risk to creators and rights holders in the next decade will not be from unauthorized personal use, for which viable solutions are ready, but rather at a level of national politics in a global theater.

“What then must we do?” Leo Tolstoy asked of poverty in 1886. The good news is that solutions to the digital equivalent of the dilemma posed by Tolstoy are finally within reach. From the many challenges of the last decade, significant opportunities are emerging for creators and content consumers in the next decade.

2010 is the first year in which the eroding value of creativity online can be broadly addressed. Copyright and image registries, like, will make it possible to know “who owns what” for a significant portion of the 3 trillion images online, which will enable new business models and re-enable honesty. Rights holders will finally have the option to better monetize that content which is presently used without authorization or payment on the Internet.

What then must we do? Simply participate.

It’s time to move from the sidelines, engage in the debate, and join the solutions that are emerging. It’s time to leave apathy, frustration and anger behind and proactively shape the destiny of content consumption. The paradigms are changing. Technology has enabled the creation of new markets and new revenues for intellectual property, as well as the discarding of that self-defeating attitude of zero sum gain. The decade ahead promises fertile fields for the creative seeds that will benefit, educate and entertain the masses, and for those who sow and harvest those creative works.

(Editor’s Note: In coming months, I am preparing a comprehensive report on the major media trends that will shape the coming decade for creators and content consumers. Watch for it by Spring, 2010.)

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