Following up with last week’s post, I thought there was at least one important piece that I left out of the publishing problem. Perhaps you’ve heard of it: Digital Rights Management (or DRM). If you haven’t, this term describes a philosophy about copyright as it relates to digital content (rather than traditional physical content), and this term quickly became a buzzword in the digital entertainment world as consumers found innovative ways to share content as rapidly as technology itself was evolving. In short, creative content that exists on the Internet has a greater opportunity to be pirated because it’s easier to share. Thus, big media companies are getting tougher on consumers who pirate by making sure that each consumer pays the appropriate royalties.
First, some terminology:
“Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States
(title 17, U.S.Code) to the authors of ‘original works of authorship,’ including
literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.”
Copyleft is a term used to describe the philosophy that gives the same copyright laws and distribution rights to works that have been altered.
The Creative Commons Licenses essentially fill in the gap between copyright and copyleft; there are six licenses that range from: Attribution (“lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation”) to Attribution-NonCommercial-
The first time I heard about the debate over copyright was in my Communications 101 class two years ago. We watched the documentary, RIP: A Remix Manifesto in class to learn about intellectual property rights since the birth of the Internet. (If you haven’t seen this documentary, I suggest you go find it at the Askwith Media Library immediately after you finish reading this post). The film talks about how the ability to share things so easily by way of the Internet is now a part of our culture and is a valuable resource for spreading that culture. For instance, it has created a way for someone to gain access to an image that they can respond to, manipulate, and re-distribute with just a few clicks (and the cycle continues). But this documentary also brings up an important question about authorship; with the remixing of sounds, words, and images, who can claim intellectual property rights? Who can make money from their work? Who should make money from their work?
As a writer and an artist, I have been on the fence about this issue for a while. On one hand, yes, I believe that people should be free to share content over the Internet because it promotes creativity, dialogue, and accessibility of that content for people all over the world. Sounds great. However, without any rights management I probably could not make a living by putting my work out there on the Internet. It’s a double-edged sword because artists need incentives (money) to perpetuate the cycle of creating material to be distributed to as many people as possible. But if people find their own ways to access these things for free, then they take away the monetary incentive for artists to keep working.
Assuming you aren’t an artist, what does this have to do with consumers? It means that when you buy a computer, beware that it might have digital content protection software already installed on your hard drive which may prevent you from being able to do something as simple as watching a downloaded movie on an external screen. Also, this kind of hidden technology is implemented in CDs that you purchase (if you still do this) that limit you from copying it a certain number of times. Lastly, this is going to make it extremely difficult for you to share books. Life was easy when you could just lend a book to your friend and get it back a couple weeks later. Now, it’s almost impossible to share eBook files without having to lend your Kindle or other eReading device. This is partially due to digital file formats. Think Apple vs. Android: not everything can be translated between the two platforms because the companies want it that way. The same thing is happening with DRM and Amazon; if you buy an Amazon Kindle, you can only get eBooks from Amazon’s collection for Amazon’s prices.
If you want to read more about how DRM specifically affects the publishing industry, please take a look at this article by GigaOM, which speculates on the future of the publishing industry with or without DRM.
By: Rachel Blanzy
(Photo by gfpeck under a Creative Commons License)