The biggest dilemma facing content editors and their consumers in the digital age is copyright protection. Publishers and authors want to protect their Intellectual property and they should have the right to do so. Digital copies are a serious threat to the profits of publishers, and the livelihood of authors and artists. Though this issue is debated by some, especially those who believe in the power of viral marketing, I will assume for this argument that the threat to profits is real. One must accept that it is now possible to distribute high quality digital copies, easily and inexpensively. So the internet and digital files are the perfect way to violate copyright.
The argument seems to be that this unauthorized “distribution” was justification for the WIPO and the DMCA, and EU’s Copyright directive.
But the WIPO, and subsequent DMCA and the EU Copyright Directive may have given copyright holders too much cause for litigation and too little real protection. The EU’s Copyright directive is less defined than the DMCA to allow member states more leeway in its implementation, but this makes it potentially more restrictive. Both these laws allow Copyright holders absolute and eternal control over their content and gives them the justification to sue violators. But it also ensures that the market for these products is severely limited.
Aside from the obvious depletion of content entering the public domain these acts completely restricted the consumers rights, and may have completely altered the landscape of “fair use” and “public domain”. And in doing so they may have undermined the perceived value of digital products.
The copyright issue has progressed much farther in music, and film than it has in ebooks. But I think a quick look at the strategies of these two industries is instructive for the nascent ebook industry. It is safe to say that the music and film industries have taken a litigious stance and justified it with these three pieces of legislation. They seem to have identified every customer as a potential offender and every legal “licensee” as a potential pirate. In doing so they have turned the consumer against them. And I think this has really affected their businesses. It is evident in the music industry where CD sales have dropped off continually and many well-established artists are striking out on their own. I think it is less clear in the film industry where first run movies can still gross $1 billion. However, DVD sales are down.
And unfortunately the music and film industry have used this to prove that pirating is up. It is probably true that the availability of exact copies, and inexpensive distribution has prompted more people to break copyright. These enabling technologies have made the issue more visible. I was always free to make an analog copy of a movie, lend it to a friend, or make a tape of copyrighted music and give it away. And this was understood by copyright holders as illegal but unavoidable. But the new technologies have made it much easier for copyright holders to identify violators and pursue them. They will continue to beat grandmas, and elementary kids in the courts and win exorbitant settlements from individuals, but this will just ensure lower sales and larger losses. Their litigious strategy has alienated consumers and will probably drive more of them to download illegally.
I’d like to examine some of the technology copyright holders have utilized to protect their copyright and denigrate the value of their product. And later I hope to examine what can be done to solve this problem.
In the list below I list the most commons means of addressing Copyright in digital products. Some may refer to these as Digital Rights technologies. I am listing them separately here so that it is clear how they are used and what results they may have on product viability.
Watermarks- On documents and artwork watermarks are used to retain information about the copyright owner, distributor, and purchaser.
DRM- Examples: Windows Protected media path, and Apple’s fairplay system. These systems restrict the use of the digital product to particular devices, software, and individuals. They often link to online registries or databases to ensure “proper use” of files.
Alternative Copyright- Creative Commons. An alternative copyright system being used to make use, licensing, and “mixing” of content easier and clearer between users.
Machine Copyright- ACAP, and Google’s new patent for content restriction.
ACAP- Automated Content Access control. System using Robots.txt format being promoted by a publishing consortium to clearly identify rights, promote digital business models, and protect content. Though Version 1.1 was just released and they were advised by many search engines Google’s patent announcement today puts into question the viability of their system.
Google content filter patent- The filter system described in the granted patent says that text/book content would be limited, or restricted depending on user location, permissions granted to the content, content type, and security status of user. This is interesting and will solve some copyright issues but I think it presents many other problems.
Proprietary formats- Proprietary formats ( all have them) or .epub files with proprietary DRM have become common way of locking consumers into a device or software product.
So what does all of this mean for ebooks? In the next post I will explore this question in detail.