Who wants to own content?

I obnoxiously ask who wants to own content from the media-company perspective. That question is usually asked, of course, from the creator’s perspective. On-Demand Media, a good blog, asks it from the consumer’s perspective:

Bill Gates says that CDs and DVDs will be the last physical form of media. I’ll go further and say: soon consumers won’t even be caring about owning files….

What does owning media let you do? It lets you play what whenever you ‘own’, provided you have the right devices, the media is handy, etc.

Now what if someone came and offered you a way to carry on with your practice, i.e. to be able to play what you ‘own’ whenever you want, in perpetuity, without having to worry about downloading, synching, or copying files (or worrying about physical media, of course)?…

What counts is the practice, not the thing.

Yup, life is about verbs. Or at least the internet is. And media should be.

  • Tim Windsor

    As a consumer, the benefit of “owning” the media, of holding it in my hand, is that I know I’ll have access to it whenever I want, as many times as I want. And under the future described by Gates and reportedly about to be unveiled next month by Apple, my use of media is increasingly dependent on the availability of a good broadband connection and the permission of the media-holder on the other end of the connection.

    This may be the way to go, but for me, as a consumer, it’s a path that certainly has some inherent dangers. We’ve already seen that Apple will change the rules on the fly in its iTunes Music Store. So far, that’s generally been for the better (raising the number of devices allowed under the license), but they could just as easily make access to the media I “own” much more restrictive.

    I’m all for experimentation, but we have to realize that the days of a CD bought in 1985 and easily ripped into iTunes in 2005 to listen on an iPod (did this myself) could soon be over. If recent behavior is a fair indicator of future behavior, the publishing companies, abetted by Microsoft, Apple and others, will always err on the side of making it harder for consumers to exercise their fair-use rights.

  • http://www.mguhlin.net/blog Miguel Guhlin

    Tim, I’m with you on this one. What this will surely do is force us all to look for digital media–songs, etc–on the Web and skip anything that requires Windows XP, Media Player, Apple’s iTunes to work.

    I hate the fact that my iRiver T10 ONLY works with Windows XP and not with Linux or Mac. If I’d done my homework a bit more, I’d found that out…so, my next purchase will be a device that works with Mac and Linux, not DRM or proprietary system.

    Open source tools, open media is the way to go in the future…and who cares about what is owned? I do. I don’t want to be labelled a pirate for trying to move my media around from one electronic medium to another.

  • http://robertdfeinman.com/society Robert Feinman

    While most of the talk has been about entertainment media, a centralized model for information storage is dangerous for democracy.

    Once information is stored elsewhere it is easy for the holders to make it “disappear.” We have already seen how easy it is for those in power to suppress material they feel conflicts with their goals. Just this week additional information about the Gulf of Tonkin incident was released, 40 years after the events. Imagine what we would have now if those documents had only been stored electronically in a central place and the Nixonites had decided to eliminate them.

    Throughout history devoted people have hidden away valuable information (usually books) when the climate was not favorable to their contents. With the central model we would have lost all the writings of the Greeks that were hidden in Arab lands during the “dark ages.”

    The business issues are secondary to the political implications.

  • Jimmy

    Much of what this post describes is dependent upon access to a broadband connection. As someone who lives in a rural area broadband will not be available in the foreseeable future. The only way I can access a broadband connection is to plug my laptop into my employer’s network, which they will now not let me do; go to the local university and use their connection, which they don’t particularly like; or pay $600 for satellite equipment and nearly $70 a month for the service. Until broadband is available across the nation, the world even, these predictions will not happen. If they do, then an entire segment of the population will be left out in the cold.

  • Old Grouch

    “…what if someone came and offered you a way to carry on with your practice, i.e. to be able to play what you ‘own’ whenever you want, in perpetuity, without having to worry about downloading, synching, or copying files (or worrying about physical media, of course)?”

    You want my reaction? Anybody making an offer like that is a liar, and is taking me for a fool.

    Our “friends” in the media business have specified that the next generation of DVD players have revokable decoding (Let’s kill your player by remote control!) and revokable content certificates (You played it before? Not anymore!). We’ve just been through the Sony “rootkit” episode, and now word is out that MediaMax, Sony’s other “copy protection” program, not only installs itself even if you tell it “NO”, but also “phones home” every time you play a protected CD, despite claims that “no information is collected about you or your computer.” [details here, search on "transmits information"]. And the president of the RIAA says this sort of behavior is a good thing!

    I say they’re a pack of weasels, and should be distrusted accordingly. And that’s why I’d never buy into anything like ODM’s proposal, which also fails the laugh test. NOBODY is going to set up and maintain servers to store “my stuff” in perpetuity for free. What the “on demand” people are really after is pay-per-view/play, where the “consumer” owns nothing.

  • http://blog.spartac.us/ Brian O’Connell

    I like the Rhapsody “celestial jukebox” model. No one “owns” anything. The consumer pays a monthly access fee and gets any song at any time. What’s the purpose of maintaing a locally stored “owned” copy that 99% of the time (or more) sits on a hard drive unplayed?

    In practice, there are several problems with this. One of course is limited access to broadband, but I suspect that this will be much less of an issue in ten years. The other is the refusal by some IP owners to participate. But if consumers reach a consensus on this model, which isn’t certain, most content providers will be forced to participate to stay in the game.

    Purchase is also offered, partially, I’m guessing, to satisfy those who aren’t comfortable with the no-ownership model.

    I suspect it’s just a matter of time before this model is applied to movies & TV, perhaps by a consortium of content providers.

  • http://unbeknownst.net KirkH

    Absolutely right. This won’t work though until we have rock solid ubiquitous wireless internet access. Nobody wants their Ipod to crap out when they enter a tunnel.

    It’d be good for content owners because they (and their advertisers) could see when and even where their content was being consumed (consumer permitting – anonymous usage statistics).

    The only way DRM is going to work is if it is simple to use. Reasonable restrictions probably wouldn’t bother people if they didn’t install rootkits and prevent even basic mobility.

    Two years ago most video was downloaded and people had to deal with codec packs, file types, licensing, viruses and adware associated with unknown media players. Now you can just go to google video or YouTube and stream it using Macromedia Flash.

    But because there has to be a file somewhere, it might make sense to have your own server to hold files for personal content like photos instead of hoping Flickr doesn’t profit from them. But that personal server would just stream content to whatever client device you’re using.

    Flickr, etc. are just modern day broadcast networks for content because most people don’t want to deal with servers and hosting fees. In the past the massive expense of the antenna, etc. was the barrier. Mix in some open standards and ease of use and there will no longer be a need for Flickr.

    So in ten years we might still have something like Flickr but it’ll be open source, based on open standards(semantic web) and running on a million distributed servers instead of a server farm at Yahoo.

  • Andy

    I think all the above commentators make valid points, in particular Mr. Feinman. Along the same lines, what we know about past cultures comes from their artifacts. Lacking any artifacts other than the houses we lived in, when our current digital culture expires, future generations will know we existed, but will have no idea if we ever thought, wrote or created anything. They’ll look upon us as the most vacuous, brain-dead civilization ever. Will they be right?

    As far as the concept of ownership goes, those media companies that want to eliminate ownership, but still want to get our money, should ask themselves this question: If WE can’t own your content, why should you? Possession is nine-tenths of the law, no matter what you might think or want. Media companies that take too adversarial an approach toward their own customers will find themselves without any.

  • http://unbeknownst.net KirkH

    A little proof of concept… You can search for a photo of a flower on Kazza or other p2p apps and it will work. Metadata is sent over a P2P network. Here’s a picture of what it looks like http://static.flickr.com/32/56975954_5ca0122305_o.jpg

    What if a thumbnail of the image was sent as metadata? You’d essentially have a P2P version of Flickr. Now use AJAX to turn it into a web app. Flickr Killer, no Yahoo or centralization required.

    The difference is the latency. Results pop up sequentially (hence the AJAX) as they’re ferreted out of the distributed P2P database instead of instantaneously. Fortunately Moore’s law applies, roughly, to bandwidth as well. So in ten years sending a preview as metadata won’t be a big deal.

  • http://www.fiddleandburn.com Jason Pomerantz

    We already have a low-tech version of the “celestial jukebox”, at least for movies: It’s called Netflix. After subscribing for awhile, I realized it was pretty pointless to continue collecting my own DVD’s. No matter how big my personal library became it would always pale before the vast choices available to me in the Netflix catalog.

    At present, there’s only two disadvantages:

    1 – The delayed gratification I’m forced to endure as I wait a few days for a movie I place at the top of my queue to arrive.

    2 – Increasing problems with the physical discs themselves: Scratches and cracks that prevent them from playing properly.

    Moving to a network model of downloaded files would solve both these issues.

    I am concerned by the censorship issues raised by previous posters. But the fact remains that, at least at present, Netflix has dramatically increased, rather than constrained, the choices available to me.

  • http://tomgrey.motime.com Tom Grey – Liberty Dad

    “Intellectual Property” is a euphamism for “innovation tax” where the consumers are forced to pay a monopoly price to subsidize the creativity.

    Since the money doesn’t go thru the gov’t, but goes from users to the most popular used stuff, it’s an extremely efficient funding mechanism.

    But it’s not free. There is a cost to enforce the IPR fiction. And this cost is increasing. At some point, the enforcement cost of IPR is greater than the additional innovation from that model, as compared to direct gov’t support.

    We have reached that point — the info revolution.

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  • http://ondemandmedia.typepad.com/ On Demand Media

    Lots of interesting thoughts here. I’ve written two replies at On Demand Media, one here, the other one here. Best regards