Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Dead DRM Walking: Content Controls Facing Online Reality Checks

The New York Times reports on the realization dawning in the minds of music publishers that they may have already lost the battle for chokehold DRM controls built into music downloads. Online music download revenues were up 80 percent last year over 2005 income, but slowing from 2005's growth and not closing the gap in dimming CD sales. Independent labels are thriving with non-DRMed content, a factor also as online audiences begin to develop new allegiances based on accessibility to music within a community: if you can't get your friends excited about something, why bother? Music companies need to face the fact that they have lost the battle for distribution control of over-priced archives and bow to the realities of a marketplace that places a different kind of value on content in social contexts. Music has always been a social medium, and needs to return to its roots as something that's completed by the participation of an audience.

Meanwhile, over in video-land Ars Technica highlights a new lightweight system for "watermarking" video downloads that doesn't use heavy DRM lock-out controls but simply makes it possible to identify who's really paid for content. This "do the right thing" approach parallels efforts by Copyright Clearance Center and iCopyright with text-based content to alert users as to when copyright needs to be respected and to provide copyright holders with options as to how content can be monetized on its way from one person to another without getting too intrusive.

Content relicensing is the huge missed opportunity in the entertainment industry,which still insists that classic spoke-and-hub marketing campaigns are the way to build interest in content. Print publishers have seen these opportunities for some time but are only beginning to look at them more seriously as primary revenue opportunities as subscription and ad revenues become more challenged. As context rights become more important than pure copyright perhaps more publishers of all kinds will take a look at the opportunities that exist from allowing users to be active agents in content licensing.
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