Radiohead’s little music giveaway points to a future for intellectual property rights. The key question: How can marketers sell any idea — brand, message, music, art, photography — when we no longer know who owns what when?
It all began in February when Steve Jobs wrote a letter positing three futures for online content protection: a first where owners fight over different protection formats; a second where owners agree to standards, such as Apple’s FairPlay digital rights management (DRM) technology; and a third where DRM is removed entirely. DRM, as you know, is that painful hidden software that lets you play music, or video, on one machine but not make unlimited copies for others. Jobs advocated the third route — remove DRM barriers, and let the music flow.
Jobs may not have been altruistic, since canning DRM would increase the utility of iPods and iPhones to play others’ content — iPod sales would skyrocket if you could grab music now considered “illegal” — but he had a good point: in the end, open systems flourish because all others fail. Here was his point:
The problem, of course, is that there are many smart people in the world, some with a lot of time on their hands, who love to discover such secrets and publish a way for everyone to get free (and stolen) music. They are often successful in doing just that, so any company trying to protect content using a DRM must frequently update it with new and harder to discover secrets. It is a cat-and-mouse game.
Which brings us to two of our favorite photographers, Darwin Bell and Rune T. Darwin Bell took the photo you see above, part of his brilliant Flickr display with our favorite property rights tag, some rights reserved. It’s part of an initiative by Creative Commons to give the world standards for sharing, while allowing the authors of knowledge to maintain some control. It’s a label that allows us to comfortably post his work on our site, since we are giving him fair credit — and of course, pointing readers interested in design to him, which helps Bell as well.
Rune T is also a genius, but his claim for credit is the old, thorny all rights reserved. He even goes to the trouble of explaining what that means: don’t use his art for anything without his permission. So, we’ll play fair and won’t post thumbnails of his brilliant macros, portraits, or landscapes.
Which points out a problem. If you scroll over any of the hyperlinks above, you’ll see thumbnails anyway, since we put code in this blog that gives you little pop-up previews. So, at what point do we cross the line to stealing content and abusing rights? When we put an image somewhere in print and praise it? Or on a web site? Or if we just hyperlink back to it? Or … if we even mention the idea as an abstract, that, hey, there is this great art/music/content somewhere, go take a peek?
Maybe Radiohead has it right. Information wants to be free, so in a world where everything will soon be connected, give up control, give it away, and ask users to pay you what’s fair. This is the reason Google is kicking butt, with its free search, free site analytics, free maps, and free everything. The more locks you put on your content, the less likely the world will be to want it.