Tuesday, March 20, 2012

So who Owns the eBook and App Rights?

We think that we know everything about the rights that we own, or licence. We attempt to control their usage and licensing and yet find ourselves constantly looking over our shoulders and wary of increased infringement and outright piracy. Has the emergence of the multi platform app and maturing ebook market now made this even more complex?

An app and an ebook are not themselves content, but mere digital content containers into which we can now pour and mix digital stuff. These mixes can contain text, audio, moving image, still image and interactive content and present the subject in brave new ways. They not only start to reshape the content itself, but also how we interact and access it.

Until these new containers arrived the various forms of content usually stood by themselves within their own containers and ecosystems:

• Text lived within books, journal, magazines, newsprint etc.
• Audio lived within CDs, vinyl, MP3 files etc.
• Moving image lived within DVDs, Video, TV, film etc.
• Still image lived within galleries, books, etc
• Interactive lived in application software, education solutions, games, assessments etc.

The second opportunity that these new containers gave us was to democratise creation in a way not previously possible. Not only can anyone now create a new work and distribute it by several different digital channels to literally anybody, but anyone can also remix, sample and produce new content in ways not previously possible. We now have a level playing field which may nbot be apparent to many but is very real to the new entrants both large and small.

We have seen the explosion of blogs and social networks, full of snippets of content and that some would suggest can stretch the usage of ‘fair use’ to its limits. We are all now familiar with the music sampling culture that is ingrained into some music genres and culture. We have seen the emergence of multi media works which extend sampling and mix it with original content to create a new work. We have started to see living works which redefine the term ‘finished’ and even ‘edition’. Content is changing and is exploding.

These new digital containers are not just a vehicle for the established ‘publisher’ content but now can become a vehicle for all and start to redefine distribution, sharing and the digital content itself. So what happens to the rights associated with the source content and how does it relate to the new work within the container?

Rights are about usage, licence, geography, commerce and permissions. Does the usage of snippets fall under permissions or fair use? How do you find out what is fair and what is infringement? How do you establish ownership and licence? How do you reward creativity when it is part of the new digital work which may well be sold at a price lower that the digital content itself? When these containers are global how do you establish restrictions let alone enforce them?

Today we have various DRM positions being adopted in the various sectors with some being DRM free, whilst others are becoming DRM restricted. Will this mixed approach now inhibit the use of some materials, or promote some to further question DRM and to break it?

What is clear is that rights are getting a whole lot more complex..


Micro Delights said...

Dear Martyn,

I'm glad that you mentioned DRM. I thought that it faded away (for the most part) due to consumer rejection.

When it comes to discussions on ebook and app rights, I'm surprised that you didn't talk about Apple or Amazon. Apple's latest plays seem to usurp author rights.

Loved hearing you on Litopia.

Will Norman

Michael W. Perry said...

I'm not sure the situation is getting more complex. Complexity is more than a longer list of rights to be bargained for. By itself, adding digital rights is no more complicated than adding movie rights in the 1920s.

The real complexity is likely to flow from the fact that many of these rights weren't defined when the original contract was signed, sometimes decades ago. Does the print-book publisher automatically get the ebooks rights? Who knows?

One way to settle this would be for legislation that sunsets all copyright licenses over five years old, while allowing publishers to sell off their existing inventory. Authors and content creators would then be able to negotiate new contracts, settling all the issues that these new technologies have created. That's a lot better than hundreds of legal disputes.

Yes, but that assumes a Congress with some sense of responsibility. Congress hasn't even formally passed budget in over two years, much less created one that's balanced. It's probably hopeless to expect them to do something responsible and sensible about copyright law. Money is the only think that talks inside the Beltway today.