The Digital Media Manifesto

 

Source

F. Sestini

Title

Fair price, patents

No.

030804sestini01

 

I admire the fluency of the approach and how you managed to produce about 500 stimulating messages in a few days. For me, it took a while to draft the few reflections offered here. This is not necessarily meant to propose a different approach, but to introduce a complementary point of view -possibly somewhat idealistic- for your further discussion.

THE DM QUESTION

The whole question revolves around the meaning and implications of the term "sharing" for DM. I think we can all agree that one of the highest social goods is the sharing of creative expression - and, in a wider sense, of "knowledge", whose sharing is at the basis of human progress in every area. However, "sharing" (not necessarily for free, but usually for a fee) can take place in different forms, and since the eve of humanity defining fair ways to share goods (and "knowledge" or "information" is now universally recognised to be one of the most valuable goods) has been the biggest struggle and possibly at the roots of the need for social structures (this could easily be linked to interesting reflections on the creation of money, the amount of trust in a civil society you need in order to bring around your goods without fearing that they are being "shared" against your will by other individuals, and the unifying effect of a common "sharing enabler" -the euro- on a fragmented Europe -but that's another issue...)

Leonardo is fully right in that digital media requires a completely new thinking. This is true especially in terms of the means which are needed to implement an effective and trustworthy sharing of such a good, due to the fact that, at least insofar, a common characteristic to almost all DMs is the theoretical (and often practical) possibility of "almost-free infinite copying", which sets it apart from any other type of tradable goods that have been shared by humanity insofar (the only other "good" of such a kind being knowledge, whose possess equated in many cases to power). As for any goods (and money), infinite duplication means that the value of content represented by DM can be easily brought to 0, which leaves us with two possibilities: a) we accept that creative content -such as knowledge- is a good of humanity and therefore should be made available to anybody freely; or b) we set up some (effective) mechanism to prevent, or to limit, the copying of DMs.

Personally, in a perfect society, I would tend to sympathise for the option a); however, I also recognise that, in a "capitalistic" system such as the current one, where anybody needs money to survive (and, usually, more money to survive better) this would raise several problems as for the ways to compensate the content creators and the distributors. Could we implement a levy to be paid by everybody owning a device able to play MP3, maybe commensurate to the quality of the device and to the number of hours it is actually used? And how should the content creators be remunerated? By counting the number of times that their creations (songs, lyrics, movies) are played, but how can this be simply and reliably counted?

Assuming that this is simply not feasible (because of course in a matter of days we'd have on the market zillions of suitable but outlaw devices), I do not think that we have to embrace blindly the concept that a DRM is an unavoidable necessity for any DM: social considerations on the equal rights of everybody to have access to knowledge and culture should be a fundamental part of the equation. Indeed the substantially unregulated freedom of sharing content has been the fundamental drive of the internet and its main and unprecedented innovation in societal and cultural terms. I think nobody here wants to limit the internet to a purely commercial role and make it much more subject to political influence and restrictions, by making it mandatory to use some DRM scheme for any content.

 

FAIR PRICE

Taking this clearly into account as a general principle, and since sharing knowledge and culture includes sharing music or movies, in digital or analog form, here comes the issues of the "fair use" (which, unsubstantiated, remains an almost meaningless concept) and, even more importantly, of the "FAIR PRICE". Blindly proposing copy protection schemes without considering the social issues which are motivating the current generalized infraction of laws is pointless, as there will always be Napsters based in the Virgin islands and children living at the door aside sharing "illegally" through them, and which you cannot put in jail for this.

The main point made by the big "AM" rights owners to enforce the copy protection is that, if people do not buy CDs anymore but rather copy the MP3, the artists will not get paid and will not be motivated to continue to produce. But in reality (please correct me with exact figures if I am wrong), less than 5% of the retail price of a 20 music CD is actually given back to the musicians who has composed and played it. Why this is happening, and why the fair priced competition is not taking off, has been discussed extensively considering the role of content distributors in the market chain, the monopoly of the big brands, etc, without finding a decent solution. In the meantime, the "zero-priced" and uncontrolled MP3 competition has taken off.

If a song could be quickly, reliably and legally found and downloaded just by paying 49 cents, would anybody take the hassle of going through a long search in Kazaa or WinMX, and in so doing risking to incur in legal sanctions? Of course I am not sure about the answer to this question. In case it is "perhaps no", there are some unresolved issues, beyond DRM, still to be dealt with, for example:

 

IS THERE A REMEDY?

So, back to square one of the whole discussion: what is needed to make sure that the DM market will prosper while at the same time not hindering the societal progress stemming from a "fair use" of the DM content sharing possibilities? The first, if not only, answer which comes to my mind (in this agreeing with some previous contributions) is: a standard, open and transparent (to the user) DRM system, coupled with easy and secure micropayments over the internet and with generally accepted legislative regulations on the concept of "fair price" (something similar to the "reasonable" royalties to be corresponded for a patent). For such a Digital Right Management scheme to be useful (commercially and socially) and possibly successful, I see the following requirements:

On the long debated issue of copying "for personal use": in the AM world normally it is legal, but it takes some effort and usually the copy has a lower quality than the original (e.g. a photocopy or a tape). In the DM world (MP3 for example), the copy is easy and perfect and in 99.9% of cases it is the excuse for making illegal copies to friends (or to customers). As far as the product you can legally buy (even if for a few cents) is exactly the same you can get from a friend who has enough time to waste, there will be copies in abundance (though, again, this will not be reason for suicide in the major labels). However, forbidding copies of any kind cannot be the solution, because in a world where you can have personal jukeboxes in your car, your pocket, your living room and your bathroom, a customer cannot be asked to buy multiple instances of the same content to play it everywhere. Instead, at least for the most expensive items, such as a DVD or a SACD, there can be easy solutions to guarantee that the owner of such a content has the right to duplicate it for personal use, at least a limited number of times, for example by registering your purchase in the central database of the producer, who will then release the codes allowing a duplication every time the legitimate owner (identified by a password or something alike) requests it (with some possible limitations, i.e. maximum 10 times, or once a month, etc.)

In the end, the correct amount of DM protection needed will depend on the amount of trust the content owners have in their customers, and of course the trust is higher where there is an effective system for legally trading the content which is accepted both by the producer AND the customer (which can happen only if the content is traded at a FAIR PRICE).

 

CAN A "FAIR" DRM SCHEME BE WORKED OUT?

Concerning the way in which a standard for DRM can be worked out, I am also tempted to make a simplistic but provoking reflection on how this kind of standards come about, bringing examples from different IT sectors. Let's first consider CD, GSM, MPEG, DVD. In all these cases a common system was agreed, sometimes over long periods of time, but without continued struggles between concurrent proposals, mainly for the sake of defining a common system technically superior (in DVD with the "region" glitch causing some -limited- interoperability problems). This did not happen for other technologies belonging to the same areas (DVD-A vs. SACD, UMTS, the different CAs for MPEG on satellite, DVD+-R), but which were defined in periods when market expectations were much higher and when commercial interests played a much more important role in the definition of standards. Paradoxically, this higher commercial involvement supported the flourishing of competing standards and resulted in a much slower market acceptance due to the disorientation of the customers faced with commercially-driven choices which they did not understand. And this seems to be the case now as far as DRM is concerned.

I would also like to remark the strict connection existing between DRM, copyright protection and software patent issues. In a world where both the content and its management tools are digital, enforcing the right to patent patches of software can concur to create barriers to interoperability (including a common DRM system) and ultimately will hinder technological progress and innovation. There is a normative on software patents currently under discussion in the European Parliament which deserves urgent attention, to make sure that software developers will not need to be backed by lawyers all the time they do something new. If of interest, I'll try to separately post something on this subject at a later stage.

In all these respects, I think the main role of a (badly needed) initiative such as DMP should not just be to "integrate existing technologies", but rather to promote the establishment of a different "philosophical" approach to DMM, which could balance the powerful lobbies of the existing major commercial players. Will this be feasible?

Someone quoted that making a "good" movie costs around 200M. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that in order to protect such investments the major AM labels are spending a few percent of such amounts (as a kind of insurance) to pay lobbies defending their short-term interests. Can we expect DMP to have enough weight and political influence to promote a more forward-looking approach in the interest of all the actors in the chain? Chances are indeed very small, as history proves, but the challenge is definitely worth giving it a try. And I cannot envisage at this time any better way to do it than in such an open manner as in DMP.

For this reason, in the draft scheme of DMM proposed by Leonardo I feel the lack of "non-engineering" (please do note I am an engineer) and "non-commercial" motivations, i.e. of considerations on the societal aspects of DM, a correct consideration of which can be even more determinant to its success than solving technical hurdles.

Fabrizio Sestini

Future and Emerging Technologies

European Commission DG Information Society

> Mail: European Commission, BU33 3/22, B-1049 Brussels

> Office: Avenue de Beaulieu 33, 3/22, B-1160 Brussels

> Phone +32-2-299.52.60 (295.40.22) fax +32-2-296 8390

fabrizio.sestini@cec.eu.int

http://www.cordis.lu/ist/fethome.htm

[disclaimer: the views expressed in this message reflect solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily coincide with those of the European Commission]

 

 

SOME SPECIFIC COMMENTS ON THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF DM:

Digital libraries (Collection of knowledge and free provision of access to it to citizens has traditionally been a function of the state. Assuming that this function still needed, how does it carry to the world of digital content? ) and Education (Provision of basic education, and sometimes of access to basic information, has been a traditional function of the state. Assuming that this function is still needed, how does it carry to the world of digital content? ): Insofar accessing a book in a library had a cost meant only to repay the State for the repository facility, and one had the right to limited photocopying for personal use - in a DM world this in principle should be done completely for free, which is not the case yet, mainly due to the risk of perfect duplication of the whole work. A DRM here could try to reproduce some of the limitations of conventional libraries, e.g. allow downloading of works only one page at a time. More ambitiously, a DRM could allow completely free content downloading, providing it is for education, strictly non-commercial, and with some limitations on the quality or accessibility of the content, while at the same time the authors could be fairly acknowledged and repaid by the State (or by the community which is behind the library), with a fee proportional to the number of times their work has been accessed. The development of this kind of solutions could be hindered by the different and unclear legal issues surrounding different types of content (for example, those created when the duplication rights did not provide for DMs).

Radio (DAB has not been successful in Europe. What does DAB offer that conventional FM radio does not? ) DAB has only technical advantages over FM (which is already good enough for most of the users), which do not seem to justify the investments (for broadcasters and users) needed to move from one system to another. In my view its main weakness, compared to other digital wireless information systems, is the lack of interactivity (i.e. "standard" added value services such as localized traffic or weather information, etc.), which would clearly put it a level above FM. DAB current failure reminds me of WAP, only technically-driven without a simultaneous action on providers of value added services creating the marketing appeal for it.

Terrestrial Television (Television has been the first visual service tightly connected with the state if not directly run by it. Conversion to digital has not been blessed by success. ) Possibly the same considerations as for DAB can apply here.

Satellite Pay TV (Pay TV by satellite has not met with success, unless there is a monopoly. Is this the only case pay TV can successfully operate? ) No, possibly it could be (have been) successful out of a monopoly situation if there were a strict and commonly adopted standard definition (including Conditional Access) - but likely only in English-speaking countries, since elsewhere there is an initial lack of new content to attract customers to the new system.

Music distribution (MP3, IT and Internet have changed music distribution and fruition beyond recognition. Why there has been so little result in spite of so much effort dedicated to this case? ) Because the need to share creative expression is a real human need and no other simple solutions exists. I admit that, if you are curious about a song of which you only remember a part of the name or the author, it is much easier, quicker and funnier to search for it over the internet than leaving home and questing for it in some music stores. See also all the above text for further inputs on the subject.

Internet radio (The number of Internet radio channels has mushroomed, but what does Internet Radio bring that traditional radio does not? ) I really don't know, since apart from the wider variety (but not higher content quality though) it seems so uneconomical to use the current internet for radio rather than FM (I may prove wrong on this in the long run). I guess part of the answer lies in the "internet culture", or else called ignorance (or rejection) of any device which is not connected to a keyboard and a monitor.

Network-based video services (Networks would seem ideally suited to offer subscribers the content they need when they need it. Still network-based video services are not being offered in any meaningful way. Why? ) Lack of a common standard seem to be part of the answer. Perhaps also the need for a strong centralized control of such services could have influenced negatively their development.