Monday, March 2, 2009

Any Rights Left?

The gradual erosion of creators' rights to their creations is as good a topic as any for this forum, for it certainly sits right on the frontier between art (or at least creativity) and technology. The recent kerfuffle over the Amazon Kindle 2 text-to-speech feature highlights this. Briefly, the second version of Amazon's electronic bookreader introduced the feature of automatically reading books out loud. The Author's Guild and others jumped on this, seeing it as an infringement of the audiobook rights for the books in question. In the face of this, Amazon backed down somewhat, and said the publishers' permission will be required for the speech feature to work.

But this is only the latest salvo in the escalating war between technology and creativity. The disturbing trends for authors, artists, and other creators are twofold:
  1. People expect more and more content to be free, and
  2. Technology enables more and more mash-ups, in which one person's content is re-purposed in some way.
The evidence of the first issue is the gradual erosion of the music recording industry, the newspaper industry, and others. As it becomes harder and harder to attract readers to paid content, it likewise becomes harder to attract advertisers, so revenue dries up. Why can't free content be paid for by advertising? That's pretty much what everyone's counting on, but so far, it's still just optimism. Also, the advertising model is at risk because of the second trend.

As more and more people scrape content from other Web sites, piece it together, re-package it, and present it without attribution or back links, that content gets stretched thinner and thinner, so the likelihood of its earning any ad revenue for the creator diminishes.

I'll talk about all these in more detail later, so this is just an overview. But, I'll throw out one more nugget for thought: Shepard Fairey. In a sense, Fairey represents both sides of the coin. He's the creator who wants unfettered use of other assets as sources. But he also staunchly defends his own intellectual property rights. This duality goes beyond his celebrated Obama image. You can read more about it here.

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