Consumer media is losing its gods-damned mind.

Aug 04, 2009

Every morning I pop open Google News in one of my browser tabs and mainline the top 100 stories to get a sense for what’s happening in the world and what general sort of day I’m in for. Last week the Associated Press announced that it would be modifying the content it makes available on the Net in such a way that they can (hypothetically) control how it can be read, where it can be read, and who can read it. They say they want to be able to monitor how the content they make available to everyone free of charge gets used and possibly figure out how to charge for it if they feel like it. It sounds an awful lot to me like they’re trying to replace RSS (an XML-based standard used all over the Net) with something that contains a few extra tags that are supposed to tell your web browser, news aggregator, or document reader what you’re allowed to do (read only, link to, pay-per-read, re-aggregate only, et cetera) assuming that your software is capable of obeying those tags and not just silently ignoring them. They also hope to implement tracking beacons to help them figure out who is reading what, where, and when.

What the AP has yet to realize is that when you publish something online and you don’t protect it with a password, you don’t charge for it, and there’s this little thing called copy and paste, anybody who cares to can look at what you put up, save a copy to their hard drive for later, and copy bits of text into other forms of media (like e-mail). Moreover, the nature of news aggregation is that you really can’t charge for it. If you find a website which will charge you to read the news you can find others which don’t.

If you put it out there for everyone to see, people will make use of it. Conversely, if you don’t want people to get hold of it don’t put it out there.

Even more interesting, the AP has instituted an automatic system which you can use to buy a license to reprint text from their feeds. Even text which isn’t theirs to begin with.

In other news, an outfit called Volomedia has been awarded US patent 7,568,213 for a means of providing media content in episodic format. This is better known as podcasting, and dates back to the year 2001 when it really took off as a broadcast medium near the tail end of the dotcom bubble. Murgesh Navar, founder of Volomedia, has stated that the company has no plans to litigate anyone for producing any of the tends of thousands of podcasts already out there, but delivery mechanisms other than personal computers would be covered by the patent (not that you can change what it appears to be or anything). I think someone needs to contact the United States Patent Office and tell them that prior art exists for this particular technology. Lots and lots of prior art.

Music megacorp EMI has recently announced that it will no longer allow non-chain music stores to sell their CDs. Henceforth, if you want to purchase music from any artists signed to EMI you’ll have to go to a mega-chain like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, or Target, which also limits what artists’ music you can potentially purchase due to each chain’s appropriateness policies. This will put a serious crimp in the plans of independent music stores, which are already reeling from the economy taking a nosedive. Unfortunately, if people can’t find the music they want they’re either going to not bother searching or they’ll download it illegally. Either way this results in fewer sales for EMI all across the board and becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Oh, well. At least there’s always mail order and online merchants like eMusic. Or, you can sometimes purchase music directly from the artist.

Or not. Not if Steven Metallitz, copyright lawyer to Big Media, has his way. He recently went before the US Copyright Office and stated that no copyright owner is obligated in any way to keep their work available to anyone who’s paid for their work. Rather than sending a strike team to your house to repossess your copy of The Very Best of Prince when Rhino Records decides that they won’t sell cassette tapes anymore, a mechanism known as DRM (digital rights management) is used. In a nutshell, media files are encrypted when DRM is in use; your music player goes out and contacts a server on the Net to obtain the key to decrypt and play back the media for a short period of time whenever you want to listen to something. At any time, for any reason, the company you bought that media from can decide to revoke your access to what you paid for and there isn’t anything you can do about it. Moreover, if that company goes casters up you’re out of luck regardless of how much money you spent buying those tracks. These media interests are also vehemently opposed to any means of stripping DRM from those files for any reason, especially if the company you bought them from goes under because they say you don’t own your media and you shouldn’t have perpetual access to it. You can thank the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 for that. Big Media further claims that by allowing people to listen to what they paid for whenever they want, wherever they want, however they want you’re hurting the artists by making the market unfavorable for new work.

If you stop and think about all of this for a minute, it really doesn’t make any sense. That’s really the only thing I can say about it – anyone with a shred of common sense (even me) will come to the conclusion that if you paid for it, it’s yours. If you buy a book you can read it for as long as you have it in your possession. If you own a CD you can listen to it as long as you have it in your possession. If you take a photograph you can look at it as long as it’s in your possession. If you buy a DVD you can watch it as long as it’s in your possession. Digital files are no different.