The case against Napster hits the courts again this week and brings the issue
of protecting intellectual property rights back into the spotlight.
It's a fact of life that the easy reproduction of material stored digitally,
combined with the power and anonymity provided by the Internet make it very
simple for all kinds of intellectual property to be distributed over a wide
area without the owners knowledge or permission.
And -- it's not just the music and film industries who are worried. Microsoft,
along with a number of other traditional print and e-book publishers have already
expressed strong concern that their products will be the next to become
freely traded on the Net.
In a story published today (linked below), Wired magazine moots the prospect
of a "Bookster" service for the distribution of copyrighted e-Books -- and
it's only a matter of time before this becomes a reality. Fortunately
it's still much nicer to read a printed book than an e-book so the effect on
book publishers is unlikely to be as hard as that on recording companies --
although it could dampen the level of writer interest in the e-book concept.
So how are the creators and publishers of intellectual property to protect
there incomes from erosion by unauthorised redistribution?
One oft-touted solution is to reduce the price of the genuine, authorised
article. Most of those who trade music over the Net feel justified because
they believe that the recording industry is gouging the purchaser and
short-changing the artists.
I tend to think however, that even if the price of a CD was reduced by half,
a significant percentage of those using services such as Napster would continue
to trade music -- probably then claiming that CDs are now so cheap that
the recording companies aren't missing out on much revenue anyway.
So what are publishers going to do?
As I've said here before, music publishers are probably going to have to accept
that the music is now "free" and that this is going to really eat into the
sales of CDs. Likewise book publishers are going to find out pretty soon
that there are illegal copies of their books being traded freely across the Net
and the returns on printed editions will be hit.
Music companies -- shift your revenues from CDs to concerts, endorsements and
Book publishers -- shift your revenues from books to performance rights,
endorsements and public appearances by the authors.
What about encryption?
The music and e-book industries appear to be leaning heavily on being able
to come up with some kind of encryption to protect their property from
piracy -- but they're wasting their time.
Both music and e-books can be "cracked" using relatively low-tech, but perfectly
satisfactory methods. I'm not talking about breaking the encryption -- but
something as simple as digitally recording the analog output of a digital
It only takes one good-quality digital re-recording to be
made and that can then be distributed as freely and easily as today's CD
tracks. The fact that the quality might be ever so slightly less than
for a genuine original is not relevant -- just look at how many people
already gladly put up with the small amount of degradation that MP3 encoding
And, with an e-book it becomes a simple task to grab a screen image of each page
and run OCR on it to produce a text-file containing the previously encrypted
One only has to look at the ridiculous contortions that Microsoft
users now have to go through when they install Office or other products.
Having to contact Microsoft just to get "permission" to use a product you've
lready purchased and paid for really sucks -- especially when changing your
hardware configuration can render that permission invalid and require you to
go begging again if you need to reinstall the software.
Any music or book publisher that tries a system as evil as that will be
doomed to failure.
Publishers -- stop fighting a battle you can't win and knuckle down to
working out how you can take advantage of the Net.
Sorry I'm Late
My apologies for the late publication of today's issue. I suspect the
copy of Windows running on this PC somehow objected to the fact that I'm
installing QNX onto another machine and packed a hissy-fit at the thought
of some competition :-)
Sometimes you don't appreciate the better things in life until you've had
to re-install Windows and restore an entire 10GB drive from backups :-(
As always, your feedback is welcomed.