Sparked by an intriguing chat a few days ago, i’ve been thinking about my views on copyright in relation to media, and how to monetise it.
Fundamentally, i believe that all media should be free. That includes primarily literature, music, tv shows, films and software. I think that consumers should pay for any products containing, or relating to, that media, such as the CD which holds the music, or the physical book which contains the story. However, the actual media should be free.
In my understanding, media is a service, and that virtually all media published is freely available, but that publishers or producers limit and control access to that media, and charge for the privilege of getting it when you want it. Let me explain this point with a few examples:
You can listen to a particular song on the radio for free when the station decides to play it, and the station pays for the ability to play it when they want to. You can even request that a station plays a particular song when you want them to and you can listen to it for free, roughly when you want to (although it’s a rather tiresome). So, you can listen to any song when you want to completely legally, but it’s just rather difficult.
Essentially what is being charged for when you buy a CD is the physical CD and the ability and freedom to listen to it whenever you want.
Here’s another similar example:
In the UK, you can join your local library and can read virtually any book you want to, for free. However, you can only keep it for a limited time.
What is being charged for when you buy a book is the physical book (the cost of producing it etc) and the ability to read it whenever you want and keep it for as long as you want.
Films and tv shows are similar, virtually every tv show or film will come on terrestrial tv at some point, but you are paying for the privilege of watching it at the cinema, watching it earlier on Sky/Virgin or on DVD.
I believe that for all these examples, if you are prepared to buy the equipment (e.g. a computer and an internet connection) you should be able to have unlimited access to the actual media for free.
Who pays? Indeed, the authors, creators, writers, singers etc have to be paid or many of them simply wouldn’t do it. When you listen to a song on the radio for free, the station is happy to pay the royalties because they are able to monetise their station significantly to cover the cost of paying the royalties (the BBC in the UK is a unique exception). When you read a book in a library in the UK for free, the British government pays the royalty because they believe that having free libraries is beneficial to the population to the point where the country will prosper as a result (of course this includes more than just libraries).
The main difficulty i see with this outlook is that new forms of revenue generation will have to be introduced to ensure that the creators are still paid for their work. I’d imagine the best way to monetise the actual media would be advertising. I know that i would happily watch a 15 or 30 second advert to download a free song or tv show. I know that i would still go to the cinema even though i could download any movie for free. I know that if i downloaded a great album i would be inclined to tell others, and that i would pay to see the band/artist live. I know that i will also still buy CDs or books even though the related media is freely available because of the benefits associated with them. For example, i have a website running Zen Cart which is open source software so is free, however i was quite happy to pay £25 for a book on how to use it (despite the information being freely available on the internet) because of the way that the book is laid out and the ease of use because of that (i probably still would’ve bought the book if it was available as a free download because i think that some things are easier to have in physical book form that digital).
I definitely don’t have all the answers on how to reorganise these industries, but i’m aware that the current system, based on laws which are hundreds of years old and managed by people who believe that they must fight to keep their industry operating in the same way since it began, is heading for failure. Millions of people illegally download music, films and software because the industries which control them have not adapted to today’s environment, and i don’t see anything likely to stop that trend until the industries adapt. Industry which is not prepared to be progressive and move with the times will ultimately head for disaster.