Giving the customers what they want.

Over at the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization, my friend David Weinberger laments the destruction of the internet by the entertainment cartel, who with Congress are going to lock up all content in the United States. He thanks G-d for Canada to the north, but the government here clearly sides with big entertainment so it may not always be so.

There is certainly a problem in so far as the media industries seem not to have a clue about what their customers want, and being intent on taking the concept of copyright far beyond anything ever intended. The sad thing about that is that there will likely never be any derivative works. Think for a second about the world without Mickey Mouse or Walt Disney. Mickey’s first movie was Steamboat Wille, a parody of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. Under pending law, Steamboat Willie would have been a violation of copyright unless Disney had ante’d up the cash to pay royalties. Parodies would no longer exist. No Airplane, Hardware Wars, Thumb Wars, Spy Hard, or Scary Movie 1, 2 or 3. Probably no Weird Al Yankovic either.

Maybe this battle is lost. Maybe there will be a chill over existing content. If so we will have lost the ability to use a chunk of history. However, movements like Creative Commons make me believe that there is still some sanity left in the world. Some people realize that the only way to propagate culture and history is to share it, albeit in a reasonable way. There needs to be some way that artists can be compensated for their work. As in my earlier post though, record companies should not be able to treat something like online music sales as a reason to charge double royalties.

There must be at least one smart person at a media company who realizes that some people still want physical items like CDs, while many others love the ability to have more transient media, which they would be happy to pay for once, and then be able to use it on various playback mechanisms. If perhaps the item could be treated like a unique physical item that moves from place to place. People are basically honest, but I believe that they expect the entertainment industry to give them what they want in the way of technological access to media. Yet the media companies just seem more intent upon giving less and less. They are unfortunately fighting a technology fight that they can’t win, and fueling all of the ways to subvert digital rights management (DRM). It would be so much easier to be proactive.

Then again, if I were a company that made my money from the distribution of physical media, I would be pretty concerned too. However, as David points out, they seem to have a lot of marketing value. Perhaps they could concentrate on that. Maybe ask the customer what they really want. And listen.