By DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound)
What if you could make your own Star Wars movie and not get sued by George Lucas? Or record your own version of the Beatles “Let It Be” and not have to ask Apple Corp. for permission? Would the world be a better or worse place?
It may seem like a strange question to ask but it’s actually a major issue when it comes to creating digital content. The mantra of the web has always been “Information wants to be free.” But the counter argument put forth by many is that “content is king” and needs to be protected by its owners/creators. And there is ongoing debate about open versus closed systems. Companies like our client, the Mozilla Foundation and entire operating systems like Linux have been built on the idea that intellectual property shouldn’t be hoarded. And there’s a very good argument to be made for the idea that services like Twitter and Apple’s iPhone apps store owe a lot of their success to making their APIs freely available to developers.
On the other hand, traditional media has spent over a decade battling piracy (nostalgic for Napster yet), redefining fair use (Google always seems to be in the middle of that one) and figuring out how to come up with revenue models that compare with their traditional ways of doing business.
We struggle with these issues everyday but it’s worth remembering that the “old model” of intellectual property ownership isn’t very old at all. Copyright is a relatively recent invention (most of our current copyright legislation dates back to the 1930’s) and the idea that they wouldn’t own the materials they created in perpetuity didn’t stop visionaries like Walt Disney or Robert Johnson from creating brilliant art (and in some cases, entire industries). The current “digital disruption” is causing print and broadcast media to rethink their “Wizard of Oz” like approach to advertising and explore new models and that has led to a lot of pain for people working in those industries. Ditto the advertising companies that were also dependent on that model. But how are the end users negatively impacted by receiving more (and more diverse content) for free? We’ve yet to hear a convincing argument that consumers are negatively impacted by these changes to these businesses.
Which leads us to the question – why don’t more media companies pursue the Open Source model? Surely, if some kid in his basement makes a sequel to DUMBO and it turns out to be a hit, Disney will benefit. And if the NEW YORK TIMES really does have the best journalism in the world, then shouldn’t they try and get that product everywhere (building their brand equity and the market for NYT branded product that can be purchased).
What would a world without restrictive intellectual property ownership look like? If Microsoft released their proprietary code to developers would we have a far superior form of Windows? If drug companies made their research more publicly available what new breakthroughs could we achieve?
The internet was founded as a means to share knowledge. It’s important that we don’t get so focused on the tools that we forget the real breakthrough that digital media has accomplished. That everyday it validates the idea that collaboration trumps competition and is ultimately, a better business model, too.
What projects is your company working on this year? Can transparency and collaboration help you make them better?