Now what?

March 25, 2009

I reckon an education notice can’t just say “don’t do that”. It needs to include what to do instead otherwise it’s not education. "

Br3nda via Twitter

The biggest threat to an author is obscurity, not piracy.

— Tim O’Reilly

I was overseas and missed the bulk of the debate about Section 92a of the new Copyright Amendment Act.

But the outcome was pretty interesting, even from a distance.

The #blackout campaign, initiated by Creative Freedom NZ and supported by a huge number of people, managed to get a lot of coverage of the issue and convinced the government to delay the implementation of this part of the Act.

And then, earlier this week, they announced that they were scrapping this altogether and going back to the drawing board.

So, here is a question for everybody that supported the campaign (i.e. everybody who changed their avatar in Facebook and/or Twitter):

Now what?

The current wording of s92a is dumb. All agreed. But, how should it read?

I’m not sure that I’ve heard anybody propose a solution that everybody would support, which I assume means that this is a much more difficult problem than we think.

The Creative Freedom site lists three goals:

  1. No “guilt upon accusation” law
  2. DRM Free NewZealand
  3. No companies snooping on your internet

These are fine goals.

I think everybody would nod in furious agreement as they read those.

(If you haven’t already I encourage you to follow the links above read the details).

And I think that most people would also agree that the groups representing the various rights owners have to be part of the solution, even though they have not seemed very willing to engage in the debate (for example, when RIANZ CEO Campbell Smith describes a requirement to provide evidence of copyright infringement as “impractical” and “ridiculous” he just looks silly).

There just doesn’t seem to be a middle ground at the moment.

So, it’s a stalemate.

On one side we have people who consume content who, it seems, would probably prefer to keep the status-quo where they can reasonably freely download and share whatever without risk of being caught (it’s hard to beat free, eh!)

That might be unfair, but I haven’t really heard anybody on this side of the debate come out strongly against copyright infringements and say “we think it’s terrible that it’s so easy to steal, and we think it should be enforced like this :”.

Perhaps it’s a case of people in glass houses being a bit cautious about throwing stones?

On the other side are the content producers and rights owners who seem incapable of grasping the size of the opportunity they are missing out on by sticking to their old business models and a mindset of having to hold on so tightly to the content they own.

As Elan from Plex said so well in his recent open letter to media companies:

You have to stop being scared that I’m going to steal your content, because I’m already stealing your content. Your goal should be to get me to give you the money I’m already giving to others.


There is a holy trinity of things I want desperately from you, because I can’t get them anywhere else: availability, quality, and metadata. By availability I mean give me access to full catalogs of content. More is more. If I can’t get it from you, I’m going to have to go elsewhere, and you don’t want that. Secondly, give me quality: why would I go to you for SD content when I can get HD content elsewhere? Why would I go to you for ad-laden content when I can get ad-free content elsewhere? Lastly, give me rich metadata: reviews, related content, recommendations, transcripts, and credits. And give me an API interface to that data. In return I will give you my money every month, and I’ll rub your feet at least once a week.

And stuck in the middle of all of this are the ISPs of various flavours, who would, I suspect, much rather just invoice monthly than have to get involved in the messy business of being adjudicator and enforcer.

That seems like quite a big gap to try and bridge.

How do we break this deadlock?

What’s the next step forwards?

Are there examples from overseas that we think would work here - i.e. the American model (which gives a bit more power to the rights owners) or the European model (which gives a bit more power to the consumer)?

Or perhaps we try our own hybrid, with some form of industry self-regulation?

Would that work?

Or do we just think it’s all too hard, and so stick with the status-quo by default?

Interested in your thoughts.