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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The End Of Copyright & Changing Role Of Intermediaries

Gamasutra thinks that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of a major era in world history. It may take fifty years, it may take a hundred, but the age of copyright is drawing to a close. This is not about the google controversy. While not sure if a world without copyrights is a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s inevitable. With Guttenburg’s printing press, the concept of intellectual property was born. Over the next two centuries or so, copying books went from being high praise to being a crime. When photocopiers became commonplace - when enough people feel that it’s OK to do a thing, that thing ceases to be wrong in their own cultural context. The Fair Use doctrine evolved with respect to copyright materials. The law changed. It’s now OK to photocopy parts of books for educational, non-commercial use. In effect, the authors and book publishers had to give some ground in the face of the overwhelming tide of public opinion. There’s no intrinsic reason why someone should continue to get paid for something long, long after the labor they expended on it is complete. Architects don’t get paid every time someone steps into one of their buildings. They’re paid to design the building, and that’s that. This is the age of new techniques. Travesties like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act don’t promote the progress of science; they actively discourage it. So do software and biotechnology patents. The patent system was intended to allow inventors to profit for a limited time on particular inventions, not to allow huge technology companies to put a stranglehold on innovation by patenting every tiny advance they make. The lawsuits, the spyware, the DMCA: these are the death struggles of an outdated business model The urge to create is too strong in all of us, and consumers will always be willing to pay for novelty and for excellence. These methods may not matter. It may mean that nobody gets mega-wealthy any more. What it does mean for sure is that the giant dinosaurs that currently dominate the distribution channels had better learn to adapt or die. Nicholas Carr highlights that far from experiencing disintermediation, business is undergoing precisely the opposite phenomenon - hypermediation. Transactions over the web, even very small ones, routinely involve all sorts of intermediaries, not just the familiar wholesalers and retailers, but content providers, affiliate sites, search engines, portals, Internet service providers, software makers, and many other entities that haven't even been named yet. These middlemen need to look at new models - It's no coincidence that the most profitable internet businesses - eBay, Google, Yahoo - play intermediary roles. They've realized that, when it comes to making money on the web, what matters is not controlling the ultimate exchange (of products or content or whatever) but controlling the clicks along the way. That's become even more true as advertising clickthroughs have become the main engine of online profits.

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