Monday, August 4, 2008

Remote Storage DVR Decision - The Courts Got One Right

There are two extremes in the intellectual property rights arena. One that believes all recorded media should be free and one that believes that every time you hum a song you should pay the recording industry a royalty. Common sense got lost in the shuffle.

There is hope however. A US appeals court overturned a lower court decision barring Cablevision from developing a system that would allow users to record video from their TV on Cablevision servers. Content providers argued that it would amount to uncompensated rebroadcast of their material. The court rightly concluded that since the consumer decides what to record, when to record it and when and if to play it again, Cablevision isn't rebroadcasting anything. They're just selling storage.

We've actually taken some giant steps backward in the recorded media arena as far as consumer rights. In the good old days, before cd's and iPods and dvd's you could record just about anything you wanted and play it back when you wanted. You could record songs off the radio on your cassette tape and you didn't have to register the five tape players you might want to play it on with Steve Jobs. Incidently, if you're looking to break the chains of ITunes, Amazon now offers unrestricted mp3's at the same price.

Another, perhaps bigger concern in the industry is that people wont watch the commercials. The standard model of showing bits of content interrupted by commercials works very well. But it is not a constitutionally protected business model. Let the market find a new one. Restricting innovation to preserve the current one is counter-productive.

As for the artists, if you don't believe you're being fairly compensated for what you produce, don't produce it. When I buy a hammer, I don't pay an extra fee if I loan it to my neighbor, I'm not restricted as to how many times I get to use it, and I don't have to tell you where I'm going to store it.

There is lots of potential in the remote storage market. Artistic content is the tip of the iceberg. File storage and remote applications are the logical progression for the mass market. Google is one of the few companies that seems to understand that the future of technology is in enabling information flow, not restricting it.

Here's a hint for those who still don't get it. A typical song download costs 69-99 cents. Many companies will pay several times that per click for traffic to their sites. What if the song was free, but you had to go to an advertiser's site to download it. Hmmmm?

This case will likely wind up in the Supreme Court. Nothing is more counter to a free society and free markets than the restriction of information flow. There's more at play here than whether or not Miley Cyrus makes another 20 million dollars this year. Does a product provider or the government have the right to tell you how, when and where you're going to use the product? Hitler and Mousellini seemed to think so.

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