Category Archives: EMI

Apple’s iCloud Service as P2P Amnesty?

The recent announcement from Apple about its iCloud service was met with the usual rapture and admiration. The record labels according to the New York Post have been paid some $150 million to license the service while Amazon and Google felt compelled to launch their services with no licenses at all. Of course iTunes has been placed on a pedestal; it represents something like 85% of global digital revenues to the record companies. Just as MTV used, in the analogue era, to be the record companies’ best friend until they started running scared of the power they had given them, so Apple today has been elevated to a privileged, protected prime position which (regardless of the alliteration) offers it similarly low levels of competition. This apparently anti-competitive allegiance to one company promoted to the status of market maker, seems to have become a defining characteristic of what it is to be a major music company today. This model, that looks a lot like “control or be controlled”, seems to fit traditional record businesses ways of working.

But haven’t they just scored a huge own-goal in issuing these $150 million worth of licenses for the iCloud service?   The licenses are presumably in order to allow Apple to scan a customer’s hard drive, identify what music files they have and then allow Apple to enable for streaming to a portable or mobile device, a copy of those music files via their digital iCloud locker. This provides a great competitive advantage over Amazon, Google and other digital locker services that require the end user to upload all their music to their locker before they can stream it.  And therein surely lies the own-goal… When Apple scans a consumer’s hard drive, there is absolutely nothing to distinguish a file that has been ripped from a CD owned by the consumer and a file that may have been ripped from another users CD and subsequently accessed by downloading it via for example Bit Torrent or the Gnutella network.  So when Apple does its scan and adds all your music to your locker, under license from the labels and the music publishers and for the modest annual fee of $25 – haven’t they just legitimised your entire collection regardless of whether you paid for it or not? And by the way, since your $25 is an annual subscription, haven’t they just done that going forward for whatever else might find its way onto your hard drive for the next twelve months too?

This looks like a file sharing amnesty via the back door.  Unless perhaps Apple intends to restrict the files you can upload to ones that have been ripped by you on your copy of iTunes? Details of the service have yet to emerge properly. Are we suddenly going to find that the familiar Apple walled-garden has just added another few feet of  barbed wire to its walls because, by the way, Apple has still been rather coy about what kinds of devices you will be able to stream to from its digital lockers, but we can only presume they will be Apple devices not Android ones…

Based on the damages of $75 trillion that the RIAA sought to claim from Limewire  –  or even the $1bn or so they eventually settled for, it does looks as if Apple’s friends in the music industry gave the “Great Turtlenecked One” (as The Economist recently dubbed him) an incredibly heavily discounted rate on monetizing all P2P in the US market for at least for the next twelve months. Is that really what just happened?

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Rights Registry

Last week, in the middle of the TED conference, I had the opportunity to talk to the Westminster eForum about file-sharing, remedies and how to move beyond the UK’s Digital Economy Act. As I’ve worked on this problem and explored what others have proposed as remedies, I am more and more convinced that Rights Registries are part of the solution we need to move to. In a digital networked world where our content moves around in mysterious ways, we need a digital networked solution to mirror and reflect that activity in order to create a new means of managing digital rights in a fluid marketplace.

But this cannot be a wholly owned solution, along the lines proposed by Google.  Instead we need authoritative metadata databases that are open to search and open to updates, that are regulated by governments, moderated by authorised boards and not-for-profit. This kind of structure starts to offer significant benefits over our current proprietary closed systems which are hemorrhaging rights owners revenues.  I have written a white paper based on my talk last week on the subject,  which you can download from here: The Rights Registry 1.5

I’m very interested to hear other people’s thoughts about how we move forward the development of real practical solutions for digital media on the internet,  based on going with the flow of consumer behaviour and encouraging all kinds of  usage not punishing consumers for what the technology allows them to do.

License to control?

The Digital Economy Bill that is wending its glacial way through the UK parliament has produced an interesting row between the BPI (representing the interests of the major record labels) and the ISPs, telco’s and mobile network operators. They are arguing over who should pay how much to fund remedial measures to clamp down on illegal file-sharing. The BPI is in a tough place since the cheaper they argue the cost will be, the more the ISPs respond by saying “well then you can pay for it.” Minister Stephen Timms recently suggested the split should be 75/25 (with the BPI paying the greater amount).

The irony of this is that few people really believe that these remedies will make a blind bit of difference. Increasingly, the mood of the zeitgeist is that rights owners are wasting their money by trying to control file-sharing. They are neither succeeding in their efforts nor acting with fiduciary responsibility to the content originators whom they are failing to recompense properly.  Their vain efforts at control are merely Canute like attempts to maintain an anachronism of a business model.

The chorus demanding collective licensing of recording rights is growing ever louder. The argument is very simple, instead of spending money trying to stop file-sharing,  simply agree to monetise all the activity that is out there by licensing it, making it legal and charging for it. Essentially, this would create a baseline of revenue through a flat rate subscription which would legalise and remunerate the flow of music around the networks.

The first point in the argument is that a small levy of say £3 per month per subscriber to every UK ISP would generate more than the current £1bn that the recorded music industry earns at dealer price today. It’s of course a moot point and hard to argue without a) trying out a version of it somewhere small and harmless and b) seeking the active cooperation of the ISPs in trying to envisage how it might work.

The second point is that we could build added value services on top of the baseline revenues.  Services like recommendation and discovery engines, market/user analysis and data-crunching, ticket sales and gig guides, digital bundling with physical products, quality of service – higher speed delivery solutions, etc, etc. What’s not to like? And what’s not to recognise – when all of these kinds of products and services are already being offered by up-and-coming businesses out there online?

One objection from the majors to this, of course, is that these kinds of businesses are not owned or controlled by them and they are all broadly based on the presumption of access to all content – not on the nurturing and distribution of some sub-segment of it.  It’s true of course that innovation comes from elsewhere. They don’t own or control these new kinds of companies – although as we’ve seen very publicly with Spotify – the majors do take a stake if the market-entrant foolish enough to seek to jump over the licensing hurdle. The cost of jumping is very high – in cash and in equity.  If we can’t continue to feed our old business model, the majors argue,  how will we nurture and develop new talent? We invest in talent for the UK and make it internationally successful and these new ideas do not support that model, they protest.

The problem is that they are spending a lot of money defending the old model and it’s hard to find evidence of a single major record company investing in new ways of nurturing talent or developing artists careers online or offline. The nature of the recording contract has not fundamentally changed in fifty years – it has simply evolved recently to try to encompass even broader areas of an artist’s creative output.

So what might be the total added value of all these kinds of new services which live on top of the content?  Nobody knows, but clearly the opportunity is very significant. In fact it is so great that, in my view, it exceeds the value of the entire recorded music and live industries put together. After all,  it represents what the architecture of the new digital content industry will look like.

If we can shift from compulsory control (which has failed) to compulsory remuneration (which is highly feasible) then we can allow file-sharers to go crazy in consumption and we can all make money.

Independent labels (like Beggars Banquet and other smaller labels) are increasingly seeing the economic arguments in favour of the new model. The Zelnick report just published in France has recommended it. The UK Music Manager Forum has been calling for it for nearly a year. The UK music industry group called the Value Recognition Strategy group have been planning to trial a version of this on the Isle of Man for about eighteen months, but the major labels and the music publishers have prevented it. Universal music themselves proposed a form of collective license for unlimited downloads to the Virgin Media group for their music service and this has not launched due to the objections of the other major labels.

Running out ahead of the crowd,  a group of thinkers with a great deal of experience and insight into digital media has been proposing this for some time. Myself, Pete Jenner, Gerd Leonhard, Paul Sanders, Paul Hitchman, Matthew Brown and occasionally our cousin Jim Griffin in the US have been meeting for about five years to develop the thinking around this. But we have often felt ourselves to be in the wilderness. Jim has been trying to work through the issues with his Choruss group courtesy of Warner Music in the US but his proposed trials on US university campuses have yet to launch – hopefully we will see some action this year. Meanwhile, the UK Government’s Digital Britain programme has spawned Digital Test Beds which are being managed by the Technology Strategy Board and which may become precisely the kind of platform that could help try out some of these new models in a relatively risk free fashion – and with some public subsidy – how enlightened is that?

Of course all sorts of issues remain unresolved, desperately in need of further practical examination. It’s only when you try things out in the real world that interested unexpected questions surface and can start to be resolved. If a collective license were compulsory how could artists protect their moral rights? On what kinds of grounds would it be legitimate for an artist to refuse permission for their work to be used?  It is perhaps not well understood or recognised, but today’s songwriters, lyricists and composers enjoy the fruits of a compulsory license by law. But should the law be reviewed for other matters? What is the relationship between the statutory license fee and the contractual sums agreed between artists and publishers? How do we balance the economic needs of creators against the creative competition of the market place? Perhaps artists should be arguing for statutory minimum royalties for any contract – over and above which publishers could offer premiums according to the status and value potential of the artist? What kinds of new agency should we establish that could collect and administer royalties appropriately and with the lightest touch enabled by technology? How could we group rights together using their meta-data tags so that they can be handled with the maximum efficiency and rights owners can get paid in real time – not with the kind of 15% overhead charge and six month delays that are the norm among current collecting agencies?

The Digital Economy Bill has not helped any of these discussions surface. It has sought to listen to the high cost lobbying efforts of the incumbents and paid little attention to long view policy proposals.  It has found political expediency in the short termism of the big business driven by quarterly results rather than really trying to place the country’s long term benefit at the forefront of its objectives. Perhaps the time is right to turn to Brussels for hope in this area with its broader perspective and more radical agenda – despite the bureaucracy and opacity of process – maybe change can be effected across all of Europe?

PRS and PPL must merge and license One Digital Right for Music

PRS for Music and PPL must merge and they must do so now. They cannot any longer hope to hold out against the conflicting forces that beset them. They must be allowed to combine the intellectual property rights that they offer into a single comprehensible and efficiently licensable bundle and they must do this in the UK however much short term pain it will incur – and then spread the model to Europe and the rest of the world.  PRS has already announced cost cutting measures and regrettable redundancies, but the fact is that these are small measures compared to the fundamental reform that is required.

The music industry crisis is nearing the eye of  its perfect storm.  CD revenues of the majors continue to fall apace despite valiant efforts to breath new life into the old model (beautiful job on the Beatles re-releases is the fab retro example du jour).  The fundamental pillars of the industry,  its royalties collecting societies, are being pulled apart by a combination of the aggressive but confused European Commission, the self interested actions of its own members to grab rights business back for themselves, and by two Boards of Management who seem inexplicably slow to respond to the urgent calls of their valiant executive. As the recession bites and performance rates for music continue to be collected in inefficient and uncoordinated ways, then increasingly music played in public is starting simply to be dropped from public life.  It won’t even be a question of cost, it will simply happen because it is too damned difficult in this digital and recessionary world to deal with an unreconstructed music industry

There are lots of comments about how the competition laws and EU directives are preventing the majors from resolving the problems of the industry. There are also lots of attempts to bring in protective backward-looking legislation which seeks to protect the old model. But the old model is just that. None of the lobbying and activist efforts of the music industry will do anything to build a new model.

What is needed now is to create the new music industry – the big bang for music – akin to when the UK financial markets changed to dynamic electronic trading and at a stroke, overnight became a global powerhouse. What it takes to do that is to create one digital right for music that encompasses streaming and downloading, with the public performance and publishers’ “mechanical” royalty built-in, all licensable through one technologically efficient, digital agency where the onus is on opted-in content not opted out. It’s not the blanket license that some have called for, but this is an industry structure fit for purpose in the 21st Century that music’s customers – consumers and businesses could understand.

Lawyers and accountants have created the complexities, business people and true creative industry executives have to unravel it and reconstruct it. That’s a proposal worth asking for government help on. If this project is not started properly, not piecemeal and started now, then the market will continue to do what it is doing to the industry and it will unravel itself. How long will it be before EMI implodes under the massive pressure of a record company and a publishing company that still don’t talk to each other  (or share databases of IP) and a burden of debt so harsh that none of the leaders knows which way to lead?  Guy Hands has a reputation for the structural re-architecturing of industries he enters. He needs to start work fast on this one if he is going to have a chance of coming out of the mire positively.

The IP issues need to be addressed and they need to be tackled at the institutional, licensing level and at the artist level. Labels need to fundamentally reconstitute their relationship with their artists so that they become transparent and accountable and gain the cooperation of their partners. The treatment of the artists as assets to be exploited needs to end. Instead, partnerships where all revenues are shared equally on all revenues generated – whether cash or equity – need to be established fast

When things get as hard as they are right now. The old established players joke that they will be retired before the edifice crumbles completely and so somebody else can sort out the mess – meanwhile they have their targets and their bonuses to think of. That culture is over and the blood is already on the carpet. There won’t be much of a carpet to bleed on soon. Fundamental reform is needed and it’s needed now.

At this year’s Innovate09 event, Lord Mandelson called upon the UK to innovate its way out of recession. He encouraged the entrepreneurs and businesses to find new ways to do business. “Why waste a good recession?” He asked jovially. The 800,000 people employed in the creative industries and the 400,000 employed in creative tasks in other industries are looking at the music industry. They’re wondering whether the early experience this industry has had in dealing with the onslaught of digital media and the challenge of the internet can provide a model to help them as the rest of the sector suffers. They’re looking and are even joining in as the industry response is to lash out at consumers as “pirates” and to seek retrograde legislation to try to stop file-sharing. In Sweden – that’s already gone well underground and anonymity is the order of the day.  So in the UK, we’re leading and they’re following but to what destination?

Innovate out of recession, innovate on the internet – these are fine sentiments, but they are only part of the story. The music industry will need fundamental reform of its IP offerings, its creator relationships and its customer relationships – and it needs the leadership to make that happen.

1.2 million employees of creative industries need more encouragement than they can find today. If the industry were to demonstrate in a constructive way that it is making real efforts to change, not the cosmetic end-run of the Virgin-Media deal, but real radical and fundamental change, then there are plenty of those in government in the UK and Europe who would welcome it and seek to assist – whether  that’s the kind of assistance we would want is another matter – but let’s make a start now!

Young little Spotify and the big old record companies

One of the smaller points in the Spotify fund-raising piece in the FT that flashed around the globe Tuesday was mention of a “strategic partner” in the wings. This was widely interpreted to mean a record company.  Some might have raised an eyebrow and wondered why a single record company would wish to take a piece of Spotify when it’s widely acknowledged that only when a service can offer all the content from all the labels can it be said to be in a position to offer a meaningful consumer offering (niche and genre-specific takes aside). These days however, Universal appears to be flying in the face of that truism by going alone in its recently announced services with both Virgin and Orange. Perhaps having such a high share of the UK market gives them that confidence. Music Week reported earlier this month Universal has currently 44.5% of the UK album market and 46.5% of the singles. As the FT argues, having a record label on board might allow the company to negotiate lower royalty rates. Artists signed to such a label might begin to query the value of such a deal to them however.


universal logoSo might this “strategic partner” in the wings be Universal? Well earlier in the year, around the time of Spotify’s launch, rumours swirled around the industry about the cost and terms of Spotify’s licenses with the major record labels. Estimates from between £4m and £7m have been bandied about as the amount they had to pay in upfronts to the majors to achieve their slam-dunk comprehensive license pack. Hence perhaps the need to raise substantial sums again so early on. If that weren’t crippling enough, a new and sophisticated deal option was rumoured too. In the early naughties, taking some equity in start-up music companies as well as charging upfront royalty fees was common practice. I like to think I helped pioneer such deals during my time in Los Angeles with EMI.  It was therefore widely assumed that the majors had repeated this practice in the case of Spotify. But, it was  also alleged that the majors had created a ‘put option’ in their deals that would allow them to  cash in their shares in the event that the company’s valuation reached a certain threshold. Such an option would be attractive to both sides since it would motivate the labels to collaborate with Spotify to increase its valuation and help Spotify by incentivising the labels to help Spotify and not some of its competitors.

spotifyIf the magic number was $200m then it might just be that this new round of investment is accompanied by a more significant re-jigging of the ownership of Spotify with several labels seeking to cash in and help their suffering bottom lines, while one or two others choose to enhance their holding position. One of the great advantages of cashing out in such a manner to the labels would be that no artists would need to be paid since the revenue came from the labels’ aggregated position not through individual performances.  Of course, until the day when Spotify goes public (something of a distant prospect in this market) we may never know. How any of this plays into Apple’s thinking about Spotify’s iPhone app is hard to fathom – if indeed Apple are aware of this dimension at all.

And from the perspective of a large record label, what real value would building up a single player like this bring in the long term? It is often argued that if one record company were to take some ownership in a big market-dominant player,  then the other competitor labels would never play ball and would support a competing player. But that was an argument made in the days when one major label didn’t control almost 50% of the market.  So this begs the larger question, as the architecture of the music industry continually evolves and reshapes, what path should a record company take in the digital arena and how does it achieve its mutation from a recording and marketing business to a digital relationship management company? How fast can one company alone, get ahead of the rest of the industry before the others catch up?  As the speed of change increases so, it would seem, does the opacity of the game. As Mr Grainge, Chairman of Universal Music, said to me recently with a twinkle in his eye: “Oh, I’m very, very opaque”.


Piracy, Pirate Bay and the Pirates’ Pirate

A few weeks ago, on a sunny spring evening in Stockholm, a friend of mine asked me to come and have dinner with a guy who he thought I might find interesting. We arranged to meet at a fabulous old restaurant located high above the city, looking out over the water – over the original Pirate Bay itself in fact.  As we went up in the rickety elevator reached through a rather down-at-heel office building, my friend turned to me and said: “Oh yes, by the way, he has an interesting idea, he wants to buy Pirate Bay.”

We sat down and were shortly afterwards joined by Hans Pandeya. A native Swede, Hans comes from an Asian Indian family and spent several years working in Sydney Australia before returning to his native Sweden.  His current company specialises in running internet cafes in various locations around the world. Hans is clearly an entrepreneur in the classic mould. We spent the evening discussing the pros and cons of the deal, the way in which it might look like a repeat of the Napster scenario, how we might avoid that and what my partner and I might do to help with a little scheme we were hatching.

I explained to him at length that whatever he thought he was buying, if he changed the service to one that pays rights owners  and charges users – almost by definition – the users would flee – en masse.  All that he would really be able to buy is the brand.


piratebay

And a brand whose values and business model are radically altered from what they were built from is a decidedly diminished asset.

Not to mention the lawsuits – the current one – and the ones that haven’t woken up yet…


Nonetheless, Hans remained determined. For a start, the tax benefits of one Swedish business investing in another might mean that he would only end up paying 50% of the asking price – so his investment is not $7.8m but nearer to just under $4m. Secondly, Hans felt certain that if the Pirate Bay had 100 million users and that only 10% of them stayed with the brand, then there was a great business to be built. My partner and I disagreed, but we had an interesting and enjoyable meal and as the sun set over the winking waters of the bay , it was clear that Hans was determined to go ahead with his plan. We wish him luck.

The End of the Last Word? What sort of future is there for copyright?

Daring to say that our copyright system is in crisis is regarded as heresy by those in the recorded music industry – to suggest that it is obsolete is unthinkable.

In 1616 the playwright Ben Jonson, became the first author to assert the copyright in his Workes by depositing a copy at the Stationer’s Registry. The first poet laureat, he was at the height of his popularity and he wanted to assert the primacy of his version of his plays.  Up until this time it was common practice for theatre companies to roam the land, staging plays with huge variations in how the parts were performed and the lines that were delivered because they simply didn’t know how the original went.  Today, artists in all areas of the creative arts are changing things and mixing things up precisely because they and their audiences know exactly how the original goes.

The copyright regime that we have enjoyed for the last three hundred and ninety three years has of course been gradually refined since Ben Jonson, but the dramatic changes of the last ten years brought on by the internet have made it look increasingly archaic. Copyright law can no longer protect artists from consumers copying their work and the mechanisms by which it is enforced have made it almost impossible for mash-ups and remixes to happen legally with any speed or fluency either. We neither properly provide for conventional content creators nor fully enable innovators. The system is broken, it needs fixing and as a result there is a fascinating debate going on in which rights owners’ rhetoric vies for the attention of governments against a global cultural community at grass-roots level who doesn’t have access to funding or lobbyists, the tech-savvy next generation of creatives, who want to talk about the exciting possibilities of the future.

The simple technological truth is that digital media can be copied and no one can stop that happening. The only thing that content creators and distributors can do is to put speed bumps in the road. Global culture increasingly wants music, video, games, and software to be available easily, interoperably and preferably for free. Fortunately there is also lots of evidence to suggest that online consumers are interested in spending dollars on content online – especially if it is easy, the format is attractive and the experience is enjoyable. But nonetheless, the IFPI insists that 85% of traffic across internet service providers’ networks is attributable to illegal file-sharing. And of course, it’s over the music industry, by dint of its small perfectly formed file sizes, that the waves of the digital tsunami have crashed first and most violently. The recorded music industry has lost something like 30% of its value in the last eight or nine years – and at least some of that is down to increased internet file-sharing.

Seemingly recognising this and a range of other contributing factors, the UK government has launched two public consultations in the last few months. Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report focuses largely on the future of broadcast, radio and wireless networks, but tries its hand at offering some kind of regulatory solution between rights owners and the internet service providers who are accused of benefitting from the traffic of all this illegally shared content across their bandwidth. The UK Intellectual Property Office sensing the insecurities and perhaps the inconsistencies in copyright legislation has launched its own “informal stakeholder consultation” into the future of Copyright in the 21st century directed by junior Rights Minister, David Lammy.

In Europe, the highly controversial EU Medina Report is due to be voted on by MEPs in the next few weeks. Medina aims to update the EU Copyright Directive in a number of different areas including extending the term of a recorded music copyright from 50 years to 95 years.  Considering how difficult it is to enforce any protection at all currently, it is hard not to feel that the EU is looking in the wrong direction on this one. The UK is already standing out against this recommendation and suggesting a compromise at 70 years. Given the current appetite for remixing and reworking, some are arguing that maybe 10 years would be more enforceable and lead to greater exploitation opportunities by allowing works to be open sooner for incorporation, adaptation or pure mashing-up (perhaps this might be feasible if there would be some compulsory remuneration involved for a set period before becoming fully public domain).

It’s not as if the legal fraternity has not attempted to address the problem. Stanford Law Professor, Lawrence Lessig has created a new framework which is designed to allow creators to permit others to use their work in non-commercial circumstances.  There is an entire movement gathered now behind Creative Commons (CC) and its non-commercial licenses are visible increasingly, often from more philanthropic or public-service oriented media producers like museums and galleries, through to the TED-talks or new young musicians interested in collaboration like those who work is on sale from CC only store Jamendo.  Ironically, although Lessig seeks to democratise certain aspects of copyright and enable a degree of legalised freedom of usage, Lessig’s licenses still depend upon a legal construct to impose some kind of control over the swirling, liberalising inevitabilities of digital technology. And so scary is the prospect of change that Lessig is regarded by the recorded music industry as some kind of pariah plotting the downfall of musicians everywhere. One senior record company executive whispered to me without a whiff of irony: “He’s funded by Google you know, there’s a massive technologists’ conspiracy to bring down the music industry”.

So strong has been the scandalised outrage at illegal filesharing and the daily abuse of copyright that it has been hard to start to talk about what the world might actually look like when the reality of the old copyright mechanisms are not just much reduced but vanish altogether.


gta-lib-cityThere are plenty of signs of how to begin to envision a culture in which music, games, stories, news, movies – are produced collaboratively and interactively. The games industry, the newest of the content industries and now the biggest, has also been the earliest to adapt. For example, the latest release of market leading game Grand Theft Auto – “the Lost and the Damned” is innovative both because it will be sold as a digital download only, but also because it comes in the form of a modified version of the previous release. The dramatic setting remains in the fictional Liberty City but the gamer gets to play from a new point of view of a different character with new story lines and new situations. For these recessionary times, this has the merit of saving RockStar Games, the developers, lots of cost on rendering new cityscapes and at the same time lets the gamer extend the previous episode from a new angle.  In the case of Sony’s Little Big Planet Playstation game, released last year, part of the appeal of the platform is how it allows users to create their own levels and their own characters and allow others to play with them. So far, says Ray Maguire, SVP of Sony Computer Entertainment UK, there have been some 2,500 new levels created and over 2 million plays of them.

One key effect of this is that the single author, the individual of vision, is displaced by multiple contributors who may lead or follow, play major or minor roles, agree or disagree with each other. In this culture the idea that any one statement or creative gesture can represent “the last word” comes to an end.  Instead there’s seamless versioning. Morphing of works becomes the expected. Charlie Leadbeater has called this “mutual media”.

Until very recently the listening majority has been content to hear some meaningful music when they’re driving in their car or doing the washing up.  For them, the world of interaction and collaboration seems remote, too much like hard work, not part of the couch-potato passive consumption they’re used to. But whether it’s in Little Big Planet, as we’ve seen, or in World of Warcraft with it’s current 11.5m monthly subscribers, new consumers are increasingly creators themselves. And the good news for the creators of these platforms is that people are keen to pay for the privilege.  The same is visible in the massive popularity of games like Guitar Hero and Singstar where it’s all about the player’s active participation. The quality of creativity may vary but the model in which users interact and create their own elements in a game is more and more visible.  The many thousands of video mashups on YouTube are further demonstration that this is a more common behaviour than you might think. Apple’s Garageband and other music creation applications like it are starting to attract the attention of lots of users at home and in schools. They’re beginning to level the playing field of music creation. Anyone can start having fun making music that sounds half decent – and from there it becomes something else and quickly can belong to everyone else too. Try listening to all the various re-mixes of Radiohead’s track Nude that their fans have submitted to the band’s website or the one they’re opening for remixing currently: Reckoner.

For the most part, rights companies like games publishers or even software creators like Apple, still try to retain a lot of control over their users’ behaviours. They tether the games to the platform devices and, only a year ago Apple was still adding its own form of copy protection to music on iTunes so that it could not be played outside their platform. The decision to cease doing this and the major labels’ agreement to remove digital rights management (copy protection) from their files on iTunes was an acknowledgement on their part that the system did not work and that it inconvenienced people too much. So even as they protest and lobby to try to protect their version of the copyright system, their commercial actions suggest that they are starting to understand how broken it is. The recent decision by the BPI and the RIAA to stop suing consumers for illegally downloading music is a further indicator that even the rights owning companies recognize the damage they are doing to themselves of going against the flow of where new active consumers and the internet are going. This does not mean the end of creators’ rights but it does demand big changes in the mechanisms for applying those rights. (It’s all about the meta-data stupid!)

radioheadmix

So as everyone tries to adjust, we’re starting to see the ways in which artists, writers and other cultural producers might begin to be paid again for their work – in ways totally different from today. Some have foregone value in the content altogether and go find it in the accompanying experiences. So, for example, the album becomes a promotional tool for the tour. It’s been that way for years for the Rolling Stones whose old catalogue is way more valuable than their new songs will ever be. But new or unknown artists are also finding that they can give their music away and use the recordings to drive their fans to their gigs. A little company called MusicGlue has created a platform that allows artists to take advantage of the huge, viral word of mouth effect of online communities and make the file-sharing networks become the opportunity to reach an audience and grow it not the means by which value is lost. In the new creatives’ rights culture, the way creators are getting to publicise new work is precisely by allowing it to be passed around and rewritten or mashed up by friends, partners, enemies – or total strangers from the other side of the world. Possibilities for our  new copyright culture start to emerge in which it’s not the content itself that retains the value, but the path that it takes, the hands that it passes through and the other content it consorts with along the way.

Of course, there’s still loads to figure out. Even the leaders of the pack, YouTube and Facebook, are stilittlebig-planetll experimenting with how best to make real money out of the relationships they enable between “friends”. Some of the more extreme or innovative new businesses like Twitter, MusicGlue or MusicMyne are emerging despite their economics not because of them.  Different sectors are at different stages and will respond in different ways. Amazon has launched the updated version of its new electronic book reader. The Kindle 2, released this month and the Sony eBook reader are the beginnings of the breaking of the digital wave in the book world.  eBooks currently represent a mere 0.01% of total book sales, but their year-on-year growth for the first nine months of 2008 was over 55% while physical book sales declined by some 3.8% in the same period. In November the growth was over 100%.  The book has tremendous enduring characteristics that suggest it will never vanish, but eBooks’ growth suggests that, albeit slowly, even the stuffy world of book-publishing is opening itself to the opportunities of digital distribution and ultimately collaborative interaction.

For some, it all looks too much like a medieval, lawless, anarchic world in which the rich and strong, the famous and the corporate survive – and everyone else rips each other off all the time and flounders in the mud. But our current copyright fixation on the ur-text is antiquated. Instead, we will find ways to be engaged by the conversations that the work provokes, by the paths its super-distribution takes, the iterations that it undergoes and the interactions it provokes.  This implies a totally different model of consumption as well of production of creative works – and one that we already have glimpses of in our blogs, Twitter, the music mixes on MySpace, the video mash-ups on YouTube and mod-ed (modified) video games posted on game sites all over the web.

So does this mean that there will never be any masterpieces ever again? Does this imply that a fixed and perfected work of genius will never emerge as the must-read book or the must-see film or the must-listen album? Of course not, we live in a highly individualistic, even fetishistic, hero-worshipping culture. We will always crave that defining statement, the single authoritative view, the unique voice of the star. Just as newspapers, radio and television have not been superseded by websites, so digital culture will only be enriching.  But however detached, crafted, manicured and “finished” a work may be – if it’s digital, it is appendable, amendable, adaptable too.

Whether content is merely shared or produced by active collaboration, as it is passed from user to user and clustered with other works, it begins to tell a new story that has its own value. And in that story, the patterns of consumption, ordering and selection reveal as much about the users as does the content itself  (we’re just not sophisticated enough yet to understand the new stories that will be told).  Interactive responses to this new cultural richness are becoming the norm in all sorts of better-informed, super-smart ways today. It is the complete opposite of the ill-educated, oral culture of the dark ages before Ben Jonson, but it might just possess something of the same spark and vitality of that medieval pre-technological anarchy. When millions of songs are available to choose from and smart systems guide us to the songs it thinks we might prefer, then the way we spread the word to others, to whom we speak, and how we modify the messages with our own voices, become new sources of knowledge and value – and maybe just hint at what our digital future looks like.