2009-01-02

Is this the year they'll "get it"?

It is now 2009 and there is still no good way for me to legally obtain much of the content that I would like to peruse here in Norway. For instance, there's a moderately sized catalogue of TV series and movies that you can purchase or rent from the iTunes Store. A very convenient service with (at least for rental) quite acceptable terms.

But not if you are in Norway or anywhere else outside the US.

If you are outside the US it doesn't matter how much you wave your money around: the movie industry largely refuses to do business with you and you'll just have to wait until the content becomes available -- and then mainly in the shape of DVDs. There are online services in Europe as well, but they are scatter shot efforts that struggle to gain any sort of traction.

Of course, as a consumer, there are options. You can obtain the content from unauthorized sources. The most common mechanism seems to be via bittorrent these days.

Downloading content from wherever you can find it is commonplace today. I know of people who didn't even own a computer 10 years ago who now download all the TV shows they follow. Not because they are evil, not because they can't afford to buy the content legally, but because there just isn't any other way to get at the content in a timely fashion.

The content industry keeps insisting that they know best when and how you should be able to exercise your privilege of rewarding them with your money for the product they sell.

Let's talk a bit about time and how our perception of time has changed.

During the last couple of centuries the world shrunk in leaps and bounds. There was (in semi-chronological order) the telegraph, the railway, the telephone, steamships, the radio, cars, television, cell phones and then the Internet. Not only did the world shrink to the point where it makes next to no difference where in the world I live, but something happened to our perception of time and space.

Before the railway in the US, there was no real concept of "the correct time". Sure, accurate clocks, synchronized with other accurate clocks, were kept in certain places where they were needed (like observatories), but by and large clocks throughout the country (and the world) were not synchronized, and depending on where you were in the US, there would be some offsets in "local time" between neighboring towns. Towns just a couple of hours on horseback apart would have local times that differed by odd amounts of time. (Note that we are not talking about time zones).

Before the railroad and the telegraph, having synchronized clocks wasn't really something you would ever need. It took you forever to go anywhere, so if the local time was offset by 24 minutes, this had no practical consequence whatsoever.

(Interestingly, as the east and west were connected by railroad, the golden pillar that was driven down to connect the two railways, and the hammer they used to drive it down, were connected to a telegraph line -- so the very moment the pillar was driven in could be recorded far away. The day after the newspapers reported the exact time this event took place -- all in their local times).

Of course, today the concept of "correct time" is not even something we think about. It is just the way it is.

So also for the timing of movie releases. We used to live in a world where the audience wouldn't mind if you delayed the release of a movie in secondary markets. Where you could air TV shows on a different continent the season after they originally aired in the country where they were produced. But the world has gotten a lot smaller. Delayed release now increasingly equates to lost opportunity.

But I digress.

My point is that with technology comes change. Sometimes very fundamental change. But it doesn't happen all that often, so we are ill equipped to understand when fundamental changes occur and how we should react. The ever-growing significance of the Internet is such a fundamental change. Paired with digital technology coming of age and offering us obscene amounts of storage, computing power and the immense mobility of both product and consumer.

The assumptions made just a couple of decades ago about what is feasible, or even possible, are out the window. Devices and services that not even science fiction writers could imagine are commonplace today. (And if history serves as any indication, innovation is just going to keep on accelerating).

Yet society struggles to adapt. At a low level, our politicians struggle to understand what this means. We see this in the horror of uninformed lawmakers suggesting nonsense laws which then our inept representatives vote on and accept into our judicial systems. With the aid of inept scholars who apply faulty, retrospective reasoning. (Note that I do not question their knowledge of their field -- I merely think they engage in academic masturbation and struggle to exhibit signs of forward thinking intelligence). Damage that will take decades to undo because we have to wait for the current scholars of The Law to retire. People who were born in different times and who only seem to bring an endless string of terribly outdated assumptions -- worst of which is that we live in an unchanging world and that analogies for everything and anything can be found in moldy manuscripts dating from times when the kerosene lamp was still a high tech gadget.

My hope for 2009 is that it will be the year when more people "get it". When more people understand that the past couple of decades have dramatically changed the world.

My modest hope for 2009 is that the imbeciles that run the various organizations that produce and manage digital content finally wake up and at least attempt to grow a brain. It amazes me how thick you can possibly be and still not be out of business. It is awe-inspiring to see how the movie studios and the rights management organizations have managed to produce a situation here they themselves are undermining their own businesses.

The only way to end piracy is to listen to the consumer; to stop business practices that actively breed piracy.

My hope is that in 2009 someone will actually come up with the brilliant idea of actually selling content to those who want it rather than to fight so hard not to do business with them -- and to do so on terms that do not presuppose that all legitimate users are potential criminals.

Do business or please have the decency to go out of business.

3 comments:

  1. I think you are too optimistic.

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  2. The beginning of a new year is a good time for optimism, I think, but I would have to agree with you; the organizations that monetize creative works are very far from the best and brightest civilization has produced. One should never under-estimate the powerful combination of excessive, short-sighted greed, and a pitiful absence of intelligent behavior.

    Happy new year, Børge :-)

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  3. It's not just about a lack of intelligence, but about organizational inertia. IBM didn't get PCs, Microsoft didn't get the Internet, GM didn't get cars, and instead of being able to change they were overtaken by companies who did get it. It was not because they were stupid.

    Happy new year.

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