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After the debacle of the advertising model for funding the "digital revolution" and the World Wide Web, especially with TMF's own adoption of a partial pay-for-use system, I would hope to see more complex explorations of the digital rights management issue than in the articles on Internet Radio and Napster.

Perhaps it is true that the quality of copying from Internet Radio is currently insufficient to pose a threat (just a underground tapes of Dylan concerts never destroyed sales of his other albums), but it is only a matter of time before the quality is good enough. I'm quite sure it is true that the big publishing and movie companies are using piracy as an excuse for resisting change and crying to Congress to save their monopolies, but protecting copyright is much more than protecting monopoly copyright holders.

The failure to protect copyright in digital distribution, to provide for a legitimate, restricted, fair use doctrine that enables the creators, producers, and distributors of content to get reasonably paid for their talents, efforts, and investments, is (along with debt) the major factor that is stifling the growth of the internet economy. Until digital rights management is resolved, we will not see "availability on demand" (i.e., if I want to see the final episode of last year's West Wing, which we missed while on vacation and forgot to record, I don't have to keep a watchful eye for the rerun), and we will not get digital quality and efficiency—which also means, there will be no need for the expanded, speedy telecommunications infrastructure, that was supposed to create an economic boom, but has been not only a bust, it has become an albatross.

Much more importantly, until we have meaningful digital rights management, the blossoming of creativity and intellectual content can not happen.

Let me make clear that I consider the big publishers and producers, especially as their monopolies have become tighter in recent years, the enemies of creativity. They are interested only in what they can turn into highly profitable ventures: there is little room for niche markets or for taking chances with innovative artists. And, contracts force new artists to sell their souls. The Web should end all that—which, I suspect, is what worries the monopolies more than piracy.

The Web, which cuts down on production and distribution costs (hard copy and mailing are expensive) and facilitates what I call the Yenta function (introducing a content creator to an eligible content consumer), without heavy handed promotion, should let "many flowers boom." But only if the content creators get paid by the content consumers.

I think of a friend of mine, one of the finest guitar and banjo pickers in the country (don't ask me, ask Doc Watson), who, for the last 20 years, has lived on small time gigs and self-produced-album sales from his own hawking and a few specialty music stores. Much of the time he hasn't been able to afford health insurance, and he has always made less in a year than your average Wall Street con-analyst makes in a day or two. No big label will ever be interested—he doesn't look good in hot pants. If, however, the Web was what it should be, his potential audience for album sales would increase dramatically, as would his profit margins (even if he sold albums for substantially less than from a bar stool). He would also, probably, get a lot more gigs in niche markets. And, many listeners, whose familiarity with different forms of music is limited by the music industry, would have their eyes and minds opened.

This is why digital rights management matters, and why the "information just wants to be free" gurus and "it's not really stealing" advocates are not the radical freedom fighters they claim to be. They are obstacles to the true liberating flow of content, which is why copyright was invented in the first place.

[Full disclosure: I own shares of Wave Systems and Intertrust, both of which are involved in DRM. I would also point to Microsoft's new Palladium initiative, whether or not it loses Intertrust's patent infringement suit.]
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