Part III: Developing Decent Digital Distribution Solutions

04 January 2009

Last month, we did a follow-up to a November post discussing a class at Vanderbilt University in which class participants were working in groups to develop solutions for dealing with illegal digital downloads.  In the follow-up, we looked at Group One's solution and most of Group Two's solution.  (Nigerian internet prevented any further viewing of the class presentations.)  We now bring you the finale, Group Three's solution.

This ipper will admit that she tends to be a little cynical when it comes to dealing with music downloads and trying to "fix" the current situation.  That being said, if this summary seems too critical, our readers may wish to check out Group Three's solution for themselves.  (You can watch the entire class' presentations here.)

Group 3

Group Three presented a program that included many things already tried or currently being tried.  Their program seemed like something that would garner a lot of support from the RIAA, very little support from the Lessig-wing, and some criticism from the EFF.

Before getting into the detail of their solution, it must first be noted that the group did say they want to encourage and free up music for fair use.  They are not trying to fight small infringements that should be protected by fair use, but rather address the large-scale infringement that hurts the music industry.  The group also pointed out, in passing, that with the increased ease of reaching consumers presented by digital distribution, musicians may not need record labels in the future.  (Isn't that exactly what the record labels are afraid of?) 

The group then went on to explain that their way of address this large scale infringement is top-down legislation with tighter restrictions on music.  As they explained it, "it's the government's responsibility to protect its creative population."  Their suggestions: crippling peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, stronger DRM protection,  and increased copyright education in schools.

Restructuring Peer-to-Peer Networks

P2P networks would be reverted back to a former version of themselves, available only through certain organizations such as universities or employers.  All users would be required to register with the network and the network would be responsible for how the users used the networks.  Networks would be notified if users conducted illegal file sharing on the network.  The networks would then be required to block the users, sort of like the developing program between the RIAA and ISP providers that would slow down or shut off the internet of those using it to infringe copyright.  As the group put it, consumers would be "pressured into using P2P networks only for legal activity."

One stakeholder in attendance at the class' presentation suggested the book, The Spider and the Starfish by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom.  He explained to the group that this book does a great job of outlining why P2P can not be controlled in the way suggested by the group.  The group suggested that the reason P2P cannot be controlled is because the laws do not support such control.  To fix the problem, the group said, "regulate it more," give the government more "freedom" (the group's word) to track P2P and go after people who are using P2P for illegal purposes.  Privacy issues anyone?  How long before the EFF is all over this proposed legislation?

Adjusting DRM

The group did not just advocate strengthening DRM; they also advocated reducing it.  Sound like a paradox?  What they suggested was a tiered structure in which consumers can choose a price level for their downloads.  The higher the price, the less DRM protections, the lower the price, the more DRM protections.  It's sort of a different take on pay-per-use.  The group explained that they want the consumers to be able to use the media in the way it was meant to be used, listened to, watched, etc, but not change it or manipulate it.  More of what Lessig would call Read/Only art and less Read/Write.  (Some sure-fire opponents to this manner of using art here and here.)

The group explained that the DRM would not stop consumers from doing anything that would constitute fair use, and used putting an i-tunes song on a cd for a friend as an example.  (We'll skip the issue some groups might have with whether or not that's fair use.)  How will the computer/software/DRM know that the user is making a cd for a friend and not a cd to sell?  How will it know that the way in which that consumer is using the track would constitute a parody or a de minimums use?  In short, how can the DRM be programmed to decide if the consumer is using the file in a way that would constitute fair use?

Increased Education

The last section of the group's program was increased copyright education in schools and in the community.

In Schools

This suggestion was very similar to one made by Group One in their presentation.  Start teaching children at a young age, in elementary school, about the evils of illegal downloading and the piracy aspects of copyright law.  As the children get older, bring in more details of the law and increase the students' understanding of copyright.  Group Three got a little more specific and suggested including actual copyright cases in this instruction so that students can see what uses are and are not allowed.

The Community - Rock the Schools

The community part of the education would come in a series of concerts the group titled "Rock the Schools."  They described this concert series as similar to Live Aid, raising both awareness of the evils of copyright infringement and money for copyright education in schools.  The concert would include popular musicians, industry stakeholders like the RIAA, politicians and other important public figures.  (Creatively demonstrated in the group's power point presentation by some neat photo remixes.)  The concert series would raise money through ticket sales, donations, merchandise, at home pledges and sale of the concert on itunes.   How much could actually be raised in donations is questionable. 


Overall, there's some doubt as to the effectiveness of this program.  There's already a lot of backlash towards restrictive DRMs, increased regulation brings in a lot of other legal issues.  Education is being attempted and may show results in the future as norms towards downloading change.  As for Rock the Schools, it's very likely that more people consider funding AIDS research or medication for poverty-stricken children as a more worthy cause than protecting millionaires from copyright infringement.  (But as it says above: cynical author here.)


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