Experience, not property–or, money in the cloud

I’m fascinated by intellectual property laws and conflicts. And, frankly, lawyers. These are the guys and gays with three PhDs and a couple of MSc, who went to law school in their free time cause they were sort of bored with their day job. Brilliant doesn’t begin to describe it. I don’t understand a quarter of what they say to me. And whenever I write about intellectual property, I suspect that lack of understanding shows. But I keep on trying, as in the April 2011 Last Word, Experience, Not Property (Lexpert).

Unedited excerpt:

No, it’s not fair and it doesn’t make economic or intellectual sense, but there it is. The culture of the Internet is one of either cheapness or entitlement, take your pick. I myself participate in it (pay for a subscription to the Globe and Mail? But I can find all the articles I need to read via newsfeeds and other tools… for free…) even though it hurts me. Like most writers, I blew it a decade or so ago by giving away my electronic publishing rights for free, because, well, none of us were putting very much value on e-content. Now, when most of our readership finds us on-line rather than in the paper versions, we’re still giving our e-rights away for free, because, well… the publishers just take them as a matter of course, and what are we going to do about it? They’re struggling to figure out how to make money in this new model, because they dropped the ball with advertisers about a decade ago too, giving away on-line ads for free or very little, and it’s damn hard to change precedent.

This is one of the pieces that, both on finishing and re-reading, I’m not that happy with. It was an absolutely brilliant idea in my head… and it didn’t quite make it out adequately onto paper. (Full text follows anyway.)

Replacing File:Handbuch Webdesign-InternetDate...

LAST WORD: Money in the Cloud
By Marzena Czarnecka

A few weeks ago, a viral Youtube video that condemned the paper version of the New York Times to a digital grave was making the rounds among my writer-reader friends. You might have seen it: an excited J-school graduate repeatedly tells a seasoned and thus cynical writer why he so very desperately wants to work for the New York Times… only to reveal at the very end that no, of course he doesn’t subscribe to the New York Times. Why should he, when he can read it on-line for free?

The intent of the freely distributed video’s makers is unambiguous, I think: their purpose in making and distributing the (free) communiqué on-line (for free, did I mention that?) was to rather unsubtly drive home the point that if you’re not going to pay for your New York Times—and other papers—you’re going to lose them. The reaction of the majority of the audience was telling. No, we didn’t run out and get subscriptions to the NYT or our local dailies. Instead, we railed about how most media—not just newspapers, but radio and television providers too—just don’t get how the Internet works.

I don’t mean technically of course, although that’s true of most of us as well. I mean… philosophically, I suppose. Most of this is historic accident—unplanned, a by-product of how Internet content and use evolved. But what it comes down to is, simply, this: we don’t like to pay for stuff we get on-line, be it video, reading material, hard-core research or candy for the ears (i.e., pod casts).

No, it’s not fair and it doesn’t make economic or intellectual sense, but there it is. The culture of the Internet is one of either cheapness or entitlement, take your pick. I myself participate in it (pay for a subscription to the Globe and Mail? But I can find all the articles I need to read via newsfeeds and other tools… for free…) even though it hurts me. Like most writers, I blew it a decade or so ago by giving away my electronic publishing rights for free, because, well, none of us were putting very much value on e-content. Now, when most of our readership finds us on-line rather than in the paper versions, we’re still giving our e-rights away for free, because, well… the publishers just take them as a matter of course, and what are we going to do about it? They’re struggling to figure out how to make money in this new model, because they dropped the ball with advertisers about a decade ago too, giving away on-line ads for free or very little, and it’s damn hard to change precedent.

The thinking behind this precedent (on-line = free) is, of course, the reason why producers of music, film, television and other content are fighting an increasingly bloody war against cyberpirates in the courts. Despite the high-profiles mega-fines in some jurisdictions and some cases—the occasional battle win—it’s a war they are doomed to lose. They are wasting their resources and energy battling the pirates—they should be investing it in figuring out how to make money in the ephemeral world of the Cloud.

I’m about to infuriate all intellectual property lawyers, and I humbly apologize: you know I adore you and think you are as brainy as lawyers get, and I know that I routinely cause you pain by misunderstanding what it is that intellectual property is, but see, it’s an imperfect understanding—or perfect misunderstanding, if you will—of IP by people such as me that is the key to figuring out the Internet economic model. And I think that key lies in how we lay people understand property. We’ll pay for property. Property is something discernible. We can touch it. We can hold it. We can put it on our shelf—sit in it—build a house on it—sell it, lend it, give it to someone else.

What we get and do and experience on the Internet… we don’t think of it in those terms at all. We don’t even think of it as a service—we think of it as an experience. An experience that, to date, has been largely free—or included in the one bulk, monthly fee we pay to our Internet service provider.

We will, I think, eventually be habituated to paying more for a better experience. But it is experience—and not content—that is the way to our wallets.

Marzena Czarnecka writes and misunderstands intellectual property in Calgary.

Thomson Reuters article record

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