Guy Goma, YouTube and the BBC
How copyright has to leak
Column Meejatarts, as my old friend Rupert calls us, will do almost anything for exposure. We're publicity whores. It's how we earn our daily crust.
If you understand this simple truth about the meeja it will help you follow an awful lot about digital rights management which otherwise would be utterly baffling. For example, it will explain why the BBC went to so much trouble to prevent YouTube from re-transmitting copyright material - and also why the BBC has now done a deal with YouTube.
Last Friday, when the BBC deal was released to the world, a Radio 4 news programme "PM" discussed the subject. I was tickled pink, because it turns out (according to the BBC executive being interviewed) that the most popular bit of BBC footage in the last year was an interview on News 24 featuring a nice IT graduate (Guy Goma) who was mistaken for me.
That incident is one the BBC did its best to pretend never happened, and is now exploiting for all it is worth. Why?
Publishing is a business which cannot flourish in secret. It's not a personality defect which forces publishers to expose themselves to public scrutiny. It's not the celeb thing, where people think the world loves to see them smile, and weeps when they are sad..it's simple book-keeping. If no one reads your stuff, you might as well not publish, because no one will pay you to shut up.
Well, that's not quite true. Time was when it was well worth paying people not to write - for your rival publishers, at any rate. If you were unaware of the phrase "exclusive contract" before, believe it now: there are writers who are given so much for words they write, and so much more for not writing for other publishers. There are film stars in the same position. And also musicians. And other creative workers in many spheres.
The BBC, quite simply, does deals which prevent BBC material from appearing on TV sets. That's obviously not the main purpose of the deals - the purpose is to sell the material - but only to people who will pay extra to prevent someone else from broadcasting it. For example, the South African Broadcasting Corporation will pay the BBC a fee to broadcast TV material - but an even bigger fee to prevent rival stations from having that material.
The internet, and YouTube and BitTorrent technology specifically, makes all that impossible.
Talk to anybody who actually understands the future of copyright and you'll discover an awareness that exclusivity is no longer legally enforceable. All you can hope for is to be first.
The dream of "copyright owners" is to have a nice, orderly market in which they call the shots. DVD regions, for example, were set up so that people could start off by releasing their movies in America, and then, when everything was getting nicely automated, they could move their marketing effort into Europe, and then when that was burning warmly, start the fire in Asia.
It never worked. All it really achieved was to sell software to people who over-wrote the regional control data in their DVD players, and put money into the pockets of counterfeiters who had a clear run at the secondary regions in the weeks while the copyright owners were daydreaming in their primary markets.
Instead, we are now looking at a different type of copyright. Not copyright, but firstright.
To succeed as a firstright owner requires a completely different approach to intellectual property. That approach is summarised in one word: "agility." If you can't stop the stuff leaking out into public ownership, you can at least try to make sure that it's easiest for them to get it from sources where you earn revenue.
So you actually give it away. You give your songs to radio stations, and tell them to play them - as long as they tell people they can get the thing from you. You put chapters of your book - in Ascii form - free on your web site and tell bloggers to quote you - as long as they link back to you.
The vital part of the meeja chain is speed and agility. Reach the maximum number as quickly as possible. Make sure that people know what's available as soon as it is available, and have a good price - one that makes money for you - even if it isn't the highest possible price.
So the BBC is putting its copyright material up on YouTube. Not because YouTube is paying the BBC a fortune for this material, but because it will encourage people to come back to the BBC and say: "Hey! you do some good stuff, and I want to see more of it." And, realistically, because the BBC can't really stop YouTube from putting it up, anyway.
Well, nearly right. I suppose the BBC could stop YouTube. And then a hundred bittorrents will launch and the material will leak out anyway, through sources which don't acknowledge the BBC, don't link to the BBC website, and don't have any way of paying the BBC even if they could be found and invoiced.
The pipeline of intellectual property has to leak. Stuff has to get out, so people know what's in it. If you try to seal it off so it doesn't leak, quite simply, no one will be interested. And, probably more significantly, you won't succeed anyway. ®