IP Colloquium Podcast asks: Can Content Survive Online?

IP Colloquium Podcast asks: Can Content Survive Online?

Stuart Freen is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Good news for IP lovers who want to get their fix of policy debate at the gym or in the car: The Intellectual Property Colloquium podcast is for you. Based out of UCLA, the monthly downloadable program is hosted by law professor Doug Lichtman and has been broadcasting for a little over a year. Every month the program assembles a panel of guests for an hour long talk-radio style conversation. This month’s episode features a lively talk between Brad Smith (General Counsel, Microsoft), Scott Martin (Executive VP, Paramount Pictures) and Dan Cooper (VP of Business and Legal Affairs, Myspace) and asks one of the most important questions in IP today: Can content survive online?

The conversation touches on many of the hot-button issues in tech and entertainment law, including Google books, Hulu, digital rights management, and targeted advertising. Despite their big-business connections the guests talk frankly about the challenges created by the internet and are not shy of discussing their industries’ failings.

Regarding Google books, the panel is fairly unanimous: On the one hand, what Google is trying to do in its effort to digitize a vast library of books and host them online is undoubtedly in the public interest and there is a huge demand for it. However, the guests agree that Google was downright arrogant in the way they went about it. A class action lawsuit, they argue, was not the right vehicle for negotiating what is really a forward-reaching publishing agreement. Furthermore, the settlement puts the onus on authors to opt out of the system, something which might be unfair in many cases.

The conversation then turns to business models for content. Professor Lichtman starts out by criticizing the Hulu model. With Hulu, TV networks have captured a huge share of the streaming television market which was previously dominated by pirate websites by offering essentially the same service at a higher quality with a few very short ads. In some circles Hulu has been heralded as a success, yet at what cost? The site gets millions of visitors but provides almost no revenue to the television networks. Lichtman asks whether this is really a viable business model moving forward that will support the creation of high quality new shows. The panel mostly agrees that Hulu is not sustainable, with Scott Martin noting that the real casualties of the youtube revolution will be independent films that rely on DVD sales and can’t afford to enforce their intellectual property rights.

The program ends off discussing targeted advertising and DRM. Lichtman asks the panel what the problem is with getting users to accept these technologies, suggesting that it is not so much a legal problem as it is cultural. Tellingly, the panel responds that DRM has not been abandoned but will be employed in different ways. Says Scott Martin: “It’s all about transparency and disclosure. The way you screw yourself [as a content provider] is when the consumer buys a copy they think they’re going to have forever and two weeks later it’s locked up.” Brad Smith agrees, saying it’s too soon to give up on DRM just because it has failed so far.

The program brings up a number of interesting points and is worth a download if you’re into podcasts. It plays like a CBC radio or NPR talk show and the speakers are all very engaging. Ultimately they raise more questions than answers, but it’s likely that they’re the right questions.