Make Copies Moot

In an analog world, creative content such as newspapers, magazines, television shows, movies, music, plays, books, designs, and even software, were well anchored and therefore grounded. By anchored, I mean content was attached to, or based on, a particular physical media, because content had to be imprinted on something solid, if not flexible, to be useful. By grounded, I mean having mass, being subject to gravity and taking up space, and therefore difficult to copy and move: if the table weren’t in the way, the darn thing would plummet to the ground and stay there!

In order to copy something, you had to put the copy onto its own media, which effectively grounded, or slowed the distribution of, the copy. This is a defining property of old analog, physical media. I am using it to compare old with new media.

99% of all the content ever created by humans can be easily copied onto digital media. The defining property of digital media is to liberate content: make it easy to copy and move. Digital media does not anchor content, therefore the content is not grounded, it is liberated.

Since the time of the earliest personal desktop computers, software and content publishers have attempted to anchor their digital content. The usual method is to bind content to an anchor called copy protection. The anchor is an attempt to ground content to digital media like a CD-ROM, DVD, cartridge or memory stick, or more recently to the disk of the computer.

Historically, some members of the public have found that circumventing digital copy protection is straightforward. It is hard to build an anchor that is hard to break. Using one, people might buy content instead of copying it, but raises the costs of distributing content and the electronics. Copy protection fights against the defining nature of digital media, to liberate content. It fights the reason for wide adoption of digital media.

Content designed to work well on old analog, physical media does not do well commercially on digital media. It is difficult for anyone including government to effectively pursue copyright infringers. Large content providers have tried for years to get the government to make it easy to nail infringers. They haven’t been very successful.

Even if the government were to pass severely punitive laws and permitted content providers to drop a 16 ton weight on an infringer if they so much as cough with the lights off, the problem remains: digital media naturally liberates content, and old style content just doesn’t have what it takes to fight such a strong natural property.

Solving the problem requires starting with content of a form that doesn’t work on old style, analog media. If the content works on analog media, it can then be completely liberated by digital media. A digital copy may not be exact, but that doesn’t appear to slow it down.

Consumers find it much harder to grab a copy of something when the content changes all the time and is interactive. It isn’t sufficient to steal the software, you also have to steal the data and…the other users.

The digital world is bidirectional and interactive. Old analog, physical media is static, one way, and not interactive; these limits make copying that stuff easy. Dynamic content is a different story. The poster children for successful dynamic content are successful online roleplay games like World of Warcraft and EVE Online. People run an app on their own equipment, which accesses enormous databases that exist on a vast number of servers, and interact with the software, the data, and other users; in order to access the data and play the games, people must register as a user and pay a monthly fee.

People can capture all the information they want from those servers in regular game play, and in fact some enterprising people have set up their own Warcraft-like servers, but on a tiny scale, because they have to work very hard to “keep up” while millions of customers willingly pay to access the legit online service. Taking snapshots of that content is very unsatisfying.

Here is the problem. It is much harder to develop and maintain dynamic content. A science fiction writer can’t normally write interactive books that are engaging enough to keep customers coming back for more of that story day after day. The tools just do not exist to make that experience easy and efficient enough to make it viable. Implementing dynamic, interactive content is more an act of programming than creative writing.

There are comic artists who are publishing stories for free on the web; they publish a screen-resolution page anywhere from one every day to one every month. After several months of posting individual pages, they take the high-resolution images of all the artwork and print graphic novels and sell those. The wide distribution of the free content gives the artists the opportunity to access a wide audience for their commercial products.

Some enterprising individuals grab all the pages of art from the original web site, combine the pages together into a document, and distribute the content freely, separating the artwork from the rest of the artists’ context. (Sometimes they even translate the work into other languages.) The important thing here is that the artists’ channel to the story’s readers is sometimes severed.

Also, once the artist produces high resolution artwork in the form of a book, someone will take it upon themselves to digitize all the pages and post the content in convenient form up on the web. The trick here is to make enough money through the sale of advertisements on the web site, and through the sale of graphic novels, to make a decent living.

If the comic content were truly dynamic, it wouldn’t be as desirable to make copies of any particular set of content, because the key aspect of dynamic content is the interactivity. You can’t interact with a static copy of dynamic content. There are examples of ten minute movies on YouTube that show what happens in a particular scenario, but those sorts of thing have a reputation for being very unsatisfying, unless your purpose is to learn how to beat a boss in a game. This is an example of copying content in order to enhance the customer experience. The content providers aren’t paid specifically for these acts, but because customers pay by subscription, they aren’t paid any less.

Another gotcha about developing dynamic content: you’re not guaranteed to succeed. Several products have come and gone in a matter of months because they weren’t able to dial in on a successful formula before they ran out of money.


About crenelle

Writer and coder; lives on Vashon, a small forest moon orbiting the planet Seattle.
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