Friday, February 16, 2007

Intellectual Property and Piracy

November 26, 2006 | 04:22 PM
Intellectual Property and Piracy

I have been both attending and speaking on conferences on the future of Media and Technology. I use the two terms together as more and more Technlogy and Entertainment/Media are converging to become the same bussiness. One thing that consistantly comes up is the question of Intellectual property and Piracy. I think the lawyers/Corporations have got it completely wrong...

Intellectual Property (IP) is not and cannot be either constant or extreme. If it were, then in the modern world there would be no chance of sharing of ideas, of scientific discovery, even of propogation of faith. Imagine if the Bible, the Koran or The Mahabharatha were protected by IP ? Imagine if the teachings of Buddha were protected by an IP just because one of his disciples actually wrote them down as he spoke.

Imagine if Einstein's equations were patented or protected from use wthout financial considerations. Where would scientific discovery be ? One of the problems with scientific discovery these days, especially in the field of medicine, such as a cure for Aids, is that groups or individuals are terrified by the idea of sharing discoveries in case they cannot protect their financial interests.

I am not denying that people must be rewarded for their effort, and not inconsiderable expense. But when the whole scientific and medical communities are motivated by one just goal, the creation of products that are so well protected that they can extract huge profit for a huge amount of time, it all becomes a bit ghoulish.

But let me get back to my own field. Media and Entertainment. We are more and more moving int a digital and an instantaneous world. Where the commercial life of a product may be huge but for shorter and shorter periods of time. For example a Video on youtube when it works ut its revenue models. A popular video in the future may get a billion downloads in a couple of days and make a billion dollars.

In that scenario, how long would the video maker ask for protection of intellectual property ? One week maybe ? And then allow the video to be downloaded free, so that he/she gets a huge following for the next video. I know this is an extreme example, but then it is good to look at extreme examples to understand the nature of the problem.

Corporations scream about Piracy. The big music corporations went ballistic and got Napster shut down. Only to realize that Napster showed them the way to revive their flagging music sales through single song downloads. Napster was the origins of the Ipod and Itunes.

Microsoft complain about Piracy in India and China and calculate the loss of revenue in billions fo dollars. Knowing full well that none of the people who bought pirated copies of the software would have ever been able to afford buy the software at it's official retail price. But in using their (even pirated) software, they are becoming users of hardware and software, and are entering the consumer market. Surely that must be good for growth of Microsoft.

At a meeting at the World Economic Forum, one gentleman was complaining that he was being ripped of in India. he had paid huge sums of money for the rights to the brand of Tommy Hillifiger in India, and now people were just making T shirts and printing the Tommy Hillifiger logo and selling them on the street side at a fraction of his cost. He wanted them arrested and put into jail for Piracy.

Hey ! Ever consider what extra intrinsic value you are providing the consumer by printing a brand name on the T shirt ? Till u do that, there will always be piracy. For the pirate is probaby a small trader looking for an oppertunity to make some money to look after his family.


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