Content Reference Forum

Pursuant to my meager followup to the compulsory licensing discussion that Ed Felten has started (see Ernest’s distaff related, albeit on a different tack, discussion), I saw this news piece (Tech Group Aims at Profit-Friendly File-Sharingpdf) about the Content Reference Forum.

The world’s largest software and music companies, together with a broad alliance of companies, on Wednesday said they would work together in a bid to transform Internet file sharing from a haven for piracy into a potential profit center.

[…] The group on Wednesday issued an initial set of technology specifications in a bid to create a system in which users would share customized Internet links, called “content references,” instead of swapping song or film files directly.

[…] For example, if a user wanted a song in an MP3 format from a friend who has it in a different file format, the links would serve as a sort of middleman that would help locate that specific content in the appropriate form.

How convenient — read this description from the CRF’s WWW page:

At the crux of The Content Reference Forum’s architecture are “Content References,” data packages that uniquely identify content and the context in which it will be used. Content References are resolved by “Reference Services” that determine the right content, user context (including rendering environment, language and location) and commercial terms of usage. The “Reference Service” facilitates the seamless acquisition of appropriate content (e.g., matching consumer’s preferences and platform capabilities) by providing an offer or offers for the consumer to buy the content, or connecting the consumer to the appropriate retail source, per contractual agreements for content distribution.

A real world example of a Content Reference is when a consumer wishes to share a video file with a friend. Via the consumer’s personal computer, she sends the friend a “Content Reference” – a pointer describing the content and the prior value chain participation (e.g., an original retailer). When the friend clicks on the reference, her computer messages a “Reference Service” with another “Content Reference” which unites the information about the content and its distribution parameters with the information supplied by the friend (e.g. her country, preferred device and format). The “Reference Service” checks this information against contractual agreements contained in the Reference Service, and presents a set of purchase or promotional offers to the friend. This is all done transparently to both consumers.

Now, ask yourself — this certainly is a workable system, and you certainly could layer compulsory licensing mechanisms onto it — but would you want to participate? Would it matter who ran it? Would you trust them? And, if you didn’t want to use this system, how would you react when it is made compulsory? (see Steven Levy’s writeup below)

Update: See Mary Hodder’s comments: New Music Model Proposed by Vivendi and MS, starting with this LA Times article — A Toll Booth for File Sharers [pdf]

Up-update: Now Derek’s included a bit more: New/Old Music, DRM, & P2P Model

Re-up-update: Slashdot seems to miss the point: Music Industry Develops Centralized File-Sharing System

Acacia Research and IP Failure

From the Washington Post: Patenting Air or Protecting Property? [pdf]

Acacia Research Corp. started by targeting dozens of adult entertainment companies, demanding royalties of as much as 4 percent of their revenue from audio and video streaming. Now the firm is seeking fees from universities that use Web video for remote learning, from companies that serve up movies to hotel rooms, from cable and satellite providers, and from major streaming-media companies such as RealNetworks Inc. and America Online Inc.

“It’s pretty much the sky’s the limit as to where the impact might fall,” said a chagrined John H. Payne, director of educational technologies at the University of Virginia’s division of continuing education, which uses online video for lectures and courses. “It’s like patenting air.”

The Acacia case highlights why a growing chorus of corporate and government officials is warning that the U.S. patent system is broken, threatening to stunt technological innovation.

They argue that an overwhelmed U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is simply approving too many dubious and overly broad patents, especially in the software and Internet realms.

The potential result: a digital world carved up into so many pieces that it loses its power to easily link people, communities and ideas.

The country “needs to revamp not just the patent system, but the entire system of intellectual property law,” said Andrew S. Grove, chairman of Intel Corp. “It needs to redefine it for an era that is the information age as compared to the industrial age.”

Slashdot discussion: When Good Patents Go Bad

Steven Levy on Trusted Computing in Newsweek

A Net of Control [via BoingBoing] [pdf]

Picture, if you will, an information infrastructure that encourages censorship, surveillance and suppression of the creative impulse. Where anonymity is outlawed and every penny spent is accounted for. Where the powers that be can smother subversive (or economically competitive) ideas in the cradle, and no one can publish even a laundry list without the imprimatur of Big Brother. Some prognosticators are saying that such a construct is nearly inevitable. And this infrastructure is none other than the former paradise of rebels and free-speechers: the Internet.

Donna’s comments at Copyfight

A Compulsory Licensing Discussion

Start here with Donna tracking the start: Compulsory Licensing: Where’s the Beef?

I have to admit that I fall into the Felten camp on this one; monitoring network traffic to manage P2P exchanges just reeks of geometric complexity, particularly in the face of a desire to circumvent/manipulate the system. I don’t yet see the necessary holy grail — a system that monitors without engendering large enough economic incentives to circumvent and/or manipulate that it will be worth doing. Given the copyright industry mindset, I cannot imagine them electing to choose an imperfect system of weak copyright in this space — rather, they’re going to want a centralized, fully dominating approach, thereby engendering the incentives to circumvent.

The compromises with liberty crafted to promote creativity through monopoly look terribly bad when it actually becomes possible to enforce that monopoly thoroughly and pervasively. And, as far as I can see to this point, the technical approaches cited as necessary tools for compulsory licensing can also be used to achieve more repressive compensation schemes — not a set of toys to give to the RIAAs of the world!

Maybe I’m missing something — I hope so, because the buzz around compulsory licensing keeps getting louder…….

Morning Chuckle

From yesterday’s Register: RIAA hires guns, alcohol and smokes expert to fight piracy

“It’s hard to convince fans to pay up when everyone knows artists get only pennies from a $16 CD,” said Downhill Battle. “Since major labels can’t convince people, they need to coerce them. But if the RIAA has the same success stopping downloading as the ATF has had stopping illegal gun sales, then we don’t think filesharers have a lot to worry about. Parallels to the prohibition are rife: free, non-DRM music is just too popular. [Former ATF chief] Bradley A. Buckles will be playing a losing game of gangbusters.”

Donna’s comments: Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives