By Pat Aufderheide, Center Director
The International Consumer Electronics Show, a huge and sprawling conference that takes up a major chunk of Las Vegas real estate every year, is primarily about the business of gadgets. But right underneath the froth about the latest Wii are big issues of culture and power. The subject of digital rights management (DRM)--techniques used by contentholders to control access to their content--is one of the hottest. Peter Jaszi of the Washington College of Law's Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property and I had the privilege of presenting our research, Recut, Reframe, Recycle at the opening panel session of this 150,000-attendee conference. With our latest research, we were able to remind people that beyond the struggles of business models, there are fundamental freedom of expression issues at stake. Many online video makers are using copyrighted materials not to pirate but to make new creative content. They are harbingers of the emerging participatory media culture. Efforts to control piracy that challenge this infant cultural expression could cripple future democratic culture. Content holders are struggling mightily to keep their old business models alive, as digital habits transform the way people want to get and use their stuff. Panelists debated the economic issues. Paul Sweeting of ContentAgenda, the moderator, aptly summarized the problem of the contentholders: "how to monetize piracy." Electronic Frontier Foundation's Fred von Lohmann noted that DRM hasn't been about piracy for years; rather it's being used to control competition. Ian Rogers of Yahoo said, "I'm done working the negative. From now on, if Yahoo Music isn't going to find active solutions to help get consumers what they want, I'm gonna tell them to invest their money in something else." Von Lohmann and Rogers, with others, agreed that DRM for music is basically "dead," signalled by Sony corporation's adoption of DRM-free music downloads. But video's another story. Will the industry repeat music's backward-looking experience? According to lawyer Russ Brackman, they're going to keep on trying to control access to content--which after all is how they have and do make their profits. Understandable, but...what's at risk with anti-piracy measures that don't discriminate for Fair Use is the future of participatory media culture, evidenced by the sometimes funny, sometimes banal, sometimes witty videos showcased in our report.