Two recent experiences made me pick Copyright as this week’s topic. The first one took place ten days ago at the Monaco Media forum. Professor Lawrence Lessig delivered a compelling presentation covering the evolution of copyright. The second experience happened at a consultation on the future of the press held by the French government where I spoke to one of the working groups.
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Two different visions, and an abysmal cultural gap. Before throwing down some conclusions, let me go into details of the two events.
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Lawrence Lessig. 47 years old. Law professor at Stanford University. Openly liberal (Democrat, leaning towards libertarian as far as digital rights, privacy and big monopolies are concerned). Potential Supreme Court justice when Barack Obama will have a chance to appoint one. For years, he kept advocating a complete overhaul of the copyright system (his Wikipedia bio). I must confess to being a long time fan. Lessig is extraordinarily smart, witty, and insightful. He can be funny although he barely smiles. His presentation would reconcile anyone with PowerPoint (actually, he uses Apple’s Keynote and plays it with gusto: 100-150 fast paced slides, one idea, one word/quote or one well-adjusted illustration). As I witnessed last week in Monaco (see here), he keeps the audience glued to their seats.
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Lessig’s most recent take: we are in the transition from the read-only culture to the read/write culture. From the books, music, writings in various forms we were enjoying until ten years ago to remix, mash-ups, satirical AMVs (Animated music video). Obviously, the R/W culture is an offspring of the digital era: I take from the Internet, I adapt, I change, I edit, I remix, I enhance — and I upload on YouTube. If I don’t explain myself clearly enough, your kids will: ask them to show you the links they trade on their Facebook page.
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This read/write culture, Lessig says, is connected to the tsunami of the amateur culture (which is not to be confused with the amateurish culture — a lexical nuance, that, weirdly enough, doesn’t exist in French.  And connoisseur sounds too stiff). Today’s most obvious part of this amateur culture is the blogosphere, with all its components, from the whining of frustrated ankle-biters, to the most valuable expertise. According to Lawrence Lessig, the usual copyright cannot apply to this new form of culture. He draws the following matrix:

… and offers Viacom as an example: in its deal with YouTube, Viacom allows amateur remixing with no copyright attached, and hunts down pirated, professionally originated material.
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The result of this intellectual construct is the Creative Commons. In simpler terms, it is a more flexible application of the old copyright concept. Hence the baseline: “Some Rights Reserved”. The Creative Commons covers the entire spectrum of uses, from free to commercially protected work, and between the two what can be shared, remixed, attributed, etc.
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Different place, different time (I wouldn’t dare saying: different century).
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We are in France, in the basement of the Prime Minister’s office. There, we convene every two weeks or so, for “Les Etats Généraux de la presse écrite”. This is the big powwow held by the French government to try and define the future of the press — in its unremitting bad shape. As it turns out, I’m assigned to the digital media sub-group, along with thirty other professionals, managers of editorial or advertising departments, experts, and union members. We hear strange things in this group. For example: Google should be “banned on the French Internet” (one union member), this because the search engine is eating our Gallic lunch. The guy is thinking in terms of intellectual property.  Had he only known Google will take a 40% slice of the French advertising market on the net, he would have gone completely ballistic.
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Other gems include the vision of the Internet stated by the CEO of a major newspaper (Liberation, where I worked 12 years): “…The Internet, huh… That’s fine, but let’s take the example of one of our prominent bloggers who is writing about the military and national security… Who pays this guy? That’s me! That’s print!” No one was rude enough to tell this visionary media exec he was actually the head of the entire outfit, both print and Web. It would have been a waste of time. Even though he’s a respected political pundit, he’s dangerously out of touch with his paper’s digital future. (In a previous Monday Note, I outlined a turnaround strategy for this ailing but invaluable paper).
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Even more interesting: the numbers. I found out that the defense blog in question is a pretty successful one: 40.000-50.000 page views per day, up to 70.000 when the “temperature” rises, with 20.000-25.000 unique visitors a day. Let’s keep these numbers mind and compare them to the paper’s circulation. The “total paid circulation” for September 2008 (last figures publicly available) is 120.538 copies. Let’s remove 37.075 copies of bulk circulation (read: free for the user, see our story Paid-for-free: the mirage if the hybrid models, Monday Note #56 for an explanation). If we also deduct subscribers and other items, the real, true number of copies actually purchased (for €1.30) at a newsstand was 62.047. Well, you get it: just the one blog of the national security reporter weighing as much, in audience numbers, as the day-to-day buyers of the paper. At the government session last week, someone hinted that this kind of blog could be syndicated to other media. Interesting idea, but inconceivable in the French media context — because of the copyright issue.
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This is a red-hot topic in France, a country where an 80-words news item “enjoys” the legal status of a Joseph Kessel novel. At the same meeting, I managed to infuriate union representatives: I dared say this restrictive notion of copyright is to be blown away with the advent of the digital media.
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Here is why, in five points.
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1 – The dissemination of news platforms. Think about how news is consumed today: paper is one form, right. But the Internet is almost as big now.  And the smartphone is gaining traction.
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2 – The way we will produce news. More than ever, processes will be critical, they will diversify: news gathering on one side, editing on the other. There will be as many editing forms as there will be platforms for dissemination. This implies more highly specialized skills than what we see today.  (See Redefining Journalism, Monday Note #58)
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3 – The very fabric of news will be different. We’ll see an increasingly clear distinction between “commoditized” news (the ones which are everywhere, from Google News to YouTube) and “value added news”, collected by reporters, made relevant by analysts, commentators, etc.
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4 -  UGC–User Generated Content. A big challenge/opportunity for modern media is harnessing the Internet’s collective intelligence. Sharpening the blogosphere’s value, unearthing the gems buried in the “noise”, those are truly journalistic jobs.
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5 – Sharing. Have you noticed the tags below articles of almost every news sites in the world?  They propose to share articles with all conceivable third party portal or social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Reddit, Yahoo Bookmarks, Blogmarks). The Times of India itself proposes no less than thirteen such sharing sites. (For the record, in France, if Le Monde does have such features, Libération or Le Figaro do not; as a result, these two are cutting themselves off from valuable exposure).
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Questions
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How can we expect a single notion to survive in such scattered ecosystem? Evidently, a collective multimedia product such as this one , involving many writers, photographers, editors, researchers and producers cannot be looked in the same light as an analysis in the Financial Times, or as a statement of the UK Prime Minister broadcast everywhere. This distinction also applies to platforms: How can we apply the same copyright rules to the 6000 words original reporting from Islamabad appearing in the Sunday section of a newspaper and to a short video segment for a cell phone. To say nothing of the copyright status of a prominent external blogger hosted by a news organization. And just think about the copyright status of a story landing on someone’s Facebook page with 30 “friends” versus someone else having 800…

Let’s say goodbye to the copyright as we’ve known it for more than a century. The new copyright will be as the Creative Commons is: adaptative, protean, but also protective. Because the only valid copyright battle is the actual protection of the very meaning of the news material that is, by essence, very prone to destructive alteration. –FF
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