Friday, March 04, 2005

The Long Tail

Some very interesting comments at the Long Tail on the copyright wars and the need for flexibility in intellectual propoerty regulations:

"I've noted before that some have spotted a conflict between Lessig and the Long Tail. Specifically, Lessig argues that most creative work doesn't have value for long and doesn't need as much protection as it gets. The Long Tail, in contrast, argues that as the limitations of shelf space diminish and older content is kept available we are finding that demand continues for longer than we thought...

So Lessig says the commercial life of creative work is short. The Long Tail says it is, well, long. Lessig concludes that copyright is overprotecting stuff that doesn't need it, since it doesn't sell anymore. What does the Long Tail say about that?

On the face of it, it really does seem to disagree. I've argued, for instance, that the concept of "out of print" is anachronistic and will soon go away. Even worse (for the not-worth-protecting argument), I think the availability of archive content could lead to a real boom in new content as it attracts/creates a generation of remixers and others who can find ways to find new value in old wine. More content available + more people who want to do stuff with content = more commercial potential. Whether you like copyright or not, it's no longer safe to say that it's irrelevant for older material.

But there's another way to look at this that offers a neat bridge between the two views. Many of those extracting new value from old content are not the original creators or rights-holders. Some of them are repurposing older material, and others are aggregators who have found ways to find new markets for material that's fallen beneath the commercial radar. Either way, they typically aren't the original record label, film studio, publishing house, TV production company or any of the other names that might be on the copyright declaration. They are someone else, probably someone entirely unexpected. This is, after all, the dawn of Remix Culture.

What's changed is the presumption that the primary rights-holder is the best at extracting the commercial potential of creative material. Instead, anyone can do it: the advertising company that remixes an old movie to sell a car; the Linux t-shirt done Warhol-style, or just plain old DJ magic. What you need to encourage this multiplicity of commercialization potential is tiered alternatives to one-size-fits-all copyright, from allowing derivative works (good marketing!) to shorter terms for the sake of the remix-culture social good. I can't think of a better example of that than Lessig's own Creative Commons, which has already become the license of choice for the right side of the Tail, where the commercial imperative is less all-consuming.

So, bottom line: the Long Tail ends up in the same place Lessig does, but via a different path--the diversification of commercial potential rather than the absence of it."

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