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Digital Content: How it's Being Created, Exploited, Licensed and Protected Online

Monday, March 28, 2011   (0 Comments)
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Digital Content: How it's Being Created, Exploited, Licensed and Protected Online

Few high tech developments have impacted our personal and professional operations over the past decade more than digitalization of content. From music and photos to business files and banking, plenty of questions continue to arise about overall management of digital content.

Experts in the field recently participated in an interactive panel discussion at the Licensing Executives (U.S.A. and Canada) Winter Meeting in Silicon Valley to provide perspective on the issue. The panel was moderated by Dave Green of Microsoft, who was joined by panelists Jeff Jampol of JAM Inc., Kelly Jo MacArthur of the MacArthur Group LLC., David Reeder, Vice President, GREENLIGHT, and Lisa Oratz of Perkins Coie.

Jeff Jampol of JAM, Inc. which manages artists like the Doors and Janis Joplin, kicked off the lively discussion by noting a few fundamental shifts in media creation over the past decade: creative content, both personal and professional, are now stored and accessible primarily in the form of digital content. Creations, work documents, movies, songs, photos and games - the very essence of our lives exists in a medium that only requires copying and distribution to be enjoyed.

However, as Mr. Jampol quickly pointed out that just because the creative content is easy to access and use does not in itself reduce such media to a commodity. Managing these creations is different than licensing technology or software.  "We're not talking about widgets here. These artists aren't just artists - they're vendors and brands.  And it's our job to be their brand managers," he said.

But with YouTube, FaceBook and the plethora of other ways to connect with consumers directly, what's a licensor and brand manager to do?  How do they control the ease of access to this content, or should they control it? Are rights owners now throwing in the towel on rights? 

The short answer is no.  They're not giving up on rights, but there is a need to change the game.  Some catching up is required in this area where the law in lagging significantly behind where technology and consumers are, and even further behind where they're headed. The panelists agreed that convenience is the name of the game, and things are moving faster than ever before. Moderator Dave Green noted that consumers are demanding that their favorite content be available how they want to experience, and not merely how the rights owners think it should be distributed.

And while consumers and their needs produce a rapidly changing environment, David Reeder articulated a simple philosophy that hasn't changed, even if the delivery methods have: there is still a radical disconnect between the value that owners ascribe to their works, and what consumers perceive.  And the value proposition for intermediaries: labels, studios, managers, is being even further muddled as artists connect directly with fans. It seems both sides are empowered to interact directly with no agreements and no traditional brand protections. 

Consumers and artists are taking advantage of these opportunities to engage each other, and this empowerment is changing business models and challenging the status quo.  Record companies were highlighted as an example of an industry struggling to stay relevant.  They've been left behind as new business models have been created to work around the establishment they've worked so hard to build. A key example is how consumers have shifted from having to own content to now simply having access to it.   People seem far less interested in owning CDs and DVDs than they are in having access to the wide world of entertainment whenever and wherever they are.  And the possibilities around monetizing access are huge for those who can (and want to) adapt.  Apps were highlighted as an example of how those willing to embrace the change can pioneer new licensing models, even as pricing models come down. 

As the panel put bets on the next big thing, it was obvious that subscription models are at the top of the list -- but subscriptions with intelligence.  How can you sort through the millions of options out there?  As consumers try to wade through everything available to them, filters may be the wave of the future.  Finding what we want and accessing it how we want will likely shape the next wave of developments in digital content.  Kelly Jo MacArthur pointed out that we're already seeing the beginning of this with different data plans for mobiles asking how much one wants to pay for how much access?  Along with access, the amount of information consumers are willing to share about themselves and their preferences will shape the next wave of developments.

To read summaries on other high tech panels from the LES (USA & Canada) Winter Meeting, visit www.lesusacanada.org.