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True Understanding

Technology fundamentally changed business models in the content industry. In this always-on world of content creation, what is the role of the 300-year-old concept of copyright, protecting IP, and trademarks?

​“Technology has revolutionized the music industry,” says Shamal Ranasinghe. “First fans went from buying CDs to downloading and sharing MP3 files, mostly for free. Then Apple launched iTunes and a new digital music industry was born. Now, downloads are falling rapidly as streaming services like Spotify soar in popularity.”

As founder of multi-million dollar business  Topspin, a direct-to-fan marketing, management, and distribution platform that helps artists market music directly to their fans, Ranasinghe has seen one of the biggest sectors of digital content – music – fundamentally transformed by technology.

“The challenge for gatekeepers and artists is to keep up with the technology consumers are using. They need to adapt quickly – or risk losing market share,” says Ranasinghe.

That’s echoed by Professor Paul Goldstein, professor in copyright law at Stanford University. “When gramophone records appeared in the early 20th century, sheet music publishers sued – but soon realized their sales were going up. Similar protests met the arrival of radio, TV, video recorders, yet each time the pie that producers could share grew.”

The internet has transformed the way we consume and share content, and given rise to so-called ‘Generation C’ – people who care deeply about creation, curation, connection, and community. Social interactions give Gen C its sense of self: constantly connected, they ‘are’ what they share, like, comment, or retweet.

In December 2013,  Wolters Kluwer partnered with Google and the  John Adams Institute to explore the increasingly complex issue of ownership of intellectual property and copyright at an expert panel in Amsterdam. Global experts Paul Goldstein and James Boyle, together with Bernt Hugenholtz, took the stage to share and discuss their perspectives. Paul Goldstein is Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and a globally recognized expert on intellectual property law. James Boyle is Professor of Law and co-founder of the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School and columnist for the Financial Times. Bernt Hugenholtz is Professor of Intellectual Property Law and Director of the Institute for Information Law at the University of Amsterdam. Wolters Kluwer is a worldwide leading provider of insights into copyright regulations.

Gen C Shares
Gen C doesn’t feel the urge to own content – not even stuff they have created themselves. On the contrary, they actively want others to freely share and re-use their posts, films, photos, mash-ups, or memes. And they’re just as interested in curating as creating.

Ranasinghe is one of them. He sleeps with his smartphone next to his bed. He uses Twitter or Facebook to share content he finds noteworthy, educational, inspiring, or amusing, and has his own blog for longer-form reflections on topics such as art or music. “I like to consume media, then share, endorse, and advocate things,” he says. 

He built Topspin into a business used by over 80,000 musicians, comedians, labels, managers, and film makers and is now working on his newest start-up,  Fluence, an app connecting artists and other creators to influencers in their fields.

He sees a clear trend: “With new technologies, the typical cycle is denial – incumbents say the new technology will never work – and then acceptance. With Topspin, there was a lot of resistance to the notion of going directly to fans. But now it’s become a standard. All the people who had issues with it are now adopting it widely.”

Yet in a world where copying and communal creation are common currency, where does that leave copyright and protection of trademarks?

Last year, Wolters Kluwer acquired  CitizenHawk, a provider of online brand protection and global domain recovery solutions. As part of the Corporate Legal Services portfolio and marketed under the  Corsearch brand, CitizenHawk’s services include helping identify and recover cybersquatted domains, and countering threats such as typosquatting – a form of cybersquatting that relies on errors internet users make when inputting a website address into a browser.

The trend toward global brands and online commerce has created a need for both traditional trademark clearance and protection solutions and online brand protection as criminals and opportunists look to exploit these companies going abroad.

Recent research by Forrester, eMarketer, and Millward Brown:

  • U.S. online retail sales market is expected to grow at 9% a year and global ecommerce reached $1 trillion in 2012.
  • BrandZ  Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands 2013 rose 7% in brand value to $2.6 trillion; and the total brand value of the Top 100 Strong Brands Portfolio has improved 77% since 2006.
  • Almost half of the brands in the BrandZ Top 100 ranking are based in North America. They account for two-thirds of the Top 100’s $2.6 trillion in brand value. Brand value growth in North America was flat, however. This implies greater brand growth outside of North America.

Future of Copyright 
Many say copyright is in crisis. “The social legitimacy of the model is in peril. I’m worried that one day, copyright will just be voted out of parliament,” Wolters Kluwer author  Bernt Hugenholtz told the Amsterdam event.

Copyright’s origins are generally traced to 1710, when Britain’s Statute of Anne gave authors an exclusive right to control the reproduction and distribution of their books for a prescribed period of years. Fast-forward three centuries, and copyright law still does just that, but with some modifications. Now, for example, it includes the exclusive right to perform, display, or make adaptations of a work. But the basic right to stop other people using your content is unchanged.

So is that an outdated mechanism fit only for abolition? Not according to Goldstein.

“Copyright occupies a part of our lives as consumers in a more direct way than ever before,” he states. Goldstein says we need copyright to battle the time squeeze we all feel these days. “The scarcest resource we have is time. No-one has time to sort through everything on the internet, to figure out what will be most attractive to us. We rely on intermediaries such as publishers, movie producers, record labels, to screen, produce, and distribute products that will appeal to people. They won’t do that without copyright.”

The internet makes copyright more necessary than ever, Goldstein believes. “If information were truly free, people would be inundated with information overload, with chaos.”