DReaM, the Open Media Commons and the Future of IP

You’ve probably seen a bunch of the coverage from what we announced on Sunday evening around an open digital rights commons at the Progress and Freedom Foundation’s Aspen Summit. I thought it’d be useful to put it all into context, and try to clarify some of the misimpressions. (Original video and audio here.)

Let me start with what’s still viewed, by some, as controversial. I believe in intellectual property. Since Sunday, I’ve gotten a round of communications from those that believe the whole concept of IP is suspect, and digital rights management of any form is immoral (one writer used “evil”). I clearly don’t share that view – you’ll recall, Sun Microsystems is basically an intellectual property fountain – pour dollars in the top, some of the brightest minds go to work turning it into innovations, that are then translated into value by our customers and channels (and manufacturers).

With networks that connect everyone to everyone, the transmissability, and the value, of intellectual property is obviously on the rise – as is the need for IP owners to want to control their destiny. By IP owners, I mean everyone from an amateur photographer with a valuable snapshot or movie, to a studio owner with a blockbuster new film; from a software company delivering an operating system, to a fab owner with a new process innovation. It’s all IP – bits on the internet – and it’s all got value to someone (and it’s all readily distributed over the internet).

Now, any number of challenges in the marketplace (from Supreme Court decisions to teenagers in movie theaters) suggest the need for an alternative to the systems and technologies being proposed to help intellectual property owners monetize their investments – what exists is ineffective, inefficient, or threatens to slow the Participation Age. So our view is that it’s time for a change. That DRM is useful, but not in the draconian or dictatorial forms that have been discussed. DRM, to us, is simply a security model for intellectual property. And just as accessing your bank account should be protected by a security layer, so should accessing your data – as just another form of IP.

Our view is that an effective solution to the challenge of ensuring IP owners can manage their own security and access controls – and compensation, if that’s what they seek – must make a few basic assumptions. Let’s outline them:

There is no one busines model for all intellectual property.

With Sun giving away Solaris and its source to the world, we clearly believe the open source model creates the most attractive long term business model for us. But there are some software companies that don’t share that view – they’re entitled, it’s their business to run. Some media companies have started giving content away – others charge prior to download. Others offer monthly or yearly subscriptions, or offer all you can eat season passes. Some want you to pay everytime you consume (personally, I think that model will yield a very small viewership, but that may be ok if that’s what the owner desires – a hedge fund manager giving hints and tips to other hedge fund managers may be worth $50,000 for a single view). The point is there is no one model – and any DRM solution that presupposes one model is bankrupt at the outset.

Thus, we believe an effective DRM solution must be capable of adapting to a broad and ever broadening spectrum of ideas and business models. There needs to be a neutral language that expresses a broad spectrum of choices made by IP owners – and at some point, there will be a need to implement such rights expressions in software. We see what we’re doing in the Open Media Commons as being a possible source of such software. We also see the need for the owners of IP – whether it’s the name “Electronic Frontier Foundation,” or a speech that sends chills down your spine – to be exclusively in charge of charting their own destiny.

There must be no royalty or patent risk.

I was with a large telecommunications customer recently, who told me how excited he was to be partnering with a movie studio to deliver first run movies on handsets – until his general counsel received notice from a patent authority claiming they had tripped over patents associated with their encoding and playback mechanisms. The licensing authority had asked for $1 per movie stream, or a percentage of their annual revenue. Which would effectively shutter the opportunity. In our view, the market wants the choice of not having to submit to such trolls and tollgates.

And therefore, we believe an effective DRM solution must be available to the world without royalty or patent risk. In order to ensure continued interoperability and freedom to reimplement, we also believe the solution should be available in open source form, under a files based license that in no way threatens to interfere with original ownership.

There must be no hard linkage to any one device.

I was with the Chief Executive of a music company recently, who told me how thrilled he was to have a growing percentage of his revenues being derived from digital distribution. But there was one caveat – 95% of the digital distribution came through one vendor’s product and service (guess which), the owner of which had let him know his royalty stream was being radically reduced, unilaterally, in a new contract. No negotiation.

And therefore, we believe an effective DRM solution must be available to IP owners on all devices – not be hidebound to one.

There must be no hard linkage to any one media format.

Another studio head let me know how adopting Windows Media only allowed him to compete for customers on the Windows platform, which with Vista coming up, was looking like Microsoft’s exclusive platform to monetize – he wanted a neutral DRM, and an open encoding standard. He very much wanted a “write once, run anywhere” platform, similar to the web standards popularized by products like Firefox, Java and other network standards. We obviously agree.

So for the record, I want to reiterate a few statements from above. I believe IP owners should be in charge of how they monetize their IP. You have every right to choose the license under which you’ll make your IP available. You have every right to monetize that asset as you see fit – and to control its distribution, if that’s what you seek. I support the 4th amendment.

Do I believe the government has a role to play in selecting a technology? No (and it wasn’t my idea to get them involved in the issue, you’ll recall). Do I believe they have a role to play in progressing the debate, and in driving a neutral standard for interoperability? As they’ve done for electricity, for water distribution and for every other utility that’s preceded computing? Yes, I do. And as we continue to drive DReaM and the Open Media Commons, as we’ve done with the Liberty Alliance, we expect they’ll want to get involved. We’re looking forward to it.


Filed under General

3 responses to “DReaM, the Open Media Commons and the Future of IP

  1. [Trackback] There are some reasonable points of view to be had re:DRM in the context of protecting IP. Most people who’re involved high-tech businesses understand the value of IP; and I understand very well the various motivations of those that seek to protect the…

  2. [Trackback] onathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, espouses his DReaM, and talks quite a bit about it and protecting IP and all that.
    Funny thing, on the Open Media Commons website for the DRM DReaM project, I noticed the Creative Commons logo on the side…

  3. [Trackback] Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, espouses his DReaM, and talks quite a bit about it and protecting IP and all that.
    Funny thing, on the Open Media Commons website for the DRM DReaM project, I noticed the Creative Commons logo on the sid…

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