Social media won’t kill intellectual property (and vice versa)

The traditional perspective on the social, sharing aspects of social media is that it could well mean the end of intellectual property rights as we know it as the seemingly anarchist masses disregard the rights of content creators. Or do they? I know one or two people who are involved in mainstream content production and their concern is the protection of their business model which is dependent on restrictive uses of the content they produce. This is typical of the business models of the recording industry, the publishing industry and others.

When I think about social media and intellectual property I don’t see the end of either because of the other. What I do see is tremendous potential for the creation of new models based on a more flexible and creative exercise of intellectual property rights like copyright. Instead of the existing model adopted by the recording industry or publishing industry, why not license the content under a more restrictive Creative Commons license that permits limited sharing of the works for personal use and which facilitates the spread of awareness of that content. That may well lead to a more entrenched and wider market for that content. At the very least it will legitimise a practice which so many people engage in each day with music they buy – being able to rip that music to their computers and portable music players to better enjoy the music in ways they prefer instead of being technically restricted to playing the CDs?

When it comes to books, one model which has worked surprisingly well is to publish a book for free on the Web and to sell hard copies. BoingBoing blogger, Cory Doctorow, has employed this model to considerable success, I believe, as have the people behind 37signals (the creators of the fantastic Basecamp software that powers my firm’s client extranet).

Instead of tighter controls and greater regulation, what we really need in this age of social media is creative thinking. Social media does not mean the end of intellectual property or vice versa. It just means we need to change our business models.

(This post was inspired by a discussion at the recent Supernova 2007 conference which IP lawyer, Denise Howell, moderated.)

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