Of That

Brandt Redd on Education, Technology, Energy, and Trust

09 June 2018

A Brief History of Copyright

In the early 2000s I began writing a book titled Frictionless Media. The subject was business models for digital and online media. My thesis was that digital media is naturally frictionless — naturally easy to copy and transmit. Prior media formats had natural friction, they required specialized equipment and significant expense to copy. Traditional media business models are based on that natural friction. In order to preserve business models, publishers have attempted to introduce artificial friction through mechanisms like Digital Rights Management. They would be better off adapting their business models to leverage that frictionlessness to their advantage. My ideas were inspired by experience at Folio Corporation where we had invented a sophisticated Digital Rights Management system for textual publications. We found that the fewer restrictions publishers imposed on their publications the more successful they were.

I didn’t finish the manuscript before the industry caught up with me. Before long, most of my arguments were being made by dozens of pundits. Nevertheless, the second chapter, "A Brief History of Copyright," remains as relevant as ever. In 2018 I updated it to include recent developments such as Creative Commons.

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