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Peter Cochrane's Blog: Set your content free

Good for business

Compiled at a Heathrow Airport Hotel between assignments in the USA and UK, and dispatched to silicon.com via 3G

You must have noticed by now that publishers and media companies insist on locking down content on their websites.

Pictures, graphs, movies, sound files and text are all welded down to stop you getting at it. Some presenters and public speakers even convert their PowerPoint slides to a PDF or another format which you cannot conveniently access, modify and re-use.

Why do these people go to all this trouble? Are they so misguided they actually think they can control their content and that of others?

Haven't they been watching the music industry? Don't they realise that we, the user community, reward companies and individuals that afford us more freedom and not less?

And don't they see the commercial damage being inflicted on the organisations practicing such backward content control policies?

The technology to scrape almost anything off the screen is now universally available and mostly free, or of such low cost that no one cares. Locking things down is a futile gesture offering a mild inconvenience to those wishing to use any online material, be it photographs, movies, music or text.

In fact I think we can safely assume that no matter what form the content, someone soon will publish 'a scraper' to lift it right off the screen.

Before the legal eagles and priests of DRM begin to chastise me, let me just say that this activity has a long and proud history going back thousands of years. The copying and distribution of works in almost every format has always been the norm. But the dam wall really broke with the printing press, followed by the camera and the humble tape recorder.

In each case the 'smine, all smine' brigade went apoplectic and tried to retain control and restrict both access and progress. Fortunately, they lost, and none so dramatically as the music industry, which spent millions of dollars on DRM and market control mechanisms, and lost even more by ignoring the new sales and delivery channels offered by the internet and mobile networks.

My take is that the real challenge is in the realisation of new business models that provide new reward paths for the originators and performers of works. Many people have evolved theirs, and I have certainly evolved mine - if only more would follow. Yes, actively giving away your content can create even more business.

Ultimately this is all about human creativity born of a finite population of a limited life span and capability. To get the maximum output and the greatest progress, sharing and freedom are essential. They always have been, and I can't see why it should be stopped or in any way inhibited!

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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