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Business - Written by on Monday, January 15, 2007 16:01 - 1 Comment

The Net Generation is redefining intellectual property

In Wikinomics, Don Tapscott and I argued that the conventional view of intellectual property is ill suited to an economy where large-scale collaborations are increasingly the norm. Some recent research we’ve been conducting on the Net Generation – the first generation to be socialized in a world of digital communications – has really reinforced that view.

We first got a taste of the Net Gen’s changing intellectual property norms as millions of technology-literate kids and teenagers flocked to Napster (and later Kazaa, BitTorrent, and LimeWire) and revolutionized the distribution of music, television shows, software, and movies as a result. File sharing now accounts for half of the world’s Internet traffic—much to the chagrin of Hollywood—signaling that the Net Gen is renegotiating the definitions of copyright and intellectual property. The most promising aspect of this development, however, is that a growing number of N-Geners are applying their new skills in online media world to engender a new creative renaissance on the Web.

The oft-cited Pew Internet Project’s survey of U.S. teenagers confirms that more than half (some 57%) of online teens are what the project calls “content creators.” These content creators report having engaged in myriad activities, including creating blogs or personal Web pages, sharing original content such as artwork, photos, stories, or videos, or remixing content found online into a new creation. New online services like Jumpcut make it ludicrously easy for this generation to make and remix movies, while thousands of bedroom DJs are taking advantage of new technologies that put on a recording studio on your computer.

So is the N-Gen’s approach to intellectual property a threat or an opportunity?

Intellectual property hawks (like the Business Software Alliance) brand N-Geners as a generation of pirates and worry that they are increasingly indifferent to copyright law. But is it really piracy when DJ Copycat spends over 100 hours mashing-up the Sex Pistol’s “Pretty Vacant” with tracks from The Charlatans and Visage into a new creation that he then shares with his followers online? Or is this exactly the kind of serendipitous creativity we should be encouraging as we look to invent new user-centric business models in the media industries.

While I disagree with copyright fundamentalists such as the BSA and the RIAA, I do think that we should discourage outright piracy and ensure that creators and inventors can benefit monetarily from their work. In my view, this should include people who spend hundreds of hours making or remixing music, photos, and video for sites such as flickr, MySpace, and YouTube.

If Hollywood had its way, it would be all too easy to extinguish potentially lucrative sources of user-driven innovation and creativity on the flawed assumption that any form of creative “remixing” of intellectual property is tantamount to piracy. Instead Hollywood should look at the N-Gen’s proclivity to hack and remix digital products as a business opportunity. For example, why not create or encourage the growth of online communities where participants pay a fee to get access to powerful new editing tools along with the raw materials (including the latest music and movies) to fashion their own media creations?

Issues surrounding intellectual property will be pivotal in the coming years as N-Geners move into positions of authority in government, business, and the community. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out, and you can be sure that folks at New Paradigm will be watching closely.

1 Comment

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Bruce Stewart
Jan 16, 2007 14:25

The whole question of remixes and mashups reminds me of the challenges authors of semi-popular works face.

Places like FanFiction.net quickly become a home for a community of fan fiction authors. As always, Sturgeon’s Law is demonstrated – 90%+ of these efforts are unredeeming trash – but the residue is often brilliant, exploiting story lines not taken by the primary author, playing off psychological insights into the characters, and the like.

There are authors like Anne Rice, who have vigorously defended their “intellectual property rights”, who send their lawyers after these unpaid fan authors. And then there are authors like J. K. Rowling, who take no action against them, comment occasionally on their own website about particularly interesting stories that have appeared, and refute fan community directions for where her own story line might be going.

Of the two, the open approach of Rowling is to be preferred. So too with the rest. But it will take a long time for that attitude to spread.

All of this reminds me of the lawsuit brought against the Toronto Eaton Centre many years ago by the creator of the Canada Geese sculpture in the Queen Street end. The mall put red ribbons on the geese for Christmas; the sculptor asserted this “destroyed the integrity of his work”. He won the day. I think in another decade common law will have moved in the other direction.

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