Friday, August 21, 2009

digital rights management and edu

What lessons edu needs to learn from the mistakes of big media:

There was a blog post a few days ago, “The 10 Stupidest Tech Company Blunders”.  Sixth stupidest ever, the music industry fighting Napster instead of using Napster to change and innovate their own model.

“Today, of course, music-subscription businesses and streaming services such as Pandora dominate digital music. Had the record companies partnered with Napster,, or any of the other file sharing networks instead of suing them, they might control digital music sales today--without nearly as many problems with piracy.”

Edu and music are not exactly the same.  Institutional edu doesn’t seemed embittered by open education reform, such as MIT’s open courseware.  There is however, a disdain and stigma for online education and the textbook industry’s growing threat of the ebook.  There is tension between the traditions of the past and technologies potential innovations of the future.  And in those tensions, there are some lessons to be learned from the mistakes of big media.

(1)    Napster vs. Labels.  Napster changed the world.  It was a seed of innovation that had just began to sprout in a big way.  And instead of adapting, adopting, partnering, mimicking, or in any way trying to learn from, embrace, or grow the innovation, the big labels felt threatened and just tried to crush the sapling that was Napster under its big boots.  Largely it worked, killing what Napster might have become, but shoots spread and rose up in  the hundreds, just delaying the march of progress and leaving the big labels outdated and now outmanned and out positioned to win the fight in the long run.
I see this in the world of edu—one recent case is the WA teacher unions fighting the Charter movement.  Edu needs to adapt and adopt not fight and delay. 

(2)    Hollywood, Blockbuster, Netflix, and Red Box.  In high school, every video I rented was from Blockbuster video.  In college is was Blockbuster online. Two years ago it was RedBox and these days it is streaming from NetFlix on demand.  There is an interesting story behind the evolution of the movie rental evolution that applies to edu.  Hollywood Video is every university who still doesn’t offer online courses.  Blockbuster is arguably those who do offer online courses as a bolted-on extension of their otherwise unchanged business model.  In this analogy, I think edu is about where the movie rental business was while I was in college, so it is too early to say who is really the Netflix and the RedBox are here, but I will venture with this.  RedBox is the online universities of today, Phoenix, Kaplan, DeVry.   They are the 50% solution. I believe that RedBox is a 10 yr business model and then it will be forever gone.  Streaming will mark its death.  The online colleges bring great convenience, steal serious market share; they are the 50% solution. They brought convenience and arguably cost savings to the old business model.  The NetFlix, and by NetFlix I really infer the NetFlix on demand (streaming is the future and they are the ones positioned for that market), is the real innovation.  It is a change in distribution, technology, and business model.  It is the disruptor.  Whoever this is in the edu market, I think it’s too early to say.   

(3)    BluRay vs. HD DVD.  Akin to the Napster lesson. With Napster, it was a fight against innovation.  With BluRay and HD DVD they fought for the rights to the future of innovation, not against it.  The problem was, they spent more time and more money fighting each other, that they lost the market entirely.  BluRay finally pulled ahead, but so late in the game, they have won little share over DVDs and the market is soon to go the way of streaming.  Billions of dollars lost and half a decade wasted.  If BluRay and HD DVD had partnered at the very beginning, the market would have gone high def years ago and money would have been plentiful on both sides of the fence. I see this being akin to the fight between the traditional and the for-profits.  They both want to educate students, they just both want to do it in their format.  If they fight each other long enough, they will waste time, energy and efforts that could be spent innovating and blazing ahead.

(4)    Digital Rights Management.  I watched a interesting documentary on DRM in the music and film industry:

It was interesting to learn about how Disney ripped off works in the public domain and made them relevant to our day and age.  “His work was a remix of the stuff that came before. He was a mashup artist”.  For example, from the video (which is queued to the this portion of the movie) is about how Steamboat Willie was a direct ripoff of Steamboat Bill.  But then towards the end of the 20th century, Disney had all of the public domain and copyright laws rewritten to protect their work for ~100 years rather than the previous 14 years as it was when Disney got his start.
The simple point I was to make here, is that education is built upon the works of those who have gone before.  I am an economist and I believe in giving people incentives to produce works.  I believe in copyright laws. But, it is important that the author/creator is protected and given incentives—not the marketplace or distribution channel. 
A case from recent history that exposes what is wrong with music rights today is the Boston University student being sued for file sharing; he has been ordered to pay $675,000 for illegally downloading 30.  That is because so many layers of labels and producers have rights to those songs.  Protect the artist, but the way that iTunes and most recently, the Kindle, lock up their owners information is bad for education

Posted via email from hacking edu

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