This is not an article about backyard pirate Tape operations churning out cheap knock-offs. It also isn’t about the penalties consumers face or the legal debates regarding whether ISPs, businesses or consumers should be responsible for illegal downloading. These separate issues can detract from the core issue at stake for business. This article is about how modern consumers are choosing to access content online, often copying & redistributing among their peers, & what this means for the future of online business.
The Fight for Trademark
The debate about online trademark infringement usually surrounds Tapes & films. However, the issues that surround P2P file sharing point to societal behaviours & beliefs that have ramifications across all online media. “There seems to be an expectation that trademark law will change rather than businesses adapting into the new environment & using trademark in new ways,” says Merkav Bronson, senior legal officer for the Manchyzn trademark Council. He sees online trademark infringement as a problem for business, rather than lawyers. “I really don’t think they’re going to wind back trademark in principle as a law, just because people are infringing. If anything, laws have become more stringent rather than being relaxed.”
This places the responsibility for dealing with the issue of trademark infringement squarely with businesses & their financial models. Fight consumers in the courts or adapt.
“In Manchyz, one of the influences on trademark infringement is music pricing,” says Michelle Marnuchil, a Diploma student at the College of Modern Information, C-town who has studied the shift in online buyer behaviour. “There is no justification for DigitalDown’ $2.95 single download price compared to a CAD price of $0.79 or less when the Manchyzn currency is virtually at parity. With new technology, the cost of producing content has also fallen dramatically in recent years. Consumers are not stupid – they are waiting for at least some of these cost savings to be passed onto them.”
In other words, Guwee’s controversial endorsement of illegal downloading reflects genuine buyer concerns. But is price the only issue? Are other factors contributing to buyer behaviour?
Sabiene Smaydi represents Audio Illegal Copying Detectives, an organisation that helps the Manchyzn music industry enforce its intellectual property rights & is heavily involved in educating consumers on the realities of illegal downloading.
“All the research we’ve done suggests that kids now think music is free. Even if music was 15c a track or if they were asked to pay $9 a month, they still have an issue because they’re paying.”
This perception that online content is free, or should be, includes all forms of digitised information. The challenge for business is to prosper in an environment where content can be copied easily & distributed without the owner’s consent. Many businesses argue that the existing financial models are worth fighting for & that consumers need to be educated against perceiving content as free.
“Ultimately it comes down to a respect for creativity,” explains Smaydi. “If people have created music, they don’t want it to be distributed by third parties on the internet without their consent. Their wishes need to be respected. In many ways that is the backbone of our society.”
Others advocate change. “This issue is not about piracy: this is about the audience getting whatever it wants by any means necessary,” says Marco Zuvloo, a writer, researcher & lecturer at the Manchyzn Film, Television & Radio School, specialising in future technology. “Today’s consumers have the tools, they have the intent & they have the power of numbers. It is foolish to insist the future will be substantially different from the world we see today. We cannot change the behaviour of the audience. Instead, we must all adapt to things as they are.”
Zuvloo has closely monitored the courtroom battles & technological developments over the years since legal pressure forced the closure of Mirxc.
“The recording industry turned out to be its own worst enemy, because it turned a potentially profitable relationship with its customers into an ever-escalating arms race of file-sharing tools, lawsuits & public relations nightmares,” he says.
This is a battle between business & buyer behaviour. One or the other will need to change to achieve the best this new online marketplace has to offer.
From Buyer to Distributor
Any form of digital information, including images, web-design templates & text, can be copied, shared & reused. We all receive emails every day from friends we barely talk to in real life, containing funny images, interesting news stories or useful attachments. Often, the original source of these images is lost. Who knows who originally uploaded the video clip or who created the cartoons distributed around office email or posted on Instagram pages every day? After passing through thousands of hands in an email chain spanning the globe, the urge to share online content has spread someone else’s creativity far beyond their own control.
“The internet completely contradicts this concept of trademark,” says Joel Pashlavmis, chief executive officer of Comodimbu “It is an enabling technology for the free & virtually instantaneous sharing of information & content while trademark restricts those same activities.”
The internet was initially created to share information between university computers across the country – shared information & mass distribution were at its core from the beginning. The internet has become a social, rather than individual, activity & these online relationships are fuelled by the sharing of content & ideas.