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Smart People On Copyrights

Two recent interesting takes on the stickiness of copyrights in the digital age:

First, outlining the potential mother of all copyright cases, Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker tells of Google’s next conquest: the digitization of every book ever published into a text-searchable database. And they think they can be done in 10 years.

A benefit to the common good? I can’t think of a better or more important one. Who stands to gain the most in the process? Copyright attorneys.

Second, Steve Jobs, in an open letter to the music industry, lays out the hypocrisy of record companies demanding that songs purchased online be protected by digital rights management (DRM):

“Why would the big four music companies agree to let Apple and others distribute their music without using DRM systems to protect it? The simplest answer is because DRMs haven’t worked, and may never work, to halt music piracy. Though the big four music companies require that all their music sold online be protected with DRMs, these same music companies continue to sell billions of CDs a year which contain completely unprotected music. That’s right! No DRM system was ever developed for the CD, so all the music distributed on CDs can be easily uploaded to the Internet, then (illegally) downloaded and played on any computer or player.

In 2006, under 2 billion DRM-protected songs were sold worldwide by online stores, while over 20 billion songs were sold completely DRM-free and unprotected on CDs by the music companies themselves. The music companies sell the vast majority of their music DRM-free, and show no signs of changing this behavior, since the overwhelming majority of their revenues depend on selling CDs which must play in CD players that support no DRM system.”

Jobs says that Apple would embrace DRM-free music “in a heartbeat” if the labels would allow it. Consumers obviously already do. Meantime, who benefits? Guess.