Sunday, April 5, 2009

Who owns orphans?

I was relieved to see a lengthy New York Times article today about media groups addressing Google's ongoing plan to claim rights to books and content that have expired copyrights (or orphans) and distribute them online. While the parties contesting Google's right to sole ownership to the material have an immediate interest in protecting their claim to the "up-for-grabs" content -- it's undeniable that for a worldwide readership there is a very tangible benefit to the digital and searchable content of a worldwide library Google Books has proposed (provided it remains affordable).

However, there is a larger debate at stake, more fundamental to a question most Internet publishers are battling with: who owns content? And more importantly, who should be allowed to profit from it? Typically, publishers have been the largest profiteers on content. Afterall they are the ones who have invested in reproducing, publicizing and distributing work. The originators and editors also get a cut, of course. Advertisers and liscensees pay fees to be alligned or become secondary distrubitors of the content.

However, online media models have told a very different story. Most originators and publishers are providing the content for free or remarkably low cost. Thus content has become devalued. Meanwhile, Google and other content aggregators, play a critical role in directing new readers to content but also stand to benefit equally or more from advertising dollars using the content they have not orginated. The market rewards parties that are bring the most use to a system. While content aggregrators are playing an important and monetizable role online, it is only one side of the equation. If we continue to operate an online marketplace that does not reward the people with the most upfront costs - the system will no longer be abe to support itself.

No comments: