Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Apple and the copyright maximalist cause

Apple Inc. has recently filed for a patent for a system to prevent people from filming events  such as concerts and sporting events. Although this patent does not describe any systems that are implemented in any Apple products, it does point to Apple responding to the concerns of the copyright maximalists in the content industry, most likely in an attempt to secure favourable licensing terms.

Apple has always been a company that has kept tight rein on the use of its hardware/software and has been zealous in its defence of its own intellectual property, so it is unsurprising that it would take this position. However, the ubiquity of its iTunes as a content distribution service makes receiving preferential licensing treatment in return for acquiescing to the content industries' ideology a potential further constraint to the online content distribution channel. In fact, it has the potential to set Apple up as a monopoly provider of content.

The content industries essentially left the online content distribution business when they pursued their litigation against Napster (and their subsequent litigation-as-a-business-model) and Apple has filled this gap with the iTunes store.

iTunes has been the most ubiquitous  model for online content delivery (with some oblique competition from Amazon and a johnny-come-lately from Google) and has an effective monopoly on legal content distribution. The filing of this patent indicates that Apple is prepared to further ingratiate itself with big content to secure its monopoly over content distribution. The danger of this is that as content producers effectively lobby governments and have quisling technology companies prepared to acquiesce to their particular brand of copyright maximalism, the nascent disruptive forces of content distribution over internet will be stymied.

The lobbying of governments is enhanced by tame technology companies providing a "model" system for legal content distribution, even though this "model" system might be utlimately mandated by preferential agreements struck between content producers and those distributors that are prepared to toe the ideological line. All of this will come not just at the expense of consumers, but at the expense of amateur creativity and the unique documenting of cultural events by amateur recordings.

Apple has signaled its intentions. So although they make shiny, shiny things, Apple is not your friend. Through its near-monopoly iTunes store and cosying up to the copyright maximalists it represents a threat to creativity on the web, albeit wrapped in shiny packaging with an 'i' in front of its name.