First off, I don't think that eBay is recognized for the problem that it is, or the problem that it potentially could become. I personally have seen pirated Playstation games, VHS tapes, computer software, and audio CDs up for auction on eBay. All pirated, all copyright violations. Sure, users are prohibited from selling these items on eBay, but the moderators of eBay tend to turn a blind eye to these practices. A few industry executives have complained to eBay, and eBay has taken a little bit of action. But until eBay is held fully accountable for the sale of copyrighted goods, this will continue to be a problem.
As I see it, there are two ways the recording industry can deal with the digital music phenomenon that was ignited by Napster. They can fight it all the way, keep introducing legislation and cracking down on violators. They can keep trying to come up with digital signatures and watermarks and hardware protections to try to keep the old intellectual property paradigm in place.
Or, they can embrace the paradigm shift and try to work WITH the new technology instead of against it. What is at hand here is a shift between music in a physical form (CDs, audiotapes, vinyl) to music in a digital form. The recording industry can't exert the same control over digital music that it could over music in a physical form. The digital age is here, it can't be undiscovered. As Scott Sander, CEO of Sightsound put it, "The technology shift is not on the horizon. It's in the rearview mirror" (2). Those companies that refuse to change with the times will be left for dead on the wayside.
In fact, many are now heralding the end of the music industry as we know it. The record labels have long been seen as greedy middlemen who do little more than take an unfair piece of the pie. According to the New York Times, an issue is now brewing between musicians and the record labels over who owns the musicians' recordings (3). In fact, many musicians, mostly local and unsigned, love Napster and see it as a way to get exposure (10). Even some famous artists are speaking up in support of MP3s, like Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit and Chuck D of Public Enemy (visit his Rapstation website). We could be witnessing the beginning of a revolution in the music industry, one that would eliminate the companies and put the power in the hands of the artists. Indeed, the recording companies need to change their business models if they want to have even a miniscule piece of the pie.
There is an old hacker saying that goes, "Information wants to be free." Never is that more obvious than now. I suppose we could also say that "Internet users want information to be free." Now that we've tasted freedom, we don't want to go back to paying for our music. Or for anything, for that matter.
So far, the only big issue regarding movie copyrights is the controversy surrounding DVD duplication. But according to CNET's News.com, the film industry is preparing for the battle of its life (2). Some in Hollywood have realized a frightening fact: when the Internet pipelines widen up, people will start trading movies (2).
Right now, movies are way too big to send over the Internet. It would take many days to download just one film. But with the advent of new video compression techniques that mirror the MP3 scheme, some tinseltown execs are starting to tremble (2). The Internet is going to get faster, the whole economy demands it. And when it does, what's to stop users from trading movies online? That's what the motion picture industry is starting to ask itself (2).
So the movie industry is quickly trying to get the ball rolling on some pre-emptive initiatives and legislation that would protect it (2). However, they understand the law-ignoring nature of most Internet users, and are putting more time and energy into software protections (2). Also, learning a few lessons from the MP3 battle currently being waged, they are wisely researching ways they can benefit from the Internet (2). Some companies are exploring the possibilities of offering their movies for download online, for a fee (2).
Since the software industry has been dealing with piracy for such a long time, they have had a little longer to contemplate. Some have even proposed a paradigm shift instead of having it forced upon them, although it is probably due to losses suffered by unlicensed copies of software. What we are talking about is software-on-demand.
Originally championed by Bill Gates of Microsoft, the idea of "pay as you go" software is catching on with a lot of people. The idea seems to click with a lot of people, and now that it's been postulated, it appears that it's inevitable.
Here's how it works: instead of buying software at the store, you "rent" it from an online server. That is, you dial into a server with the software you need, and pay a per-minute surcharge to use the program. One benefit is that you don't have to have a super-powerful computer to use the software. You can let the pumped-up workstation server at the other end do all the hard work, and all you need is a monitor and keyboard to see the results. Another benefit is that by paying as you go, you don't have to plunk down 800 bucks for a software package you'll use only three times. You also don't have to install the software, or keep updating it, or use up valuable hard drive space. The benefits go on and on, and the drawbacks are negligible. All signs point to a shift in this direction, although it may take a while.
Here's another interesting idea on the horizon for software piracy. Napster could potentially be used for other software besides music (2). Even more interesting is the previously mentioned (but hard to locate online) Gnutella, which does not rely on a central company server. Gnutella is capable of standing alone while connecting users worldwide to each other's hard drives (2). This could conceivably make any software in the world available to anyone, anywhere. According to News.com, Gnutella and other Napster work-alikes could start a "virtual arms race" between users and those trying to create countermeasures.
The music industry, the film industry, the software industry, and the companies they encompass have been necessary thus far because some framework was needed for duplication and distribution. We needed the music companies, the movie companies, and the software companies to organize the industries so that we could get our hands on their products.
These companies are no longer necessary. The Internet now provides the necessary means for duplication and distribution. The industries can try to come up with all the copyright laws and protections and schemes they want, but it makes no difference. There will always be a hardware or a software work-around, and Internet users will always find it and use it. If there is any function left for the companies to perform, it is on the creation end, in funding and facilitating the artists.
The companies in these industries must recognize what the Internet means for their futures. They must admit that the world is changing. They must realize that information wants to be free, and more importantly, that the Internet Generation wants it to be free. They must embrace the new technology. If they fight it, they will be consumed.
This is a definitive moment for intellectual property as we know it. If all intellectual property becomes free, as I now predict it will, then the concept of intellectual property will cease to have any meaning. "Property" implies ownership (not free), and the ability to sell the property. If all intellectual property becomes free, then it is not really anybody's property at all. Then it will only be "intellectual". Or perhaps, only art, as it should be.
Source for images: News.com (2)