Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Paramount, Clips and Fair Use/micropayment questions

I was fascinated to see that Paramount is the first studio - or really first film entity of any import - to start a video clip service. I'm not going to describe it in detail, you can read about it here, but it's essentially a marketplace for clips from famous Hollywood films. It's a great idea that I've been waiting to see someone launch. At first I was surprised to see a studio do this first, but on second thought, I think this is going to be an ongoing trend - movie studios embracing things indies have been talking about doing for years in the digital space but with real monetary backing and different aims.

When we were developing Reframe, we tried to launch it with just such a clip model - the idea being that filmmakers could not just sell their entire film, but also license clips for use. But, we were going to allow not just selling it to other filmmakers as clips, but also consumers and also allow for alternate licensing - Creative Commons or free even, and try to accommodate fair use principles etc. We didn't get very far, as many filmmakers and rights-holders literally flipped, and we realized it would be easier to start small with just a digitization and access place for entire films.

We even held a two day meeting with many filmmakers, lawyers, professors, and other industry to discuss how this could be done, ramifications,etc. This process, while helpful in some ways, is the perfect example of how nonprofits don't innovate - they brainstorm ideas with constituents and end up never building the right thing while some for profit builds it without taking any of your concerns into consideration. But that's another article.

What I find very interesting to contemplate is what this means for the future of a couple bigger ideas - fair use and micropayments as a practice. Obviously, this development is also interesting for what it means to the industry, to audience participation, to reuse in general, viewing habits, etc. but these other two are potentially more important.

First, one of the very real concerns raised when we held the Reframe panel was what would such a system mean for fair use? The Paramount system is obviously based on a heavy DRM type system. This helps them theoretically combat piracy (in reality all DRM now and in the future can and will be broken), but it breaks your legal right to reuse a clip in a fair use setting. Now obviously you can go grab the clip from somewhere else and use it in a fair use setting, but there's apparently (according to the legal scholars I spoke with) a problem with setting a precedent for a market. In other words, a studio could claim there's no need to allow a fair use argument because there exists a micro-payment system that could solve the problem. I'd love to hear more wisdom on this from other legal people, but it definitely will have an impact.

Second, this is a pretty clear move towards a micro-payment world. This is something every old school media person, be it film, tv, print or music - really wants to work. But up until now, it's been just a pipe-dream. Al such schemes usually fail and many take it as a given truth of the internet now that micro-payments won't work. (itunes not being considered a true micro payment, as I understand it, because it's not for song segments but entire songs) So, will Paramount's scheme fail? Will it lead to more robust clip piracy and really cool video mash-ups (oh, of this I really hope yes)? Or, is this the beginning of the big media squeeze that finally makes a web world where we pay in tiny slices for every little bit of media we consume?

I've not thought about this enough to answer either of these questions, but I've realized that if I wait to fully form an opinion for a blog post, then I'll keep posting at this once a month rate, which isn't a great trade-off. So, I hope to think more about this and post more later. Or send me your thoughts.

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