The Death of Copyright, New Art Forms, and World of Warcraft
Intellectual property in digital form is easy to copy. In a networked world, it is also easy to distribute. It is therefore likely that copyright enforcement will become increasingly difficult. Tie-ins are a good solution for some forms of intellectual property but not for all. That leaves technological protection, ways of selling access to intellectual property without letting the purchaser reproduce it.
There is an important limit to such protection: It only works for forms of I.P. that are not entirely revealed in one use. However strong the encryption on the digital file containing your song, a customer can still tape record it when he plays it—or record the signals his computer is sending to its speaker, thus eliminating the sonic middleman. However well encrypted your novel, I can still, if I really want to, photograph my screen as I read it and run the pictures through OCR software.
There are other forms of I.P. that are not fully revealed in one use. What I get from Lexis or Westlaw is not a download of their database but the answer to a query. I can make a copy for a colleague but it is unlikely to be of much use to him, since he wants answers to different questions than I do. A computer program can be similarly protected, by running it on a webbed server and selling not copies but access.
A movie is fully revealed in one use. But one can imagine movie substitutes that are not. When I first thought of the idea, I was imagining a movie that could be viewed from many different angles, at the user's option. Listen to the bad guys plotting—at the cost of missing whatever else is going on at the same time. Watch the same film again tomorrow, seeing different things. A sufficiently rich version could be both an interesting new art form and a protectable form of intellectual property.
While discussing the idea this weekend with sf author Jerry Pournelle—we were both on a panel at Baycon—it occurred to me that such an artform already existed. Indeed, I am already a customer. World of Warcraft and similar massively multiplayer online games are movie substitutes. Unlike a movie, the game is not fully revealed on one play. You can "film" today's quest—but if you want to do another quest tomorrow you will have to pay Blizzard for the privilege.
As increasing bandwidth makes it more and more difficult to protect movies by either legal or technological means, I expect that we will see more and more of a shift away from conventional movies towards substitutes that, like games, are different each time you play them.
There is, however, a countervailing effect. As it becomes easier and easier to replace actors with computer generated images, the cost of making movies, even quite elaborate movies, will fall. For the net result, stay tuned—for the next decade or so.