I’ve noticed a few stories and blog posts lately where people suddenly realize they don’t own some of the things they buy (latest one here). Licensing is nothing new to photographers, but most people assume they own the books, movies and music they bought . When they suddenly discover that they cannot freely copy and distribute it (even among devices they own), that they only bought a license, there’s usually a WTF moment. It’s really easy to understand why this licensing deal and in general, an understanding of copyright law was never properly explained to the masses. Copying and distributing books, movies and music was really difficult and expensive so there was no need to get into the details of it. Now that it’s easy to copy and distribute work, everyone is paying for the lack of attention to the subject.
So, what can those in the licensing camp do about this? Do we dig in and force consumers to understand how licensing works and let them know it’s not going away? Or do you find a business model that works without licensing, where everything is sold once?
If you agree that licensing needs to stick around for the business of photography to continue then you know that the only way to protect licenses is to plant software in devices that prevents you from doing certain things. Anyone who’s used itunes or kindle books knows how this works. You try and do something with a book, movie or song you purchased and your computer tells you it’s not allowed.
Cory Doctorow and outspoken critic on licensing has argued vehemently against the software that controls the license: DRM. In a recent piece titled “The Coming War on General Purpose Computing” he takes this anti licensing and anti DRM thinking one step further by arguing that eventually everything will be controlled by software and that big brother will be upon us before we know it if we don’t address the issue of hidden software on our devices. “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” is not some science fiction fantasy, it already exists. You’ll only freak out when you can’t open your fridge because Bloomberg put you on a diet.
If photographers agree that protecting licensing with software is a good thing then what about when the software is spying on you? I’ve heard from quite a few people that turning in your RAW files is becoming a common practice in some genre’s of photography. Companies that trade in the veracity of photographs need to know what was done to the image in post plus where and when it was taken. I can easily see a software solution to this problem where GPS, timestamps and changes to the image are all recorded. Software spying might not seems so great when that happens.
There are no easy answers to this problem but Cory Doctorow’s piece is worth reading and considering the implications to the business of photography, because there will be a battle over DRM and software used to spy on you. And, that translates to a battle over licensing.