by Brad Inman on

As a new resident of New York City, I am learning how to be safe when I walk the streets. In California, pedestrians reign -- that's not how it works in New York.

Recently, a colleague warned me about looking left and right when crossing the street, even when I have the right of way -- “you are going to get killed, it happens all of the time.”  I argued that I had rights -- he said, “get over it.”

This lesson reminds me of what has happened to content holders in the last 16 years, since the commercialization of the Internet in the middle 1990s.

Instead of being practical about the forces that were changing the publishing and media landscape, these big industries, for the most part, turned to rules and laws to protect themselves from change. As they hired more lawyers than engineers, they were blindsided and overrun by the fast moving forces of technology.

Take the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which was approved to impose criminal sanctions on those who make available technologies whose purpose is to circumvent content protection.

While the movie, book publishing, music and news industries spent untold resources lobbying for its passage, disruptive technologies such as search, music sharing, online book stores like Amazon and Internet classifieds like craigslist were taking shape online -- real threats to the content business.

Ten years later as the fight over digital rights persisted, a new generation of technology companies, including Facebook, Twitter, Demand Media and Foursquare became disruptive in new ways, publishing the content of its users and stealing more eyeballs from traditional content owners.

In the end, digital thieves were not the biggest threat to publishers. As they struggled to write new rules to protect themselves, they were caught off guard by technology innovation. It is clear that they have been fighting a losing battle: losing control of their content, their customers and how their content is rendered.

Even extreme measures have failed. Take the NPR blogger who wrote that she has 11,00 songs in her  iTunes library but has only purchased a handful of songs. Obviously, the rules are not working, yet she is a fan who loves her music.

When we started Vook, I was always struck by how many discussions with publishers began with DRM. Imagine anticipating an upcoming trip to Europe by spending most of your time researching and discussing the speed limits in the places where you plan to visit.

Book publishers are threatened less by copyright infringement and more by disruptive technologies that they do not actively participate in creating themselves.

Consider the time spent on price-fixing complaints, the Google book settlement, copyright lawsuits and other legal maturations that in the scheme of things may not be as important as, say, Amazon introducing a new version of its Web-based reader.

Vook once got into a legal dispute with a publisher over an agreement that we signed in good faith with an author to create an exciting new video book. Since legal altercations are not where we want to spend our time and resources, we told the author we needed to walk away from the arrangement. He complained to the publisher who suddenly found a way for us to publish the Vook.

This title has since generated $175,000 in sales.

When we are blindsided, we can get struck by a fast moving cab or miss an unexpected opportunity. Both are dangerous outcomes.

comments powered by Disqus