Two Berkeley researchers question compulsory licensing of music and other content–as well as DRM. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been a big booster of the compulsory approach. But the researchers raise the possibility of cheating by content providers and also note the difficulties that honest providers might have in monitoring usage of content. As for DRM, they have privacy concerns–rightly!–along with others.

The TeleRead take: Compulsory licensing might well be better than the present mess. Still, for years, TeleRead has instead focused on voluntary participation by content providers–in a well-stocked national digital library system. Marketplace pressures might encourage participation. Payments would be fair. Accesses would be tracked for the purpose of providing compensation for writers, publishers and others. Techniques similar to those for anonymous digital cash might be used to assure more privacy than the Hollywood approach to DRM would take.

Just the same, a national digital library system in the TeleRead vein could also work without any DRM if, say, it tried to limit itself to IP addresses associated with a particular country. Subscription or pay-per-read options would be available for people elsewhere who lacked access through equivalent library systems. Primitive? Leaky? Sure. But the library model would help content providers in the most important way, by popularizing the medium of e-books. “Free” is always better at the reader end. See Harry Potter and the math of e-books if you haven’t already–as well as a Wired article showing how “free” can boost demand. Needless to say, under TeleRead, different lending models could exist to help address budgetary issues.

Update, July 18: An HTML version of the Berkeley paper is also available–so you needn’t mess with the PDF link on Slashdot. Also keep in mind that the TeleRead suggests voluntary participation by content-providers, as opposed to voluntary payments from users. This needn’t be Stephen King II.


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