In an era where most young people have wildly different copyright expectations, how can our society enable commercial creativity? How do we as a society respond when a growing, likely majority of our society engages in what is legally considered to be theft? If we are all criminals, is the law still reflective of society? In this new world order, what are the artist's terms of engagement - how can they protect their financial investments and creative pursuits from digital theft?
There are two answers to this solution. One is short term, the other is sustainable.
THE SHORT TERM SOLUTION
Act like a normal person. I know it may be hard for many in the entertainment industry, but it works. A few years back we saw a number of high profile musicians let the fans could choose how much they wanted to pay. Interesting model, successful at first, but I believe there is a reason we are not seeing much of this anymore. This is not the long term model for success.
Louis CK recently deployed a different "normal person" and very human approach. He self-funded his latest comedy release and distributed it independently using DRM free, normal everyday file formats. In theory, this would save would be pirates the "trouble" of converting a DRM protected video file (this typically takes three clicks and about 20 minutes of processing time). However, I doubt CK is going to see more piracy than he would have had he gone the traditional route... because Louis's download page contained the following text:
To those who might wish to “torrent” this video: look, I don’t really get the whole “torrent” thing. I don’t know enough about it to judge either way. But I’d just like you to consider this: I made this video extremely easy to use against well-informed advice. I was told that it would be easier to torrent the way I made it, but I chose to do it this way anyway, because I want it to be easy for people to watch and enjoy this video in any way they want without “corporate” restrictions.
Please bear in mind that I am not a company or a corporation. I’m just some guy. I paid for the production and posting of this video with my own money. I would like to be able to post more material to the fans in this way, which makes it cheaper for the buyer and more pleasant for me. So, please help me keep this being a good idea. I can’t stop you from torrenting; all I can do is politely ask you to pay your five little dollars, enjoy the video, and let other people find it in the same way.
At a cost of five dollar, Louis CK has found a way to bypass the traditional distribution channels and pass on the savings to his fans while out-conveniencing the iTunes model (if it's one 99 cents, why bother with piracy). In a revolutionary move, he has made his content available to his audience in the format they wanted. Most notably, Louis CK (or whoever is advising him) recognized a fundamental truth: people want to own their own media, and play it across multiple devices - iPads, iPhones, Android phones and Tablets, PCs, Macs, gaming consoles and the kitchen sink.
This human approach is the unscalable win-win of for-profit content creators. Owned and operated operations where the artist has a relationship with their audience can pull this off. But I don't believe we will see NBC or Universal Music Group jumping on this approach across all of their assets. To most of us, the big content farms are faceless corporations.
THE LONG TERM SOLUTION
DVDs and BluRay disks are primarily only good for the living room. In an era where many of us consume more of our media on tablets and phones, the industry has to find a better solution. I believe the long term solution will involve both more flexible, capable and truly invisible DRM, as well as a Product+ model.
DRM should not be letters or words any consumer has to encounter. Whether it's streaming media, cloud-connected authentication, or a time-limited downloaded file, there are enough solutions on the market for content owners and device manufacturers to build a meaningful solution. We just haven't seen this level of technology collaboration enabling a great user experience, yet. I blame the industry, not our entire society. Had every content owner and device manufacturer not wanted to "own" their entire distribution pipeline and user experience (something they never has in the era of Blockbuster), we could have seen universal standards and consistently pleasant user experiences. But this never happened. Society was pushed into piracy.
It's still not too late for strong industry collaboration. Look at the success Hulu had following the megatron that was YouTube. Look at the success iTunes and Amazon have had following the incredible success of Napster, Kazaa and BitTorrent.
The other long term solution is what I call Product+ (product plus). Product+ is a 360 offering that differentiates the authentic product. This will likely include a suite of digital and analog integrated and complimentary products around the initial product. Say I buy an ebook - I would love to have the options to purchase the audio version of the book for an additional few dollars, and possibly the writer's commentary on his book for an additional few dollars - or get it all as a package price. As someone who still loves to read physical books, I would love to be able to purchase a full book license that would give me access to the audio book and ebook for those times when I don't have the physical book with me. This would be the ideal way for college text books to truly provide fresh and real value. The text book should be significantly shorter, and far more linked to a live supplement that contains the latest case studies, interactive exercises, a download-able audio version of everything, a peer-to-peer forum that lets students assist one another and more. When a $150 new textbook has to compete with last year's $60 resale price, I don't think this industry has much of a choice other than to embrace Product+.
Most importantly, Product+ isn't just about the up-sell of additional goods, it's about the repackaging of the total experience. Give me a reason to want to buy the authentic product. Provide value that only the authentic experience can offer. Give society what they want - a great, affordable experience - first, and then build your monetization around that.
Is Society Evil?
I have to believe that we aren't all evil. We're just sick and tired of paying $20 for the BluRay and then another $20 for the high def download for our iPads. We're sick and tired of jumping through hoops and changing our own behavior to meet an outdated distribution model. And we in the industry need to find a way to both clarify common copyright law, and educate the public around it.
We aren't pirates, we're people. Work with us as people, and you will find massive markets ready and willing to buy.