APFNDemocracy in Media: “Open” vs. “Closed”Fri Oct 20, 2006 20:35
Democracy in Media: “Open” vs. “Closed”
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Open” vs. “Closed” Distribution
I am beginning to view citizen’s media and other long tail content in the context of “open” and “closed” distribution networks. In doing so, I have become increasingly aware of how differently “open” network economics seem to function from traditional “closed” networks (and firming opinions on how this will impact “closed” systems.) But I’ve also been impressed with the lack of clarity in the definition of “open” distribution (other than “you’ll know it when you see it.”) I did a quick Wikipedia search and came up relatively empty handed, but found their entry on open systems theory most closely related. So, the point of this post is to ramble about the evolving economic model of “open” networks and how they will challenge legacy “closed” distribution methods, but I think I must first be clear on what I in fact mean by “open” and “closed.”
Part I: A Definition of “Open” Distribution
Perceived lack of openness has earned a few people some pretty harsh words. Over the past couple of days, Hilary Rosen got slammed a few hundred times (deservedly), for having her head up her ass when it came to (finally) understanding the implications of the RIAA’s lobbying efforts. Even Andreessen’s new venture, Open Media Network (OMN), seemed to get a few black eyes over their integration of tight DRM controls into their video publishing platform. (I guess the Netscape pedestal eroded pretty quickly. Sorry Marc… but I’m sure you’ll do fine anyway.) It seems clear that openness is highly valued, but does the inclusion of DRM really make your network that closed?
What Exactly Makes a Distribution Network “Open”?
It seems that the fundamental difference between “open” and “closed” distribution is similar to the difference between the file attributes “read only” and “read and write.” Closed media distribution networks, like Barnes and Nobles, XM Radio, iTunes, and Comcast are based on unidirectional communications; they’re basically “read only.” Open media distribution networks, such as Blogger, Flickr, and Ourmedia are based on bidirectional communications; they’re basically “read and write.” But, as evidenced by the criticism of OMN, further criteria can affect the perception of the relative “openness” of a network.
1. Regulatory Framework
One primary criterion is a network’s rules and regulations. Ourmedia, for example, provides simple tools to publish and consume. However, before user content becomes available, it goes through a review process. Content identified as inappropriate for the network (such as porn or clear copyright violations) are rejected. Ourmedia is a very open system, but it is still lightly regulated. CurrentTV, on the other hand, solicits contributions from viewers, but tightly controls which content makes it to broadcast. It is theoretically an open system, but regulations governing contributions cause it to operate as if it were essentially closed.
2. Rights Management
Another primary criterion is DRM. Flickr, for example, uses Creative Commons licensing mechanisms to provide various degrees of intellectual property protection. The underlying assumption when someone posts photos to Flickr is that they are going to be made widely available and, frequently, fall within the public domain. OMN, on the other hand, appears to be focused on providing content contributors with a greater level of rights protection through a platform called Kontiki. OMN is an open network, but digital rights can limit the portability and reuse of the content making it feel more closed.
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