UPDATE: Great news on the online file locker front. MP3Tunes wins their case against EMI and the music industry. The case revolved largely around deduplication and hash based file fingerprinting for single instancing of content. The case has implications for online video distribution and B2C cloud content management systems like Dropbox, box net and others. On the music front, iTunes, Google Music Beta and other digital lockers all stand to benefit. As consumers we all stand to benefit from being able to realize deduplication, speedy “uploads” (where a file fingerprint from your PC matches a file already on the server, you don’t have to actually transfer the file – you simply get access to the file that is already there). This is good for end users and good for the cloud locker providers.
ORIGINAL POST: One of the key value propositions of enterprise content management systems is the ability to store, reuse and remix content. ECM vendors like Oracle, Adobe, IBM, EMC, OpenText, Microsoft, Autonomy, Alfresco and others spend considerable time and effort building sophisticated features into their platforms that make storage, reuse and remixing content easier, more efficient and more robust. On the storage front, compression and deduplication are important ways that companies can manage the ever increasing amount of data that is created. These technologies allow files to be shrunk or in some cases, not even uploaded at all – if it already exists somewhere in the system. On the reuse front, search and indexing technologies as well as recommendation and discovery engines are important. These allow users to find what they are looking for, sometimes before they know exactly what that is. On the remix front, templating systems, dynamic and component publishing and compound document management are just some of the ways that ECM systems help users reuse content in ways that the original authors may not have ever imagined. All of these are certainly benefits from an data center, business efficiency and information management perspective. But things get uncertain where copyright becomes involved. This is why it is worth it for ECM practitioners to pay close attention to the ongoing Music Industry legal wranglings. The music industry folks have planted a stake in the ground and are trying to build a fortress around their content: copyrighted music. The music industry are still suing content management providers that deal with their content. Folks like Google Music, Amazon Cloud Player, iCloud for iTunes and smaller players like MP3Tunes.com and others are the target of legal action by the content owners. It is spilling over into the non-music space too. Recently, cloud file sharing system DropBox was dealt a blow by users when they changed their terms of service. Users perceived that change as negatively impacting privacy and seeming to grant ownership of files to DropBox. While DropBox later clarified that the TOS change was just to allow the technology services to better operate, there is still some concern. The concern goes like this (take a look at the image above). ECM technology facilitates storage, searching and re-mixing. Storage involves copying the file from your computer to the server. Deduplication involves distributing a copy of the file to someone who may have a legitimate copy themselves, but the copy stored on the server is not the one they have on their computer (even if the hash is an exact match). Searching is fundamentally about enabling distribution. Re-use through dynamic publishing, templating and multi-channel distribution is about the creation of derivative works. All of these areas are where copyright lawyers and trolls see as the exclusive domain of the copyright holder. Privacy concerns arise when the ECM vendor or service provider receives a claim of copyright infringement and then must reveal the identity of the user or users who have access to the material in question. Think this doesn’t apply because you work for a big business? Think again. Look at a whitepaper from your company. Look at product documentation. Look at your corporate logo. Look at those Getty or Shutterstock Images in your Power Point decks. They’re all copywritten. Now a business using ECM is not likely to sue itself. But what about the value proposition of ECM? Enabling partners? Yep. Helping customers self-service their own requests? Yep. Making it easy for Marketing to do cross channel campaigns by re-using content? Yep. Many ECM systems store great presentations with licensed StockPhotos in them. As soon as you use the ECM technology to re-use and re-mix that presentation as a web site, printed material or downloadable deck you are risking the wrath of the copyright trolls. All of these have potential copyright risks if an overzealous copyright holder finds out or starts trolling for law suits. The problem only compounds as ECM technology moves into the cloud. The ECM industry sees the cloud as merely location-shifting the stored bits. This is much like your DVR at home. But copyright holders are seeing things differently and they’re taking the big-boys to court over it – at least in the music arena. At least for now. The trends in collaboration and information sharing are growing and accelerating. ECM technology is facilitating these trends. In some ways, copyright holders stand to lose money the more that content is shared and not purchased. So they stand in the way. They sue. Sometimes they win. The ECM needs to pay attention. They could be next. For more reading on these topics see: Are Google Music and Amazon Cloud Player Illegal?