ESPN and Cord-cutting or Disney’s Dark Fairy Tale

The Walt Disney Company has a complicated history with copyright. Disney has long taken inspiration for its movies from the public domain. Fairy tales, fables, Shakespeare, you name it, Disney has borrowed it. Disney has continued the age old practice of building on the work of others. There is no shame in this, it’s the natural progression of art, science, engineering, law, math, everything. That’s how society evolves.

Copyright, along with patent law, dates back to the founding documents of America (and the concepts predate immigration across the Atlantic) and is designed to serve as an incentive for creative works. The idea is that by issuing a limited monopoly, the state can encourage citizens to write, invent, paint, sing, and compose, recoup their investment and make some profit, and then gift their work to society. Copyright law is designed to encourage the greater good. Not be a barrier to protect the rights of artists against the public.

The Wall Street Journal on Monday published an article outlining an interview with ESPN President John Skipper discussing the cord-cutting revolution and ESPN’s reluctance to embrace internet content distribution unpaired from a cable or satellite (pay-TV) subscription.

“Though the company has internally considered a stand-alone broadband offering, “it’s not close yet.”

Mr. Skipper told the paper that a version of ESPN untethered from a cable subscription isn’t close, but in the age of Netflix, this is a surprise. Shouldn’t ESPN be close but not offering the product, perhaps, like HBO and HBO Go, trying to warm up the cable providers to the idea?

ESPN, like parent Disney, and recently, Disney property ABC, requires uses link their online or portable device with their traditional cable account. Signing in is a relatively painless process, but it means that for those who do not have some form of pay-TV, there is no online alternative.

For ESPN, a cable channel, this is unfortunate. With the success of MLB.tv, many sports fans would gladly free themselves of the channels they currently pay for and don’t watch to gain access to an online portal of ESPN content. Already, on the WatchESPN app, a greater amount of content is available – many college games for example – that don’t show up on the TV ESPN channels are available to stream over the internet either live or from an archive. Right now, ESPN wants to protect their current deals with the cable operators, not viewers, making payments.

It’s a similar strategy to that being taken by the NFL and Major League Baseball against Aereo: the threat of putting more content behind a paywall. Rather than broadcast games on free, over-the-air television, the leagues have indicated they would prefer to alienate some viewers and become cable-only rather than let the alternative antenna service provide customers with a feed of the game acquired in a, currently, legal manner.

Sure, live sports is an anchor that keeps people subscribing to cable tv. Right now, it’s compelling even if frustrating, but the same sports leagues that are retreating to cable don’t have much further to go before just selling directly to the consumer. Disney is in a unique position having so many iconic and powerful brands (Pixar, ABC, ESPN, Marvel, Star Wars, etc.) that it can leverage to move customers anywhere along the content spectrum. Netflix in 2016 will become a very nice home for many of their properties.

For the same hundred dollars a month minimum buy-in for a cable & internet package, consumers might start spending fifty dollars on internet and ten dollars per month on the three services they choose, perhaps even alternating when a new Game of Thrones (or whichever show is popular and offered in the right format) season debuts.

The cord-cutting revolution may have started before 2014, but the first big battles could well be fought this year as the hardware, software, and services are reaching past the domain of the technically inclined and arriving in living rooms in the form of a Chromecast, AppleTV, gaming console, and mobile devices. With a tap on a touchscreen, television content is at your literal fingertips, with barely a thought to the cable company.

The Book that Can’t Wait or You Can’t Deal with My Infinite Nature, Can You?

There has been much discussion about the death of the printed word – books, magazines, postcards, letters – all of these are set for execution by the digital guillotine, although Mark Twain would probably say that the demise of print is greatly exaggerated. One interesting experiment has decided to have some fun with the traditional format of text.

In their demo video, Eterna Cadencia describes books as “patient” tools which operate on the schedule of the buyer rather than that of the author. “We buy them, and then they wait for us to read them. Days, months, even years. That’s OK for books, but not for new authors. If people don’t read their first books. They’ll never make it to a second.”

There are many stories about young and inexperienced authors becoming “overnight” successes on the Kindle platform because the barriers between authors and readers are being eliminated. Discovery of ebooks and new authors is a different animal than printed works, but this project aims not to just provide discovery, but wonder. Eterna Cadencia is not trying to make our physical books ephemeral with a unique disappearing ink. Rather it wants to makes us turn our heads and think. If we do, there are some interesting scenarios. Say you are a person who tends to read a lot of books, but only once. What do you do? The library is one option, or finding a book sharing buddy, or going whole hog into Amazon Prime’s Kindle ebook lending.

But maybe there is a market for nice looking, bound volumes. A welcome addition to the library of every Gatsby: something to show off. Isn’t there a greater purpose for a book than to be mounted as a trophy? Even once its secrets have been revealed, books are a hybrid of art and utility.

Those who enjoy journaling or writing notes by hand might really pay a premium to get a book with disappearing ink. It could double as a sketchbook, or a book of personal quotations, or a real life Path. The second act of the pages adds another type of resale value to the humble purchase of a novel.

Of course, a book printed with disappearing ink may raise some copyright and ownership issues. Would each book come with a special terms of service specifying the length of time a person has to read the text? Could the books be “recharged” after resale, creating a black market for book hackers? Could the book be repurposed into another book with fresh ink lining the pages with a new story?

Maybe paper books would become like Blue Rhino propane tanks, refilled at local bookstores and swapped out. Imagine if Netflix had rewritable DVDs and just burned the movies people requested rather than having a stock of movies to stuff into red envelopes.

12South has shown that there is a market for creating book-like experiences around our electronic devices. Moleskin notebooks remain popular as well. The physical connection between users and their media is far from dying out.

The permanence and persistence of the book survives in popular culture and in our lives. Some families have bibles that pass from one generation to the next. Others have old volumes of a grandparent (or more distant relative) which are inscribed with personal or historical notations. Amanda Katz discussed these ideas e-book inheritance over at NPR a few days ago, focusing on the concept of books passing up the branches of a family tree.

It’s popular now to advertise books printed on “acid-free paper” with “archival inks” to further cement the permanence of the purchase. If, as expected, printed books never go away entirely but become more niche, like the goodies that come with special editions of video games, or vinyl records. The books that are printed could become branded as “collector’s items” designed to last long enough to accrue value or simply to appease the tastes of the readers, eager to have a bookcase full of pages they can turn by hand.

Katz shares the story of her grandfather’s copy of The War of the Worlds passing through time, and the influence that book specifically had on his career in rocketry. It’s still in print, but having the copy that inspired her grandfather is not something available at every corner shop. Not every book passed on will have the same kind of impressive history, but it can still be a connection to the past.

Who knows, as people start to really enounter the problems with terms of service, digital locks, and non-transferable property (because many e-editions of content are not sales of good but licenses) the Intellectual Property Donor Card, or something similar, will take hold.

My great-grandfather immigrated from Italy in the early part of the last century. One thing he brought with him to America was his mother’s coffee maker. It’s not a book, but the idea is the same. I have a solid piece of metal that was making coffee in the 1800s.

I own two first editions of modern books (so they are not in any way, limited editions) but each was signed when I met the authors: Bill Clinton and David Ortiz. I skipped my final day of classes in college to meet the former President with some friends. That story will survive. Ortiz had a book signing while I worked at a Barnes and Noble shortly afterward. My work badge from the event is tucked into the cover. Ortiz signed it that morning and then crushed a home run against the Yankees in the game that night. Will my descendants remember any of this, and look to the past at specific moments in my life, not recorded on Foursquare or Facebook, but inked into paper? I don’t know. But I hope so.

Arizona Man Sues Google Over Trademark

Since the days of Napster there have been stories about copyright infringement on the internet. Reports of piracy, torrents, using images and photographs without permission are commonplace. Trademark news is less so, but an Arizona man has decided to battle Google over the rights to their name.

Jeff John Roberts over at paidContent reports that David Elliot is looking for a court to decide that “google” has become a generic word for “search on the internet.” Elliot isn’t fighting the good fight against a large corporation for the right to use an invented word for the greater good, but to overturn a court decision he lost concerning a number of domain names including “googlegaycruises.com” and “googledonaldtrump.com.” The full complaint is available here.

Trademarks, unlike copyrights and patents, do not have an expiration date. A number of trademarks have become generic words over time: escalator, thermos, and aspirin are popular examples of products whose names were once tied to their originating companies. A trademark that is distinctive can become generic if it does not solely relate to the products produced by the trademark owner. Once other moving staircases were created, customers referred to all of them as escalators rather than only those made by Otis Elevator Company. The power of a trademark is in the minds of customers.

Once other moving staircases were created customers referred to all of them as escalators rather than only those made by Otis Elevator Company.

To win his case, Elliot would need to show that when people say the word “google” they mean to look something up in a search engine, whether that is Google, Bing, Blekko, or DuckDuckGo. If people “google” at the website known for a white background and unique celebrations in the images above its search box, Elliot will have a tough time proving that Google is a generic term.

Copy That Right

Over the last two months more people have heard or had discussions about copyright, the Internet, and piracy than ever before.

Former Senator Chris Dodd, who used to be known as the good senator from Connecticut because he was not Joe Liberman, has broken his promise not to become a lobbyist, becoming enemy of the Internet #1 as chairman for the MPAA.

Should the bad guys win, it’s possible that the music industry will be able to extend their YouTube takedowns to include gems like this, because, hey, without the Beastie Boys the parody never could have been inspired in the first place.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJa5X3L5Cr4]

This is what is at risk: the complete subjugation of the Internet to protect legacy industries which are run by people who are not willing to adapt to the modern world.

People have pointed to the success of Louis C.K. and Paulo Coelho as just the first of many content creators to use the Internet to bypass the traditional distribution models and more are on the way. If we keep up the pressure and don’t let Congress turn America into China and the Internet into a shadow of itself.