Encode copyrights into the file format

15 years ago I wrote an essay called “What if Media was Media?” It was based around an idea that might interest others, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it. As I wasn’t on the internet back then, all I could do was print it out and give it to a few people who might be able to help me…

The core point was that people may come to understand copyright more deeply because computer file formats will have layers of rights information built-in. In 1994, people hardly ever referred to contents of computer files as ‘media.’ I was imagining a system where all movies, TV, radio and music was created, distributed and delivered in digital forms.

I saw that the flexibility of digital media would make it much easier for old-fashioned media to be copied. To facilitate ubiquitous distribution, I thought it would be interesting if the file format itself included information on the rights-holders.

Imagine buying a video camera, before you first use it, you enter unique contact information (possibly pointing to a .tel registry entry). The camera would then encode your ID into all the footage you shoot. You might even choose a default copyright statement too: ‘©2009 Alex Gollner – For rights see fee table at alex4d.tel’

Once the rights information is included with the footage, then every time the footage is played elsewhere, the playback software will determine whether the person watching the footage would want to pay a one-off fee, or license to watch as many times as they want. Of course they could get an advertiser to pay on their behalf:

An imaginary ‘media payment preferences’ control.

They would also choose whether they want to watch on their own, or play it to larger audiences:

The system could also take into account times when footage is incorporated into other productions. If you witnessed the feel-good story of the week – when a talented and brave airline pilot saved passengers and crew by landing his stricken plane on the Hudson – and shot footage that news organisations all over the world wanted to show, they could upload it from your camera. If media rights were encoded into the file, each time the news item is shown on TV, from an archive, streamed on a corporate website or even embedded elsewhere, you would get a cut of the fees paid.

It’s a dilemma. On one hand ‘the little guy’ would automatically get paid. On the other, everyone who has a camera pointed at them will want to know what’s in it for them…

  1. synapticlight said:

    RED does something similar yet offline – in that the Camera’s unique id no is embedded in the R3D footage which can help in locating stolen cameras.

    But this form of meta data is the logical next step in securing content by means of online validation.

    and also make life easy for the person who collects royalty free footage and forgets what clips belonged to who and can’t give the appropriate credit. The meta data helps; making it online is even better because then the original creator can keep track and update information on how the credit is given. Very interesting.

  2. Absolutely agree. How shall I avoid starting a new sentence with a coordinating conjunction?

    Embedding data into digital media is all well and good, but it becomes fragile as soon as it passes through a process be it a filter, transition or transformation.

    Is there – or can there be – a way of not only preserving original metadata, but also concatenating them so that if I have a clip shot on camera X, with log notes, it goes through a process Y including a group of filters with settings, and then is compressed as codec Z with bandwidth settings and scaling choices.

    It feels like it could be hell in the editing process, knowing how we like to shave syllables from here and flash frames from there to make something simple, but if metadata doesn’t work like this, how should it?

  3. Tim Koda said:

    Thx 4 the plugs. Lovely concept here, just wonder how long it would take the hackers to get into it. I’d supposed it’d be pretty easy for them to figure out how to embed false payment info into these meta files. I don’t know how easy it is to fake retinal ids, but maybe something like that could make this premise workable. It sounds great.

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