It’s hard to know how to feel about this kind of thing.
I think one of the next big waves of internet technology that’s coming is various versions of content tracking. Between the dreamland of the semantic web and today’s internet reality is a great variety of opportunities for building value by dredging structure, metadata, and context out of the wetlands of multi-media web content.
In the music space, this has taken the form of mp3 blog aggregators which (so far) mostly serve to provide better reading and listening experiences for users. As Hype Machine discovered early on, even if it comes from a love of the original writing, aggregation can be quite controversial with bloggers to the extent that it disintermediates them by refocusing their content around the thing their users really care about: the music.
And content trackers get it from all sides. In the new Hype Machine redesign, a fear of the record labels is plain as day. And, in reducing access to mp3s — de-emphasizing playlist-access, etc. — they’ve greatly angered many of their users (they’ve actually done a good job responding to the feedback and so have moved to reinstate some of these types of features in the weeks since the relaunch).
It seems to me that content trackers are going to have to become diplomats. Stuck between the copyright holders and the users they have three choices: 1) Take the side of the users, a la The Pirate Bay: ‘User experience is all, quaint local copyright custom be damned!’; 2) Take the side of content holders, a la Attributor: ‘I’m taking my ball and going home; and if you don’t like it, taste the business end of my 1000 staff lawyers!’; 3) Find a third way that tries to negotiate a peace between both sides. This third option is the one that is the least obvious, but also, I think, holds the most business opportunities: if you grant both sides the right to exist, and take it as a given that both have demands that need meeting, you have twice the number of possible products and you stand to be in the best position to participate in really sustainable solutions that constitute wins for all sides.
In the music space, mandatory licensing is one vision for this third way (and at Grabb.it, we’re working on a few more ;) ). Has anybody seen any others in other media?