Friday, January 30, 2009

Internet Famous (and real world infamous)

A story about Internet streaming royalties ran today in BetaNews.
...citing passages from over two years of testimony from members of the recording industry as well as representatives of Internet radio, CRB Judge James Scott Sledge went out of his way to shame apparently everyone for not being much of a help. For example, representatives of the Digital Music Association (DiMA) were chided for, at one point, not being able to provide a clear definition of "streaming."
Last February, the judges had already concluded that the definition of "streaming" was a matter of fact, not law. So when asked to provide facts in testimony the following May, Rhapsody America general manager Alexander Kirk stated it could really mean lots of things: "I mean, one of the wonderful things about computers on the internet is they offer you a number of different ways to do things," reads the CRB's citation of Kirk's testimony. "And streaming can encompass a whole range of behaviors."
This is only a tiny piece of my testimony, and it is presented here out of context (my written statement is here, all related documents here). The reason I was asked to talk about streaming has to do with the calculation of royalties and negotiations around same. So details are very important.

I said "streaming can encompass a whole range of behaviors". I'll expand here. "Streaming" can mean a bunch of different underlying technologies, but generally only one type of "experience". Most people think of "streaming" as an experience differentiated from "downloading".

When downloading, you're acquiring a local copy of the file, which you may then play, copy, store, delete, etc. But your primary goal is to get that local copy of the file. What you do with it after that is secondary.

When streaming, you're interested in experiencing the file (watching, listening, etc.) and you are not particularly interested in keeping a local copy. As far as you are concerned, there is no local copy made. Most streaming experiences are designed to provide this impression.

But in point of fact, very few modern streaming technologies open up a direct connection between you and a single central server and pass bits directly to your machine. There are various caching stages in between. Your OS may cache some or all of the file in RAM or on the hard drive. Your player or browser may cache some or all of the file in RAM or on the hard drive. There are many technologies that look and feel like streaming to the user, but are actually downloading. There are other technologies that sit somewhere in the middle.

The example I kept coming back to was YouTube. Nominally, it's a streaming service. You play it, it's gone when you're done. But if you pause a video, it will download (or buffer) the entire video in your local machine's memory. Guess what? Now it's a download (under some definitions). So what type of service is YouTube?

That's why I refer to "streaming experiences".

The danger with defining streaming as a technology rather than an experience is the technology to enable the experience is continually changing. Especially given the glacial pace of lawmaking, you end up with a bunch of laws that don't end up being relevant to the issues at hand. You also run the risk of legally boxing in "streaming" so tightly that nobody uses it, and thus all the discussion is for naught.

Also, I'm not the "Rhapsody America General Manager" - I'm the "General Manager of Product Management for Rhapsody America". The RA GM is a big deal. I'm just a guy who works there.

Soon I will post about my experience testifying for the Copyright Review Board. It was fantastic.

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