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Multimedia Licensing and the Internet

by Glen Emerson Morris

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The release of Netscape's 3.0 Internet browser marks a major turning point in the evolution of the Internet. This is the first time a major Internet browser has fully supported multimedia. The new 3.0 version integrates 3D, audio, video, and telephony into a single application, which Netscape gives away free. Even though it's only in Beta release now, meaning it's a pre-release, try it at your own risk version, 3.0 is clearly a magnitude above previous versions.

Netscape 3.0's telephony capability alone could wreck havoc with the long distance phone companies, since 3.0 effectively gives Internet users free global phone service. They can use it to call anyone in the world, for as long as they like, for no additional charges. All Internet users have to pay for is their local phone service, and their Internet connection. The sound quality is less than conventional long distance companies provide, but it's good enough for communication now, and it will only get better in the next few years.

The biggest innovation Netscape 3.0 offers however, is the integration of audio, video, and 3D, into a single browser. There are still major bandwidth limitations to be overcome, but the foundations are now in place for multimedia advertising over the Internet. Global delivery of multimedia advertising is about to become standard procedure for any business with a modest advertising budget.

Since multimedia presentations by definition consume lots of media, advertisers are about to need large quantities of a variety of media. Because of a number of copyright laws, passed in pre-Internet days, advertisers will need to be very careful about where they get their media from.

One increasingly common practice of businesses on the Internet is to include digitized photos of their sales staff, usually as a series of individual shots of each person in their cube or office. This kind of approach has the potential to be a disaster. If the employee has a Walt Disney poster on their office wall which shows up in the photo, the Disney corporation would be in a good position to sue. So would the copyright owner of any other image seen in the digitized photo. In fact under current law they'd have to take at least some kind of action or they'd risk losing their copyright on the image in question. By law copyright protected material becomes public domain if the copyright isn't actively defended by the owner.

A QuickTime video of the factory or warehouse is equally dangerous. If an employee has a radio playing loud enough to be heard in the video, another set of copyright violations could occur. If the video caught an entire song, for instance Mr. Tambourine Man, royalties would have to be paid to the song's writer, Bob Dylan, the performers, the Byrds, and the songs producer, Terry Melcher. Even greater problems would happen if the video was also distributed by CD-ROM, as mechanical licensing violations would happen as well. CD -ROM licensing issues have to be taken very seriously, since a single violation can result in the entire production run being seized and destroyed.

Radio stations are beginning to show up on the Internet, which also raises a new set of issues. Many stations use canned 30 and 60 second music beds, which are usually licensed exclusively on a market by market basis. Now that a station with a license for one city can be heard in every city, are they infringing on the rights of the local stations who paid for the exclusive rights to the same music beds in their city?

Another source of multimedia media content, the Internet itself, also has some major risks involved. It's extremely easy to acquire artwork from any Web server, since in order to work, the Web server transfers the artwork to the viewers system. The viewer only needs to click on an image and select "Save a Copy As..." to store the image in a reusable format on their computer. It's even possible to capture the entire script for any page as well.

However, it's becoming just as easy to find pirated art and content as it is to steal it. Current Internet technology allows intelligent software "agents" to be created that have the ability to automatically surf the net looking for illegally acquired artwork and content. In the future, law on the Internet may be primarily enforced by software. Internet advertisers need to be careful in acquiring art and content or they may find that Internet technology works as well against them as it does for them.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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