The era of intellectual property law

| October 19, 2011

By Matthew B. Harrison
Senior Partner
Harrison Strategies

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. –– In a recent article, Michael Harrison predicted that Intellectual Property Law would dominate talk radio’s legal concerns in the era that is unfolding.  (It is filed at www.talkers.com under Michael Harrison and is titled “The Ticking of the Clock.”)

As talk programming evolves into new means of digital distribution through advances in technology, so does our need to understand intellectual property.  While evolutionary, the nature of the rights themselves –– to control and exploit the products of one’s creativity and innovation –– remains consistent, the manner by which they are expressed and exchanged is constantly attempting to adapt to advances in technology.

The invention of, in turn, the printing press, the phonograph, radio and television broadcasting, cable, transmission from satellite, VCRs, CDs, DVDs, and now the internet has affected both the form and the substance in the interpretation of intellectual property rights.

Intellectual property has gained importance in this digital environment as, increasingly, business assets are reflected in intellectual as opposed to physical property.  No longer do radio stations have rows upon rows of records with each show going out into the ether; content is digital, it is archived, and it is easily available to the consumer by means of the internet.

Between the vast availability of intellectual property on the internet, the ease of copying and distributing said material, and the relative anonymity afforded these transactions, difficult issues rise to the surface.  Key among these challenges is the expectation among many users that information and intellectual property sourced or downloaded from the internet should be free of charge.  If it was free on the airwaves, why isn’t it free on the internet?

Marketability is always an issue.  While surveys have shown that consumers are gradually becoming more willing to pay for online content, the numbers also show that consumers are not willing to pay for content that they currently get or recently got for free.  Radio, by means of the internet, provides access to thousands of global radio broadcasts both in real time, and on time shift delay.  The people who find the balance between free services with advertising versus an ad-free premium version will find the revenue.

With so much digital content, there are many marketing considerations to make when presenting this material on the internet.  The first is to make sure that ownership and control are established and that the intellectual property is protected.

Another trend illuminated in the article by Michael Harrison that applies to the importance of intellectual property is that of talk show hosts originating their shows from remote locations (homes, offices, etc.) other than the traditional radio station studio.  When shows no longer originate from the station’s studios but from studios owned and operated by the hosts themselves, and the hosts increasingly act as independent contractors as opposed to employees (yet another trend), ownership of the content can come into question. Those that demonstrate an understanding about the type of property that exists and how said property can be marketed will profit when these things are ironed out in contracts or agreements.

Matthew B. Harrison, an entertainment and media attorney, is a senior partner with Harrison Strategies, LLC based in Springfield, Massachusetts. He can be phoned at 413-565-5413 or e-mailed at matthew@matthewharrison.com.

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Category: Legal