The fight between Tencent (QQ), the most popular Chinese social network online chatting software company, and 360, the most prestigious anti-virus company in China reminded me the law of disruption in our informational and digital era. The book I read – <The Laws of Disruption>(by Larry Downes) seems more valuable as I can understand.
The Internet is our era’s big disrupter. We already know how it has changed our habits and ways of doing things; its long-term effects on social, economic, and legal systems will be even greater. In the information life section, Larry Downes made several good points on illustrating how digital world is disrupting our long-established copyright and patent systems and how legislative level should modify copyright and patent laws to adapt to rapidly changing digital world. Most importantly, media companies should learn open-source thinking and use “open source” as a new model for business.
My position on law reforming is consistent with Downes’. For the open-source business model, I believe it must be an alternative method for media companies to reach a new market and reduce possible costs on lawsuits, but implementing it, in my opinion, is challenging as well.
Current law system cannot meet the uniqueness of software and other IT products, but it doesn’t mean regulators and judges should be rush to keep up by imposing completely new laws and regulations. Instead, these authorities may make small adjustment continuously, because the rapid pace of change makes it impossible to predict the course of technology. Reducing the length of copyrights and patents for software, making any noncommercial use a fair use, undoing the “Digital Millennium Copyright Act,” carefully evaluating cross-licensing and pooling of patents, even leaving the Web alone and simply protect it from interference … yes, all of these can be tried and implemented for a certain period of time. Market and time will tell whether they will work or not.
However, we should always remember one thing: less protection will never mean no protection. Mr. Downes’ view on intellectual property is “the value of information . . . increases exponentially as new users absorb it;” This may not be true. I still believe that scarcity generally makes information more valuable. Firms would still carefully protect their brands to ensure that they are not over-exposed. Certain level of legal protection would ensure the scarcity of the information and prevent it from being overused or abused.
Another alternative is to let market solve this dilemma. Mr. Downes can be a bit of a free-market triumphalism; it seems that market did give us certain answer, such as giving up copyright control in certain degree and “open source” thinking. Apple’s iPod and iTunes creates legal forms of downloadable music, which told us that allowing people to share information sometimes may create value. And open source thinking could be a new asset for media companies. Certainly, we saw some successful cases based on open source projects, such as Google and Red Hat. I think the core elements that determined Google/Red Hat’s success is the nature of software – a series of codes which are open for software builders to modify. As long as there has been software, there have been some people eager to share and improve it for the common good. Companies may rely revenues on relevant by-products and services other than the software itself. Therefore, for any media who is thinking about open source, they should clearly identify the potential benefits it may bring to organization.
Think about New York Times’ new Document Viewer, which will allows primary source documents to be viewed on the NYT web pages. The Times will release the program code, allowing any website or organization to use and modify it. This doc viewer is a double meaning “open source” to me, because it both opens the news source to readers and open the software source to programmers. New York Times plans to take advantage of open-source software to strengthen journalism and transparency, as well as benefit from software developers and technologically skilled journalists outside of the company who improve the software. This will also reduce readers’ search costs for information products and enhance readers’ news consuming experience. Moreover, the availability of open source software may largely reduce traditional media’s operating costs and distribution costs.
Open source might be something traditional media should consider about. Although we can still not tell whether this model is successful or not, we can at least think towards this direction and make an experiment.
However, open source is certainly challenging and risky, and reality showed that lots of open source is not very successful. “There’s only one company making real money out of open source, and that’s Red Hat,” said Simon Crosby, the chief technology officer at Citrix Systems. “Everyone else is in trouble.” Even Red Hat didn’t achieve more, when many open-source advocates had once hoped Red Hat would scoop up the top open-source start-ups, keeping these crown jewels out of the hands of proprietary software makers, Red Hat failed to go after other open-source companies initially and later could not afford to pay the high prices offered by larger companies.
Therefore, facing with the open source thinking, everybody should think twice before action. This could be a new profitable territory, but could also be the next trap. On the edge of another technology revolution, both legislative level and small media companies should be open to the changes and be ready for the experimental efforts and take risks.
Open Source as a Model for Business Is Elusive. (2009). Retrieved from:
New York Times Releasing Open Source Document Viewer. (2009). Retrieved from: