Blockchain

Blockchain

Blockchain is the technology behind cyrptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Namecoin and Titcoin. These currencies work as any other currency in terms of spending them, but their creation is a little differently and relies on cryptography,

When I first heard about bitcoin I was working for a financial services company, and the person telling me was gleefully announcing it would be the end of banks. Lots of things have been touted as the end to banks over the years, this was just the latest. I admit I had a bit of a mental block about it, I couldn’t see how value was encapsulated in the bitcoins – which is probably exactly how people felt when paper money started to be issued by national banks.

It’s a little complicated so here’s the best explanation I’ve been able to find on the internet so far.

(Want to know more? Here’s an even more detailed version from the same expert.)

Blockchain is a distributed decentralised ledger recording transactions. At its heart it provides a mechanism to encode the trust on each side of a transaction.

It’s that documenting of trust that has led to further consideration of the blockchain technology starting with central banks themselves. Blockchain solves two problems for established banks and central banks (1) transactions become faster (2) transactions become more secure. Because the transaction is recorded in a distributed manner, and because the transactions form a sequence, it’s extremely difficult to create a fraudulent transaction.

There are other areas where documenting trust is important, The Economist reports on changes coming to the land register in Honduras that will use a form of blockchain. By distributing the land register in a blockchain system the country will finally have a single land register.  IBM is part of a consortium working on a “hyperledger” that will allow private use of an open distributed ledger to track a variety of transaction. They note that a transaction dispute can take 40 days to resolve, but with an open ledger that time should be reduced.

Using Blockchain to verify contracts, sometimes called “smart contracts” could have uses in multiple industries. In this podcast from the BBC’s “Click” programme they explored the idea of using blockchain in the music industry to codify ownership of music, and enable simple payment.

MIT (who else?) have been looking at using blockchain as a certification mechanism on qualifications and memberships. They’ve written on the background and purpose of this project. If you’re a nice honest person who never lies on their LinkedIn profile you might struggle to see why this is important, however there are lots of CV ‘exaggerations’ out there and it is important to be clear about what qualifications, experience and memberships a person holds when they apply for further education, a job, or enter public office.  In the future our CV may come with blockchain codes to verify our statements.

Lastly governments are examining the potential of blockchain. The UK Government released a report on blockchain technology this year in which they state the potential power it has in government business;

Distributed ledger technologies have the potential to help governments to collect taxes, deliver benefits, issue passports, record land registries, assure the supply chain of goods and generally ensure the integrity of government records and services.

In fact Estonia is there already, their digitally-savvy president, Toomas Hendrik, has overseen significant use of blockchain technologies in securing identity and health records within his country and he’s working for a closer integration with outer countries across Europe.  There’s a broad vision Estonia’s digital programme, and the implementation has simplified a great many processes for its citizens.

In the future some form of blockchain technology will be behind how you access government and financial services. It will be more secure, more able to protect your privacy, and less likely to disruption or loss of data.

Image: Chained  |  Danna § curious tangles  |   CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Unicorn

Unicorn Buzzword

The unicorns of my childhood were mythical, rare and wonderful beasts. Today’s unicorns are young companies that have a valuation of 1 billion USD. That might sound like something rare and wonderful, but Venture Beat magazine lists hundreds of them, with Uber leading the list in terms of valuation. Most of the companies rely on digital technology in their business model, without it their business could not scale.

So where did the term come from?

A Techcrunch article in 2013 reported on 39 companies that had been founded in the previous ten years and were valued at more than 1 billion USD. Unicorns were rare, representing 0.07% of internet related companies funded per year.

Aileen Lee, the woman behind the Techcrunch article and who is credited with coining the term, sees that the rise in unicorns may have peaked for this wave of technologies.

But what do the companies make that is so wonderful? Most exploit the possibilities of “platform economics“, rather than make something, these companies connect supply with demand. Think of airbnb which is in the lodging services business without owning a single bedroom. Rather than building hotels and then selling those rooms to guests, airbnb offers a platform for the supply side (people with spare rooms) to offer accommodation directly to the demand (visitors to the city). These platforms are often said, in approving tones, to be “disruptive”, meaning that they change an existing industry. In many cases regulators have stepped in to limit that change, for example Amsterdam City Council limits the time allowable for rent to two months per year.

We look set to have continued disruption, and while a few experts are predicting dead unicorns on the horizon it seems we’ll see a growing number of unicorns, decacorn (companies valued at more than 10 billion) and hectacorns (companies valued at over 100 billion) for a while yet. Perhaps we are, as Fortune magazine suggest finally in the age of the unicorns.

Image: Unicorn  |  Yosuke Muroya  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

3 Other Uses of Social Media

2016June Social Media Day

Snapchat is four, Instagram is six this year, Twitter is ten, and Facebook is twelve. As the social media platforms grow up and head into their teen age years how do they actually get used?

For Social Media Day I’m profiling three uses of social media for companies that you might not have thought of.

Real Time Marketing

Since Oreo won the internet when the lights went out on the Superbowl, companies have tried to use social media in real time – most often around big events. A London Fashion Week Topshop, the only high street brand on the runway, analysed twitter chat on the event and translated it to recommendations on billboards outside their stores in six cities across the UK.  There was a measurable impact on sales and more than 3 million people interacted on the hashtag #LiveTrends.

Pulling off a successful Real Time Marketing Campaign is a combination of having the right tools in place to analyse social media, the right people in the room to create a great response, and the authority to publish quickly. (The last is critical, if every post needs a legal review and three person sign off, then RTM is not for you.)

Service

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 16.09.12Social Media can provide customer service platforms. In the Netherlands most customers use at least one social media platform, so many of the larger companies here provide customer service via, at minimum, Facebook at Twitter. The gold standard of service on social media has to be KLM, their teams are so good at it that they put their response time into their twitter header, they aim to keep it below 20 minutes.

It takes significant training, good tools, and a sizeable team to run this, 150 social media agents around the world provide global coverage and respond to around 70,000 queries each week (source; KLM).

Crisis Management

Oddly enough it’s often a crisis that propels companies into using social media, requiring a cultural change to a more open model of communication that’s challenging for communication teams.

Social media also turns out to be a good medium to communicate in a crisis.

  • Mass reach, even people not on a platform can read your notes
  • Possible for individual questions/comments
  • It’s increasingly expected as people get their news from social media
  • Easy to update

Crises are by nature unexpected, but companies that plan on how to manage a crisis, and keep their social media team involved, are more able to respond appropriately. Examples could include a product recall, a supply fault, death of an executive, a case of fraud coming to light, or an airline emergency.  There’s lots of advice out there for managing a crisis in social media, in all of them preparation and speed are key.

In rare cases the way a company responds can improve the company’s reputation, two examples from very different industries.

O2, a British telecom company. During a rather long outage the community manager responded on twitter to every question or comment, even the angry and abusive ones, with personality and humour.

DiGiorno, in a now famous mistake DiGiorno responded to the #WhyIStayed hashtag with the comment “Because you had pizza”. Seems innocuous, except that the hashtag was being used to raise awareness of domestic violence. So their tweet did not go down well. However they quickly deleted the tweet, issued a simple public apology. And then apologised to every individual tweet who called them out. For weeks.

For crisis communication on social media to work, you need the social media experts involved in creating your crisis plan, and a team to execute the plan. You may also need to temporarily increase the size of your social team – during one crisis that I worked through we had 30,000 messages each day.

For all three of these social media strategies you need social listening tools, analysts and experts, and the authority to run with the strategy. Dial up your social media efforts. Happy Social Media Day.

Image: The Social Media Marketing Mix  |  Alan O’Rourke  |  CC BY 2.0

In Our Own Bubble

2016June Bubble

The information superhighway took a turn for the worse, we now travel down it in our own comfortable, insulated and isolated bubble.

We can now get any information about any subject at any time online. There’s so much information available that we cannot consume it all, so we make selections. There are more than 500 million tweets per day, but only about 20,000 make it into my twitter timeline, and I only see a subset of those. There are 420,000,00 status updates on Facebook each day, a few hundred of those make it into my feed and I read only a few of those. Then there is Linkedin, YouTube, RSS (yes I still use RSS), and general news outlets.

It’s way too much, so we apply filters. A big part of the filter is who I follow or connect to, in general I follow people who have similar interests or views. As my major news sources are now online I’m unconsciously applying a filter to what news I get.

But there’s another filter being applied that we might not be aware of. The major platforms are also filtering what lands on our screen in our Facebook feed, and (coming soon) our Twitter feed, and our search results. Meaning that Google results are customised based on your search history, your browser, your language choice, your computer. Here’s how it works.

We know that news shapes our world view; in this TED talk Alisa Miller talks about the amount of time given to various news stories. As news organisations reduce costs and dismantle their international news bureaus the international coverage has reduced. She’s speaking from a US perspective, but a similar dynamic plays out in other countries.

If you add together the distortion in what is published, the “customised” news presented in social media and search, and our own filters in choosing who to follow and what to read, it’s fair to say that we’re living in a bubble. Throw into the mix the human tendency for confirmation bias and it’s easy to see that people become increasingly entrenched in their views, both less likely and less willing to hear evidence that doesn’t support their view.

In the last few weeks I’ve seen emotional discussion on politics from both sides of the Atlantic as the US heads into a presidential election later this year and Britain heads to a referendum, dubbed “Brexit“, later this week. It’s not pretty, in both cases it’s a polarised discussion.

It’s because of the level of polarisation, and the anger I’ve seen that I started digging into this. I’ve long thought that social media platforms were poor places for serious discussion for five reasons;

  1. Clutter; Facebook is a blend of photos of cuteness, personal confessions and travel photos. Right next to a photo of my niece walking a tightrope doesn’t seem to be the best place to compare a candidates track record on gun violence.
  2. Godwin’s Law; sooner or later someone is going to drop the N-word. Either of them.
  3. Reading Comprehension; sooner or later someone is going to misunderstand you, perhaps willfully.
  4. Not in Person: in person I could read the person’s body language to pick up on sarcasm or irony (better than in an online discussion)
  5. Asynchronous; nothing worse that waiting hours for a reply to your well-formed attack on a person’s point-of-view. (This should be understood as a tongue-in-cheek comment, see no. 3 above).

So I wasn’t surprised to discover that there is a known phenomenon called the “political spiral of silence“, which means that nuanced, thoughtful points-of-view which are likely to cover some of the middle ground are lost in the noise of social media.

The outcome is a debate so polarised that it’s destructive. How can we change this? What would it take to make your social media and search results more inclusive?

Start by reading opposing views, and having open discussions. We can agree to disagree, can’t we?

Image: Bubbles  | Michael Carson  |  CC BY-NC 2.0

High Optics

2016June Optics

“Don’t forget,” said my boss “There are high optics on that”.

I used to work in a bar so his use of the word “optics” created quite the wrong mental picture.

The word now has a different meaning, the Macmillan dictionary defines it as “the way a situation looks to the general public”, and it’s been around business, PR and political circles in the US for at least 5 or 6 years judging by a quick online search.

It seems to be more or less neutral when used in business, with a meaning similar to “visibility”, so in my boss’s case he was letting me know that the project I was working on was very visible to upper management – which fortunately wasn’t news to me. To me having a project that’s visible to upper management is a good thing, it means what you do is important to the company and is likely to get management support, although I’d agree that it can generate some scary moments.

However in politics it’s often used in the negative sense, along the lines of “the optics really hurt the candidate”, meaning that public perception of her, or his, actions is negative. I haven’t heard it used in this year’s US election reporting, perhaps the term is dying – or perhaps this year’s election is already beyond any optics.

Image: Mine’s bigger than yours  |  Derek Finch  |  CC BY 2.0

Work Out Loud

2016June Work Out Loud

We’re in the middle of “Working Out Loud” week, it’s a way of working within a network to create results around a common purpose. It encompasses a set of working skills that make a lot of sense as we work in a world where collaboration and agility are growing needs.

So what does it mean?

It means building a network around an idea or joint purpose, sharing your work, improving your ideas/programme/product within the network, being generous across your network.

Here’s how it all started.

It turns out that it’s an approach that can be used by independent people, and by those working in large organisations.

If you’re trying to build collaboration practices in your company then Work Out Loud circles are worth trying, there’s a twelve week process set out on the Working Out Loud website with pdf guides for each step.

I’m sort of in two minds about this method, in theory it sounds brilliant, but I know I find it hard to share half-baked work, I think there’s too much of the “good student” in me and I want to only show the good stuff. I know, I need to get over it.

I’ve just downloaded the kindle sample of the book, so let’s see if that helps me.

Image: Chinese Whispers  |   Ricky Thakrar  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Book of the Month: Non-Obvious

BOMApril_NonObvious

I have both the 2015 and 2016 editions of this book, it’s not necessary to buy both as the 2016 edition covers everything in the 2015 edition. This is book of the month for May.

Non-Obvious 2016 Edition – How To Think Different, Curate Ideas & Predict The Future

By: Rohit Bhargava

This book tries to do two things; teach you how to collect your own trends and secondly discuss the trends they’ve collected and see as important. Maybe I’m too lazy to be a trend curator – I preferred the second part of the book.

In the mass of news it can be challenging to sort out trends for fads, which Bhargava recognises in naming his method “The Haystack Method”. He likens the mass of information to a haystack, but considers the insight you apply to the information to be the needle, and sets out five steps for trend curation.Trend Curation Process

Gathering is simply saving interesting ideas from the mass of content that surrounds his, he prints out the ideas and labels them with a sharpie, finding this easier to work with in the aggregate step than online options. (I’m a fan of online options – Pocket being my current favourite).

Aggregate is grouping the ideas into clusters, looking for broad ideas affecting multiple unrelated industries, perhaps focusing on a human need rather than a technology. Give each group a working title that conveys why the grouping is interesting.

Elevating is looking for the big ideas across your clusters, connecting ideas from different examples and determining which ones represent a shift in business practices. It’s the toughest step, and may result in you disturbing the clusters from step 2.

Naming a trend in a way that is both understandable and memorable. Bhargava often uses word mashups, alliteration and twists to create something that works. Examples in the 2016 edition include “B2Beyond Marketing”,  “Reverse Retail”,  and “The Reluctant Marketer”. I’m generally not a fan of the word mashups.

Prove check that the trend you’ve identified really is a trend. Bhargava looks at the strength of the underlying idea, the impact on behaviour and the potential acceleration of the idea.

In each section he provides tips and tricks to help you follow the process, and provides some examples of how he’s approached each step. Even so the guidance is rather high level, and since the underlying assumption is that you collect ideas and read widely I’m not sure that this really works as  guide.

The second, and larger, part of the book discusses the trends, and this I enjoyed more. Each trend is explained in context, with industry examples and closes with “How to use this trend”, which mostly made me want to do more research.

My two favourite trends for 2016 were I’ll point out a couple of the trends that appealed to me.

Mainstream Multiculturalism

Mainstream multiculturalism

My worlds collide in this one trend, I’ve now spent more of my adult life outside my home country than in it, and I’ve lived in five different countries, my friends are from all over, and speak all sorts of languages so I never really fit the mainstream wherever I am. I think the patterns of migration, the rise of the children of migrants and the increased opportunities all feed into this.

The other side of my life, the geek side, makes this all possible; technology now delivers a range of platforms where anyone can contribute, so we have more “voices” in entertainment.

But the trend goes beyond entertainment, into our food and our politics with Justin Trudeau commenting that the make up of his cabinet, and specifically the gender balance was important “because it’s 2015”.

In “how to use this trend” Bhargava points to new hiring practices, instructing you to hire for unexpected diversity, but is light on the “how”. I saw an interview with a filmmaker recently about building more diversity in films who made the very good point that it’s not enough to just hire diversity, you need to mentor and train and listen to the stories being told.  (I should have written down the filmmaker’s name, I only remember her words!)

Strategic Downgrading

Strategic downgrading
Our consumerist mentality assumes that the new shiny thing is better, that more functions are better, that more data/information is a good thing. But some consumers challenge that, rejecting complicated functionality, or valuing one characteristic over all others or favouring single function devices.

Farmers apparently are rejecting the most technologically advanced tractors, favouring instead a more robust model, perhaps one that is easier to use and easier to fix.

Consumers valuing privacy may choose the “Blackphone”, which puts privacy first. There are a number of “un-smartphones” out there with no internet functionality and no camera – but battery life greater than 24 hours.

I could read e-books on a laptop, a tablet or my phone, I don’t, I choose to read either paper books or on my kindle, because when I read I want zero distractions. We’ve recently seen a rise in sales in print books, perhaps as people rediscover the joy of being absorbed in a book and rejected the screen experience.

I doubt I’ll ever be a trend curator professionally, however I found inspiration amongst the trends discussed and some reassurance that my chaotic collecting of ideas might be useful. I like the presentation of the trend chapters with the wide range of industries covered, the blending of ideas in to a human trend and the “how to” sections to guide future use of the trend. I think the “how to” sections following each trend should be seen as inspiration for your next steps rather than specific actions to take.

I did find several errors in the book that seemed to hint at overly-fast production. The diagram of the Haystack method has the steps in the wrong order, and Noma is mentioned as being in Amsterdam (it’s in Copenhagen) are two that grated.

Overall the book is thought-provoking, the trends are characterised on a human need level – rather than the tech-heaving “VR is big” type of trend often seen – and cover a wide range of industries. I think this makes it easier to see applications of each trend across other businesses.

Giving Feedback

2016 May CM imagesMy Uncle went off to study at agricultural college as a young man, this was before Facebook and mobile phones so he used to write letters. He sent a long letter to his mother. She corrected the letter, in red ink, and returned it. He never wrote again.

Giving good feedback is much more than knowing what is right or correct. It is understanding what will be useful, and delivering the feedback so that it can be heard and used.

The feedback model proposed by the experts at Manager Tools has some really helpful podcasts, it’s a three step model and it focuses on behaviour. Simplified to a script template it looks like this;

When you [describe behaviour] the outcome is negative [explain how], how will you repair this/change your behaviour next time?

In their podcasts the guys from Manager Tools give several working examples of this and I’ve found it a really simple, workable method. Using this script has kept me focused on the work behaviours that really matter, removed an personal or accusatory tone to the feedback and put the responsibility for the change/improvement squarely in the employee’s hands. Of course I’ve also offered concrete help when needed.

I’ll give an example. One colleague, let’s call him David, who I was coaching, tended to pack too much into meetings meaning that he would be rushing to get through all the content in the last ten minutes,  even though the most senior people would be already preparing to leave. Instead of saying “hey, you should plan your meetings better” I had a conversation that went something like this;

Me Can I give you some feedback about today’s meeting?
David OK, I guess
Me Did you notice at the end of the meeting that the managers were closing their laptops and wanting to leave while you were still talking?
David Yes…
Me They have other meetings to go to and when you plan your meeting to go right to the hour they don’t listen for the last about 10 minutes. What do you think would work better?
David Um… Should I plan to finish at 10 to?
Me Yes, be wrapping up then. So when do you think you need to ask for the decision?
David Quarter to?
Me Yes, or perhaps earlier, to allow for discussion and wrap up. What will you do for the next meeting?
David Put less on the agenda and try to ask for the decision at about half way.
Me Let’s try that, I bet they listen to more of what you have to say that way.

This works best when the feedback is about correcting a behaviour, but it can be extended to bigger changes, either with longer discussions or repeated discussions.

There are a couple of other things to look out for;

  • the person has to be willing to hear the feedback, in the case above David was someone I was already coaching, so we already had an agreement in place that I could give him feedback. However I still asked his permission.
  • the feedback has to be useful, David had been frustrated that people weren’t listening to him, so suggesting something to change that was useful to him.
  • the feedback has to be specific,  David walked away with something to try for next time
  • the change proposed should come from them, you can ask them to think about it and come back to discuss with you or you can seed a few ideas if needed, but the answer should come from them.
  • the person receiving the feedback should feel positive and that you are helping them get better at what they do.

It is as much about usefulness of what you’re saying and delivery as the correctness of what you say.

Back to my Uncle, although he did call his mother after he stopped writing letters, my Grandma later saw her mistake. She’d given feedback that wasn’t really useful, and delivered it in a rather cruel way. She did regret sending that letter of corrections.

Image: alstonfamily  | Instruments of torture  |   CC BY-NC-ND-2.0

 

Security is Like Water

1A pipe in my kitchen broke this week, water leaked everywhere, seeping into everything, through the smallest gap. This got me thinking about other types of leaks. I think there’s a reason we talk about information and security leaks; you can do everything you want to contain information but it will pass through the smallest gap.

The reason is that there is a natural tension between the measures needed to make a company secure, and the activities people have to perform in the line of their work. Every attempt to lock down security across an organisation pushes employees to find alternative routes to perform their work.

Ars Technica reported earlier this year that when Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, had requested a secure Blackberry she had been refused. Blackberry is Clinton’s preferred tool for answering emails, and a secure Blackberry had already been provided to Obama (and to Condoleeza Rice, Clinton’s predecessor).  Now this seems a very odd decision to me, Secretary of State is the third highest office in the US, and a role that would obviously involve a lot of email correspondence with the president, presumably of a similar “top secret” nature.

I’ve heard of the same thing playing out in different ways in companies.

  • Generic USB sticks were banned, the company provided USB sticks that had a nasty habit of corrupting movie files, and it was already impossible to email large files. So employees doing presentations outside the company would use a hotmail account to email the video to themselves so that they could play it at a conference or meeting outside the company.
  • When new board members wanted meeting notes electronically. The security advice was to give them company laptops. But these were people who travelled extensively and sat on the boards of several companies. Password protected pdfs were used as an interim measure, but longer term measures involved a secure site.
  • When security teams became aware of the possibility that social engineering techniques were being used on LinkedIn and specifically targetting company employees they blocked LinkedIn from the company network. Ignoring the fact that this just moved the risk to outside work hours, or via personal mobile phones.

In all these cases employees quickly found a work-around. In some cases the risk was reduced in this process, in others not.

As Tom Seo wrote in a recent Tech Crunch article “security is defined as a largely operational function, which in turn leads to reactive, incohesive decision-making”, and I think that security has been seen as an operational function for a long time with a defensive or reactive mentality.

To keep something perfectly secure we lock it away, put it in a safe, behind a wall, or in a fortress. But for companies there is no way to build an effective wall around a company’s digital information, since using that information is an operational necessity. Sure, we use the term “firewall” for a sort of digital approximation of a wall, but we still send information across a firewall, and use technology outside a firewall.

Years ago a security colleague said to me “we can no longer build a completely secure system; we have to choose which risks to remove and which to manage”. It’s a good start, but I look forward to the day when security teams think in terms of solutions rather than rules.

Image: Security Wire  |  Lydia  |  CC BY-2.0

 

 

World Intellectual Property Day

Intellectual Property Day

Today is World Intellectual Property Day, the site commemorating it has film clips from a number of creatives discussing the challenges in intellectual property, and a map of events around the world.

Intellectual property refers to anything created by the intelligence of a person (or group of people), which is then owned by the creators according the law, and which the creators/owners can then sell.  The laws protecting these rights include trademarks, copyright, patents, and industrial design rights.

The fundamental reason for having intellectual property rights is that it allows creators to be paid for their inventions or creations and in that sense it is a good thing.  Musicians, writers, artists and designers get to earn a living. Inventors get to have a temporary monopoly on their invention to earn money from it.

But there are some downsides; defining original work can be challenging, protecting intellectual property rights is difficult, the rights can be inherited and sold like other property, protection is temporary, and the digital world presents its own challenges. I’ll show some examples of these, and point to some ways in which the law is evolving.

Defining Original Work

Richard Prince, a photographer has tested the definition of “original work” in his work, most recently in an exhibition of screen captures taken from Instagram. His contribution to making this into an original work is a single comment. He is currently being challenged in court regarding one of the images. But he’s won similar cases before, notably when he photographed Marlborough ads and edited them.

Protecting Property Rights

It’s up to the holder of the intellectual property to protect their creation, including finding and prosecuting infringers.

Large organisations, or wildly successful artists can afford agencies and lawyers to sort this out for them. For smaller artists it’s more challenging, although one, Matthew Inman – the genius behind The Oatmeal raised the stakes when one content aggregator when after him in a law suit (spoiler alert; he raised 200,000 USD for charity).

When such cases do come to court there tends to be an out of court settlement that includes a non-disclosure  clause so few details are known and the publicity around the case ends. Examples include “The Full Monty”, which was alleged to be an infringement on the New Zealand play “Ladies Night”. I saw the play back in the late 80s when it was newly released and sat through the movie in 1998 with a strong sense of déjà vu – for the storyline, the characters, and the jokes. But the case is now reduced to a couple of lines in a wikipedia entry.

Rights Sold

Intellectual property rights can, like any other property, be licensed, sold or inherited. (Copyright exists for 50 – 100 years after an author dies for example, the exact length of time depends on the country. )

Which means that the rights can end up being fought over in court, as in Disney’s recent battle over Winnie-the-Pooh.

Temporary Rights

Patents, which protect intellectual property that defines and describes an invention last for 20 years under the WTO guidelines. Copyright extends beyond the death of the creator for 50-100 years, or – in the US – for 95 years after first publication.

This means that with age items become copyright free; you can republish all of Shakespeare, Dickens and Austen but you’ll need to wait a bit for Barbara Cartland.

It’s also led to a fascinating controversy over the Diary of Anne Frank. According to Dutch law her original diary enters the public domain this year, as it is 70 years since her death in Bergen-Belsen. But under US law, the copyright extends until 2042, and copies are removed from US sources.

(There’s a second controversy around the copyright of the diaries, relating to authorship, in which Frank Otto has been promoted to co-author which means that copyright is extended on the basis of his lifetime. In the meantime versions are being published in Europe to test this decision).

Digital World

The rise and rise of digital comes about because of the incredible inventiveness of thousands of people. Some of the ideas generated are genuinely original and deserve protection, and some of those have been patented. But there’s been a rise of a counter movement – the “open source” programmers who create code and licence it for everyone to work on.

There have also been over-zealous patenters, in the US you can patent a process without ever developing a working tool. For example the process of assessing someone’s knowledge online and assigning courses based on that test is patented. Even though the exact same process has existed off-line since the Knights of the Round Table. Patent offices seem to be more aware of the digital world now and require a little more originality in a patent that “making it work online”.

In fact some jurisdictions have severely limited the patentability of any software, New Zealand being one. The idea being that software itself isn’t patentable, except in limited examples. The debate continues as to whether this enhances innovation by allowing more people to exploit an innovation, or limits it by removing the right to have a monopoly on a new invention.

Copyright vs Rights Free

The digital world makes it incredibly easy to copy and share content, and I regularly seem claims that “copyright is dead”. There’s a sort of myth around content should be free and copyright is dead but I think this stems from the multiple meanings of “free” in English. Yes content should be free – in the sense of freedom of movement – you are free to express your views, you are free to share content

It doesn’t have to be free – in the sense of no payment necessary. It’s someone’s work. I’m all for openness and sharing of content, which is why this blog is published on a creative commons licence; but recognition and payment should follow the creator.

My perspective is that IP is important but the law is still catching up with the reality, and I’m celebrating World Intellectual Property Day by writing about it.

Image: 3D Broken Copyright  |  Chris Potter  |   CC BY 2.0

 

Digital | Social | Innovation

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