Do Computers Dream of Intellectual Property?

UPDATE: Cory says the audio from the event is now up. MP3 or iTunes

I just got back from a talk given by Steven Starr, the CEO and founder of Revver, who was brought to USC by the illustrious Cory Doctorow, author of the Most Popular Blog Ever and currently in residence at the school as the U.S.-Canada Fulbright Chair in Public Diplomacy. Discussion at the event ranged all over the place, including touching on my slightly paraphrased question above, and I’ll post a link to audio from it as soon as it’s available, because I’m sure I can’t do it justice. However, I did think that the conversation around online business models that were built on the idea of information becoming easier to copy were fascinating, and I wanted to share a few quick thoughts on that before I trundle off to bed. Or return to my insomnia-fueled news reading. Whatever.

First, Steve seems like a very smart, very nice guy.

Second, as Steve said, there is going to be a single moment in the near future when it will be decided whether creativity will continue to be aggregated by large groups who monetize it (studios, networks, YouTube) or when content creators will be able to be rewarded individually for what they produce.

Third, one of the central ideas behind Revver, namely that media disbursement over the Internet (authorized or not) is only going increase over time, is fascinating. As Steve puts it, “bits are going to become easier to copy,” and this idea, which some companies are trying very hard to circumvent through the use of increasingly strict rights management and policing, is a very intriguing one, especially for advertising agencies, provided they can come up with ways to properly monitor and monetize the distribution of those clips… a process which Revver, to a large extent, has.

Revver is less of a community-centric portal a la YouTube and more a series of tools that allow for (Interesting fact: Only 2% of the folks who watched the Diet Coke and Mentos video that became famous a few months back saw it on Revver.) Revver works by, basically, by placing a little piece of code at the end of each video file which notifies the Revver servers (and, thereby, the content creators and uploaders) and then downloading a dynamic advertisement that will be viewed at the end of the video. Those files can then be traded over P2P services, sent via email, transferred on a USB drive, whatever, and, provided they’re on an Internet-connected computer, they’ll still transmit the views and receive the ads. About the only thing that can remove that little piece of code on a Revverized video is to transcode it or to upload it to YouTube.

Revver’s process only answers one of the questions that advertisers are asking about online video at the moment, though, because we’re also placing a great deal of emphasis on being able to figure out which videos will become popular or, more often, create them ourselves.

That being said, Revver’s business model seems like an awesome one for content creators, distributors (or affiliates) and for Revver itself. To give an idea of how well it works, I just want to do a little deeper dive on the Mentos & Diet Coke video mentioned above. All in all, Revver has tracked the video as being viewed more than 3.5 million times — only 2% of those views were seen on the Revver portal itself. In total, that video drew about $70,000 in ad revenue (and continues to make money every time the lab shows it in a presentation). Half of that money went back to the content creators who are now using it to create a troupe of actors that specialize in creating online videos — so, much like lonelygirl15, you have a brand whose entire identity is being created online with miniscule amounts of funding.

Once the question and answer section of Steve’s presentation started, the discussion quickly entered the realm of copyrights, intellectual property, fair use and prior restraint. Personally, I loved it (ladies, take note: I go gaga for copyright and first amendment discussions), but I imagine that Cory will do a better job of summarizing that than I ever could, so I’ll leave that one to the experts.

Anyway, in the spirit of viral video and all that, let me leave you with my favorite viral advertisement, from, which I still watch and laugh hysterically about because I am a sick, sick man.