No one has to pay for numbers anymore. No one is threatened for merely experiencing the development of their own culture. No one is sued for participating in its creation or propagation. The old media business models are gone, burned away by their total inability to adapt to the reality of new technology. In the end they simply failed to comprehend that any product which can be reproduced endlessly by anyone at virtually no cost has, in any reasonable estimation, a market value of zero. Trying to break the technology that threatened them was the final desperate tactic - it hadn't stopped the Industrial Revolution and it didn't stop this one.
Copyright is your right to copy... anything. You are permitted to duplicate, to alter, to republish any piece of information, any text, sound, image or source code, even any object, anything that does not impinge on the privacy of another individual. It even protects your right to make money out of such duplication, if you can. In non-profit situations it also supersedes the now very limited and expensive application of patents. About the only right retained by an artist after they have released a work is their moral right to attribution. So don't get carried away, fraud, forgery and counterfeiting are still crimes.
Like all the technology in your home, your computer and everything on it is your own, down to the last resistor, the last byte. Ironically it still runs Windows. The old proprietary OS has been rebuilt into dozens of open source flavours - there was no point throwing out codes and standards with years of work behind them and such a vast catalogue of useful applications already developed. Even more unexpected is that Trusted Computing has become universal. The technology that would have allowed big business to monitor your activity, to reach into your home and control your computer and your data, is now used to stop just that kind of interference. Encrypted drives, curtained memory and protected media paths prevent malware snooping on your personal files or siphoning away your home movies. Ubiquitous VoIP, secured by privacy amplified encryption, means the national security agencies of the world have to actually investigate threats instead of sitting around waiting for potential suspects to blurt incriminating evidence over illegal wiretaps.
Your culture is faster and more fluid than it has ever been, or ever could have been had the rules not changed, you'll only ever experience a tiny fraction of it in your lifetime. The new movie you glimpsed playing on the back of someone's animated t-shirt at the bus stop last week has already spawned a handful of mash-ups and parodies, by next month the spreading ripples of its influence will be unrecognisable. Even then, if the feeds do not provide what you're looking for, there are the vast peer-distributed media libraries from which you can retrieve almost anything that has ever been digitised, any talk show or radio play, video game or comic, newspaper article or published photograph.
Time and space shifting of media is the norm rather than the hard won exception. You rarely notice the exact source of the information and entertainment you receive, it may have come through the traditional broadcast television channels, via the manifold multimedia blogs piped through your fibre optic Internet connection or picked up virally from wireless peers by your personal server while walking down the street. You rely on your intelligent agent to filter this never-ending flow of information, an application that reduces and organises the mass of live data to a few dynamic feeds, constantly adjusted to match your profile, habits and even your mood. But still, there is so much material even this system has to co-operate with others on local networks to process it all.
With free and instant access to every book ever written there is little use for bookshops, the few that are left sell limited ranges of bound paper works as charming novelties. Often those buying them are just doing so to get their favourite author's signature. For those who miss the feel of a real book but want access to more than the few pulp prints in the shops there are 'magic books' with simulated bindings, touch sensitive e-Ink pages and voice interaction to let them summon an approximation of any volume ever written. The primary functions of public libraries today are the maintenance of municipal servers in the back rooms, used to ensure that less frequented material is never lost from the peer networks, and public access to the Internet for those who might find themselves without a mobile device. The stacks are now roped-off museum exhibits.
You just don't see physical media anymore. Awkward, low-end portable storage like CDs and DVDs are rarely useful, not with ever-increasing bandwidth availability, and not without the requirement to divide culture up into tradable units, the need to trick consumers with physical objects in exchange for their money and their rights. Blu-ray and HD-DVD, their technology moulded to constrict the hold on consumers, never had a chance, too rapidly overtaken by faster, more versatile and more open live storage devices.
The cinema chains have been decimated. Those that persist cater to customers who seek an authentic movie theatre experience. You'll often find movie sponsors subsidising tickets, food and drink sales in return for screenings of 'official' versions of films, desperate to have their product placements seen by audiences in a controlled environment. You often find yourself return to really good movie again and again, drawn by dynamic content generation and commissioned extensions. There's no point banning cameras and threatening legal action, the movie doesn't need to be protected, quite the opposite, and almost everyone there has already seen it. When you walk into a cinema you probably have versions of all the latest films stored in your inside pocket, if you don't you can download them from the cinema's own server as you're watching, or access countless other titles through the powerful ad-hoc networks that settle invisibly over any significant gathering of people.
Outside of the cinemas there is little notion of viewing anything in any particular place, time or order, no way for anyone to dictate or even guess how you listen to your music or watch your news. Instead of a contest advertising has become a war. Average consumers are given the tools to strip away the old style commercial breaks and sponsor messages, tools that would have been illegal had DRM been allowed to develop unchecked.
Increasingly companies rely on getting information about their products integrated into the media, making them inseparable. You won't find a new album online that doesn't contain at least two tracks named after brands of sneakers or snack foods. The rewards for a rapper willing to name a financial services company somewhere in their lyrics are awe-inspiring - a once-off commercial concession like that can fund a popular artist for long time. Your favourite comedy sketch vlog regularly uses humour based on commercial products and services - a few years ago such a thing might have appalled you, yet you still see collections of old TV ads in the media libraries prominently tagged as humour. The Grand Theft Auto MMOG doesn't charge it's players for software or access, instead it sells in-game billboard space for fifty times the price of billboards in the real world, and the virtual cars the players are boosting will often be the latest models, performance and polygon counts boosted by higher paying sponsors, of course. Armed with suitable Creative Commons Contracts, protecting them from restrictive and exploitative deals, artists have little to fear from their sponsors.
The old copyright system did nothing to protect the right of artists and everything to protect the profit margins of the content industries. It might have been argued that without laws to protect artists, and companies to represent their interests, anyone could co-opt their work to use for advertising without rewarding them. But every company that considers such a tactic today must consider a simply question, is it worth more to make an enemy of an artist than to make a friend of one? Ultimately it must be conceded that artists of all forms are the mind and the voice of the world. Unfettered by exploitation and constant resistance, they hold the attention of all humanity. Disrespecting them is never going to be a good idea.
Some further reading:
The Mozilla Project
Electronic Frontier Foundation
GreaseMonkey Firefox Extension - Web content under user control [wikipedia.com].
AdBlock Firefox Extension - Web content filtering [wikipedia.com]
FeedTree - p2p feed dissemination.
MythTV - homebrew Personal Video Recorder project.
Mechanical Royalties - from a simple and revealing description of what artists' "rights" are worth today [howstuffworks.com]
Empowering Copyright Owners to Fight Illegal File-Swapping - a view from the "other side", for the sake of balance [ascap.com]
Trusted Computing - a relatively balanced view (at the time of writing) of TC technology [wikipedia.org]
Previously on this blog:
Burnoff: Part 1 - The Bad Guys Win - with additional relevant links.
Legal P2P in France?
Music Industry Logic Applied to Cutting Grass
Copyright Logic Applied to Digging Holes
An e-Paper Manifesto
Remember when music used to come on coasters?
Overpriced, Dusty Chunks of Pulverised Rainforest: An Endangered Species