Hollywood Meets Silicon Valley

In “Hollywood Versus Silicon Valley,” I wrote of a series of epic court battles – Napster, Grokster, Youtube – that pitted Hollywood companies, owners of copyrighted content, in court against Silicon Valley innovators, creators of Internet technologies that enabled information sharing but also trading in infringing works.  The court battles against Napster and Grokster lead to the demise of those services.  In the case of Youtube, by contrast, Youtube co-opted some potential adversaries by engaging them with licensing/channel agreements, and has largely convinced the courts that it has complied with copyright law by acting promptly in response to takedown notices from copyright owners.

Content owners and technology innovators could not, and did not, meet one another only in court.  As Internet access and bandwidth expanded, consumers have been able to access with greater ease not only digital music files online but also much larger motion picture and television files.  Hollywood could not simply litigate file sharing services out of existence.  What was required was a partnership between Hollywood and Silicon Valley that steered consumers into lawful distribution channels, redirecting revenues lost from piracy back to content owners.  Hollywood meets Silicon Valley.

iTunes was an early example of success in creating new partnerships.  Steve Jobs contacted record executives and convinced them that their own efforts to distribute licensed music online were clunky and pricey, and that they should license their works to Apple for distribution through Apple’s new online licensing store, iTunes.  These efforts resulted in the launch of the iTunes Music Store on April 28, 2003, which offered easy download and use of hundreds of thousands of licensed song titles at $.99 per song.  Apple also worked to convince the public that iTunes answered the technical quality and morality issues involved with free downloads of bootlegged music files.  As a result of this innovation, Apple became both a technology and media company, erasing a once bright line.

Content owners and innovators not only co-exist in the same geographical location but engage in thriving new partnerships in the Santa Monica-based technology scene, now coined “Silicon Beach.”  This spirit was on display at the recently-concluded “Silicon Beach Fest,” which took place from June 19-22 in various venues blocks from the Santa Monica beach, and which was sponsored by Spillane Trial Group, among others.

The Silicon Beach Fest showcased numerous companies that were simultaneously promoting both content and innovation – beachside mergers of Hollywood and Silicon Valley.  One such company was Demand Media, also a Fest sponsor, a digital media and domain services company, founded by executives drawn from disparate sources including Myspace and Fox, which connects businesses, publishers and consumers through online content.

As content owners and technology innovators finds that they increasing need one another, indeed join one another in the same boardroom, the courtrooms will be filled with fewer of the stark collisions of the initial Hollywood v. Silicon Valley court battles.