The Digital Skeptic: Surviving the Google Glass CrashThe Digital Skeptic: Copyrights save Google Glass
NEW YORK (
) --I've got to hand it to FX Nuttall -- yep, that really is what this
exec's business card says. When I asked him his company's plans for Google Glass, he didn't mince words.
"They launch the technology, then they figure out how to make money," he told me over coffee in a sleek Washington, D.C., trade building lobby. "That's how the search engine got started. It's a very well-documented part of the culture."
Nuttall has a unique, investor-worthy view of emerging pervasive computing tools such as Google Glass. He's a product specialist for YouTube based in Switzerland and part of the team responsible for creating the tools that manage payments for copyrighted content across Google's mobile and Web services.
He is far from a Google lifer. Rather, Nuttall is an experienced entrepreneur and policy wonk with degrees in physics and mathematics who's dug deep into the nitty-gritty of deploying copyright management systems in massive digital networks.
And the man is remarkably candid about the road ahead for Google as it attempts to legally manage music, art, software and other intellectual property in sprawling global markets about to adapt to powerful new technologies such as Google Glass.
"It's all about scale," he said. "It's a massive network that must handle trillions of transactions at any given time, but at costs that are at a fraction of a penny each."
Nuttall explained that the system he works on must automatically -- among other things -- figure out which song is being played, parse out who owns the rights to it, calculate the rights fees and track where those fees go, all while accounting for mundane human vagaries such as spelling.
"A name like Michael Jackson is surprisingly common among musicians," he joked.
Here's the shocker: Those in the global content rights game are optimistic that Nuttall and Google are not spinning the world when they claim they take valuing music, movies and art seriously.
"I don't think it will be perfect, particularly in emerging markets like in Africa, " says David Alexander, managing director of
, a South African digital rights and publishing firm. "But I believe we are looking at a system where value can be assigned to digital content instantly and stakeholders rewarded in real time."
U.S. copyright battle is SOPA-rific
Now, before investors rejoice -- and dash off looking for global network copyright bets to take -- here's some sobering news: The transition to a Web of things worth something will be far from smooth ... and start far from the U.S.
Take last year's frankly embarrassing squabble over of the "Stop Online Piracy Act," or SOPA. If you recall, U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas introduced what clearly was flawed legislation that expanded law enforcement powers on copyright theft, provoking Web users and producing a backlash that forced SOPA into hiding. Clearly the future will not be found in such a toxic copyright environment.
Fewer content rights dysfunctions exist overseas, though, in countries where music, art, books and software define societies.
"I attend many global rights bodies many times a year," said Lorenzo Ferrero, chairman of CIAM, the international music publisher's organization based in Italy. "A market like Brazil takes music rights very seriously. The Samba is who they are."
That means the notion of reengineering the Web to value every bit of content it touches will gain a wide base of support -- a new worldview of content that Nuttall insists is a theme at Google.
"When people say we don't pay people for their content," he said, "They don't understand the business. It's billions of transactions now. And that will only grow."
Certainly skeptics are correct in pointing out it will be years, maybe even a decade, before each click of a book means a check for an author around the world. And managing these rights will almost certainly eat into Google's already narrowing operating and profit margins. But at this low ebb of the Web, any news that hints at turning the ash and dust of the digital age into something worth something is worthy of celebration.
All I can say is, it's about damn time.
This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.