The charge plate and the off-limits Xerox machine:


WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS., Nov. 15, 2010 - Since the Internet burst from its academic and defense origins in the mid-1990s, people who own "content" have been troubled by two things: How to get paid, and how to keep from being ripped off.

Let me illustrate with two anecdotes from my childhood.

When I was a boy, my mom used to let me paw through her handbag. I used to be fascinating by the array of "charge plates" she kept for a dozen or more stores. These aluminum strips, smaller than today's plastic credit card, carried her name and address and the unique number that was her revolving charge account - a different number for each store. Each month she got 12 bills, or at least bills from each store she had patronized.

Today, my mother has two "credit cards" which serve the same purpose.

Anyone who wonders whether the Internet needs a shared-authentication infrastructure for single sign-on and digital transactions need only refer to the example of my mother's aluminum-plated handbag.

Momentum is building for a shared-user network for trust, identity and information commerce. that Clickshare. The U.S. newspaper industry should be thinking about a universal "travel pass." It's the only industry that has both content direct, account relationships with at least 45 million paying customers. We've written a brief summary of how Clickshare enables this sort of approach, going right back to Clickshare's conception in 1994. Watch for the formation of a news industry collaborative to get behind the "travel pass" concept.

At the heart of all of this effort is a desire to make it easy for consumers to transaction with multiple websites without having to pass around private information or create multiple accounts - a so-called "single sign-on." Although the idea was pioneered by Clickshare in 1994, others since have caught onto it. The newspaper industry has been considering shared user management for years, and even tried to pull it together in 1997 with the New Century Network.


The second anecdote from my childhood involves the Worcester, Mass., public library. I remember going there in the early 1960s and finding signs on the Xerox-brand photocopier saying that it was illegal to copy books and periodicals on it. I remember, as a kid, finding that rather absurd. What else was going to be copied in a library? Are we going through the same learning process online right now? Did the copy machine finish books as a viable business? On the contrary, the copy machine has probably contributed more to the sale and dissemination - the marketing - of intellectual property than any other single invention.

When will we stop viewing perfect digital copies as a danger and instead view them as the greatest marketing opportunity to hit music, text and multimedia entertainment? The key is to make it easy for consumers to do the right thing - buy information at a reasonable price - rather than trying to make it hard to do the wrong thing - steal it.

And how do you make it easy?

In the entertainment, software and book businesses, much of the hand-wringing until a few years ago was not so much about how to get paid, but how to make sure you don't get ripped off. Companies like Sealed Media, Reciprocal, ContentGuard, RightsMarket, InterTrust, Preview Systems and Softlock Services all tried - and failed - to provide "locking" technologies which would somehow allow a consumer to get one-time or limited-time access to music, sofware or text objects, without being able to pass along the object.

But all of them failed. And into that void walked Apple and its iTunes Music Store - which made purchasing songs by the click completely simple. Eventually, the record labels even accepted Apple's decision to remove any digital-rights-management protection for the songs - because consumers were tired of having trouble moving their music from device to device.

One thoughtful approach a decade ago came came from Lawrence Lessig. He argued in his book, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, (Random House) that it was time to develop a theory of copyright law based upon "compensation without control" - a system of almost open access to copyrighted materials where the owner must permit use for reasonable compensation.

Lessig's ideas were embodied in The Creative Commons. But what's now needed to make Lessig's idea work better for information commerce is agreement on a way to authenticate users as they access copyrighted material, and record their use. The marketplace can take care of the pricing function.

That's the ultimate vision Clickshare has held since 1994. Limit the gatekeeping role to nothing more than authentication and logging (recording clicks). Vendors own their content; retailers (or "Information Valets"), own their customers. All Clickshare - or an industry consortium Clickshare supports – need do is create the rules and infrastructure - the marketplace - for exchange to happen.

In the next few months, major companies will be making decisions about how to eliminate the metal charge plates -and how make it easy to buy instead of hard to steal. Clickshare can help.