Sound strategic orientations for supporting Québécois interactive digital media
There’s a growing interest globally in immersive and interactive experiences enhanced by virtual and augmented reality technologies. As the web giants develop these disciplines (Facebook, Spotify Island, Netflix Anime) and the democratization of tools accelerates innovations (Google Live View is a good example), the pressure to find one’s niche and create strategic alliances intensifies.
With its deep pool of digital industry creators and entrepreneurs, Quebec has tremendous potential to position itself as a leader in this innovative ecosystem. The problem is that the environment is fragmented and faces valuation issues as highlighted in the recent Habo report. According to the 2022 CMF Trends Report, the threat to SMEs in content creation is specifically with retaining ownership of their intellectual property (IP).
The phenomenon is complex and is part of a patchwork of interrelated issues. These include the paltry royalties that go to creators in the remuneration chain, the lack of funding for marketing, the asymmetrical bargaining power of digital broadcasters, the complexity of managing copyright in the dematerialized digital environment, and the conflicting dynamics between enriching the public domain and monetizing content.
To better understand the interactive digital media IP challenges, five players working from different industry perspectives (artists, R&D labs, startups, and content creation studios) shared details about the situations they find themselves in, the challenges they face, and the strategies they’re using to ensure their sustainability. Their conversations shed light on sound strategic orientations for supporting the sector.
The key IP challenges
- Capitalizing on the innovative process for promoting IP
The success of any IP depends on a process characterized by uncertainty and serendipity. It’s based on a continuous path of exploration that requires constant deviation from the initial plan in pursuit of potentially more promising avenues of investigation. At times complex and abstract, the innovation method requires patience, flexibility, and methodological precision for proceeding in key problem-solving stages.
These are among the lessons that the Float4 multimedia studio learned for retaining the ownership of its IP while developing its Realmotion™ software and real-time content servers, internationally recognized for their highly specialized capabilities. But as Float4 executive producer Charlotte Belleau, member of the board of directors of the XN Quebec association of digital experience producers, pointed out, “Not all XN Quebec members have the means to invest the time and effort in posing the right questions and in trying things out. Which is too bad since a day of creative exploration can make a huge difference for anyone with a potential gold mine in their head.”
An early-stage investment in the development of high-potential creative ideas at critical stages of the IP creation process is a luxury not everyone can enjoy. Belleau believes that simple incentives like access to facilities and equipment for sharing resources would encourage spending more time on R&D. An improved method for matching financial models to specific innovation and market ambiguities at this crucial stage of development would also facilitate access to financing.
By capitalizing on the innovative process this way, access to investments and expertise can be enhanced.
- Reinforcing business models for deploying artistic output at scale
There are multiple strategies for deploying artistic output at scale, including generating resale rights (royalties paid to rightsholders anytime a work is resold), developing a service offer linked to IP usage, and creating brands to provide visibility to specific or commissioned white-label projects.
Reasonable remuneration for performing artists and artisans is an issue that is more relevant than ever considering today’s numerous digital distribution platforms.
As an artist, Interférences Art et Technologie founder Louis-Robert Bouchard has noticed the precarious nature of certain trades because of pay scales. To expand on the observation, Bouchard carried out a study on remuneration ranges for artists in the context of a metaverse exhibition hall project (Ellipse).
For Jonathan Rouxel, founder and CEO of startup Prologue XR Studio, one solution would be to value IP through the implementation of a rewards system (like blockchain) that benefits all stakeholders. “The ideal would be one single item that generates value for everyone,” he said. “If I win, everyone wins.”
- Upgrading services linked to copyright and trademark protection
It’s not necessary for some creators to register trademarks or copyright simply because the complexity of the underlying technologies makes their content difficult to imitate. Unfortunately, there are others with protection needs that existing systems are unable to adequately safeguard.
Such is the case for Philippe Dubost, creator of multiple interactive experiences. Because he’s continually navigating in an environment where concepts and ideas pop up fast and furiously, what he really needs is a safety net to be protected against any legal challenges. The concepts and prototypes that he produces can be easily copied. “How do you ensure that a functioning project is not taken over at scale by some agency or other entity?” he said. “My biggest fear is being taken to court for infringing on an original idea that was mine in the first place.” In Dubost’s experience, our current legal system is more difficult than it should be for artists like him to access.
Prologue XR Studio’s Rouxel underscores how much the slow pace of our legal process is totally unsuited for dealing with the blazing speed of digital content’s evolution. For example, it took him two and a half years to get approval for a trademark registration to protect a project that now no longer exists.
That being said, protection services better adapted to start-up situations do exist. In order to launch the commercialization phase of his Crime Trip augmented reality puzzle adventure game, Rouxel benefited through legal support from his incubator partner’s law firm.
- Promoting IP and harnessing the creative power of the community through OSS licensing
The democratization of the technology behind interactive and immersive content through free software licensing is a staple of digital culture. The idea behind the copyleft approach to copyright is to encourage the appropriation of technologies that stimulate innovation by giving artists and creators the freedom to adapt, copy, redistribute, and even commercialize new tools. For Louis-Robert Bouchard, it’s a question of developing communities working on codes to increase the dissemination of new techniques and to expand our collective intelligence. “Open-source code is not that well-known yet. In fact, we’re currently considering a larger rollout for Digital Graffiti.
Certainly, myths and negative biases towards the OSS approach need to be debunked especially where free licenses are paradoxically seen as holding back the commercialization of innovations. There’s a lot of confusion as far as the management of licenses and sometimes complex releases go, and while redistributions of newer versions of software imply reciprocally granting the same freedoms as the source version, these constraints do not necessarily apply to the entire work.
According to Montreal-based Métalab co-director Emmanuel Durand this is primarily an educational issue. Métalab is the Society for Arts and Technology’s (SAT) research and development laboratory. “The innovation in how our tools are used in case histories and in assemblies between our tools, is more than in each individual tool,” he said. “And this innovation obviously remains the property of those who created it (including businesses and artists) under whatever licensing arrangement they select.”
Emerging trends are leading precursors to new phases in content creation, production, and distribution. The opportunities are there for those prepared to seize them. Demystifying IP issues and identifying sound strategies for better supporting players in positioning themselves in their respective markets are essential for enriching our creative digital heritage.