Cardozo Law Professor Susan Crawford gives a wonderful description of a recent performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony conducted by Leonard Slatkin in which the famous conductor discussed and demonstrated various re-orchestrations of the masterpiece, particularly Mahler's (Bits, Atoms, and Beethoven). Slatkin is a proponent of the view that classical music is not unchanging and unchangeable, but can be re-imagined with the times.
Being an IP professor, Crawford can't help but apply this insight to the ongoing battles over copyright:
Maybe (here's the tie-in to innovation and intellectual property) we're in an era in which we're beginning numbly to accept that "content" is just provided to us. It's an atom, a thing that floats in space, unchanging. We can hear or see it, as part of a mass content-absorption experience, but we are at a distance from it.
But I think that she has it backwards. We aren't at the beginning of an era where we numbly accept content. The beginning of that era was when Edison first set stylus to wax cylinder, the beginning of the era of mechanical reproduction. It was an era of unchangeable physical format that could only be produced and distributed efficiently en masse. That era is dying.
After less than a century of dominance, I believe that people are waking up from the consumerist coma induced by the era of mechanical reproduction. What we are seeing is the birth of a new era, an era of empowerment, where people are both consumers and producers of content, a wonderful bricolage of both old and new. Blogs are one example (if you are reading this, you aren't reading only what traditional publishers put out), but so is the Grey Album, Phantom Edit, machinima, and the whole modding community (among others).
Of course, the beneficiaries of the old era (e.g., RIAA, MPAA, etc.) are busy trying their best to stop this new era from succeeding. They will ultimately fail, but not without doing damage in the meantime.