Thu, May 02, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Developing a digital-content industry

By Kevin Shih 石孝綸

In the light of the success of South Korea's online gaming industry, the Executive Yuan recently proposed a plan to develop the digital-content industry. The proposal calls for the government to invest NT$4 billion in infrastructure development for the industry and to set up a digital-content industrial park in Taipei. The proposal anticipates that in five years' time, digital content will command a market worth more than NT$210 billion. But my comment on this ambitious proposal is, "Great vision, poor implementation."

It is undoubtedly far-sighted to develop the vision to make Tai-wan the center of digital-content innovation and production. Content is king. With the popularity of the Internet and the advent of third-generation mobile-phone systems, telecommunication carriers are desperate for digital content, be it animation, movie clips or online games. And as the only truly democratic country in the Chinese-speaking world, Taiwan does have a great chance of becoming the Chinese Hollywood. While the government has a grand vision, however, it appears not to know how to realize it, and this ignorance could be fatal to Taiwan's digital-content industry.

Recognizing the potential of digital content, the US government has passed several laws to help the digital content industry grow. The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), in particular, which protects the integrity of digital-rights management (DRM) systems, is essential if digital-content production is to be profitable.

One might wonder how digital-content production can be a sustainable industry, given that all we hear about is how rampant piracy is destroying our entertainment industry. MP3s, file-sharing Web sites and software make copying and downloading digital content easier and easier, and massively reduce the incomes of record companies and artists.

US scientists created DRM systems, which use encryption technology to prevent copying and unauthorized distribution, precisely to combat piracy. Knowing that technology has its limits, the US government passed the DMCA, which makes it a criminal offense to destroy, or publish information about how to destroy, a DRM system.

Taiwan, by contrast, is not preparing to create this crucial legal infrastructure. It spends money on digital-content research projects, while cutting the already limited subsidies to TaNet, which links educational centers in the nation. In fact, due to the cut, there has been much discussion in Internet forums about whether students are entitled to use TaNet for digital-content creation and sharing. These young digital content producers are condemned to using TaNet for "noneducational purposes."

The people who really know digital content are the younger generation, who have grown up with digital technology. They posses the necessary creativity and powers of innovation to create content digitally. With one of the best campus networks in Taiwan, for example, National Chiao Tung University -- an engineering-oriented school -- could lead in the creation of popular digital content. If it can make good digital content, so could other humanities - and arts- oriented universities if they were provided with a good digital environment.

If the government wants to develop the digital-content industries it must provide university students with high-speed Internet connections and provide funds for schools to buy the necessary hardware and software to create content -- digital videos, digital cameras, editing software and so on. By investing in young people now, our society can get more from the booming digital-content industries pioneered by such people in the future.

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