Reintermediation vs. Disinermediation of IP

Over at Prawfsblawg, Doug Lichtman raises a good point about the Google Print litigation. We might be comfortable with Google scanning libraries of books into a database, he says, because they have incentives to behave responsibly with respect to intellectual property, security, etc. Does that mean we’re comfortable with every individual doing the same thing?

To put it another way, some of the Internet-based challenges to traditional intellectual property are about reintermediation — replacing old intermediaries, like publishers and record labels, with new online ones. Some, however, are about disintermediation — getting rid of the intermediaries entirely. One is iTunes, the other is MyTunes. The latter is much more threatening. Intermediaries can be controlled through law and other means, but individuals may be too numerous, distributed, and unruly to respond to those mechanisms.

The wild card here? Storage.

The price/performance of digital storage is growing even faster than processor speed or Internet capacity. When every new mobile phone can hold the total output of major record labels over the past decade, and every new TV can do the same for Hollywood movies, the hold of the intermediaries becomes increasingly tenuous.