This is one of a series of posts; the last post was here.
But while Gutenberg created the copy, we should also note what he didn’t create: Johann 1.0, the Gutenberg Reading System™. There was no device interposed between the content and the reader, no distinctive system to carry the information to those who wanted to access it. That was also true of the dominant method for creating music: home-brewed using instruments and sheet music. Any piece of sheet music would work with any piano.
But as technology intervened, we lost our simple world of access and universal interoperability. Other than printed materials—sheet music, books, newspapers and magazines—most of the content that we encounter is mediated by a device or delivery system or both. Our first content technologies were the phonograph and the player piano. Both required a marriage of playing device and content object and that meant we had entered the world of platform competition with devices that worked together or perhaps not at all. Would a Welte-Mignon roll play on an Ampico player piano? These playing devices were usually patented, too, so we needed to figure out how patent law for devices should work with copyright law for content. We needed to determine whether content should simply be available for any device, without the consent of the copyright holder, and whether the device creator could somehow limit what content could be played on a particular player.
Platform competition is usually tricky. We have faced these issues with each technology and still do so today. The issues faced by the early phonograph companies and Aeolian, the dominant maker of player pianos, match up well with clash over how much Apple should be forced to open up the iPod to outsiders. Do we think that we encourage player creation if we allow the player maker to specify who can make content for its machines? If the player and the content are linked together—if the system is closed—the player maker can choose to sell the player for less knowing full well that more money will be coming from content. If anyone can sell content for the player, the device maker may decide to charge a higher price than it otherwise would for the player and that may slow adoption of the new technology.