Or so some guy named Barry Diller says. I beg to differ.
Unless you've been living in a cave for a while, you've noticed that there's an ideological war underway around content. By content, I mean software, music, tv programs, movies, books, and any other piece of information or entertainment you can package. The war is between paid and free, closed and open, restricted and unrestricted. Did this war start with open source software? I'm not sure, but open source has definitely helped arm the conflict. Let's consider the content categories.
When you look for a software application or you need to perform a task with software, you can almost always find free software to do just about anything. In many instances, the free stuff is nowhere near as good as its commercial counterpart (e.g. GIMP vs. Photoshop). This reality keeps us software types employed for now. But the free stuff is still there, and sometimes it's good enough.
Then there's entertainment media sites like hulu, youtube, pandora, last.fm, and countless others that are supplying us with endless time-shifted and (mostly) free entertainment. Sure, it's not always in HD on your giant flat panel or in CD-quality through your audiophile stereo, but often it's good enough.
Switching to books, you can find lots of online material in Google Books or in any number of free audio book libraries. If you're looking for open college materials, check out MIT Open Courseware or the excellent collection of CC-licensed college lectures at Academic Earth. Wikipedia, The New York Times, and many other excellent sources of information are all open and free. Google alone is hell-bent on ensuring all content is in the open, whether people want it to be or not.
And this is all of the legal stuff. For everything else, grab a torrent client, search a database, and (in some cases) break the law to find what you're looking for. DRM? Forget it. For every smart group of engineers that implements DRM, there's another smart group that cracks it. It's a waste of money to even bother implementing it. Perhaps this is why Apple is dropping DRM from much of its iTunes library and why Amazon MP3 never had it in the first place.
Now consider Diller's claim: "people have always paid for content," and once this "accident of historical moment" passes, people will again be paying for it. Are you kidding me?! Um…you know that point in your life when some teenagers drive by in their car blasting music, and you think it's too loud…and then suddenly you feel really old? (Well, it hasn't happened to me yet, but I've heard of it.) Anyway, this is what it looks like when it happens to someone else. And at a Web 2.0 conference no less!
The open content ship has sailed. This content war is about a more fundamental question: the accessibility of information. And the challenge for all of our businesses—software, music, entertainment, publishing—is not about restricting access to content, it's how to support open or very inexpensive content while still making enough money to keep producing it. This is what progress looks like. Diller, you'd better crank up your stereo.