by Chris Potts

Who Gets the Benefits of Exploiting Technology?

Nov 15, 20072 mins
IT Leadership

A strike by Hollywood screenwriters and an unconnected legal dispute in England both question who benefits from successful exploitation of technology, and why.

A couple of days ago I was sitting in the London office of a global media company, early for a lunchtime appointment with the CIO.  On the coffee table was Screen International magazine.  Not my usual reading, so I thought I would leaf through it.  The lead story was about the current strike by Hollywood screenwriters. 

At the heart of the dispute – as I understand it and without being prejudical – are principles that companies follow to share out the value created from film and TV projects, as technology changes the way the entertainment industry works.  For example, what should the rewards be for screenwriters when a product of their work is downloaded, streamed or reproduced on DVD?  How much should their rewards be related to the value the company creates from their work; and what if a project bombs?

I started to wonder about any parallel with the world of IT.  And then, today, an article appeared in Computing (UK), entitled “Written for You But is it Yours?” that drew a parallel for me.  It was about a legal dispute that reached the High Court, between a software writer and a company that had reportedly engaged him to write a program for them.  The company successfully exploited his work to create value, of which he then claimed a share.  The court was asked to rule on who owned the software, whether its writer could also exploit it himself, and whether he should receive a share of the benefits from its exploitation.

I then found myself theoretically extending the scope to the people who write, say, a company’s strategies and plans for exploiting IT.  Should they be rewarded with a share of the value the company creates from their work?  What about if the execution of those strategies and plans ends up destroying more value than they create, or if nobody can tell for sure what value has been either destroyed or created?  In this theoretical scenario, what – if anything – would offering those writers a share of the value created do to the strategies and plans for exploiting IT?   And finally, what about Merton’s Law of Unforeseen Consequences?

So far, only questions, but potentially thought-provoking stuff.