Big media tech journalist David Pogue posted about the enormous SOPA/PIPA protests that potentially killed the bills for now, but probably not forever — these bills themselves are the successors to the failed COICA legislation from 2010, and it may not be long before language like this shows up again… so keep those pitchforks handy if you want to make sure to preserve the opportunities the Web’s openness enables.
But meanwhile, Pogue declares it’s time to Put Down the Pitchforks on SOPA:
In other words, the protests were effective. There’s no chance that the bills will become law in their current forms. But it was a sloppy success; the scare language used by some of the Web sites was just as flawed as the Congressional language that they opposed.
He wants the opposing sides of this issue to work together to tweak the language to achieve some of SOPA’s ends against pirating sites while guaranteeing due process to the accused. He also accused SOPA protestors of falling into two groups:
Finally, not enough people have acknowledged that the opposition was arguing two totally different different points — the “you’re going about it the wrong way” group and the “we want our illegal movies!” group.
I don’t think that division quite captures the group of people who, like me, are most concerned with preserving the potential of the open Web as the way culture travels in the 21st Century. But one particular sentence of Pogue’s piece made me think that despite acknowledging a sentence earlier that piracy is often a result of inadequate legal offerings by publishers, he really didn’t capture the key reason I opposed (and presumably many other students of the Web’s great potential) these bills.
It should occur to these movie studios that if you don’t give people a legal way to buy what they want, they’ll find another way to get it.
At the same time, what the piracy sites are doing doesn’t seem quite fair, either. Yes, it’s a quirk of the Internet that you can duplicate something infinitely and distribute it at no cost. But that doesn’t make it O.K. to shoplift, especially when the stolen goods are for sale at a reasonable price from legitimate sources. Yes, even if the company you’re robbing is huge, profitable and led by idiots.
Mr. Pogue, I think that quirk is the whole point of the Internet. That anybody in the world can connect to content at no greater cost than making one copy available. In my thesis, I called these nonrivalrous resources (ch. 2.4). When you transfer one copy to someone, there is now one more in the world for no more cost. This applies to all content on the Web, not just pirated Hollywood movies. Every time someone views a web page or a YouTube video, another copy is made, at very little cost. The Web is at its very core a copy machine. The fact that the Web ends the scarcity of copies of content is its key feature. It’s not the Hollywood movies that matter to me; and as a content producer with a forthcoming book, it’s the ability of any person anywhere to access my content that will be important. As I said Wednesday, “The one thing that we can’t give them is the destruction of the Internet and the end of scarcity of information that it makes possible. That is what we’re fighting to save today.”
The big players of the music and movie industry feel that operating in a world where this is a fact of life is too scary to handle. Their business model is stuck in a world where they can exploit the scarcity of copies of content (books, DVDs, CDs) to maintain a high “value” for those copies. They feel they cannot transition to a Web-friendly business model. In fact, as I mentioned in my SOPA protest day post these industries have a history of resisting new technology not through innovation, but through lawsuits and legislation to lock down on people being able to copy cultural works, even for their own use. Clay Shirky, who also responded to Pogue’s post, spoke for a great TED video (14min) on how these players have been trying to lock down people’s ability to share (and compete with them in producing culture). And on that note, Cory Doctorow’s much-shared presentation at the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin about “the coming war on general computation” is a must-watch of a 55min talk along the same lines.
Hollywood and the big record labels have a lot of momentum, and even more resources to throw at fashioning the business of culture.
As YCombinator notes this week with its new call for startups aimed at “killing” Hollywood, disruption is due for this culture industry. If they do not take advantage of the Internet to at least make sure movies don’t get released to Swedish theaters four months after US debuts, Hollywood will be disrupted. Giant stars and Avatar-level intensive CGI nonwitstanding, the ability to tell a story on video is getting drastically cheaper by the year. This potential combined with that for cheap distribution via the Internet, means that Hollywood will have competition soon. David Pogue notes that the movie industry’s response to the Internet age has been “almost slack-jawed idiocy.” Laws like SOPA and treaties like the still-progressing ACTA are the industry’s only chance to lock in the success of that idiocy against the huge potential for competition. If they shut down “our” ability to spread culture the Internet-enabled scarcity-averse way, they can keep us on the couch and paying them instead of awake and participating in culture ourselves.
We have the tools to create a culture that is open and accessible to all. Some people use these tools to “pirate” the cultural works of Hollywood, but when other filmmakers outside the walls of the “industry” embrace Web-friendly business models, these tools will be how we share new culture. Besides worrying about not being able to compete without scarcity as a lever, I think Hollywood is also afraid that we will not need them anymore without it. But I think there are many opportunities to make money and spread culture to many more people that Hollywood can take advantage of.
A copyright is literally a monopoly, and the MPAA is led by super-advisor Chris Dodd in trying to use Congress to preserve their monopoly on making culture. We need a better market for culture, for the good of our freedom to participate in culture and that of future generations. I think the key to ensuring the development of a more just and accessible market is the weird quirk of the Internet that has ended the scarcity of content. Like every technological change that the culture industries opposed, from the player piano to Tivo, that have eventually helped them make more money, the Internet will open many new opportunities for cultural commerce. The question is whether Hollywood will wake up to the new opportunities quickly, or only after another dozen SOPA-like confrontations.