Dec 9, 2011

The magic of the internet and why media companies want to kill it

Imagine a 16-year-old dude from France loves music and wants to make a career as an electronic musician. Imagine furthermore he remixes a Killers song, posts it on YouTube, and catches the eye of some industry players. He becomes a successful DJ, still only 17. He releases a mashup taking bits from dozens of different songs and weaving them into a new whole.

Now imagine someone else uses that song as background for an awesome dance video. Suppose for the sake of argument that someone is a balding math professorish dude with a predilection for backflips:



Would that not be the very height of awesome? Who is being harmed in this process? The playing field is more level; music and performance is democratized such that nearly anyone has a reasonable shot of getting their work out there. For all its flaws the internet is sometimes truly amazing.

The "anti-piracy" bill before Congress would make nearly all of the above process illegal. That is on purpose. Media companies want the only content out there to be the things on which they control monopoly rents. There was once a copyright bill (the Eldred Act) which would have granted basically infinite rights to anyone who was willing to pay a dollar to maintain their copyright, but released into the public domain the literally millions of works whose copyrights are fifty years old and for which there is no one willing to pay a dollar.

Media companies killed that bill. Why? Lawrence Lessig, Free Culture:
But when the copyright owners oppose a proposal such as the Eldred Act, then, finally, there is an example that lays bare the naked self-interest driving this war. This act would free an extraordinary range of content that is otherwise unused. It wouldn’t interfere with any copyright owner’s desire to exercise continued control over his content. It would simply liberate what Kevin Kelly calls the “Dark Content” that fills archives around the world. So when the warriors oppose a change like this, we should ask one simple question:

What does this industry really want?

With very little effort, the warriors could protect their content. So the effort to block something like the Eldred Act is not really about protecting their content. The effort to block the Eldred Act is an effort to assure that nothing more passes into the public domain. It is another step to assure that the public domain will never compete, that there will be no use of content that is not commercially controlled, and that there will be no commercial use of content that doesn’t require their permission first.

The opposition to the Eldred Act reveals how extreme the other side is. The most powerful and sexy and well loved of lobbies really has as its aim not the protection of “property” but the rejection of a tradition. Their aim is not simply to protect what is theirs. Their aim is to assure that all there is is what is theirs.

It is not hard to understand why the warriors take this view. It is not hard to see why it would benefit them if the competition of the public domain tied to the Internet could somehow be quashed. Just as RCA feared the competition of FM, they fear the competition of a public domain connected to a public that now has the means to create with it and to share its own creation.

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