Nothing like the rantings of a Traditional to spur your New Media Evangelist to type through the pain of two stainless steel traction pins impaled through his left pinky.
Elizabeth Lee Wurtzel wrote a piece in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal entitled The Internet is Ruining America’s Movies and Music. The piece is packed with too many gems from the Traditional’s Handbook to list, but here are a few of my favorites:
Today’s music industry is either moribund or dead, depending on whom you ask. Downloading has destroyed it, and no one in the business is smart enough to figure out how to fix it.
Downloading hasn’t destroyed the music industry, the music industry has self-inflicted its own head-wounds by adopting a very dangerous business attitude: that the industry itself is more important than its own customers. The same people who willingly bought a song (or an album) in every new medium (vinyl, eight-track tape, cassette tape, Compact Disc, and now the DRMed MP3 file, etc…) have decided that they won’t play that game anymore. iTunes has proven that people will pay for music, but they want it in a form that’s portable across all of their digital media platforms — instead of the music industry’s preference that you buy a copy for your phone and one for your home stereo and one for your car and one for your computer and one for the dozens of other media inventions that nobody can conceive of today. However, instead of listening to their customers and offering them new products and services (like a normal business would do), the Music industry reverts to its monopolistic ways, choosing to treat its customers like thieves — which in hindsight sounds exactly like someone who isn’t “…smart enough to know how to fix it.”
…47% of our gross domestic product involves intellectual property (IP) transactions, and about 6% of our national worth — $626.6 billion annually — is from our copyright businesses. These are the segments of our economy that are suffering, or stand to do so, as a result of the Internet. The Internet, glorious as it is, should be thought of as the plague of postmodernity.
The Internet is no more a plague today than smoke signals, carrier pigeon, printing press, vinyl records, telegraph, radio, or television were to their respective times. None of these technologies were welcomed with open arms by their respective societies either. And copyright? We’ll get to that after this next statement.
Entertainment is such a crucial part of the American way of life — because of the jobs it generates, the fun it engenders, the goodwill it creates world-wide — that the potential for its undoing is a national emergency that ought to at least merit a congressional panel or governmental alarm. The U.S. was meant to be a nation of commercial creativity. It is our birthright. It’s what we do.
Our birthright isn’t creativity; it’s freedom. Creativity emerges from freedom. But just for the sake of argument, let’s work with Ms Wurtzel’s conclusion. If creativity is our birthright and we need some congressional panel to sound a national alarm, why is the Federal government pulling out all the stops to kill creativity through inflated copyright laws?
Article 1, Section 8, paragraph 8 of the US Constitution makes it the government’s responsibility:
“To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;”
The first copyright laws set these “limited times” to fourteen (14) years with the ability to renew for another fourteen (14), for a grand total of twenty-eight (28) years. Over the past 200 years, though, the content creators have lobbied and won multiple limit-extensions, stretching it to the author’s life plus seventy (70) years.
Let’s think about this for a second. The founding fathers wanted us to protect copyrights for inventors for twenty-eight (28) years. Today, we are protecting their rights for 2.5 times that amount after the author or inventor is dead. Or, looking at it another way, let’s say that a twenty-five year old woman creates a video documentary in 2008 and lives ’til the ripe ol’ age of ninety-five. That work won’t enter the public domain for someone to build upon, in essence to “innovate” as Ms Wurtzel says in her peice, until 2148 — which is absurd in today’s digital Read/Write world. Today’d copyright laws have totally upset the balance that our forefathers attempted to achieve between the economic needs of authors and the innovation needs of our society. They must be updated in order for our economy to continue to thrive.
And now that any old anybody with opposable thumbs can operate a digital camera, international markets have found they favor the locally produced fare over yet another sequel to “Rush Hour.” Bombay prefers Bollywood to Hollywood.
Putting aside the fact that Bombay was renamed to Mumbai in 1995, why wouldn’t citizens of “the city formerly known as Bombay” prefer stories told in their native languages, using their own cultural references? Are we to believe that America is the only country of beings with opposable thumbs that are capable of telling great stories? Is it our birthright to hold a monopoly on the world’s audio-visual entertainment? Evidently, some people think we should:
Hegemony is over.
Yes, by its very definition, hegemony is indeed over. We’ll actually have to compete from now on.
The World is Flat. The Economics of Influence are forever changed. And until the recording and movie industries understand these things, they’ll continue attacking their customers and then lobbying Congress to provide air cover. As a result, Congress will continue to gather lobbyist funds while feeling good about protecting the rights of copyright holders — while systematically stifling the innovation society requires to take economic advantage of these new technologies.
Some pioneers are working very hard to solve these problems without reverting to featherbedding. For example, checkout the innovative things that Kevin MacLeod and Jonathan Coulton are doing for music. Or, follow the future of digital entertainment through the exciting work of machinima creators such as Phil “Overman” Rice. If you wanna read some great insight into new media business models for content, read Tim Street. And lastly, if you’d like to learn about work being done to update copyright laws, follow the work of Larry Lessig.
We haven’t solved the problems created by our new media technologies, but I’m convinced that the pioneers mentioned above will guide us well. Until then, the Traditionals will continue to miss the point entirely.