By Larry Downes on March 14, 2007 at 8:54 pm
I am working in Europe this week with a large technology company, and of course everyone is talking about the filing of a $1 billion copyright infringement case against Google by Viacom. "We have rights management products that would solve the problem," one of my clients noted. "I don't understand why it isn't selling."
Maybe it's because Google doesn't think it has a problem. Maybe it's because what my client is offering isn't a solution, it's the raw material of weaponry in an escalating information war.
The industrial revolution created tremendous new wealth and remade the feudal economy of much of the world, but we don't call it a revolution for nothing. The new wealth was initially concentrated in the hands of a few holders, who used an archaic legal system to resist efforts to redistribute that wealth (and ultimately multiply its scale). Slavery in the U.S. was dying out when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which ironicaly increased the need for low-cost labor and in turn made the Civil War inevitable. The Communist Revolution (radical) and the Progressive Movement (incremental) were both rejections of a legal system that no longer functioned, and which could not adapt to changing realities. Theodore Roosevelt embraced antitrust not because he was a liberal (he was a conservative), but because he believed it was a necessary safety valve to avoid social revolution.
Resistance to industrial technology began as scattered, disorganized social unrest (think of the original luddites, pictured above, smashing the machines of industrialized textile manufacturing), but over time disparate threads came together and coalesced into armed resistance. Then, as now, war made for some strange bedfellows. In the U.S.pragmatists like Roosevelt kept company with radicals like Jane Addams. Karl Marx was not a Marxist.
The Information Revolution began in 1955 with the sale of the first commercial computer, the Univac I. Its basic law of physics is Moore's Law, and Moore's Law and the post-industrial law of property are clashing at an accelerating rate (the rate doubles every 12-18 months, just like Moore's Law). The early signs of a social, political and economic revolution are increasingly visible--copyleft, net neutrality, Web 2.0, the "privacy debate," Barlow's Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, neo-luddism against RFID and the increasingly desperate and increasingly blunt force responses of the vested interests--the DMCA, the Convention on Cybercrime, business process patents, Grokster.
In the information revolution, the means of production are not industrial, they are bits. The bloody fights are not over natural resources and access to emerging markets but over use and ownership of ideas. But the battles of the information revolution will be fought with just as much violence as their 19th century predecessors, because the economic stakes are just as high.
And in the end, whenever and however the end comes, the result will be a new legal infrastructure better suited to the new economic realities of information and the technology that spreads it. Better, not perfect. And the creation of that new legal system will not be an academic exercise, it will be war. 200 million Americans can't be felons.
Exactly 100 years ago, economist, lawyer, and historian Brooks Adams, great-grandson of revolutionary John Adams and a close advisor to Roosevelt, was in pitched battle against the U.S. railroads, who were charging extortionary rates for shippers to and from points between Chicago and the West Coast, where they held monopoly power. Adams wrote:
"There is no ancient and abstract principle of right and wrong, which can safely be deduced as a guide to regulate the relations of railways and monopolies among our people, because railways and monopolies are products of forces unknown in former times. The character of competition has changed, and the law must change to meet it, or collapse. Such is my general theory."
At 4 AM local time and suffering the delirium of jet lag, it's my general theory as well.
Frank September 15, 2008 at 1:50 pmPermalink
Well, Google started with copying the books (or blurbs of text) so video is not out of the question either right. I think taking a blurb of it for a prospective buyer is not all that bad. You give them a taste, similar to a commercial, movie preview, test drive at your local auto dealer. Nothing wrong with that. BUT there is something wrong when the whole song or video is taken unless you have permission from the author.
Scott Ellington May 1, 2008 at 5:02 pmPermalink
An original idea of real value may cross the mind of any person at any time, but a valuable, original idea is more likely to occur to someone poised before a screen & keyboard than a 16th Century plowman, a 17th Century clerk, an 18th Century mine worker, or any employee (whose attention is devoted to interests that are definitively not his/her own).
The idea of earning a living while employed at something one loves to do is still revolutionary, but the prospect is becoming ubiquitous, and it's fostered by the spread of the internet, which affords us easy access to current thought in our individual areas of interest
the means to distribute our ideas, both terribly hackneyed and utterly original.
Artificial barriers to innovation (especially copyright law) that quibble over the ownership of necessary nuggets in the cultural treasury of ideas must evolve swiftly or fall abruptly.
ScottytheMenace March 18, 2007 at 12:14 amPermalink
This article is mish-mash of half theories and prosthelitizing masquerading as serious commentary. To suggest that the current information revolution is analogous to the industrial revolution is just silly on its face. Other silliness in this article:
1) Theodore Roosevelt was not a conservative. He was a founding member of the modern progressive movement.
2) Karl MARX was, in fact, a MARXist, unless of course he didn't believe a word he wrote which is doubtful.
3) If 200 million people are committing felonies, then, yes, 200 million Americans can and are felons.
There is little to compare the industrial and information revolutions. On their face, they are both world and society changing movements, but that is where the similarities end.
The industrial revolution cost money. Lots and lots of money. The average person could not become an industrialist and create a railroad or start an automobile factory. Both required large amounts of capital for land, labor, and machinery which naturally led to monopolistic enterprises: the greater the cost of entry into an industry the fewer the players. Naturally.
Additionally, the products were physical and thus local. Creating things (a car for example) cost lots of money and when you created it it was a single physical entity residing in a single physical place. Actually getting that product to another place cost a lot more money in distribution. The barrier to entry into an industrial enterprise were and still are enormous. As such, we created laws to protect the masses from the excesses of the few who had the means to create the industries that society came to depend on. The means of production in an industrial society, therefore, are not accessible to everyone because the cost of entry was so high.
But what is the cost of information and its distribution? Monetarily speaking the product (the information) is cost-free. It simply requires the creativity to imagine it. Further, the advent of cheap digital recording systems (a $500 laptop and shareware to record and mix an mp3 of reasonable quality) and free distribution (YouTube and MySpace) puts the means of production and distribution at the disposal of everyone but the poorest few. This radically decentralized and inexpensive means of production and distribution of information makes analogies between the industrial revolution and the information revolution (and comparisons of record company executives to robber barons) absurd on their face.
In the information revolution, being an informationalist (as opposed to an industrialist) does not require the accumulation of massive amounts of capital. The rober barons no longer own the means of production; they simply own their own products, which they can create and distribute freely or expensively at their own discretion, and which you can choose to purchase or not at your discretion. You can bitch all you want about how BMG will not let you download a free copy of the latest Kenny Chesney or Alicia Keys song, but why should they? You have no inalienable right to those specific pieces of music. Nothing that people value is free nor will it ever be.
Copyright laws are nothing more than an extension of private property to a non-tangible product. To suggest that we need to overturn them because "200 million Americans can't be felons" is just ludicrous. You don't make theft legal simply because people are stealing.
A free economy has a way of evolving with new realities. The music industry has already changed. The future is written. Digital creation and distribution are here to stay. That the record companies have not bought into this reality does not make it less so, and we do not need to revolutionalize our legal structure to force them to play along. Either they will or they won't. We did not change our laws to force the horse and buggy industry to conform to the new automobile reality. The industry just went away. If the record labels don't conform themselves to the new realities, they too will go away. We do not need to radically change our legal copyright structure to do that.
TML March 18, 2007 at 12:40 pmPermalink
I think to analyze the analogy too extensively is to miss the point. Yes, when examined closely these two revolutions seem vastly different. But, I think the point of the article was despite the number of people controlling the power,the means to create the product and the cost of distributing it a shift occurred that did affect the way people live, think, and work just as the information revolution is creating. That to me is the essence of any revolution; social, political, or economical a shift in the power dynamic causes a ripple effect in how we all live. Furthermore, as the article made reference it is the resistance to the change or shift in power that one can draw to the industrial revolution for insight. That is, the way in which those that are losing power react or respond to the shift is the key point. It seems as though right now there is more of a reaction from those of power and thus when one reacts critical thinking is impacted. Those in power right now argue violation of copyright law, which may be true. But, again that is not the point. The lawsuit is the only card Viacom believes they have right now. However, possibly garnering some critical thinking and reflecting on previous economical revolutions they would realize that all they are doing is putting off the inevitable and spending a lot of money, energy, and time doing so. Responding to the shift maybe a better approach as seen by several companies today like the network companies and record labels that have partnered with Apple. It also may be a hedge for Viacom to see where the cards fall legally then make adjustments.
St. Paddy March 17, 2007 at 5:01 pmPermalink
To the table, I bring the phenomenon known as "The Pussy Cat Dolls" for discussion. Here you have a group of women that were auditioned for their looks, dancing ability, voice, and, most importantly, their ability to take direction. They have spawned 5 hit singles. I will admit that I, who have listened to only independent music for my entire music loving life, shunning the radio for decades, actually like some of their songs, in all of their simple pop glory. They have achieved the goal of entertaining me. They did not however, achieve their main goal, and really the only reason for their creation, which is to sell me a CD. I have even watched an episode of their TV show, however embarrassing that may be to admit.
Consider me mildly entertained.
This is not, however, the creation of an artist, at least not the one on screen. This is the creation of a cunning and sharp business woman, and as a businessman, I deeply respect her abilities. As we all know, the primary goal of business is to make money, and she has done this well.
This is not music. Period. This is a corporation with a marketable product engineered by a highly skilled team. This is not some group of 21 year olds that have been playing in Bobby's garage since grade school, perfecting their craft.
It is very tough for me to hand money over to something that only mildly entertains me, and even harder when I know it is more like buying stock than supporting an artist.
I buy artists records, regardless of label or origin, whenever i see fit.
I often 'test drive' said records on myspace, or youtube, having wasted $15-20 time and time again on albums that just didnt cut it.
There is a tremendous difference between artists and businesses masquerading as artists.
Artists have and always will make the vast majority of their money from touring. This is true from the local bar band to 50-cent.
Businesses will always make their money from record sales.
I will always support artists, because I am one.
Anonymous-2 March 17, 2007 at 5:06 amPermalink
1) Who owns the content?
2) Owner compensation - if everyone out there gets a free pass, what is the incentive for the owner to actually create something? Otherwise, how does one restrict the flow if "legally" they are not allowed to (in your model)
All in all, it seems to me you're trying to put a lipstick on a pig. DMCA's provision that Google uses was specifically designed for [internet|online] service providers - and unless you consider Google to be one, they're in violation here.
Simon March 15, 2007 at 12:43 pmPermalink
I especially liked the sentence where you used the words "textile" and "thread".
Artists are not being stripped of their rights, they are merely being forced to jettison their dated monetization models and embrace new ones.
The failure of copyright laws in China did not force Chinese musicians to starve (or even stop creating), it merely forced them to embrace new monetization models.
So, for example, they derive the lion's share of their income from commercials, endorsements, and live performances rather than CD sales.
If musicians want to make money from their creations (as opposed to merely expressing themselves) then they need to be prepared to change their monetization strategies in conformance with changing consumer practices.
dennisqdw March 15, 2007 at 6:48 amPermalink
First, as always I concur with the comparison between the industrial revolution and the information revolution. However, I think it might be worth putting some of this in perspective. The results of the battles during the industrial revolution determined whether or not people had something to eat. The results of the current battles will determine whether or not someone can see Justin Timberlake. Obviously there is a lot of money involved, and speaking as an artist I think that there are serious cultural issues that need to be resolved, but I would never confuse them with going to bed hungry.
And then of course, your final paragraph begs for your next posting where you help lead us in the right direction to resolve these thorny issues.
Kimberly March 15, 2007 at 8:48 amPermalink
Your comment about Justin Timberlake ignores so many different aspects of our current situation. Seeing Justin Timberlake (or whoever) doesn't just happen. It is a visual form of art, even if you think his performance is artless. Nonetheless, for you to "see" him on your computer, there were many people involved -- writers, cameramen, directors, and yes, Mr. Timberlake himself. And perhaps countless other people -- all of whom, just as their Industrial Revolution counterparts, need to eat.
This is the information Age. It is what we buy and sell. To strip it of value is to strip most of our livelihoods of value. It is to take away our ability to make money and -- therefore -- to eat.
YouTube has been stripping the value off all of this work, and doing it in front of the whole world. Someone had to step in and challenge them on it. I'm glad to see that Viacom (as well as Mark Cuban) are doing so.
Viacom has made some smart moves lately -- signing deals with Joost, overhauling MTV's online strategy -- and now this. I think it's good for the web, and for all of in the creative feilds, to have a force on the side of copyright.
Again, in an information age, protection of information is all we have.
Add new comment