Guardrails for the Internet

Wednesday, May 27th 2009

(1 comment)

Wow. Following @feliciaday's tweet, I just read Michael Lynton's article "Guard Rails for the Internet" over at the Huffington Post, in which he talks about how the internet has harmed content creators. He says a mouthful. Where should I begin?

This is a guy who actually said I'm a guy who sees nothing good having come from the Internet. Period. He admits that freely in his opening paragraphs. But while he goes on to qualify his statement with I am not an analogue guy living in a digital world, I simply see a man who has no interest in adapting. If he could snap his fingers and have the internet vanish forever into a cloud of fragrant potporri, he would. Sir, having the money to own an internet company does not a "digital guy" make.

At this point, before I dive into my rebuttal, I'd like to address something he mentions as an aside. He mentions that the FTC just announced an inquiry into the impact of new media on the newspaper industry. Are you serious? Taxpayer money going into a study which will only tell us that people are now going online much more for their news? And that while older folks read newspapers more, younger people probably go to the internet first, TV second, and the radio if they're in a car. Isn't this one a no-brainer?

Using the word "theft" when talking about intellectual property has always felt to me like incorrect word usage. I'll grant you that the content creator(s) are deprived of compensation for the work they've done when a pirate obtains and distributes their work, but only with IP can a thief "steal" something without removing it from the possession of its owner. The fact that amoral organizations like the RIAA have blown the problem so far out of proportion in the past only decreases my sympathy.

I fully understand and support going after people who are copying and selling other peoples' IP. Go after the guy in the New York subway who's got a blanket laid out with copies of movies that are in the theaters. Go after the syndicate in Brazil that copies and sells thousands of music CDs daily. But don't sue the college kid who downloaded a Coldplay album. Don't sue the parents of a 9-year-old who downloaded a torrent of Resident Evil 5 that he couldn't even get to work. The RIAA were suing the small fish because they couldn't get at the major out-of-country operators who comprise the vast bulk of their piracy figures.

One of the commentors on that article offers the following quote from Robert Heinlein:

There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.

I could never have said it better myself, and there is no lack of other retorts. What the CEO of Sony is really complaining about is his company's loss of profit from a changing business model. Ask folks like Jonathan Coulton, MC Frontalot, and Felicia Day how the internet has affected their creative careers. Personally, I wouldn't mind if every major production house went out of business. I'm sure that if that happened we'd have to say goodbye to huge-budget movies and TV, at least for a short time, but perhaps we'd see more self-funded projects like Clerks, The Guild, and Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. That I would not mind.

Comments on Guardrails for the Internet
Comment Wednesday, June 3rd 2009 by tagger
I read a lot of on-line news, especially European and Mid-east feeds, since the US news seems to be so . . . er . . . selective. That said, where do you think most of the on-line news pubs get their content in the first place? I'm not talking about the blogs-disguised-as-news sites, I'm talking about the real news. Keep laying off writers and reporters and what have you got?

Just a thought.
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