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Blog // Sounds
January 20, 2012

SOPA And The Creative Shift

Right now there is a wave of international protest over legislation being considered by the US government that would, effectively, break the internet. Smarter thinkers than me have tackled this issue and unpacked the detail of what is being considered. If you are an original content creator, or simply enjoy using the internet, then it’s […]

Right now there is a wave of international protest over legislation being considered by the US government that would, effectively, break the internet. Smarter thinkers than me have tackled this issue and unpacked the detail of what is being considered. If you are an original content creator, or simply enjoy using the internet, then it’s worth familiarising yourself with SOPA and PIPA.

The Support

These pieces of proposed legislation have heavyweight backers in the creative world, especially from the within the music industry. In fact, I believe the when groups like the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) support SOPA, it says a lot about the widening gulf between the big end of the music industry and most working musicians.

The Goal

The argument is that SOPA and PIPA are about enforcing copyright and protecting intellectual property. But, the powers these laws would create extent far beyond simple protections. I believe that, ultimately, these laws have the goal of shutting down two perceived threats that come from the internet – sharing and what we could call the “amateur economy.”

The Koan

We have seen, thanks to the internet, a massive shift in the creative world in the last two decades. I like to explain it this way,

It used to be that those who can do. Now, those who do, can.

What do I mean by that? Well, go back thirty years, the big question was this; can you get yourself a position in the creative economy – a job in a newspaper, a record label contract, a fine arts degree of some such marker of professional standing? If the answer was yes, then you could go on and do the work, be paid for it and so on.

Everyone else was just an amateur. How good you were was secondary to where you were in the system.

But, we have a different situation now. Any creative soul than does the work can put it out there and potentially find a market for what they do, regardless of professional standing. You don’t need a recording contract or a label to release an album. You don’t need a publisher to get your book on to the biggest marketplace in the world. You don’t need a degree to call yourself a photographer.

Just do the work and you can succeed.

The Business Reality

It’s not hard to see how this fundamentally undermines the business model of publishers, record labels, film studios and television stations. Why watch some mediocre “funniest home videos” TV show, when you have a world full of funny stuff waiting for you on YouTube?

It’s worth remembering that businesses do not just compete by offering the best or cheapest product in the marketplace. Sometimes they compete by defining the market itself, through laws, regulations, court cases and industry standards. That’s a way to control who can compete in the market and what they can offer.

And, of course, the recorded music industry started to lose control of the music business over ten years ago.

The Irony

If laws like SOPA and PIPA ever get passed, they will undermine sites like YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud and the like. The irony is that they will also undermine not just the tools that are blamed for the so-called problem of file-sharing, they will also undermine the best tools independent musicians have ever had to make their work publicly available.

The old creative industry was supported by high barriers to entry. When I was a kid you could produce a tape, sell it at your gigs and maybe in a local record store (if you were lucky). But, pressing vinyl, buying radio and newspaper coverage and reaching people on the other side of your state, let alone the other side of the world, cost big money. Of course, the internet has now stripped out a lot of the cost associated with distributing music.

This is the real battleground. Record labels, especially the major labels, were built for a business environment that no longer exists. If free markets were really free, these companies would simply cave in on themselves and either cease to exist, or radically reconfigure themselves. That they are able to fight is largely down the value of their back catalogue and the legal structures working to protect those assets (i.e., the copyright on old material).

The Conclusion

I do not believe that information wants to be free. Information, creativity and art want to valued, appreciated and respected. There is a lot about internet culture that doesn’t work to do that. We do need better laws and regulations to value and respect creative work and help artists and artisans support themselves.

We also need to make it easier for people to do the right thing, which includes making it easier and not harder for people to pay some sort of licensing then they use the work of others and making it easier for bright, innovative creative people to start businesses.

SOPA and PIPA are wrongheaded on so many levels. These laws are not about making it easier for people to build new creative businesses, they are about protecting existing assets. By undermining the internet they will not, ultimately stop piracy. But, they make make it virtually impossible for those who want to build new creative enterprises to find markets for their work without replying on heavy and slow moving companies from a bygone era.

Jeff Shattuck 12 years ago

This is a topic I have thought a lot about. I agree that SOPA and PIPA reach too far and are probably unenforceable and would only end up making a lot of lawyers a lot of money. BUT, songs are intellectual property and the people who create them should be able to choose to protect them or not. What’s needed is a smart DRM approach that simply encodes copyrighted material with a set of permissions determined by the owner. When these files appear anywhere, TCP/IP should be modified to recognize and block them, if that’s what the content owners want. It INFURIATES me how Google pushes for an open internet but guards its own IP as closely as the so-called “evil” Microsoft. Would hackers crack the DRM? I suppose, but then we patch it. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

Mike Mahoney 12 years ago

Seems to me we are (and by “we” I mean mainly US corporations) are going completely overboard when it comes to intellectual property rights and copyright protection – to the point we are moving away from the intent of those laws in the first place. The US Supreme court ruled recently that public domain works can be re-copyrighted, basically for little more reason than someone is making money off them. But of course, now, these works will be unavailable for symphonies and schools.

I read recently that Kodak’s pretty much only business plan these days is to mine through their patents see if they can find anyone to sue. That’s just ridiculous.

RIAA and MPAA – don’t even get me started. Why create anything original when you can just level the playing field by stifling creativity everywhere?

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Jeff – thanks for your thoughts. I’m certainly not in the free internet camp.

DRM is an intriguing question. I believe it failed largely because the system was tied to an old model, licensing to product. DRM might have stood a chance if it was licensed to the user, regardless of the number of devices.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Mike – the writing was on the wall when the majors came after OLGA and other sites that posted lyrics and TAB.

The companies and associations we are talking about were founded on a model of scarcity – financial value comes from how hard it is to get your hands on something. But, the internet and e-commerce is built on a model of abundance, value comes from helping people navigate and manage infinite choice.

Sadly, the “industry” seems unable to innovate towards models that are built on the later.

Right now the economic balance is tipped far too heavily in favour of old, copyright protected works against newer works. So, it’s inevitable that large copyright holding companies will act in the way you describe Kodak doing now.

Mike Mahoney 12 years ago

” DRM might have stood a chance if it was licensed to the user, regardless of the number of devices.”

Which is how traditional licensing services like ASCAP, BMI and CCLI operate. They license a site for a specific period of time, which makes infinitely more sense.

Natalie 12 years ago

Your ideas are excellent. Thankfully it didn’t pass.

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