The Internet Today

Today, Wikipedia, Reddit, and a variety of other websites that I use on a daily basis to stay informed and learn are offline. These sites are protesting the SOPA/Protect IP bills currently going through Congress. Jason Harvey explains why:

SOPA and PROTECT IP contain no provisions to actually remove copyrighted content, but rather focus on the censorship of links to entire domains.

If the Attorney General served [a website] with an order to remove links to a domain, we would be required to scrub every post and comment on the site containing the domain and censor the links out, even if the specific link contained no infringing content. We would also need to implement a system to automatically censor the domain from any future posts or comments. This places a measurable burden upon the site’s technical infrastructure. It also damages one of the most important tenets of reddit, and the internet as a whole – free and open discussion about whatever the fuck you want.

More or less, what is happening here is big media — a sector in decline due to new technologies, and the obsolescence of old business models — is trying to bite back through getting government to rig the market to protect their old failing business models.

Newspaper advertising is falling off a cliff:

Home movie revenue has hit a wall:

And, music sales have dramatically fallen:

More importantly, the rising trend of file sharing has given media companies the sense that they are “losing revenue”:

The trouble is file sharing isn’t “lost revenue”. There is no guarantee whatever that a file downloaded is somehow a substitute for a sale. It’s a fundamentally different kind of transaction. For a start, it’s free. Consumers will take things for free that they would never buy, because it costs them less to do so. More importantly, it’s not stealing; it’s copying, and there is a difference. It’s not taking a physical product that someone has manufactured. There’s no direct lost revenue. And ultimately, if enough people copy it, it builds exposure for a product.

There are still many ways for big media to monetise their products in this new world: the music industry can stop concentrating on record sales, and started concentrating on concert tickets. Newspapers can move their businesses online, or use Apple’s tablet distribution model. Movie distributors can focus on high-definition content like Blu Ray, which is hard to redistribute online. That’s just off the top of my head.

But of course, this is creative destruction. Times change, societies change, fortunes will be made and fortunes will be lost.

So it’s in the interests of the big media elite to harness the power of government to create draconian laws to snub out the copy and paste new media culture that has developed, because that opens up a whole new revenue stream: litigation. If you can’t earn your millions, you might as well litigate your way to them.

The problem with that is that it’s another zombie idea. Our copy and paste culture, our freewheeling culture is a huge source of innovation. Shutting down new media, and stifling creativity will just create more social stagnation, and anger and disillusionment in the young. We live in the era of the parody, the era of the remix, the era of the pastiche. This legislation poses a serious threat to that era. Are we destined to venture into a new era of beige conformity, and Chinese-style internet censorship? I hope not.

Big media should be spending their money on creating compelling products and content delivery systems that make people want to buy, rather than trying to legislate and litigate their way to success. For all of the draconian measures that might be put in place to prevent copyright “theft” and shut down alternative media, if big media’s product sucks, people will not buy it.