Category The Sky Is Rising

It’s OK everyone, turns out everything’s fine

I went to an interesting talk today. Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt, was presenting his report “The Sky is Rising”. The report says, in short, that based on analysis of “the numbers”, the market and opportunity for content and entertainment is growing. “We’re living through an incredible period of abundance and opportunity, with more people producing more content and more money being made than ever before” as the report puts it.

The predictions of doom often heard are just the “legacy” entertainment industry trying to cling to the past, according to Masnick, whose report suggests something very different.

I hope the report is right because I think the important thing is that the opportunity gets bigger overall and a bigger creative sector is able to invest more in making more content products to serve an expanding market – in other words exactly what Masnick says is happening. We should worry less about whether the future winners are the same as the past. I haven’t read the report because I hadn’t heard of it before today but I will and you should. I guess time will tell if it’s right.

The interesting bit for me was that the talk was billed as being about copyright but Mike didn’t really address that to begin with. I was interested in what copyright had to do with it – after all copyright enables you to decide who can use your stuff, it doesn’t tell you what you should decide. It lets you to choose your business model rather than forcing one upon you. On that basis it would be logical to assume Masnick is a supporter of the copyright status quo.

The answer was a bit confusing (but it’s clear at least that while he supports copyright he doesn’t do so wholeheartedly or uncritically).

Masnick used the example of VCRs in the 1970s as an example of an attempt to stifle innovation (the VCR) by the incumbent industries (the MPAA) using copyright law as their weapon, and the great opportunity that opened up to the movie industry as a result of losing that case.

He went on to talk about free speech being threatened by copyright when sites containing infringing content alongside non-infringing content are closed down. Along the way he mentioned a site which closed when it was sued but later, after it was shuttered, went on to win its case(I think he said it was called Veoh but that one seems to be alive and well). He also mentioned the availability of out-of-copyright books on Amazon (relatively high) versus in-copyright but very old books (relatively low).

I think he was trying to say that copyright law at present is too restrictive, and that where it is loosened good things happen, although he strayed from his preference for “evidence based policy” with the anecdotal answers he gave – and of course there are many similar anecdotes on the other side of the argument. To be fair, trying to prove a negative is hard and so finding evidence that things would be better or worse in a different environment is hard.

Perhaps I’ll find a fuller answer in his evidence-based report. However, it struck me that a pretty good answer had already been presented by him earlier in his talk.

According to him, everything is on an upward curve. Opportunities for creators, consumer spending, consumer choice, the ease with which someone can become a professional creator, the amount of content produced and so on. The problems are the nice ones to have – discovering content in this flood of choice and so on. If that’s true – and I really hope it is, even it conflicts with what I see – it’s great news and, more importantly, isn’t it also evidence that copyright law isn’t acting as a barrier to all these innovative new players?

Proving a positive is so much better than speculating about negatives, and on the basis of what Masnick told us it would seem he has already done so. Everything in the garden, according to him, is already rosy. So rather than worry about all the imagined opportunities that copyright supposedly restricts entrepreneurs from pursuing, shouldn’t we be thinking about the bigger market he says it has created and thinking up ways to exploit it and grow it still further?

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