Amazon and Google may be the Next Gatekeepers of our Cultural Heritage

Date: 25 Jun 2009 | posted in: information, MuniNetworks | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Here at the New Rules Project, we support local businesses over businesses like Amazon for a variety of reasons. Cory Doctorow outlines one of them in this report from Internet Evolution.

That danger is that a couple of corporate giants will end up with a buyer’s market for creative works, control over the dominant distribution channel, and the ability to dictate the terms on which creative works are made, distributed, appreciated, bought, and sold.

And the danger of that is that these corporate giants might, through malice or negligence, end up screwing up the means by which the world talks to itself, carrying on its cultural discourse — a discourse that ultimately sets the agendas for law, politics, health, climate, justice, crime, education, child-rearing, and every other important human subject.

Cory, a well known critic of modern intellectual property rules, explains what happens when a few dominant companies make the rules:

Today, the motion picture industry is dominated by six gigantic studios, the record industry is dominated by four giant labels, publishing is dominated by fewer than a dozen major players — and whether you’re making a movie, a record, or a book, you generally find yourself getting a similar deal no matter which publisher, studio, or label you go to.

All the labels screw you on your royalties for electronic downloads (these are licensed, not purchased, so artists should be entitled to the standard 50 percent licensing royalty; instead they get 7 percent, the standard for sales).

All the film studios make you go out and spend a fortune getting clearances for copyrights and trademarks, even when covered by fair use.

Cory suggests an interesting solution – that content creators need to take a longer view on how they use the power of copyright.  They can use that power to lower the cost of entering the market rather than reinforcing the power of the gatekeepers.

Copyright is a powerful weapon, and it grows more powerful every day, as lawmakers extend its reach and strength. Funny thing about powerful weapons, though: Unless you know how to use them, they make lousy equalizers. As they say in self-defense courses, "Any weapon you don’t know how to use belongs to your opponent."

Recording artists get an extra 45 years of copyright, and it’s promptly taken from them by the all-powerful record labels, who then use it to strengthen their power by extending their grasp over distribution channels. Authors are given the right to control indexing of their works, and it’s promptly scooped up by Google, who can use it to prevent competitors from giving authors a better deal.

Though the rules governing copyright should be revisited, this may be an interesting approach in the meantime.

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Christopher Mitchell

Christopher Mitchell is the Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. He runs MuniNetworks.org as part of ILSR's effort to ensure broadband networks are directly accountable to the communities that depend upon them.