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Winners and Losers 2.0

May 5, 2010

It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when the record/movie industries (aka Big Content) get creative talent to shill themselves even more than they already do by making direct pleas to their audiences to stop pirating their works. Granted, the plea to stop pirating might seem pretty reasonable when phrased as “theft,” but equating online piracy to bank robbery, which has an inherent transfer and diminution of scarce resources and the attendant possibility of violence, the claim undermines itself by becoming less and less credible and palatable. But that’s what they’re doing:

There are numerous economic crimes of much lesser magnitude (such as bank robbery) that are routinely and fully investigated, for which law enforcement agencies such as the FBI have significant resources…By contrast, online copyright piracy dwarfs bank robbery in causing economic losses, yet the FBI has limited criminal investigative interest and no civil mandate whatsoever to pursue this devastating economic harm. This inequity must change.

Moreover, when you consider how much more privation on creativity the industrial structure of the content industry itself creates by giving artists pittances in exchange for total ownership and control over their lives’ works, there’s a bit of a pot-meet-kettle situation afoot. One would also think that artists should be happier that their work is getting out there than that they’re not getting each and every person to pay the content-industry’s named price for it, but I suppose that the artists who are getting paid by the industry must have drank the Kool-Aid by now.

Of course, as I had already predicted, the Porn Industry is in the same boat as those darling singers and songwriters, demanding their share of direct payments in the face of digital piracy.

That duality raises the question of whether or not “stealing pornography” will be viewed by the American public as more or less sympathetic and ethically problematic than “stealing music.” Both classes of entertainers are probably similarly situated with regard to the way income is distributed within their relative industries. I’d love to see some polling data on that question.

Regardless of public opinion, and regardless of whether or not these industries are slowly waking up to the sheer inevitabilities built into the Internet society, and regardless of how trite it sounds, the old media faces a new dynamic of customer relations whether they like it or not. Big Content faces so much more competition from anyone and everyone who wants to compete that they shouldn’t expect to maintain their literally monopolistic and oligopolistic profit-positions they once enjoyed. At least not without some serious repression in the process. As Clay Shirky (someone who gets quoted on this blog more than most) put the situation in a characteristically simple and iconoclastic way:

It’s not a revolution if no one loses.

For example, just look at Roger Ebert, the market-dominant actor in the film criticism industry (a form of content, don’t doubt) if there ever was one. Sometimes he takes a while to appreciate a new technology, but he simply glories in the rise of the crowd when it comes to film criticism. That’s because he understands that he (as a consumer) and his industry as a whole (as a group of producers) benefit more from a vibrant and participatory intellectual atmosphere than from the environments that result from repressive strategies typically employed by Big Content. After all, the ostensible aim of any industry is to generate and deliver that content to consumers, not necessarily extract the most out of consumers in its production. This is all the more true when the creators themselves have more integrity and respect for the work-product as something valuable in and of itself, but when the product is simply a means to a paycheck–as is quite obviously the case in the Porn Industry–it makes sense that they value the income of the creator over the creation. So, by way of snide equivocation and mild resentment, any Big Content producer bemoaning the fact that their works are being far too widely distributed can and should be fairly called a pornographer or a prostitute.

Editorials aside, you would think that the content industries have learned that, in this day and age, bank robbery is simply “fixed” by a government that is happy to please a constituency by distributing a concentrated benefit and spreading the costs of the bailout to everyone else in the form of a tax called inflation. Oh wait. That’s exactly what they’re expecting.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Adam permalink
    May 5, 2010 8:43 am

    Very well said, particularly the analogy comparing big content producers to pornographers. Ive thought about this as well in the past, and the similarity is striking. Pornography focuses on sets of what one may call ‘money shots’ to be crude, but basically in your face, centered content meant to extract as much ‘bang for your buck’ as possible. Mass media in both film and music industries have switched to this construction as well, with most works being trite, derivative and above all safe and meant as you say to purely extract capital for an inferior product stripped of any artistic merit. Piracy in all these industries is purely a subconscious form of protest to this debased media. Consumers are still willing to consume these inferior products, but are by no means willing to pay for them. Most people have no trouble paying to see movies and to buy albums of itunes of items viewed to be of actual quality. Instead of fighting to hold on to their monopoly, these companies should be seeing this as a wakeup call to produce media with true merit. Why should the public cry for the losses of a privileged class with no actual skills, talent or worth.
    In summation, these ads are pathetic.

  2. Jason Benhaim permalink
    May 5, 2010 1:43 pm

    I just want to say that I very much enjoyed this post and Adam’s comment.

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