I've written an essay on how copyright enforcement laws let entertainment companies get away with paying less to artists for the O'Reilly Tools of Change blog. The ToC folks asked to to contribute something related to the keynote I'll be doing at their annual conference in NYC next month, as part of my tour for Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother.
In other words, by asking governments to ascribe liability to these “intermediaries” (services that sit between creators and audiences), the entertainment industry is demanding that the Internet be scaled back to something that’ll fit in cable TV’s bathtub. Something where only people with a lot of capital and clout can speak and be heard. Something where big entertainment companies can use their money and power as a wall to stop anyone from challenging their pride of place.
When a big star goes into a record-company negotiations, she isn’t limited to saying, “Sorry, that deal’s not good enough, I’ll see what I can get across the street at your competitor.” Now she can say, “That’s not good enough, I can do better on my own, like Trent Reznor did.” Or, “That’s not good enough, I can hook up with a new kind of music business,” like Madonna did. But only if the intermediary liability is small enough to allow all these different kinds of companies to clamor for artists’ attention and products.
When a successful beginner like Amanda Hocking or EL James comes before a big publisher who wants to take her from indie to pro, the worst deal they can offer her has to be better than the best deal she could get for herself, or from one of the new startups.
Put it another way: There’s never been a time when tight controls over distribution were good for artists: fewer labels always means worse deals for musicians; fewer studios always means worse deals for filmmakers, actors, and other film professionals; fewer publishers always means worse deals for authors.
Liability vs. leverage
An official New Zealand government bulletin on yesterday’s conclusion of the still-secret Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations accidentally confirmed something we all believed was in there all along: an extension of copyright terms to match the USA’s bizarre, evidence-free, century-plus terms.
Tim Harford, the Financial Times’s Undercover Economist, writes about the Happy Birthday to You court case, which finally settled the question of whether the familiar birthday song was still in copyright (it isn’t) and uses that as a springboard to ask the question: how long should copyright last?
For most of a decade, government negotiators from around the Pacific Rim have met in utmost secrecy to negotiate a “trade deal” that was kept secret from legislatures, though executives from the world’s biggest corporations were allowed in the room and even got to draft parts of the treaty.
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