I've got a new feature up on Internet Evolution today, a piece called "Internet ©rapshoot: How Internet Gatekeepers Stifle Progress," about how everybody wants to be a gatekeeper — the studios and publishers, the bookstores and online retailers and theaters, the "creators rights' groups" and how that ends up screwing everyone:
So, how do you use copyright to ensure that the future is more competitive and thus more favorable to creators and copyright industries?
It's pretty easy, really: Use your copyrights to lower the cost of entering the market instead of raising it.
What if the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) had started out by offering MP3 licenses on fair terms to any wholesaler who wanted to open a retailer (online or offline), so that the cost of starting a Web music store was a known quantity, rather than a potentially limitless litigation quagmire?
What if the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the North American Broadcasters Association made their streams available to anyone who paid a portion of their advertising revenue (with a guaranteed minimum), allowing 10 million video-on-demand systems to spring up from every garage in the world?
What if the Authors Guild had offered to stop suing Google for notional copyright violations in exchange for Google contributing its scans to a common pool of indexable books available to all search-engines, ensuring that book search was as competitive as Web search?
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.