The Digital Economy Bill or How We Can Save Content Industries From Themselves

I’ve long held that before all is said and done, the greatest threat to the potential of the internet will be government regulation and legislative intervention spurred on by the dying embers of the industries it has left in ruins.  I’ve touched on the issue numerous times, most directly here, and here, here, here, here and here, to name a few.  England is currently embroiled in an effort to pass somethings called the Digital Economy Bill, which is a fancy title for saying, “we’re going to let corporate dollars dictate people’s rights online.”  This is a piece of legislation so obviously transparent as to be insulting.  The British movie and music industries have pushed exceptionally hard for this, including a couple particularly onerous passages.

One is that anyone’s internet access can be shut off after receiving three allegations of copyright infringing activity.  Not three proven instances, mind you, but three allegations.  And that means that if it’s one person in a household of five that is accused of infringing, all five lose internet access.  Even worse, there’s a provision in the bill that allows Britain’s Secretary of State the right to essentially amend copyright law by himself without parliamentary approval.  Needless to say, just about no one who doesn’t work in the music and film industry supports this measure at all.  Even James Bond is against it. It’s yet to be seen if this will pass, but it is yet another example of industries that were caught napping on the internet’s ability to change the dynamics of sales and distribution desperately trying to cling onto their out-dated and soon to be useless business models by bribing the government.  We’ve had a little experience with that over here in the colonies with a little thing called the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

This will be one of many attempts to morph the open internet into the playground of the corporations to all of our detriment.  We haven’t yet seen a bill of this magnitude hitting the floor of Congress, but you can bet it’s coming, especially if the Digital Economy Bill actually gets approval in England.  And we will all suffer for it.  These companies haven’t adjusted to the new realities, and they seem more willing to throw lawyers at their problems than come up with rational business models for the future.

The music industry as a whole is not declining, it is, in fact, growing.  It’s just that the top tier labels are losing their stranglehold on the business.  The film industry is the same, and so is publishing.  These guys have lots of money, but no matter the costs, they won’t win in the long run without adapting.  Whatever the rules, new companies will spring up to service customers the way they want, not the way the major industry players want.  And fewer and fewer high-quality artists are signing up to be taken advantage of.  Especially now that the recording industry has moved beyond rights to artists’ music into demanding a cut of every dollar for everything they do up front in their contracts.

And why all this?  Because businesses that built their stock and trade by marketing content to the masses missed the boat on the greatest revolution in communication, marketing and distribution of content ever created by man.  Why, oh why should we bail out their incompetence with regulation when they were in full position to dominate the internet market from the word jump and chose to turn a blind eye to its possibilities until it was too late?  This is going to be a long, drawn out battle.  We’ll win some, we’ll lose some, but ultimately these guys will lose because they are defending a sinking island by putting up sandbags.  Eventually, they’ll all sink.

And one last thing, here’s an interesting discussion on the proliferation and possible affects of file-sharing by two people on both sides of the issue.

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