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Sunday, January 22, 2012

The War for the Commonwealth of Information

Author's confession: I am a pirate.. I steal content all the time. Did it before there was an internet to speak of.. Back in the day, I'd make mix tapes by borrowing friend's cassettes, and copying songs via tape to tape boomboxes. Before that, the very first (mono) cassette tape recorder I had, I'd try to record music from the TV, tried to find cords at Radio Shack that would allow me to record from the stereo to the tape machine...
When I worked at Service Merchandise, selling stereos, TVs, VCRs, etc. I would use the equipment to record from LPs to cassette. When I got my first CD player, I made sure I had the leads to plug into my stereo and record to cassette. Then I'd raid the CD collections at the local libraries for music I wanted... After I bought my Compaq Presario, I would burn CDs with playlists from the same sources. I would buy songs off of Napster (after they started charging 99 cents a song) and burn to CD, to have them even after the expiration of the rights to own.. I'd make copies for friends of my CDs. I've taped to VHS TV shows to share with friends...

But, I've never profited by any of this. Never sold anything I've copied, taped or uploaded for money. I won't claim anything is my own product, when it isn't. And I never will...
So, now that that's out of the way.....
Wednesday, Jan. 18th was a landmark day, right? The Internet corporations and it's denizens alike all stood up and said; "Hell, No! We're not going to take it anymore!" when it came to SOPA & PIPA. And that was fine and dandy... But, along comes a tamer version: OPEN. And OPEN may just be tame enough for the public to accept. So, the question is now: What was the 18th of January, anyhow? Was it "mission accomplished"? Or was it just the Boston Tea Party moment, the Lexington and Concord of a larger, longer struggle?
There is something you must fundamentally understand about all media conglomerates. Despite all their talk of supporting capitalism, and fighting for the rights of artists, they are just Venture Capitalists looking to maximize their profits. If they do not own the rights to something, their media will not distribute it for you. The reason they buy the distribution rights to a content property is to turn a profit from it, any way they can.-

There is talk of how it used to be, under the "patronage" system, but even then it was disguised venture capitalism, seeking a non-monetary form of profit; prestige and attention.
What the Media conglomerates truly seek is a form of Andrew Galambos wet dream, that all content is "pay for play", requiring pay walls to access content, but without ability to record and store it. Ask yourself: if your child had to write a report for class, using sources from magazines and books, how expensive would it become if each time he or she had to pay to look up a reference? Who would pay for it, when it became time for the teacher to review the entire classes' reports? With e-books and pay walls, that is possible.
What would it be like, if your credit card was automatically charged for every song you heard on the radio? Every show you watched on TV, above and beyond the cable access fees? This is the world of the Digital Marketplace of Ideas, where every thought becomes a commodity you pay to use.
Of course advertisers have long subsidized programming content. Their 'patronage' allowed you watch and hear content for the price of having to listen to their sales pitches. And their patronage supports web sites, which competes more effectively for your attention with the old Media sources. Which means that the Media conglomerates aren't getting their "fair share" of revenues...
Gold and silver, like other commodities, have an intrinsic value, which is not arbitrary, but is dependent on their scarcity, the quantity of labour bestowed in procuring them, and the value of the capital employed in the mines which produce them.
David Ricardo
What is the intrinsic value of a commodity like information, which can be easily passed from place to place, without loss of the original product? I can share an idea without having to lose it, because it is replicated and transmitted. It's intrinsic value is only increased if an arbitrary barrier is placed upon it. to regulate it. This is the tragedy of Intellectual Property rights.
As Francis Fukuyama noted in his book, The Origins of Political Order, there is no clear demarcation or explanation agreed to as how the concept of individual property rights came about. All we know is that it made economic sense if individuals had the ability to amass property to trade. But, that was physical property. The concept of intellectual property did not arise until the rule of England's Queen Anne, in 1710. At that. it was only intended to apply temporarily...
The other choice is a communal sense of intellectual property, that one may own the concepts that are shared, that one may share them without thought of profit. That an artist is paid for the performance or creation of art, but not for what someone else does with the idea of it. That an egalitarian system of distribution, using media openly and freely as a tool to communicate and educate, is in place...

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