Skilled debaters can think and rationalize like their opponents. But in copyright policy, it can be a challenge to understand Hollywood and other content industries’ priorities and strategic choices in trying to salvage familiar business models, rather than embracing new technologies and licensing to legitimate streams for dissemination. There is talk of “content theft” and “piracy,” but these issues are not new to this industry, not new to the Internet, and not even new to this century, as my colleague Matthew Schruers explained so well in his recent post. Tellingly, it seems that even the entertainment industry is starting to recognize that overbroad legislation may not be the answer, in terms of bad publicity and also bad public policy. Prominent Hollywood insider Ari Emanuel recently seemed to recant on his past views, acknowledging:
“To be clear, I don’t want to rehash SOPA as we can all agree that was a reflection of Southern California’s arrogance, and let’s also not pretend that we’re working together on this issue because we have Youtube [sic] channels together. This is a larger conversation. It’s time for Hollywood, our government and Silicon Valley to step up and collectively resolve this problem. Let me know where and when and I’ll be there.”
While Emanuel and many others frame the debate as Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley with the government impartially in the middle, there are several problems. First of all, it is naïve to ignore historic alliances within government. Even as recently as the SOPA hearing, there were five witnesses in favor of the bill, with one Google Policy Counsel opposing the bill. This fueled the popular misconception that only Google opposed the bill, when in fact there were thousands of varied stakeholders, including cybersecurity experts, international human rights advocates, artists and creators, CEOs, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, academics, and many others. Additionally, this framing neglects the many people who consume content using technology, and spend much of their lives—for work and for play—on the Internet. With public engagement increasing, leading up to and in the aftermath of SOPA, it is ignorant to not include the public—who create and disseminate art in addition to consuming it—as essential stakeholders. Even the premise of getting everyone “in a room” may be flawed and anachronistic, given advances in technology.
Not only should the public be involved in copyright policy; they want to pay for copyrighted content. No, the solution can’t just be Kickstarter, regardless of the individual and collective successes occurring through crowd-funding, such as Amanda Palmer just raising more than a million dollars from almost 25,000 people in one month, and the fact that in total, “more than $42 million has been pledged to Kickstarter music projects by more than 600,000 people.” However, these numbers are astounding and show that fans value and will financially support art. Palmer’s success and Louis C.K.’s accidental experiment may seem like outliers and novelties, but they demonstrate that people are willing to pay reasonable prices, not artificially inflated rates set to maintain a status quo when digital delivery is instantaneous and free of transaction costs. They are indicative of a need that must be filled by innovation and disruption.