Yesterday was quite a whirlwind of activity on the internet front as the battle over SOPA and PIPA continue to rage on. At the heart of this issue is one simple problem: the old paradigms of the entertainment system are crashing into the future that is being formed by new technologies. It was worded so eloquently by social media expert, author and NYU professor Clay Shirky during a recent Ted talk (I posted the video to yesterday’s blog post. Check it out. It’s fascinating). He states that SOPA and PIPA were largely sponsored and drafted by large media companies founded in the early 20th century. Companies founded during a time when, as he comically put it, “If you were making a TV show, it didn’t have to be better than all other TV shows ever made. It only had to be better than the two other shows playing at the same time.”
Let’s stop and think about the profundity of that for a while. Right now, just about every TV show ever made can be found somewhere online. Some places that are legal like Hulu.com or Netflix, and some not so legal (I refuse to link to these places because if SOPA or PIPA pass and I forget I linked to those site, my site could be taken down and I’ll have to spend who knows how long trying to find the one link I put up some time ago that linked to an offending site. But I digress). In addition to every TV show every made, you also have just about every film every made. You also have original content, both long and short. 19 year old college students with a 5D Mark II and a fridge full of Red Bull can now legitimately go mano-a-mano with a multi-billion dollar studio for the attention of viewers like you and me. This is all because of technology.
The old media system has fought technology for years. They fought against DVDs when they came out. They fought against downloadable music in the days of Napster. They’re fighting against torrent sites and UGC (User Generated Content) sites today. They are doing everything they can to hold on to their hegemony, thus you get bills like SOPA and PIPA. The problem is, as we’ve seen, these bills will not accomplish what they want them to, and in the process they will hurt the “good guys”.
Old media companies need to find new ways of protecting their IP and protecting their profits. You cannot fight the future and win. If they don’t find ways to do that, you’ll see more and more examples like this:
- Apple (a technology company) is the #1 seller of music.
- Amazon (a technology company, and not Barnes & Noble) is the #1 seller of books. Borders has already filed bankruptcy.
- Netflix (their missteps from last year notwithstanding) and Hulu have destroyed Blockbuster.
In each of these cases, the “old guard” had the opportunities to be the leaders in the new space, but did not embrace the technology to do so. In the case of downloadable music, the music industry did pretty much what media companies are trying to do today with SOPA/PIPA: use Congressional power instead of innovation to fight copyright violators. But here’s the thing. You cannot control chaos. Didn’t we learn that from Jurassic Park? They tried to force mother nature one way (make every dinosaur female, thereby ostensibly preventing them from breeding) only to find that chaos found a new way to survive…and thrive.
Likewise, just like the death of Napster contributed in some way to the birth of iTunes, whatever success the media companies think they will have with SOPA/PIPA, ultimately will not save them. In fact, it could lead to something that will be an even greater threat. Something that is capable of earning the attention and dollars of those of us spurned by a SOPA/PIPA infected world. Something as profound a change as iTunes was. Something could cost media companies way more than they ever lost via copyright-infringing sites (like their entire business). Only this time, that “something” will be legal.