Why Are We Letting An Obsolete Gatekeeper Drive The Debate On Anything?
from the simple-questions dept
Rick Falkvinge has a nice column pointing out how disruptive innovation works: obsolete middlemen are innovated away. He uses the example of ice men: the folks who would deliver ice to be used in “ice boxes” prior to electricity and the refrigerator becoming common. But, of course, technology made such people obsolete:
There were many personal tragedies in this era as the icemen lost their breadwinning capacity and needed to retrain to get new jobs in a completely new field. The iceman profession had often been tough to begin with, and seeing your industry disintegrate in real-time didn?t make it any easier.
But here are a few things that didn?t happen as the ice distribution industry became obsolete:
No refrigerator owner was sued for making their own cold and ignoring the existing corporate cold distribution chains.
No laws were proposed that would make electricity companies liable in court if the electricity they provided was used in a way that destroyed icemen?s jobs.
Nobody demanded a monthly refrigerator fee from refrigerator owners that would go to the Icemen?s Union.
No lavishly expensive expert panels were held in total consensus about how necessary icemen were for the entire economy.
Rather, the distribution monopoly became obsolete, was ignored, and the economy as a whole benefited by the resulting decentralization.
As he notes, we’re now going through the same sort of disruptive innovation today, with many who slavishly rely on copyright as a business model for content distribution coming to terms with their own obsolescence. Yet, rather than be ignored and go away and let the economy benefit as a whole, they’re pulling a different sort of trick. They’re falsely convincing politicians, the press and even some of the public that rather than representing obsolete distribution mechanisms, they represent the content itself. It’s why you hear the recording industry referred to incorrectly as “the music industry.”
But the truth is that the main advantage these particular gatekeepers had was in distribution. They controlled the gates to distribution, and knew they could charge huge rents to get through. Copyright was merely the mechanism that built the gates, but the fact that there was a gate at all was a function of technology. Now technology has done away with that, and opened up the playing field wide. So wide that gates are meaningless, and the real focus needs to be on enabling content providers to do amazing things to stand out in the wide open field. But that’s got nothing to do with copyright.
Unfortunately, the industry is pretending that it has everything to do with that. What they’re really looking for are laws not to build back up the gate of copyright — but to take us back into history, whereby the walls of limitations are back up and people have to go through the gates. That era is over. But what’s truly amazing is that we still think the gatekeepers matter here. They don’t. There was no refrigerator fee and we shouldn’t have to set up special systems to re-animate the dead corpse of an obsolete distribution model that the recording industry was built around.