I picked this up from Tom Watson’s Twitter feed just now:
Together the press, all commercial broadcasters, film, book publishing and music industries must now work together to find a new business model with the Search Engines. The latter, the aggregators, think it is ok to enjoy the use of all your valuable intellectual property and ad revenues for little or no return.
And for those who think this challenge is just too hard, I urge you to recall the recent words of Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO: “We use as our primary goal the benefit to end users. That’s who we serve.” So there you have it: the end user matters, not those who create content in the first place.
The full speech here.
What this manifestly ignores is the overwhelming reality of an early 21st century where the lines between end-user and producer are blurring productively, not destructively. Just think how our youth is developing its visual and cinematic literacy on YouTube; how our youth is interacting and communicating far more effectively than we ever did; how, indeed, our youth is reading and writing far more than we could ever have imagined ourselves so doing – whether this be the truncated art forms of Twitter and texting or the more leisurely and half-dropped multimedia conversations of Facebook.
In reality, Baroness Buscombe is talking more about sustaining an out-of-date business model than re-engineering a forward-looking one – a model which continues to advocate a centralised top-heavy corporate commercialisation of ideas; a model where intellectual property’s backdrop, in this case in relation to the traditional press, is the ever-dwindling reach of classified advertising.
I’m not saying there isn’t a place for massive corporations in the future. What I am suggesting is that that place will lie more in providing the infrastructures which will foment third-party digital manufacture and distribution than in the providing of that content itself.
The YouTubes, the Nings; even Facebook and Twitter themselves.
In much the same way as supermarkets, libraries and online stores now encourage you to serve yourself, so digital technologies will empower ever-decreasing circles of aficionados to produce the kind of films, videos, websites and content we all want to see. Big business will still make money out of such content, but it will have to move along the supply chain to find out where the buck can best be had.
And I can tell you now, in a world where the screen is getting smaller and more discrete, where people will want to watch videos in the palms of their hands and share themselves via multifarious online distribution systems with the faraway friend but not necessarily with the close-to-hand, it won’t be in the production of HD quality films or full-colour newspapers that the big corporations will make their money but rather in the enabling and empowerment, the glorification of the end-user/producers.
Reality TV and programmes like “Britain’s Got Talent” bear witness to this tendency.
The problem with Google is actually that we’d all like to have had their ideas first. But they’re not creating realities, they’re simply identifying them sooner than the rest of us. It is bizarre now for Buscombe to argue that the aggregators have brought the traditional intellectual property industries to their knees. Their own lazy and profligate habits have done that all by their lonesomes. If they hadn’t chosen to make so much out of music CDs, they wouldn’t have pushed young consumers to the edges of legality. In truth, it’s absolutely clear that the film industry, which still preserves most effectively its technological astuteness and legalistic right to make it difficult to make back-up copies of DVDs, has long ago recognised this reality – it’s now very easy to find brand new films in your local supermarket for less than a fiver; less, in fact, these days, than a decent music CD might still cost you.
The IP industries – and their mouthpieces (Baroness Buscombe, and now by extension the PCC, included) – may vigorously choose to continue chasing the agenda of old-style publishing, both verbal as well as audiovisual. But in the meantime, on the high streets and in the shopping centres, market forces – those very market forces she may on other occasions, and for other ideological reasons, virtuously proclaim – are forcing an undeniable recognition that you can squeeze the consumer up to a point; but at your veritable peril – for there is a point beyond which such an exploitation will mean you will lose that consumer forever.
Not to the illegalities of IP piracy – which, in any case, I would never advocate here. Rather, to the intelligences of new types of copyright licences (for example, CreativeCommons.org) and the – as already mentioned – increasingly productive blurrings of the dividing lines between end-users and producers. We are getting to the point where we are more interested in seeing ourselves in our own words, photos and films than the big explosive productions that tear our senses apart.
Or, even, the verbal weekend contingency of evermore argumentative column-writing.
I hear that on Wednesday BBC’s iPlayer will be coming to the Wii video console. This is an excellent example of how public broadcasting can support and interface with private initiative. Before a certain part of the publishing sector decides to destroy the glorious – if flawed – anthem to audiovisual endeavour that is the BBC, it ought to remember that the most innovative, the most productive, the most financially rewarding pockets of the world are precisely those moments in time where different and contradictory cultures have the opportunity to rub up against each other.
Both in business and politics, both in economics and society – all the above is applicable.
Baroness Buscombe’s speech is only scary if we truly believe she can swim against the tide of history.
Mainly because that tide is wisely and intuitively bringing together a fascinating dissolving of counterpointed realities: private enterprise, public application, end-user/producers, reader/writers, texter/tweeters – even (dare I say) that new breed of individuals we might call the voter/politicians.
All fashioned and forged into a gorgeously attractive mix by clever bods in ivory towers – towers which turn out, in the end, not to be made of ivory at all.