Well that was an interesting
experience. Yesterday, we joined thousands of sites in what was
apparently the largest Web blackout protest in history to oppose two
very dangerous bills in the US Congress: the “PROTECT-IP Act” (PIPA) in
the Senate and “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) in the House of
Representatives. This seems to have had a useful effect, as a dozen or
so people in Congress have reversed their position, and Obama’s
administration released a statement in opposition to the bills. So now
we’re back to the business of making new media content work!
I have to say, I was impressed with a lot of the stuff
that happened. The big thing, of course, was Wikipedia joining in —
Wikipedia is the 6th highest site by Alexa page-rank in the USA, and is
used as a reference by a lot of people, including people in Congress.
Google’s blacked-out banner must also have been pretty effective since
over 4 million people followed it and signed the Google petition. Many
other sites were involved, of course.
I am very happy with the results. I am a little sad that the myth
that “piracy is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative
solution” (actual quote from the White House statement) persists. We
simply don’t know this.
There is, of course, amble evidence that a large amount of
unauthorized file-sharing does occur. But how much of a problem is it?
Does it, in fact, cause any economic harm? We don’t know that.
There are two competing theories:
- “Piracy substitutes for sales and thus leads to economic loss for content producers”, and
- “Piracy substitutes for marketing and thus leads to economic gain for content producers”
The Hollywood lobby claims without proof not only that #1 is correct,
but also that it is devastatingly efficient — essentially they report
as a “lost sale” every single copy that is downloaded, which is clearly
Our business model is based (pretty much entirely) on #2 being true.
The truth is probably that both processes operate, and it’s probably
pretty complicated determining which effect wins out. They may cancel
out in most cases. And it may be a matter of savvy production and
marketing to maximize #2 and minimize #1. I think that’s were the
“connect with fans” part comes in.
I also think it’s likely that the new media / free culture model will favor
“cult” successes — where a small number of fans really get excited about
a work, versus “lowest common denominator” successes — where no one
really loves a work, but most people would be willing to watch it. In general,
I think that’s a good shift, although there’s probably a role in life for stupid
entertainment. YouTube and LOLcats seem to be filling that role
adequately as it is, though, so I think we have little to worry about.
Tomorrow, I promise to actually write something about Lunatics, and put
all this stuff behind us. But the bills aren’t quite dead yet — so I’ll be staying alert.