Are You a Criminal?

Jack Valenti wants to make you one.

There’s a long history (as my readers know) of oligopolies trying to use Congress to legislate against technology. It’s easiest to see how pervasive this is by looking at Federal Express, a notable exception to the rule. The fax machine took a huge chunk out of their business (followed by email) but they resisted the urge to get some powerful senator from Tennessee to pass a law stating that faxes should be taxed, regulated or banned. After all, think of all the American jobs that would be lost to this infernal hardware device!

The movie industry doesn’t have the guts Fedex did. The movie industry is charming, swarming, intimidating and leveraging every member of Congress to get them to criminalize the Internet. They have a three step argument:
1. We need digital broadband to the home to reach both educational nirvana and remain competitive worldwide.
2. There will be no digital broadband until Hollywood starts releasing movies in this format.
3. Hollywood won’t do this because of piracy! Look what happened to the poor shnooks in the record business….

In my previous note on Senator Hollings ill-thought-out bill on this issue, I pointed out that in our democracy, the point of the laws should be to protect all of us, not just a chosen few who happen to have an existing business (one that may or may not co-exist with new technologies).

Valenti’s arguments are nonsense. First, there are plenty of reasons we don’t have broadband everywhere, but being able to watch Rocky digitally is not in the top five. Second, the record business started breaking when the baby boomers hit 30. The introduction of the CD masked the problem, but it certainly wasn’t napster that did em in.

According to today’s New York Times, Valenti & Co. are making headway with a number of bills that have buried deep within them the means to allow Hollywood to criminalize many research and Internet activities. As I see it, there are a few perfectly simple concepts at work here:

1. It’s completely unproven that digital duplication of intellectual property decreases sales. In fact, as I demonstrated in Unleashing the Ideavirus it actually INCREASES sales.

2. It’s a fallacy that the government should make it a priority to protect companies that use public spectrum or the public copyright laws. They exist for the user, not for the corporations.

3. Criminalizing the Internet breaks it. In the long run, connecting people is far more valuable than making Spiderman VII possible.

4. Involving the government in enforcing these regulations distracts them from their real work and clogs the courts.

We need to expose these issues to a large number of voters. Congress will respond if they hear from us. Can you imagine Chuck Schumer or Dick Gephardt standing up at a big rally and claiming that they deserve to be reelected because they made it impossible/illegal to put a snippet of Star Wars into a Powerpoint presentation? Bragging about how they’ve filled the prisons with nerds who had the audacity to run an internet server without Jack’s approval?

PS, it’s not easy being a media mogul CEO who’s willing to try an alternative future. They fired Thomas Middelhoff as CEO of Bertelsmann yesterday. Middelhoff fired.