Thanks to Doc Searls for the optimistic kicker to some further thoughts on his post about a fully-licensed world:
I still have hope. New technologies and businesses will disrupt the old ones. And much more innovation can take place outside the private walled gardens than inside them.
I'm glad he ended that way, because the bulk of his comment is pretty depressing.
I'm not arguing that everything should be free on the Net. I am arguing that the Net as designed by its creators — and defined by its protocols — supports a free and open marketplace: the kind that free market advocates ought to like. But, alas, we're gradually shrinking that marketplace by placing more and more economic activity inside private markets such as Apple's and Amazon's. And, as the "content" business moves from the open market into Apple's, Amazon's and other private markets (including those of the cable and phone companies, doing private deals with publishers and producers of movies, music and TV), we are going to see growth mostly in those private spaces, and will ignore what's happening (or not happening) out in the free and open marketplace outside of them.
And we'll hardly know what we've lost, because we'll be focusing on which BigCo "wins" in a marketplace where "free" means "your choice of captor."(It blows my mind when I read Wall Street Journal editorials that talk about the phone/cable duopoly as "the market" at work. I keep thinking some day they'll wake up and smell the Net's massively positive wealth-producing externalities, but that clearly isn't going to happen.)
We've already lost a lot without even knowing it. Ever wonder why most podcasts are talk shows, or why there are almost no music podcasts? The reason is that a podcaster needs to "clear rights" for every piece of music, just like a Hollywood producer clears rights for music used in movies, and that work requires Xtreme lawyering. So, all we hear on podcasts is "podsafe" music, most of which you've never heard before. The exceptions are podcasts of shows on NPR and other large producers that have already done their deals with Hollywood, or have run the same shows on terrestrial radio, which affords blanket rights-clearance. Anyway, my point is that we don't miss popular music on podcasts because we never had it to begin with. We lost that fight before it began, way back in the late '90s.
To get a sense of what happened there, imagine if MCI, Compuserve, AOL and Prodigy had successfully lobbied Congress to prevent emailing except through their closed private systems that didn't communicate with each other. They would have talked about how open and interoperable email protocols were insecure and a threat to their businesses. That didn't happen, but it's the same kind of thing that Hollywood has been pushing with the likes of SOPA.
Yet I still have hope. New technologies and businesses will disrupt the old ones. And much more innovation can take place outside the private walled gardens than inside them.
But it will get worse before it gets better.