Sony, Kottke & Us

There’s nothing the blogosphere loves more than to have its sense of entitlement to free information impugned. After all, it gives us something to blog about. With the debate over whether or not it was acceptable for bloggers to get paid to blog already a distant memory, the blogosphere was spoiling for a fight – and it found it when Jason Kottke posted a clip from Ken Jennings’ Jeopardy swan song and got a cease-and-desist from Sony for his effort. Cue the panties and…bunch!

Come on guys, this was predictable, wasn’t it? I doubt Jeopardy sports a Creative Commons license, so we can hardly be surprised if Sony gets annoyed when someone rips off their content. Fair use? It’s not only dead, it’s been buried long enough that it’s hard to make out the epitaph on the tombstone: Get Used to It.

The content industries are now in the process of encasing Fair Use’s grave in cement in case it gets any ideas of pulling some kind of undead zombie voodoo comeback. The only way forward is to talk about real ways to make this a non-issue in the future. And no Dan, I don’t think holding a boycott is the answer – boycotting has only really worked once. It was against Charles Boycott. In Ireland. In 1880. Haven’t we got better things to do with our lives than to spend them deluding ourselves into believing we’re inflicting fatal injuries by tracking a comically long list of enemies who don’t even acknowledge our existence?

Now, I hate Sony as much as the next guy. Sure, they’re evil, but they’ll die. And rather than stomping around angrily, let’s take a more direct approach to solving this problem. We’ve shown that a little technology is enough to run circles around both government and industry – why don’t we look at the ways we can use our know-how to protect ourselves from these kinds of attacks:

  1. Legal Technology: We’re under assault by corporations, why not use their own weapon against them and incorporate? This is a question that perhaps Wendy or Larry could shed some light on: could a blogger create a shell corporation in such a way that it would that limit the blogger’s liability? That way, someone like Sony could make threats all they wanted – suing the shell corporation would result in little benefit for Sony. If this was a viable option, perhaps hosted blogging tool services could provide it as a value-added service (“To incorporate this blog, click here!”).
  2. Content Distribution Technology: Following in the footsteps of Freenet and Bittorrent, why not develop a truly distributed blogging technology? My buddy Brad Neuberg did some interesting investigation in this area with his Paper Airplane project. Not only would this make it extremely difficult for a company to block content, it would also help the more popular blogs stop being victims of their own success.
  3. Content Discovery Technology: Honestly, have our lives grown so bereft of entertainment that we’ve resorted to caring about such vacuous, artificial crap? There’s boatloads of good public domain, independent content being created out there by people who aren’t even professionals, who do it because they care about creating cool stuff, enough to last a thousand lifetimes. All we need is a way to find the stuff we care about. Developers, help us grab Big Media by the Long Tail, twirl it around, and smack its head against the floor until it breaks open like a piñata!

Pissing On Customers

It seems these days more companies are making a deliberate, calculated, and focused effort to piss off their customers. Or piss on their customers. I haven’t decided which it is, but neither one is particularly desirable when you’re on the receiving end. Somewhere along the line, someone gave companies the idea that providing less service for the same price would be acceptable to customers – allow me to correct their misconceptions.

Your average Hollywood movie studio executive appears to be operating under the mistaken belief that when I bother to pry open my wallet to buy a DVD, I’m actually overjoyed to be forced to sit through additional “free” content. Like the overly verbose FBI warning. In English and French. And an ad for a soft drink. And the coming attractions – despite the fact that the DVD I’m watching is over a year old, the movies being advertised have already been released, I already know they suck, and this is the fourth time I’ve been forced to watch the ads. In situations like this, I start to feel like Alexander in Clockwork Orange – strapped into place, restricted by technology from averting my gaze.

The term is captive market – and I wish cosmic rays would fry the synapses out of every corporate droid brain that thinks it’s a good idea.

Nobody’s limiting themselves to restricting outside food so they can overcharge for popcorn anymore. Nope, they’re working hard to make sure we watch what they want us to watch, when they want us to watch it. Forget listening to your favorite XM radio program any time you want. Forget taking your camera-phone to concerts. Forget moving files freely to and from your USB keychain drive or your iPod. Forget recording and storing programs indefinitely on your TiVo. Forget about not being berated for actually paying to go to the movie theatre.

In short: forget about having uninterrupted control over any of the cultural products and experiences that form the basis of just about every memory you have. The movie from your first date. The songs that form the soundtrack of your life’s most important moments. The concert you went to with your best friends. All of the color surrounding your memories – memories so important to you that they’re engraved in the brainflesh somewhere between your ears – those colors are probably patented by some jackass at Pantone and they’re drafting a cease-and-desist letter as I type this.

I know I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: I will not pay for content only to be told when and where I may watch or listen to it. I will not feed your ill-conceived plans to cram my every waking moment with mentally deficient cross-marketing plans. I will not allow myself to be extorted for access to my culture, and my memories. In case the industry hasn’t noticed, there is a lifetime’s worth of unrestricted content out there, free for the taking. There are tools that make it easier to route around your dain bramage should I decide to access restricted content.

Beware! For I am the consumer. I am King. And you will be first against the wall.

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