Where are we headed?

Here’s a few thoughts on the current legal and tech scene:

What is the best thing about the internet for us, and the worst for Big Media? There are very few barriers to entry when it comes to publishing online. You can do it for very little $$, it doesn’t take special equipment, or licenses. Big Media has to compete with all of us on the internet, getting an ever-smaller piece of the pie as niche markets spring up all over the web, introduced by average people with strong passions. They have lost the lock-in that comes from broadcast mediums. In a broadcast medium like TV, Radio, or Newspapers, you consume, they produce. You do not get to produce without paying enormous costs, and passing those costs along to advertisers or subscribers. Online publishing costs very little, meaning you can produce just for the love of producing, and make your content available for free, or very little cost. The behemoth media conglomerates can’t compete with that.

So, what do they do? In order for them to compete again, they have to raise the barriers to entry in the online publishing field. Think about how RoadRunner customers are not allowed to host websites on a home account because of the supposed extra bandwidth they would take up, yet there are no bandwidth restrictions when it comes to downloading all of the Time-Warner content they want you to consume. That’s one way to setup an artificial barrier to entry, make people who wish to host a website pay more for their internet connection. But that hasn’t worked entirely, because there are plenty of hosting companies out there that keep it competitively priced, or offer free hosting, so you can get around the restriction. The next step on this front will be upload restrictions. Your internet connection will only be allowed to upload a certain amount per month, limiting the amount of data you can upload to a website, and the amount of file-sharing you can do. But that still won’t stop it.

No, the real barriers to entry will come from legislation. Here’s how this is going to work. The Berman-Coble bill will give Big Media the ability to protect copyright by going after people and sites that they suspect are using copyrighted material. All it will take is a suspicion and the takedown orders and file deletions will be done. For file sharers this means constant ISP account killing, and reactivating, and losing files off your machine. For a website, it means you will always be subject to takedown orders and then your ability to fight them. Since it will be a takedown first, and then, after you prove you weren’t violating copyright, they’ll allow it back, website owners are going to have problems keeping their content up consistently. Big Media will then swoop in and offer you, for a price, pre-certified original content. So, let’s say you have a home movie or digital pics you want to share online. You’ll need to run those by the MPAA for approval before putting them up. A new song you wrote? Go talk to, and pay, the RIAA, an article, the Newspaper Association, or some publishing association. Wrote some neat new freeware? Better check it in with the BSA first, or it’ll be subject to takedown. By the time you hire a lawyer and pay for the processing fees to get your content certified as original, the costs associated with running a website start to become pretty serious cash.

We haven’t even started talking about the delay that would be factored into all of this, having a weblog that’s current, and approved to not be violating copyright, is not going to be possible. Nor have we discussed the secondary costs, such as the lawyers the hosting company is going to need, and how they’ll pass that cost on to website owners, etc. Easily one of the biggest costs involved in producing TV/Radio content is regulatory compliance. The internet doesn’t have that, but soon will. (Watch what the CARP regulations and reporting requirements do to internet radio, for example.) How are you going to able to ensure compliance without spending a ton of money? You aren’t. Big Media already has compliance departments, complying with new laws online will be fairly easy for them, especially since they’ll be in charge of enforcing them.

Soon internet publishing starts to become big business, with the associated big business costs, and average people go back to consuming content, not producing content, which is exactly where Big Media wants the internet to end up.

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