I just watchedSearch, written and presented by John Heilemann
Although I still have reservations about the style, I pretty much enjoyed it. In particular, memories of the early Internet era when we used to worry about the commercialisation of the Internet, came flooding back. Back then, we thought there was a choice. Back then, the big websites – f you can call the that – were barely corporate. Back then, we did not give over our web page real estate to Google adwords or Amazon. We were pure. And/or living in cloud cookoo land.
Of course, this didn’t necessarily mean our websites looked that good – web design was very home-made, we didn’t have themes or blog software to organise content. Blinking text and multicoloured centred text was
The debate around the commercialisation of the web was huge. We despaired that what had been born of a gift economy and good will could be highjacked by corporations like Yahoo and Excite who wanted to make a buck by drenching us with advertising and infomercials we never wanted. We didn’t want the web to become another TV.
But while the corpoorates were chugging away at how to ‘monetise’ the web, they also had a lurking fear: how to protect their investment, for once their texts, images, etcetera where digital and online, anyone could take it.
Part of the rearguard action against the privatisation and corporatisation of the internet was the ‘information wants to be free’ movement. This phrase was popularised by John Perry Barlowe in Wired. He proclaimed:
…I’ve been groping around cyberspace, an immense, unsolved conundrum has remained at the root of nearly every legal, ethical, governmental, and social vexation to be found in the Virtual World. I refer to the problem of digitized property. The enigma is this: If our property can be infinitely reproduced and instantaneously distributed all over the planet without cost, without our knowledge, without its even leaving our possession, how can we protect it? How are we going to get paid for the work we do with our minds? And, if we can’t get paid, what will assure the continued creation and distribution of such work?
Since we don’t have a solution to what is a profoundly new kind of challenge, and are apparently unable to delay the galloping digitization of everything not obstinately physical, we are sailing into the future on a sinking ship.
This vessel, the accumulated canon of copyright and patent law, was developed to convey forms and methods of expression entirely different from the vaporous cargo it is now being asked to carry. It is leaking as much from within as from without.
Legal efforts to keep the old boat floating are taking three forms: a frenzy of deck chair rearrangement, stern warnings to the passengers that if she goes down, they will face harsh criminal penalties, and serene, glassy-eyed denial.
Intellectual property law cannot be patched, retrofitted, or expanded to contain digitized expression any more than real estate law might be revised to cover the allocation of broadcasting spectrum (which, in fact, rather resembles what is being attempted here). We will need to develop an entirely new set of methods as befits this entirely new set of circumstances.
Most of the people who actually create soft property – the programmers, hackers, and Net surfers – already know this. Unfortunately, neither the companies they work for nor the lawyers these companies hire have enough direct experience with nonmaterial goods to understand why they are so problematic. They are proceeding as though the old laws can somehow be made to work, either by grotesque expansion or by force. They are wrong.
The source of this conundrum is as simple as its solution is complex. Digital technology is detaching information from the physical plane, where property law of all sorts has always found definition.
The conundrums of the mid 1990′s are still with us, although the way they play out is so much more sophisticated and entrenched: on the one hand, the corporates like Facebook and Google have worked out how to make money; but on the other hand, ‘old media’ corporations are still sweating over what networked digitisation does to their product. New media corporations may seem to have this better resolved – but I don’t think so, really: copyright just hasn’t hit them so hard. For them, it plays out in fraught relationships with old media corporations, and, to a lesser extent, international agreements. Gone are the days of the wild frontier. We’ve all become accustomed to the way the internet economy functions. But making money from media – which is ultimately what both advertising and copyright are all about – remains just as problematic.