Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Gatekeeper Survival Tactics

There's been a lot of talk lately about how new technology is leveling the playing field - from low cost cameras aiding production to new modes and methods of distribution. I've read and heard proclamations about how anyone can now distribute their content and that gatekeepers are going the way of the dinosaur. If you look at things like OurMedia, Revver, YouTube or Eyespot it does indeed seem that anyone can bypass the gatekeepers, or become one, easily now. While no one has made a business model that allows someone to make a living from putting their stuff online yet, all of us can imagine this potential.

And guess what? So can the gate-keepers, and they don't like the future they see. They are doing everything they can to maintain their control, and in addition to things like the recent Grokster case, or their ridiculous anti-piracy campaigns (which are all about control, not piracy), they are now trying to curb the freedom of the internet to maintain their business advantage. Cory Doctorow has a great post about how these companies are using the UN's World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to curtail the rising amount of video on the web, and to limit things to a few players. Essentially, they are trying to extend a broadcasting treaty onto the web. As such, they are making stronger DRM requirements, and giving web-hosts (broadcasters) the rights to anything they broadcast for the next 50 years. So, if you post a video on iTunes, Apple could then claim ownership to that video, and anything in that video including public domain footage. As he says:

"Virtually the entire world has opposed the extension of the broadcast treaty to the Web. Giving people who host Web-based audio/video a 50-year monopoly over the use of the copies they send out is just plain nuts...." and:

The forest of hundreds of startups gets burned to the ground, and only a few old trees like Yahoo and Microsoft are left standing.

This is the same UN agency that created the DMCA and EUCD, the laws used to jail crypto researchers and shut out tech companies that want to make interoperable technology, that let the Church of Scientology and others censor web-pages by claiming that they infringe on copyright.

They're the most deadly enemies the Internet has.

They claim they're acting on your behalf."

The worlds of policy, intellectual property and global politics can seem hard to figure out, but it's not that difficult - it's just obscured. Keeping us in the dark is what keeps these companies in control. It's time filmmakers and their friends (audiences, fans and advocates) start paying attention to both the national and global policy debates, because otherwise you'll wake up in two years with less options for distribution than you have today. This isn't a joke - you may no longer have places like OurMedia to share your film for free, much less any new business model that let's you use the power of the web to skip the gatekeeper and go directly to your audience.

Net neutrality is bigger than just this issue, it also includes things like giving faster service to those who pay higher fees, insuring that iTunes (for example) gets video to you more quickly than some low-budget indie filmmaker. It means the internet may become more and more like a big, dumb television that just lets you find shows quicker and link to advertisors more easily. All of it is being decided now, in US and World courts, treaties and behind closed doors.

What can you do? Well, keep informed through places like Cory Doctorow's blog on BoingBoing, or even better sign up for the Free Press net neutrality coalition - Save The Internet - and get active. You can do so at this link.