November 18, 2003
Dave Winer on Media Companies, Control of the Internet and the Election

Dave Winer wrote yesterday about an issue for the 2004 election: Keeping the Internet free from Media Companies. He asked that Clark and Dean consider a plan to keep the Internet free from interference from the entertainment industry. Two reasons, he says, as he is a part of a constituency that cares about these issues, and that it would signal that a candidate was not beholden to media companies, both in the sense of locking down the future (I assume he means things like copyright, as well as laws that regulate the internet for special interests) and of having the media try to control channels they don't yet own (I assume here he means the development of new digital distribution channels that either are just getting started or haven't yet been invented, or technologies they try to lock out or control, like the consumer electronics industry developments that must now be approved by the copyright industry with respect to the Broadcast Flag -- See Zoe Lofgren's editorial today on these new restrictions on innovation by the FCC).

In the comments, Seth Finkelstein says it's not realistic, and Jay Rosen responds that he's half right:

    Maybe his [Dave's] idea is, "Let Clark and Dean work it out. They're smart enough."
(See also Rosen's assessment of American Politics; it's excellent). And Thomas Kalil responds to Dave with this:
    The Internet is different from the phone network and radio and broadcast television in important ways... [like] "many to many" communication as opposed to the "one to many" communication of broadcast television. A student, an independent software developer, or a small high-tech company can come up with an idea for a new application, protocol, or kind of content. If enough people find it useful or worthwhile, this idea can spread like wildfire. Even as the Internet evolves, it is important to ensure that it continues to provide an open platform for rapid and decentralized innovation, and for the exchange of ideas.

Donna Wentworth links to Dan Gillmor who says:
    But Dave has framed the problem well. Keeping Hollywood's influence from wrecking the Net would, by extension, help solve the copyright disaster that's been building in America for decades.

Jeff Jarvis' not so sure: he's a big media guy, a blogger, and says,

    Dave, I just spent last weekend in big rooms filled with big media and, believe me, I saw little cause for alarm.

My thought: Maybe Dave didn't specify the exact problem, and he is very much in a partisan position (as he admits) with technology, but he does make a good point. Locking down the internet with DRM, like the just adopted BF regulations, as well as using the DMCA for all sorts of ridiculous anticompetitive and otherwise destructive stuff (think Chamberlain v. Skylink over garage door openers, Lexmark and printer cartridges, Diebold and voting software memos) that incumbents love to use to maintain their positions, and you can see why he cares about this. It's not that I think incumbents all should be undermined, but I disagree with an Internet that only protects them, and makes it hard for innovators to develop the digital technologies that will shift everything and create so much value, though maybe for a mix of incumbents and innovators. It's understandable that they are scared, because they have a lot to lose, but we all are participants in the internet, and there is a public good in keeping it open and free.

Lock the internet up, lock content down, and I think it will be less than 20 years before our closed internet loses to the free internet, still existing in the rest of the world, leading to the loss of US leadership and competitiveness in technology, content and innovation. Seems counterintuitive, and in the short term yes, protectionism is beneficial, but long term, it will hurt us badly.

But I'm not so sure this is something we can address in a presidential election, and Seth may be right, maybe this is an unrealistic discussion. But my hope is that as we forge further into the information economy, we will be able to address issues like this in a national forum, that people will understand digital issues enough that they will want to hear what candidates have to say about intellectual property, media, digital technologies and information flowing on the internet, because it means their jobs (and health insurance), their intellectual freedom and entertainment. But I don't think it will happen until the public asks for it. And many more people must become digitally literate before that happens.

Posted by Mary Hodder at November 18, 2003 07:26 PM

Two words: Al Gore

He tried to address these issues in a national forum. We know what happened to him!

Consider what happened to Howard Dean with the "confederate flag" pile-on. Now imagine someone getting dubbed "Candidate Pirate".

I care about this (net freedom). I've devoted years of effort that cause. But that means I know how very hard it is to fight that fight.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein on November 19, 2003 11:26 AM
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