2009-04-11

When failing businesses become more important than our freedoms.

Last night I watched a documentary on file-sharing. What struck me was one of the executives from the recording industry who, while admitting that the recording industry had fumbled and dropped the ball, said that they were now on the right path and that people should stop criticizing them. "Them", I presume, being the recording industry.

Since the interviewer failed to ask why the recording industry was now not deserving of any ciriticizm, we have no way of knowing exactly what the executive was talking about -- both in terms of what errors he was admitting to and exactly what they had done to change their unproductive ways.

It was not until he let one final nugget slip through that it dawned on me that the executive in question had to be particularly dimwitted: he pleaded that those having unlicenced music in their posession just delete it so we could all start over. And he wasn't joking.

Of course, you can spin what people say by clever editing and the documentary might have misrepresented some or all of their interview subjects. But even in isolation, this plea, for me, is indicative that the executive in question is an imbecile and a buffoon.

Now, being extraordinarily thick is in itself not a crime. The problem is that there are politicians and government officials that take these delusional people seriously.

This means that policy, and eventually law, will be influenced by people who first have shown a spectacular inability to observe reality and then, when reality manifests itself beyond the point where they can just ignore it, have demonstrated a complete lack of aptitude in adapting to it.

In fact, it has now become so bad that politicians are seriously considering, and in the case of France, attempted to pass legislation that would make it possible to cut people off from the Internet without any semblance of due process or actual evidence being presented and tied to an alleged infringer.

Denying people access to the Internet is a very serious matter. You cut them off from a large part of society.
During the past two decades, the Internet has gone from being a curious diversion to an important channel for communication and interaction with society. Perhaps the single most important way to interact. It frightens me that our politicians are more eager to defend the obsolete business models of particularly dimwitted businesspeople than the rights and freedoms of the people they represent. It also frightens me that these issues are not at the forefront of political debate -- because they are very fundamental issues and they have very frightening consequences.

(There is debate, but it is usually dumbed down: the media pits extremists from either end of the debate against each other. Simple-minded controversy is easier to sell than actual analysis.)

Politicians should not treat the exclusion of its citizens from a major part of society lightly. I feel that they do. They let themselves be bullied around by the lobbying dollar of large media companies. And it is not only politicians. It is with great worry we have observed the zeal with which some government officials have gone after private citizens -- spending our tax money to run the errands of well funded, but ultimately ill-managed businesses.


It should be unnecessary to tell politicians that their first duty is toward the people they represent.

It should also be unnecessary to tell the recording industry, as well as the movie industry, that they need to come up with viable business models. Things have changed. The technological premises have changed and these industries have to change with them. Neither the recording industry nor the movie industry is so important that it is worth sacrificing our principles and our rights to keep them alive. There will still be music and there will still be movies. The way in which these things get made, monetized and distributed is inevitably changing and the whinging of the media industry is unbecoming.

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