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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Will capitalism itself take down the copyright lobby?

Today’s question comes via @Overflight1, who suggests that

capitalism itself may take down the copyright lobby.

The notion comes from a recent post at the New York Times blog Bits, which highlighted a new company called Y Combinator, which is directly targeting Hollywood greed and indirectly targeting SOPA/PIPA. From a Y Combinator post called “Kill Hollywood”:

Hollywood appears to have peaked. If it were an ordinary industry (film cameras, say, or typewriters), it could look forward to a couple decades of peaceful decline. But this is not an ordinary industry. The people who run it are so mean and so politically connected that they could do a lot of damage to civil liberties and the world economy on the way down. It would therefore be a good thing if competitors hastened their demise.

That’s one reason we want to fund startups that will compete with movies and TV, but not the main reason. The main reason we want to fund such startups is not to protect the world from more SOPAs, but because SOPA brought it to our attention that Hollywood is dying. They must be dying if they’re resorting to such tactics. If movies and TV were growing rapidly, that growth would take up all their attention. When a striker is fouled in the penalty area, he doesn’t stop as long as he still has control of the ball; it’s only when he’s beaten that he turns to appeal to the ref. SOPA shows Hollywood is beaten. And yet the audiences to be captured from movies and TV are still huge. There is a lot of potential energy to be liberated there.

How do you kill the movie and TV industries? Or more precisely (since at this level, technological progress is probably predetermined) what is going to kill them? Mostly not what they like to believe is killing them, filesharing. What’s going to kill movies and TV is what’s already killing them: better ways to entertain people. So the best way to approach this problem is to ask yourself: what are people going to do for fun in 20 years instead of what they do now?

There will be several answers, ranging from new ways to produce and distribute shows, through new media (e.g. games) that look a lot like shows but are more interactive, to things (e.g. social sites and apps) that have little in common with movies and TV except competing with them for finite audience attention. Some of the best ideas may initially look like they’re serving the movie and TV industries. Microsoft seemed like a technology supplier to IBM before eating their lunch, and Google did the same thing to Yahoo.

This is merely a manifesto — or part of one — looking toward the future of entertainment. Movies and TV aren’t dead, Y Combinator takes pains to note, only the Hollywood paradigm of making and distributing them. (The bit above is about why Y Combinator is doing what it’s doing. For a look at how Y Combinator works, see here.)

So, to @Overflight1’s question:

Will capitalism itself take down the copyright lobby?

The asnwer seems to me to be so obviously: Yes. It appears inevitable that someone will come up with new ways of making money off entertainment, ways that are already staring Hollywood in the face (ie, more widespread digital distribution) that the industry either can’t see or are too afraid of to take advantage of. But perhaps there’s something obvious that I’m not seeing.

What do you think about Y Combinator’s manifesto, and the challenge it lays down?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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