I own a lot of books and music CDs — enough to fill many shelves. Here’s just one:
They are relatively uncomplicated possessions. There are no limits (other than mine) on who can read my books, or what else I can do with them, shy of abusing fairly obvious copyright laws. (For example, I can’t plagiarize somebody’s writing, or reproduce whole chapters of a book I’m quoting.) Music is a bit more complicated, but not to the degree that I stop assuming that I own and control the CDs on my shelves (even when they’re copied onto a hard drive, or stored in a cloud). The same even goes for the videocassettes and DVD of movies I’ve purchased. They are mine. I own them.
… the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Kindles or Other Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.
Pretty clear. That stuff ain’t yours. All you get is some downloaded data and a highly restricted set of permissions for where and how you use that data, mostly within within the walled gardens provided by Amazon and the Content Providers. So it’s really more like renting than buying. (And not from friendly competitors, either.)
Same with TV. Nothing you watch on your cable or satellite systems is yours. In most cases the gear isn’t yours either. It’s a subscription service you rent and pay for monthly. Companies in the cable and telephone business would very much like the Internet to work the same way. Everything becomes billable, regularly, continuously. All digital pipes turn into metered spigots for “content” and services on the telephony model, where you pay for easily billable data forms such as minutes and texts. (If AT&T or Verizon ran email you’d pay by the message, or agree to a “deal” for X number of emails per month.)
Free public wi-fi is getting crowded out by cellular companies looking to move some of the data carrying load over to their own billable wi-fi systems. Some operators are looking to bill the sources of content for bandwidth while others experiment with usage-based pricing, helping turn the Net into a multi-tier commercial system. (Never mind that “data hogs” mostly aren’t.) And mobile carriers are starting to slice up the Web itself. In All Mobile Traffic Isn’t Equal — As ‘Net Neutrality’ Debate Swirls, Wireless Carriers Start Cutting Special Deals , Anton Troianovski writes this in the Wall Street Journal:
One of Europe’s biggest wireless companies recently started offering a new plan in France: For less than $14 a month, customers could get unlimited Web browsing on their phones.
The catch—the Internet was limited to Twitter and Facebook. Every 20 minutes spent on any other website cost nearly 70 cents.
France Telecom SA’s Orange Group is one of several wireless carriers around the world experimenting with slicing up the Web into limited offerings and exclusive deals they hope will bring marketing advantages or higher profits.
In Turkey, mobile operator Turkcell lets users pay a flat fee to access Facebook, but not competing Turkish social networks. Polish carrier Play has offered free access to a handful of sites including Facebook but charged for the rest of the Web. And AT&T Inc. now says it’s planning to let app developers subsidize U.S. subscribers’ use of services.
Such tests remain the exception not the rule. Still, they show that the “open Web” ideal that has long governed Internet use is starting to break down as more and more surfing takes place on mobile devices.
Telecom executives, tired of being the “dumb pipes” through which valuable Internet traffic flows, say they need to cut such deals to make investing in expensive mobile-data networks worthwhile. But entrepreneurs seeking to devise new mobile offerings worry the shifting rules of the game will favor well-heeled companies that can afford carriers’ new terms.
Thus turning the mobile Web into something more like TV.
Meanwhile, back on the book and music front, publishers already have the Amazon and Apple content sphincters in place, on the iPads, iPhones and Kindles that are gradually marginalizing our dull old all-purpose desktop and laptop computers.What used to be radio is gradually turning into a rights-clearing mess. You like Spotify? Read Michael Robertson on how hard it is for Spotify and other radio-like music services to make money, or for the artists to make much either. You like to hear music on the radio, either over the air or over streams? Read David Oxenford’s report on how complicated that’s getting. Stopping SOPA was indeed an achievement by advocates of a free and open Internet. But that was like stopping one goal in a football game after the other side already built up a 100-to-0 lead.
So, while BigCo walled gardeners such as Apple and Amazon continue to convert things that could be owned in the physical world (starting with music and books) into what can only be licensed in the virtual one, the regulatory framework around the Internet is ratcheting in an ever more restrictive direction, partly at the behest of regulatory captors such as the phone, cable and content companies (all getting more and more vertically integrated), and partly at the behest of countries that want the UN and the ITU to help them restrict Net usage inside their borders. The latter is less about licensing than about pure politics, but it’s still at variance with the free and open marketplace the Net opened up in the first place.
John Battelle has long been observing this trend, and contextualizes it in a post titled It’s not whether Google’s threatened. It’s asking ourselves: What commons do we wish for?, The gist:
What kind of a world do we want to live in? As we increasingly leverage our lives through the world of digital platforms, what are the values we wish to hold in common? I wrote about this issue a month or so ago: On This Whole “Web Is Dead” Meme. In that piece I outlined a number of core values that I believe are held in common when it comes to what I call the “open” or “independent” web. They also bear repeating (I go into more detail in the post, should you care to read it):
– No gatekeepers. The web is decentralized. Anyone can start a web site. No one has the authority (in a democracy, anyway) to stop you from putting up a shingle.
– An ethos of the commons. The web developed over time under an ethos of community development, and most of its core software and protocols are royalty free or open source (or both). There wasn’t early lockdown on what was and wasn’t allowed. This created chaos, shady operators, and plenty of dirt and dark alleys. But it also allowed extraordinary value to blossom in that roiling ecosystem.
– No preset rules about how data is used. If one site collects information from or about a user of its site, that site has the right to do other things with that data, assuming, again, that it’s doing things that benefit all parties concerned.
– Neutrality. No one site on the web is any more or less accessible than any other site. If it’s on the web, you can find it and visit it.
– Interoperability. Sites on the web share common protocols and principles, and determine independently how to work with each other. There is no centralized authority which decides who can work with who, in what way.
I find it hard to argue with any of the points above as core values of how the Internet should work. And it is these values that created Google and allowed the company to become the world beater is has been these past ten or so years. But if you look at this list of values, and ask if Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the thousands of app makers align with them, I am afraid the answer is mostly no. And that’s the bigger issue I’m pointing to: We’re slowly but surely creating an Internet that is abandoning its original values for…well, for something else that as yet is not well defined.
This is why I wrote Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web. I’m not out to “save Google,” I’m focused on trying to understand what the Internet would look like if we don’t pay attention to our core shared values.
What’s hard for walled gardeners to grok — and for the rest of us as well — is that the free and open worlds created by generative systems such as PCs and the Internet have boundaries sufficiently wide to allow creation of what Umair Haque calls “thick value” in abundance. To Apple, Amazon, AT&T and Verizon, building private worlds for captive customers might look like thick value, but in the long run captive customer husbandry closes more opportunities across the marketplace than they open. Companies do compete (as do governments), but the market and civilization are both games that support positive sum outcomes for multiple players. The free and open Internet is the game board on which the Boston Consulting Group says a $2.1 trillion economy grew in 2010, on a trajectory to reach $4.2 trillion by 2016. That game board is also a commons, and it’s being enclosed. (Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air, calls it the “third enclosure.”)
By losing the free and open Internet, and free and open devices to interact with it — and even such ordinary things as physical books and music media — we reduce the full scope of both markets and civilization.
But that’s hard to see when the walled gardens are so rich with short-term benefits.
[Later…] I should make clear that I’m not against silos as a business breed, or vertical integration as a business strategy. In fact, I think we owe a great deal of progress to both. I think Apple actually opened up the smartphone market with the iPhone, and its vertical private marketplace. The concern I’m expressing in this post is with the fractioning of the commercial Web, as we experience it, and of much else that happens on the Net, into private vertical silos, using proprietary gear that limits what can be done to what the company owning the whole market allows. The book business, for example, largely happens inside Amazon, as of today. I think this is good in some ways, and worse in others. I’m visiting the worse here.
But the internet has never been friendly with culture. The attitude has been an arrogant “all your content are belong to us to monetize as we see fit and stop us if you can”. And then start calling everyone who refuse to lie down “dinosaurs”.
And here comes Doc Searls to complain the the content creators is not that interested in the closed walled garden he calls internet.
I agree with that the internet is less interesting. On the other hand I fully undertstand why everyone from commercial culture to smaller experimental forms of expression simply have no interest to consider the internet.
Maybe what folows the internet may offer better incentives, time will tell.
In my opinion we are still in the 1700′s of the information economy : copyright laws, intellectual property laws and patent laws take us where no law has gone before, only to carve out copyright guilds, create absolute IP monopolies and sustain patent oligarchies that wage ridiculous battles. A mistaken belief that information has monetizeable value and therefore needs to be locked up.
We need a new Adam Smith nowadays, one that explains the old maxims again but now framed for the information economy.
Pingback from CHopeMurray (chopemurray) | Pearltrees on March 1, 2012 at 11:43 am
Great piece. It raises so many issues, some of which we lack words for at this point (which is a real problem).
Regarding books and CDs, what actually do we “own”? A physical artifact containing a copy of an artistic creation. I can’t own “Star Wars,” even if I own a DVD. And there are limits to what I can do with my physical copy of a piece of music: I can’t broadcast it for commercial use, or play it at a restaurant, or copy it and sell it.
So what can we “own” when we buy a disembodied bitstream without paper or polycarbonate instantiation? The rights to do certain things with the bits, but not the bits themselves? And at what point is there a different between the bits sitting on my hard drive(s) on the PC in the study and bits on/in my (rented) piece of the Google/Amazon/Dropbox skydrive?
By their very nature, property rights “reduce the full scope of markets” and maybe civilization. Otherwise people could steal my car and auction it off, no? But I completely agree that we have to think and legislate very carefully in the realm of cultural artifacts, and confess that I have very few constructive suggestions as to how to do so.
That’s right, Doc: It’s all an e-vile conspiracy! And anyone who tries to do anything for a living and be reasonably rewarded for it, or create a sustainable business, is creepy and greedy.
The level of freetardation here is getting shockingly high.
Yes, you are. You condemn anyone who expects to be remunerated for his or her effort (in the case of creative works) or receive a return on his or her capital and sweat (in the case of telecommunications services). Nothing except free, unlimited access, for zero dollars, appears to be acceptable to you. I’m terribly sorry, but I have news for you: bandwidth, hardware, and good creative output cost money, and no one has any obligation to give it to you for free just because you stamp your feet and bawl about it.
Just keep denying that what you said is what you really said. You’re far worse than you accuse AT&T and Verizon of being.
It is sad that you dont talk about ways people can resist or alternatives.
Replicant.us — free software distro of Android
f-droid — free software android market
DefectiveByDesign.org (note that the new site for this campaign is still being ironed out)
DRM free ebooks exist, more so in some genres than others.
StatusNet and identi.ca
More could be added to the list, and if I was on a larger keyboard I would add it, but the point being is that there is a lot of options out there and projects and work worth guiding people toward.
I probably shouldn’t do this, but to better express the argument which I believe Brett Glass is crudely trying to drive at, the problem is right here in the statement in the post above:
“To Apple, Amazon, AT&T and Verizon, building private worlds for captive customers might look like thick value, but in the long run captive customer husbandry closes more opportunities across the marketplace than they open.”
Is this true? Universally so, for every context and every situation where there might be a restriction? This is at the very core of the “copyright” argument – is that closed/restricted/lockdown, etc worthwhile? Just asserting that it is not (or is), isn’t very convincing.
Disclaimer: Just in case anyone knee-jerks, this doesn’t mean I’m for copyright-maximalism. But I do understand the arguments that come out of that side.
Like you, I have long worried about the points of control on the Internet ( see http://www.tnl.net/blog/2010/05/30/internet-lockdown/ for a graph that basically highlights what you talk about here) but lately, I’ve started wondering if such control will only remain an intermittent thing or will truly exist as the defining feature of the internet moving forward.
An open internet presents opportunities for entrepreneurs that may not exist otherwise and thus, I’d warrant that this in itself presents enough of a model to create the GIANT walled garden, where everyone is allowed in.
… but then again, I’ve always been an optimist 🙂
“the iPads, iPhones and Kindles that are gradually marginalizing our dull old all-purpose desktop and laptop computers.”
You operate this article on the assumption that the bulk of people buy into what the consumer electronic industry would force down our throat! I would argue that a lot of intelligent folks see the phenomena at play at actively eschew participating in this ‘changing of the internet.’
I disdain and disavow the app ecosystem at every turn and do what I can to support the technologies that encourage the open Net. I dont possess a smartphone, I out current tablet tech as the crApple phenomenon that it is and I will build and help anyone I know to maintain PC computing.
Not everyone buys into this ecosystem and I believe the downfall of the country and the rising up of the masses will occur when government pushes the corporate greed and agenda too far down consumer throats.
Very briefly, the key part is here:
“My argument here is that we should look at the full size of the marketplace opened and supported by the Internet (by whatever definition), and put in that context what we lose (as well as gain) from growth in enormous privatized markets that are operating within its midst”
The opposite to the above is precisely the copyright argument. And even if the total “open” size is greater, it’s not necessarily such a wonderful result if it basically all goes to big advertising companies (which is what Google is). There have been attempts to address this for creators (Lessig’s tried very hard), but it hasn’t worked. To oversimplify, given a choice between a bigger pie where Google eats it all, and a smaller pie where there are at least crumbs for others, it’s not hard to see understandable preferences against the former and for the latter.
Sadly, I don’t think the political constraints on you and similar people permit really confronting this issue with proposals that seriously engage it (EFF’s attempts have not gotten support).
I’m more than happy to pay for stuff. I like to know that when I buy a book that the author is being paid, and when I buy music the musicians can eat. What I really object to in this brave new world is playing more for a license for a Kindle book than I would to own the actual paper medium… and I get less rights for my trouble.
It’s nice to see that Kindle has embraced the library model – that at least means I can jump through some hoops and still read a few of the books I want – but for a lot I still browse and sell in the second hand book stores (especially for books I’ll read once and then on-sell or gift).
The model is currently horribly skewed to the benefit of the distributor, whereas with something like Netflix or ZunePass there’s a recognition that for a lot of the content I don’t want to “own” it, I want to have a flat fee to watch/listen when I want to what I want. Both of those of course are still fighting with the old media empires who see this as a reduction in their revenue stream (but what they fail to realize is that I simply don’t go to the cinema or purchase DVD/BluRay) though the real impact to their bottom line is because it inspires me to seek out independent artists who find better distribution methods.
I’m not sure what the real fair solution is to all the parts of the puzzle but I suspect that given the opportunity to play fair people will… but if they feel like they are being gouged at every turn they will look elsewhere.
Pingback from Links – March 2, 2012 | zota on March 3, 2012 at 3:26 am
Pingback from February’s Top 50 Posts on Working Smarter on March 3, 2012 at 8:01 pm
“There are no limits (other than mine) on who can read my books, or what else I can do with them, shy of abusing fairly obvious copyright laws.”
I think what you’re saying is that laws — social compacts — will have to evolve further before we deal optimally with today’s potentials. And I think that we are attempting to do so, despite not having a good forum for balancing various parties’ single-issue claims such as “patents are always harmful.”
It’s quite refreshing to find a discussion that mostly doesn’t devolve into “Google is evil!” type cheerleading, but it’ll take a while before we can understand why the model of “the commons” is an appropriate one for the internet. My rough belief is that the commons were part and parcel (heh) of denying property rights to the majority of citizens — the “colored only” drinking fountains — while the landowners actually controlled all power.
Even if my history is skewed, this view may well describe the situation we’re in today. While early internet standards were contributed freely, the most important comm standards today are heavily regulated commercial activities. GSM, CDMA, wifi, h.264 and so many others are available to all, at a price. I can’t see how the wide-open, unlicensed organizations could have evolved to produce those complicated, multi-interested-party standards, and indeed, they didn’t.
Google saying patents are bogus, or the everyday rant against Amazon’s or Apple’s walled garden are easy crowd-pleasers, but they don’t address the total reorganization we would need if we shut down proprietary efforts to tackling new opportunities. (Oh, and I know this is an unlikely place for such trash, but please don’t cite Google, its entire profitability dependent on smart leveraging of its unassailed PageRank patent, as a counter-example of how Open Always Wins.)
Pingback from Weblinks #27 | Rechtsanwalt Martin Steiger on March 5, 2012 at 8:37 am
I bought a used Bob Dylan LP at a local flea market last fall. I listened to it, and then sold it to a friend. I read probably 50-60 books a year, and normally donate many of them to a local library. In spite of the supposed “sameness” of old LPs and books versus digital media, I can’t do the same with digitally rendered materials. So at the risk of sounding simple minded, why on earth can’t we expect the same from providers of digitally rendered content? After all, we have the technological capability, right?
People need to be aware that there are choices out there that don’t require giving up their Fair Use and First Sale rights. But they need to closely examine what they buy. The ownership issue you note above is one of the reasons I chose a Nook Tablet instead of a Kindle Fire: Barnes & Noble’s Nook line, while being able to read other formats, uses the open-standard ePub format for its eBooks, and B&N sells all its Nook eBooks in a DRM-free form of that standard. So unlike Amazon Kindle owners, I own my eBooks! Even better, Baen Books, the SciFi publishers for much of what I read, even have a “My Books” link on their site that lists all the books I’ve purchased from them, and I can read them online or download them again at will! We should support with out purchases those that respect our rights, and shun those who do not.
And into this fray steps the “Ultra Violet” digital license vault. Doc; where does this piece fit into the common space?
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