Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Why Does The Entertainment Industry Insist That It Can Veto Any Innovation It Doesn't Like?

from the over-and-over-and-over-again dept

For years, we've seen that the entertainment industry honestly seems to think that it has the right to veto and kill off any new technology that doesn't fit into its own business model plans. Of course, they've had some support in this from copyright maximalists, like former head of the Copyright Office, Ralph Oman, who recently declared that all new technologies that impact content should be presumed illegal until Congress decides otherwise. Can you imagine what sort of innovation we'd have in the consumer electronics space if we had to wait for Congress' approval for each new device? Especially given the power to lobby against such approvals?

I'm reminded of this thanks to News Corp. (via Fox) filing for a new injunction against Dish Networks for the latest version of its DVR, the Dish Hopper with Sling. Now, you may recall that Fox already tried to get an injunction against Dish's Hopper with Sling and lost pretty badly (even as it pretended that it had won). Fox is appealing that decision, but also filed a new request for an injunction against the updated device, claiming that the key new feature, Hopper Transfers, goes beyond anything else and (once again), must be stopped.

This is the same old story over and over again. The last century plus of copyright law has been driven by the entertainment industry flipping out time and time again over new innovations that they don't think should be allowed. The 1909 Copyright Act was driven, in large part, by the introduction of the evil player piano, leading many to insist that this would kill the demand for live music and put musicians out of work.

Around that time, there was also the invention of the gramophone, or, as John Philip Sousa called it, "that infernal machine." He famously claimed, "these talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country," and that "we will not have a vocal cord left," because evolution will deem them not necessary due to "talking machines."

Then along came radio, and it too, was destined to wipe out the industry, with ASCAP demanding that any song that was to be played on the radio first needed to (a) get permission from the rights holder and (b) have the DJ state clearly before each song that it was being played "by special permission" from the rightsholder. When people started mocking that phrase (and someone even wrote a song about it), ASCAP stated that the permission line had to be spoken by DJs with "no facetious trifling."

Moving on, along came cable TV to add some competition to the TV market. And what happened? Lawsuits of course. "It would be difficult to imagine a more flagrant violation of the Copyright Act," we were told.

And you may have heard what happened when the original VCR was invented. Why the MPAA's Jack Valenti had a thing or two to say about that:
I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.
Cassette recorder? "Home taping is killing music."

DVR? Must be illegal. According to the head of Turner Broadcasting: "People who watch TV without commercials are stealing from the entertainment producers."

How about the first real MP3 player, the Diamond Rio? Lawsuit filed in which it was stated that allowing the device, "will injure not only the record companies and artists whose work will be pirated, but also the music publishers, musicians, background singers, songwriters and others whose existence is dependent on revenue earned by record sales."

YouTube? Viacom's lawsuit is still ongoing, but Viacom insisted that, if allowed, YouTube would "severely impair, if not completely destroy, the value of many copyrighted creations."

And lets not even get into all of the technologies that the entertainment industry has been shutting down over the past few years. Zediva? Dead. ivi? Gone. Aereo? Still here, but fighting. Veoh? Dead (even though it won its lawsuit). MP3Tunes? Bankrupt due to lawsuit (even though it won too). There are many more as well.

See a pattern yet? This pattern repeats over and over and over and over again. The entertainment industry, aided by the Copyright Office, seems to think that there's some sort of role it has to play in giving the yay or nay vote to any new technological innovation that concerns content consumption. And, of course, the vote is always "nay." In the long run, that always turns out to be the wrong vote. So why do we constantly allow the entertainment industry to get away with this nonsense? This filing from Fox is merely the latest in a very long line of these kinds of actions, and it should be immensely troubling to those who recognize that the best way for the entertainment industry itself to thrive in the modern world is to embrace these new services, which increase value to consumers and make them more interested in watching/listening to the content being produced.

You would think that, after a century of these examples, those in the entertainment industry might finally realize that looking for the opportunities in these innovations is a more productive strategy than trying to kill every new technology. Apparently, however, the industry is still run by people who have no sense of history, other than the history of always ratcheting up copyright enforcement.

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