The conflict between Hollywood and Silicon Valley is, at a deeper level, one between Content and Function, which I think Function will win.
But there’s more: Content is also struggling, because there is simply too much of it.
The combination of a data flood of biblical proportions with exploding possibility of function, will drown any business model based simply on charging for content.
Business and investors should realize this, and adapt accordingly.
A number of recent events have shown that the conflict between Function (Silicon Valley) and Content (Hollywood) is clearly heating up.
The successful actions against the proposed PIPA and SOPA legislation may well have arisen a new political player in the murky field of lobbying: the social Internet. The political implications are in my view much more important than the issue of copyright – but it is no coincidence that this new phenomenon of not just collecting political funding or votes, but actually determining the political agenda through the Internet and social media, has first arisen around the issues where the Internet and social media cause most havoc: the disruptive effect on 20th century business models. Expect ACTA to be the next battleground.
At the same time, the US government shuts down the Megaupload site, and manages to convince New Zealand to arrest, in New Zealand, a German national for reasons of copyright infringement in the US. Depending on your political view, the alleged actions are massive theft (Hollywood) or exposing the inefficiency of a distribution monopoly (Silicon Valley). Either way, it remains remarkable that criminal law is used to this extent in order to protect a business model.
More interestingly in the long term, of course, is that within hours, useful alternatives to Megaupload were available. In other words, the policing is obviously failing. My personal view is that this is because criminalizing normal human behavior like sharing what you like just does not work.
Finally, we see that more and more economic studies start to look at empirical evidence, to verify if the basic theory of IP rights, which claims that imposing a monopoly in order to rectify the inefficiency of the market to sufficiently reward innovation and creativity, is actually correct.
How to make sense of it all?
As I wrote earlier, I think the main conflict is between Content (music, film, etc – symbolized by Hollywood) and Function (what we can do with our computers – symbolized by Silicon Valley).
I think Function is most likely set to win, because it evolves faster, and adapts better. Darwinian logic tends to be merciless.
Regardless of mine or your preferences, the observation remains that technology is destroying the possibility to efficiently enforce IP rights, whose function it is to restrict the right to copy. The music industry has still not understood that fighting peer-to-peer copying (and hence piracy) is utterly useless. The argument that this causes economic damage because, as the middleman, they stand out to lose quickly falls apart once you take a good look at it. It is no coincidence that, while the revenue and jobs of the music industry fall, the income and distribution potential of the creators (the musicians) rise.
And Hollywood is obviously next on this slippery slope down the abyss of non-revenue just for Content – neatly illustrated by the fact that Amazon sells 20% of its books at a price of 0.01$, while and still making a small profit, on shipping and availability.
But there is more.
The amount of data produced in our world is exploding. In 2009, more data was created in one year, than in the entire history of humanity until 2008.
And most of that data is still created by humans, not by machines. Expect that to change – the era of data creation has just started, and the speed of data creation will continue to go up.
To put that into perspective: humanity exists for about 150,000 years. In the last two of those, we have produced 9 times as much data as in the whole period before.
Now, under the theory of copyright and other IP rights, all of that data, to the extent there is an expression of human creativity in it, is subject to a distribution monopoly of its creator.
That’s just plain ridiculous. It can never work.
All of those data are creating a biblical flood of massive proportion, drowning out all payable content.
And the turning point is user generated content – which is almost always derivative work. Not only will be it be impossible to stop it, it is actively supported and offered pretty much for free by an ever growing number of technology firms (Silicon Valley).
From an IP perspective, user generated content is a new, hybrid animal.
It typically uses partly automated creation (outside copyright), partly genuinely user generated content (those holiday pictures you took, within copyright, but your own), and partly existing works (that song you put in the background – someone elses copyright). Throw in some user generated functionality, and it becomes clear that most what is created will include elements of copyright and other IP rights, but those IP rights will become utterly unenforceable.
So, not only are IP rights losing the race to keep track with the development of technology, they are also drowning in a sea of newly created content.
How should we react?
Certainly not in the way the old content distribution business is reacting. The idea that distribution monopolies based on copyright will continue to provide a superior return to a business, and allow for margin based on the mere action of distributing, is effectively dead.
Legislating against this phenomenon is as useful as legislating to modify the value of the number pi.
In practice, this means that businesses will have to adapt their business models.
If Content is an important part of the value proposition, it needs a lot more than just the distribution ability in order to become a viable business. Such additional features can be services, analytics, or intelligence, or indeed technological function.
But selling content, by itself, is probably no longer a viable business proposition.
In other words: Hollywood loses, and Silicon Valley wins. But that is not necessarily bad for the economy as a whole.