How to fix the broken internet economy: START HERE
Tech and copyright – it's time to work together
What can we do? What can you do?
As I said earlier, there's plenty of blame to go round. How can we realign the players in an internet economy that has gone so badly off the rails?
Well, maybe you can help here. The answer looks both simple and complicated. The simple thing is to get both sides focussed on making money, rather than lobbying. The mutual interests have to be pointing in the same direction. This is easier said than done. The complicated thing in this era of fiscal austerity and negative growth is getting people spending money to kickstart the process.
On the prickly subject of piracy, legislators would rather the two sides sat down and made the problem go away through mutual cooperation.
Lawmakers attempting to draft decent, workable rights enforcement provisions can reliably count on the "Just Say No" camp of copyright activists to say "No to Anything" - like we saw with the defeated Stop Online Piracy Act.
This is actually a pity, because there are reasonable and just enforcement measures, worse ones, and really bad ones. But to a dogmatic copyright activist, all are equally bad. To a legislator who simply wants to do the right thing, this is no help at all.
My modest offering is this. If we want to look where value can be created (a euphemism for "punters happily parting with their money") we should look at what is inconvenient and impossible to do on the internet today.
This can be fixed by introducing some flexible value recognition system that can be bundled with other goods. For example, ISPs could bundle tokens you can spend on the music and movie services of your choice. You could top up anywhere at any time. It ought to be universally redeemable.
Another inconvenience is playing music. There's really no open, interoperable standard for taking songs on a mobile phone and playing them wirelessly on any speaker – whether it's in a rented car, an office or a friend's house. You have to faff around with Wi-Fi passwords and then you can bet those speakers won't be connected to tech compatible with your handset. Another market misalignment, another opportunity for technology-copyright partnership.
And there's categories of music goods that haven't been invented yet: books that play music, for example.
(In Carrier's report, an interviewed "entrepreneur" claims that "it's actually impossible to run a fully legal music service". This is utter tripe. The UK has more than 70 - including Spotify. The problem is not that it's impossible, but that the services don't reflect their value. Spotify is both too expensive and too cheap at the same time.)
I suspect money is the key, though. Facebook already has Facebook Credits - which you can only use inside the Facebook plantation. It's up to the creative industries to create and jointly own something better - a flexible payment system and platform - to unlock some of that value. They can hardly complain when somebody else builds one, people use it, and they're gouged for 30 per cent (hello, Apple and Amazon).
For its part, Google has much to offer too – it can build these platforms. The problem is that Google's DNA and historical baggage make this extremely difficult today. Google has rowed itself out to sea and on to Freetard Island.
Google can't unlock its own value without copyright – but its mindset, its Weltanschauung now holds it back. Shareholders are traditionally the key here to nudging a company towards greater growth. Google's current corporate governance structure makes it difficult to change - it's one of the least transparent, least accountable companies on the planet. But anyone looking at the Nexus Q ball will surely conclude, independently, that Google needs a new CEO.
At times the lack of courage of both sides in the content and technology industries makes you wish a plague on them all. But that ultimately leaves future generations much poorer, and is a victory for cynicism. We need to push them to get back to what they're good at - based on the ground rules we know work.
And by the way, about that Unicorn?
It doesn't exist. ®