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Hinting at a copyright regime that cuts out the middle man

The Internet does squeeze out layers. But they're less middlemen than middle managers.
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Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Neelie Kroes (right), now European Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, wants a new copyright regime that cuts out the middle man.

The message of this medium, she says, is that when copyright middlemen and content gatekeepers get too irksome consumers go around them, taking "illegal" content. Art is consumed anywhere and artists can become famous (or infamous) by dealing with their audience directly.

Would that it were.

When this medium was new I really believed that. I was anxious to cut out the middle men that stood between my trade and the market.

But I learned something. Marketing is hard work. Administration is hard work. Strategy is hard work. Management is hard work. Running a set of servers is hard work. I would much rather be writing than doing any of that.

Artists feel the same. Musicians would rather play, writers would rather write, and painters would much rather paint than deal with all the hassles necessary in finding them a market, running that market, even handling the money.

Money isn't why we do this. We do it because we want to be heard.

Yes, the Internet lets us be heard without the middle man, but we also like to eat. In my case, at regular intervals. A warm bed is nice too. And, as I get older, I have increasing affection for my doctor, whose art also must be paid for.

So there is a place for middle men in the digital world. All the managers, editors, technical people, and salesmen at ZDNet have my complete and utter admiration. They work hard at things I would hate doing, and many things I can't do.

The Internet does squeeze out layers. But they're less middlemen than middle managers. My editors won't see this copy until after I hit publish -- errors are all mine to correct. Almost everyone here has some line responsibility -- an Internet publisher has less overhead than a print publisher.

Back when I started in this business, when every line I wrote was killing a tree somewhere, I was taught that a paper's entire editorial budget represented just 7% of the newspaper's cost. I don't know what the figure is here. I'm guessing it's higher only because the total pie is smaller.

So there is some renegotiation to be done, both inside the content industries and with their markets. Just let's not get carried away. Consumers are saving big on Internet content, and production costs are also lower. The pie tastes great but it's only so big.

It would be nice if musicians didn't have to make a devil's bargain and give away their copyrights, and it would be nice if the owners of those copyrights were not constantly squeezing the market, long after the musician's death, for every last dollar.

But don't say we can cut out all middle men. I need those editors and technical people, those managers and salesmen, the business infrastructure that lets me write and keeps me out of debtor's prison. I consider it well worth paying for.

Just so we remember this. The purpose of Internet infrastructure is to help buyers spend the sellers collect. The waste will continue to be squeezed out as markets evolve.

All I ask is that we let that evolution continue.

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