Why Content is no longer King

In Act I: Sumner Redstone doesn’t get it, we see an old geezer who came from a movie-theater background to head up Viacom, a movie conglomerate, boldly declare If Content Is King, Copyright Is Its Castle. He actually believes that – Viacom is currently suing YouTube (owned by Google) for Billions of Dollars. This suit has no base, due to Viacom’s fundamental misunderstanding about what Copyright is, and what it isn’t.

What Copyright is, is a limited exclusive right to commercially exploit one’s work. What is isn’t is a semi-permanent right of ownership and the consequent ability to prohibit use of the work in any shape, form or fashion, which is what Redstone and his ilk seem to believe.

YouTube has become immensely popular because it allows people to express themselves by posting their own videos, including mashups – pastiches of material that may include copyrighted work, along with clips, trailers, parodies etc.

While Viacom are obviously welcome to ask YouTube to remove genuine examples of infringement – where, for instance, enough of a work is posted to threaten the Copyright Holder’s right to make money – I have yet to see an example of this. Indeed, Viacom seem to believe that YouTube has to pay them for the right to “Our Stuff”, while failing to realize that YouTube is actually doing them a favor by providing free word-of-mouth.

In Act II: A lawyer who gets it, we see a communications lawyer with a remarkably mature grasp of the situation. The only thing that I would add is that as a result of decades of lobbying by the content industry, Copyright Periods are now way too long. For example, I recently read a book called “The Richest Man in Babylon”, which was written in 1926… and is still under copyright over eight years later.

This is clearly ridiculous. How long they should be depends on the medium. I would suggest Five years for movies and TV shows and twenty-five years for books.

Finally, in Act III: The future of Copyright, we see that the copyright laws are archaic and largely irrelevant in the digital age. Professor Larry Lessig of Stanford University gives a fascinating talk on “How creativity is being strangled by the law“. The fact that this part contains a clip that I personally find offensive just goes to show that everyone has the right to make an ass* of himself in public, which is one of the freedoms we in America hold most dear.

In conclusion, Mr Redstone, content is not king. It never was.

The Customer is king, and always has been.

You sir, and your cohorts seem to have forgotten that. But then, coming from the theater business it is easy for you to keep yourselves in the dark.

I’m just glad that Shakespeare did not patent the three-act play when he had the chance.

* A word that means “Donkey”. Any other use is prohibited, or at least in very poor taste.

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