Terry Hart at Copyhype criticizes the “buggy whip” analogy often used by copyright critics to disparage the content industry. Hart makes some fair points, but I found that he largely misinterpreted the analogy and thereby ignores its central point. Though it would be best to read his post in full to get the entire context, here are some pertinent quotes:
“The buggy-whip analogy […] describes a business that refuses to adapt in the face of technological innovation. When automobiles replaced horse-drawn carriages, buggy-whip manufacturers either had to change their business models or risk obsolescence.
How are content industries like buggy-whip manufacturers? It’s not like they are making something no one wants. People haven’t switched entirely to new forms of entertainment; people haven’t to a large extent embraced alternatives to the content created by traditional industries. […] To put it another way, if media industries are making buggy-whips, and buggy-whips are obsolete, why are people pirating buggy-whips?”
I responded in a comment, but wanted to reproduce it here for my archival purposes as well as to invite your own thoughts.
Here it is:
I think you are conflating the content with the container, and so your attempt to extend the analogy in this way is itself inaccurate. To speak through the analogy: People are not pirating buggy-whips, they’re pirating transportation, which the buggy-whip makers dominated until the automobile introduced a new and better means of transportation. This seems the more correct analogy: the buggy-whip makers are trying to make people buy buggy-whips to start up their new automobiles, instead of changing their business into making automobiles or automobile components.
In other words, the “buggy-whip” is the excludability that is inherent to the physical versions of content in film, discs, and paper. The content industries are trying to maintain or artificially create excludability via DRM, DVD release windows, and other means. That seems more like efforts at protection rather than innovation.
People aren’t demanding new forms of content; as you say, they are chomping at the bit for the content that artists are producing. But they are certainly demanding that the means of buying and accessing that content evolve with the times. Consumers are not in arms against content creators; they are in arms against the content packagers and content peddlers.
I agree that many new distribution and monetization models are unproven, and it would indeed be foolish for the content industry to throw all their eggs in any single new basket. But the trend seems pretty clear that monetizing excludability won’t last in the digital age, and so filing suits against those who are moving ahead in that trend will result only in pyrrhic victories at best.
I agree that piracy is not innovation. But neither is trying to futilely import physical excludability into the digital landscape while suing your customers along the way. No, piracy is not innovation; piracy is a signal that content industries are not meeting the needs of their consumers. It seems to me entirely acceptable for the content industries to be cautious in transitioning to this new and developing new business environment, but it seems to me entirely unacceptable for them to try to cling to and artificially sustain an environment that is quickly fading into history.
I’ll admit that my response is reactionary and perhaps underdeveloped, but hopefully it raises some fair points for debate. Your thoughts?
Image used under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license courtesy of Flickr user AldoZL.