With so many Internet-based companies headquartered in Santa Monica and so many content creators making their home in our city, I don’t think I’m off task if we take a moment to consider the recent dust-up over content and the efforts to stop pirating by means of more Internet regulation. By way of this column, I happen to be one of those people who regularly has their content utilized by others without compensation. True, SOPA and PIPA are meant to be tools for corporations to stop the illegal distribution of their entertainment products so my situation arguably does not compare to websites that illegally provide Hollywood movies. But since I consider everything I write for The Mirror to be at least as entertaining as a bootleg download of “Weekend at Bernie’s” let’s start with me.
In writing for The Mirror, I am paid once for creating this column each week. It’s definitely not an amount that compares to the numbers being bandied about in the debate over the SOPA and PIPA measures, with phrases like “untold billions” peppering the arguments. It’s not even an amount that compares to a job I once had selling clock radios. But still, I am compensated and it starts and ends with one payment.
Once my column is online as it is every single week, it can be viewed for free on The Mirror’s website. So far, so fair. The Mirror sells advertising on the site viewed by you, the users, at a price that has some relationship to the numbers of hits the site gets. If I were to write something especially explosive or “viral” one week, maybe that would drive-up the number of visits to the site and for a little while advertisers might be getting a real bargain. Maybe I’d ask for a raise, but then… I’d have to continue to be explosive.
It should also be noted here that smmirror.com is hardly a “content farm” like the previous incarnation of the Huffington Post, where the value of compelling low-paid or free content drove the price of the sale of the site through the roof and the writers never shared in the bounty. I mean, not yet it isn’t.
But when people provide links to their friends in e-mails and when others post my column on their sites because they believe something I’ve said is relevant to their own stated goals, then my work is further distributed and replicated without additional compensation. I guess I feel flattered when other sites post my column, but I’d certainly feel more flattered if there were some way to get even a few cents for that unfettered borrowing. Or at least a t-shirt.
I consider my one-time fee situation something akin to setting a pie to cool in a window. If I was seriously concerned about someone just helping themselves to that pie, I would seek some means of getting compensation for further distribution and I would likely close the window. Did the Internet grow by means of pie/content set in its window, and now do for-profit entities that benefited from that growth want to make sure that everybody that takes a slice pays?
Corporate entertainment entities are delighted when the open window of the Internet helps them with such things as movie previews that become viral, music videos that drive sales, comedy videos that effectively become commercials for the movie and TV products of the talent involved, and the flow of positive copy from casual blogging and Internet babble about things like the next big summer blockbuster.They adore the free promotion that is the direct result of that open window. If change now thwarts that kind of activity, especially with what some are calling the giving of “Orwellian power over the Internet” to government, won’t these corporations be sad to lose the opportunity for everybody to at least swing past the window and smell their pies by means of the Internet as it is now?
All of this is of course much more serious than my cartoonish metaphor. Last week Twitter asserted that it had the power to block tweets in a specific country if the government of that country legally required it to do so. This quite naturally triggered outrage around the world, especially in Arab countries. That’s a darker bit of news than learning that PIPA or SOPA have become law and Google will no longer be able to show us bits and pieces of “The Daily Show,” although that kind of communication also foments political thought.
When Internet forces such as Google and Wikipedia flexed their muscles with various forms of protest in reaction to SOPA and PIPA, concern grew that the scrapes over the legislation would push Silicon Valley and Hollywood further apart. But I’m also concerned about the middle class in this one. We all enjoy the sharing we’re doing right now, yet none of us ever intended to be treated like thieves. I have no idea if American life changes dramatically if I can’t watch a piece of an old “Andy Griffith Show” a friend wants to post on Facebook. I do know that the people that own Andy’s old shows aren’t hurting for profits, and that has everything to do with several generations feeling that they share those shows at some level. Aunt Bea would generously offer any of us at least a slice of that pie cooling in the window. But you, behemoth entertainment conglomerate, are no Aunt Bea.