Jack Valenti recently sent in a rebuttal to Lawrence Lessig’s editorial, “Who’s Holding Back Broadband?. Valenti claims that Hollywood is being made into a scapegoat, while Lessig is making the claim that broadband is being delayed because of the entertaiment industries lack of support for the technology. I took a good look at both editorials, and would like to share a few thoughts on Mr. Valenti’s claims (reader be warned, I’m a strong advocate for widespread broadband deployment and P2P technologies such as Napster)
Mr. Valenti introduces a thought in the first sentence that shows how off the radar the rest of the world is to the entertainment industry with the following statement, “The movie industry is under siege from a small community of professors.” It’s not a small community of professors that is attacking the entertainment industry, it is a large number of people, including professors, web professionals, and businesses. Professors such as Lessig and Edward Felten are our voices, and luckily enough, they’ve spoken loudly enough for you to pay attention.
Valenti also points to a survey that says 68 percent of all home computer users say they’re satisfied with their normal 56k connection. I’m calling shenanigans on this one, and I’d like to see this survey that he’s getting his information from. Nobody likes their 56k connection (56k if they’re lucky, most modems get around 32kbps), that’s one of the reasons for the collapse we saw in 2001; not enough people were interested enough to spend large amounts of time online to buy a dog toy for Sparky. My parents go online once every week to check email. If you gave them another reason to go online, say, to rent a movie online instead of driving 30 minutes to rent a movie, I guarantee they’d want a broadband connection. Chances are they would do more economy boosting things such as online shopping, research their next automobile purchase, etc.
He then starts to play the sad fiddle with the following: “Because making movies is so expensive, only two in 10 films ever retrieve their production and marketing investment from domestic theatrical exhibition. Distributors have to use other venues — delivery systems such as cable, satellite, TV stations, videocassettes, DVDs, international markets.” He of course fails to say how many movies make money after all of these different areas of distribution are added into the domestic release total. Something tells me the percentage of movies that turn a profit is higher than 20%, this is quite a misleading comment.
In Lessig’s editorial, he says the movie industry is holding back the exhibition of movies on the Net because the Net threatens the entertainment industries comfortable way of doing business. Mr. Valenti calls this “palpable nonsense”. He then contradicts himself by saying that the reason films aren’t made available on the net is because “valuable creative works can’t be adequately protected from theft.” What he’s really saying is that the industry hasn’t come up with a way to distribute movies that they feel comfortable with, and right now if we made a movie available online, it would be pirated very easily. He knows that movies are already being sent around the globe very easily, and broadband will only make that much easier. What Hollywood needs to do is create a service that (say it with me) makes it easier to purchase your product than it would be to steal it.
The last big statement he makes is almost laughable. “As for the third charge — that copyrighted movies are destroying digital innovation — what the critics mean by ‘innovation’ is legalizing the breaking of protection codes, without which there is no protection.” Give us some credit Jack, not everybody in the world is trying to innovate some new way to work around your security. If you read Lessig’s editorial, you’d realize that we think of innovation as pushing the envelope of an existing architecture. Lessig uses MP3.com as an example. Lessig also points out that the music industry has sued (and won every case to date) everybody that has stepped up to the plate to challenge their old, comfortable way of doing business, including such innovators as MP3.com. The ability to send much larger packets of data will spur even greater innovation in all fields of study then we saw during the last decade. Until cease and desist letters stop coming out of your offices and you release the killer app (such as television or movie broadcasts online) that is needed for broadband to take off, you are in fact stifling innovation.
Lessig says it better than I ever could hope to: “Copyright laws should of course give artists and creators an adequate return for their creativity; but they should not become a tool for dinosaurs to protect themselves against evolution. Broadband will come when content can roam more freely.” I’ll put this into a movie quote so Jack can understand it…. if you build it, they will come.
Do you think Hollywood is the key cog in holding back broadband technology?