For those of you who missed it, Michael Lynton is the venerable Charmain and CEO of MPAA member studio Sony Pictures entertainment who said, in words that are destined to be etched on the monument to the Days That Were, that “I’m a guy who sees nothing good having come from the Internet. Period.” He’s recently written an article for Huffington Post entitled Guardrails for the Internet that attemtps to clarify his position. I’m willing to put aside the monumental and willful ignorance of his previous statement to give his article a fair reading, accepting that what he said was simply for the purpose of making “a larger point.”
Unfortunately, he quickly makes clear that he, along with the rest of the Big Content dinosaurs, continues to chafe at the results of his industry’s own inability to adapt to a changing world. While he and others are perfectly happy to use the web to “market and sell our movies and television shows,” the web’s in-kind use of P2P (people-to-people) power to share that content leaves him furious. So much so that he is willing to make irrational decisions in an attempt to return himself to a place of dominance. He says that in South Korea,
“…piracy has also become so highly developed there that we and virtually every other studio has recently had to curtail or close down our home entertainment businesses. It’s hard to sell a legal DVD when it can be stolen without any repercussions.”Michael Lynton
What Mr. Lynton and the rest of his outdated industry contemporaries fail to grasp is that they have now eliminated any hope of receiving legitimate sales from their South Korean customers while doing nothing to combat piracy. Does anybody honestly believe that because Sony Pictures refuses to sell DVDs in a country, its citizens will simply do without Sony Pictures content? They’ve gone from having a small legitimate market in a country to having no legitimate market, creating an environment where pirates are now a primary source of entertainment content.
In an earlier paragraph, Mr. Lynton says that he’s “not talking about censorship,” yet further along in his piece he talks about replicating the success of highway regulation on the internet. Yet we’ve seen the kinds of attempts to achieve this that his company and its surrogate, the MPAA, have tried to implement. What Mr. Lynton wants is for taxpayer-funded government institutions, private internet service providers, essentially the whole world to take on the role of “Corporate Copyright Cops,” constantly monitoring the interpersonal communications of We The People to ensure that content remains firmly under their control. They have made it very clear that they want to make sure that popular songs don’t appear in your YouTube video and that you pay to see a new movie in the theater, then pay a second time to get it on DVD. If you chose to defy those rules, they want to see you disconnected from the internet, forced to pay millions of dollars in fines, or spending years of your life in jail. Sounds an awful lot like censorship to me.
Finally, Mr. Lyton grasps at a tired old straw with the pleading question,
“How many people will be as motivated to write a book or a song, or make a movie if they know it is going to be immediately stolen from them and offered to the world with no compensation whatsoever?”Michael Lynton
The answer is that content creation isn’t a fast track to wealth any more. If you are being creative because you expect to be “compensated,” prepare to be disappointed. The people who are going to succeed in this brave new digital world are the people who want as many people as possible to enjoy what they create. Imagine that, creativity for its own sake! The truth is that creative work has existed long before corporations like Sony Pictures set themselves up as middlemen, and it will continue to exist long after they have collapsed.
It’s these middlemen who stand to lose from the global shift the internet set in motion years ago. They make their billions not by encouraging the best artists they can find to share their talents with the world, but by mass producing exactly what they have decided audiences want to see and strictly controlling its distribution. The news for people like Mr. Lynton is that the lid’s been blown off the whole operation for years. Anybody, anywhere with a computer and an internet connection has access to pretty much anything that can be digitized. There’s no money in that kind of access.
Instead, what people will continue to pay for is a unique and quality experience. They’ll go to a theater with their friends to see an excellent movie, perhaps even paying extra for the IMAX experience. They’ll go to a concert and spend hundreds of dollars buying consumables and merchandice. But they’ll do these things because they already know it’s worth spending money for. No more singers who give terrible concerts raking in the bucks on album sales. No more awful sequels with direct-to-DVD release.
What the internet has done is given We The People the unrestricted power to connect directly to each other and to share what we love. Everybody who understands this stands to win big, either by sampling the creative works of people around the world or by building popularity through direct communication with fans. It’s the people like Michael Lynton who are still waiting for somebody to install “guardrails” who, unless they change, have already lost.