A Nod To Master Lessig

As usual, Larry Lessig hits the nail squarely on the head with his editorial about Robert Greenwald’s copyright problems. I’ll just expound briefly on a side-point that Lessig makes: the link to media concentration (what a surprise!)

As Lessig observes in passing, the fanatical control over copyright links back to media concentration in the ability of Presidents to shut out critics. How?

First, we have fewer gatekeepers. That means, no matter what venue you operate in, you have only four or five people you will ever, ultimately, have to deal with. Minimizes the chance some loose cannon will get a hold of something and run it.

Second, even if these people don’t like you, they all need favors from the government. While it’s always exciting to talk about the die hard conservatives like Murdoch and Mays and how they actively use their media to promote a conservative agenda, being liberal doesn’t help either. Sumner Redstone is as liberal as they come, and a big backer of Kerry. But when the Republicans wanted the _Regans_ pulled from broadcast TV, Sumner pulled it. (You can refresh your memory by reading my Sausage Factory piece here.)

A lot of people say they care about the “information commons,” and by that they mean almost exclusively copyright. But as Yale Prof and info Commiee Yochai Benkler has pointed out, the commons really has three layers. There’s the content layer, for actual content. There’s the logical layer, for protocols and software and other things that facilitate content transport and display. Finally, there’s the physical layer- the networks over which content moves.

I’ve met fair number of folks who care passionately about the content and logical layers, but who get all libertarian about the physical layer and think that any regulations to prohibit monopolization of physical layer facilities is just awful Nanny Government regulation. But without a physical means of transport, access to a rich public domain means little. If you care about the copyright issues and about open standards, but think anyone should be allowed to own as many television stations and radio stations as they want, meditate on Mr. Greenwald’s travails and think again.

Stay tuned . . .

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