Bad Copyright Laws Scaring Off Necessary Investment In New Digital Platforms

For many years, we’ve noted that while some in the legacy entertainment industry seem to think that there’s a “battle” between “Hollywood” and “Silicon Valley” it’s a very weird sort of war in which one of those parties — Silicon Valley — keeps supplying more and more “weapons” to the other party to help it adapt and succeed in a changing world. There are many examples of this, but the clearest is with the VCR, which the MPAA fought hard to outlaw in the 1970s and 1980s. The MPAA’s Jack Valenti famously said in 1982 that “the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” It was just four years later that home video revenue surpassed box office revenue for Hollywood. It wasn’t the Boston strangler, it was the savior. Similar stories can be told elsewhere. The legacy entertainment industry has sued over MP3 players and YouTube, yet has now (finally) embraced online music and video years later than it should have.

And yet, that same legacy industry keeps trying to do everything to hamstring innovation that will only help it. A few years ago, we wrote about a fantastic post (sadly now gone from the internet) by Tyler Crowley, talking about the entrepreneur’s view of innovation options and how many areas are welcoming for innovation — which he described using the analogy of islands:

For tech folks, from the 35,000′ view, there are islands of opportunity. There’s Apple Island, Facebook Island, Microsoft Island, among many others and yes there’s Music Biz Island. Now, we as tech folks have many friends who have sailed to Apple Island and we know that it’s $99/year to doc your boat and if you build anything Apple Island will tax you at 30%. Many of our friends are partying their asses off on Apple Island while making millions (and in some recent cases billions) and that sure sounds like a nice place to build a business.

But what about Music Biz Island? Not so much:

Now, we also know of Music Biz Island which is where the natives start firing cannons as you approach, and if not stuck at sea, one must negotiate with the chiefs for 9 months before given permission to dock. Those who do go ashore are slowly eaten alive by the native cannibals. As a result, all the tugboats and lighthouses (investors, advisors) warn to stay far away from Music Biz Island, as nobody has ever gotten off alive. If that wasn’t bad enough, while Apple and Facebook Island are built with sea walls to protect from the rising oceans, Music Biz Island is already 5 ft under and the educated locals are fleeing for Topspin Island.

As we pointed out, this leads to the legacy entertainment companies poisoning the well that contains the innovation water it desperately needs.

There’s a parallel to this in terms of copyright laws. As the legacy entertainment industry keeps pushing for more draconian copyright laws, it only serves to scare more investors away. When we get good results, like the ruling in the Cablevision case saying that cloud-based services were legal, it resulted in a huge growth in investment in cloud services — in contrast to much less spending in Europe, where the laws were a lot more ambiguous.

A new study from Fifth Era and Engine takes this finding even further, highlighting how bad or vague copyright laws are seriously scaring off investment in necessary platforms and innovation. A big part of this appears to be worries about absolutely insane statutory damages awards. The study surveyed tons of investors around the globe and they found an obvious concern about investing in areas where lawsuits could so easily destroy platforms:

In all eight countries surveyed, early stage investors view the risk of uncertain and potentially large damages as of significant concern as they look to invest in [Digital Content Intermediaries]. 85% agree or strongly agree that this is a major factor in making them uncomfortable about investing in [Digital Content Intermediaries].

And they’re very specific about how the direct concern involves music and videos and the threat of a lawsuit that could simply put those companies out of business:

88% of worldwide investors surveyed said they are uncomfortable investing in [Digital Content Intermediaries] that offer user generated music and video given an ambiguous regulatory framework.

This is really unfortunate on a number of different levels:

  1. First, it limits the necessary innovation in services and business models that are likely to create the success stories of tomorrow. We need more experiments and platforms that allow places for artists and creators to create, promote, connect with fans and make money for their efforts. Yet if the legacy industry is scaring away all the investors, that’s not going to happen.
  2. Second, it locks in the few dominant players of today. Want to build the next YouTube? Good luck. You’ll need lots of money to do so, but you’re less likely to get it at this stage. The legacy players keep hating the big successful platforms, but don’t realize that their own moves lock those players in the dominant positions.
  3. Third, without competition in these spaces and platforms, content creators are less likely to get the best deals. When the legacy industry basically allows one player to become dominant, then it can set terms that are more in its favor. This is what so many from the legacy content industry are complaining about today — without recognizing that their own actions regarding copyright law have helped create that situation.

Of course, many in those legacy industries actually see this sort of thing as a feature not a bug of pushing for greater copyright protectionism. They think — ridiculously — that by hamstringing innovation and investment they get to hold onto their perch longer. This is just wrong. It’s trying to hold back the tide, while driving fans to alternative and often unauthorized platforms instead. Rather than supporting the innovation they need, pushing for bad copyright laws only helps to alienate the innovators the industry needs the most and the biggest fans whose support the content industry needs to thrive.

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