A few years ago I changed the name of this site from Media Piracy in Emerging Economies–named after the report that was its primary content–to The Piracy Years. Part of my intent was to create a better container for the reports and projects that followed. Part of it was to signal my sense that much of this work belonged to an era that, in important respects, was closing.
From the early 2000s to the mid 2010s, piracy dominated conversations about the future of culture and the regulation of the Internet. The big culture industries–recorded music, TV and film, and to a lesser extent publishing and software–treated the open Internet as a threat to their businesses and, myopically and often cynically, to culture in general.
By 2019, nearly all of those industries had successful moved toward online business models. The quantity of production of new work across all the major sectors has boomed. Revenues have recovered and grown. And cheap digital services have displaced a lot of the demand once met only through unauthorized downloading.
As the proposed EU copyright reforms demonstrate, piracy still plays an outsized role in policy debates. But it plays a marginal and declining role in shaping most areas of the cultural economy. And as it declines we can see more easily the underlying issues in the cultural economy that that the piracy debate effectively obscured.
“The Piracy Wars are Over. Let’s Talk about Data Incumbency” is a step toward defining those underlying issues. From Wired:
The dearth of data on how the big intermediaries—record labels, studios, publishers, and now internet platforms like YouTube, Amazon, and Spotify—structure cultural markets is a long-standing problem. These companies tell creators how much they’re getting paid, but they rarely disclose who else is getting a cut, how their peers are paid, and what factors contribute to differences in promotion or placement. They reveal little about the flow of content, attention, and money that make up these ecosystems.
The reason for this secrecy isn’t a mystery. It’s a big advantage to know more about your market than your competitors, users, customers, and—ultimately—regulators. Controlling this information raises barriers to competition and makes it easy for anyone sitting on the information-poor side of a negotiation to get taken advantage of without quite being able to say how.
What would an open-data agenda for the creative economy look like? It could begin with public ownership registries and open metadata standards, which would create a shared framework for identifying and tracing the ownership of copyrighted work. It could include measures to strengthen competition for users among platform services, like the “data portability” requirements built into the European GDPR or the more ambitious idea of reorganizing simple platform functions (like social media or video posting) around open protocols analogous to email. It could include reporting on the display results for content on online platforms, especially as Netflix, Amazon, Google, Apple, and others become vertically integrated businesses that compete with third-party content. The EU is talking about this at the level of principles, if not yet applications. Open-data requirements would also need to work in areas where precedents are thin, including data on flows of attention, activity, and money, as well as the private agreements that shape the treatment of content. They would look at cultural ecosystems rather than just the internet, and so encompass both offline and online intermediaries.