Comments On Gilmore's "What's Wrong?" Rant

by Dan Bornstein
2001-Feb-26

I wrote this as part of a thread of discussion among some friends about the referenced John Gilmore rant.

Gordie Freedman wrote:
>I agree with a lot that is said here, yet something still makes me uneasy 
>about this whole thing...
>
>http://www.toad.com/gnu/whatswrong.html

I think Gilmore is spot-on. The uneasiness I feel isn't about him being
wrong in some subtle way but rather about how right he is, about my
personal freedom being eroded in ways I apparently have little control
over. But then I think about it a bit, and I'm just uneasy about how long
it'll take for the situation to correct itself. (Warning: Hyperbole ahead.)

My prediction for how things will shake out is another take on the adage
that the internet views censorship as damage and routes around it, except
that as the internet gets larger, it becomes largely indistinguishable from
society as a whole.

There's already a patent-free music format that's starting to gain
acceptance as a viable MP3 replacement, namely Ogg Vorbis. I wouldn't be
surprised to see musicians starting to publish tracks in Ogg format, and
the bulk of free streaming radio stations switching from MP3 to Ogg, within
a year or two, and and nobody will have to fear the patent enforcement arm
of the Fraunhofer Institut.

I don't doubt that someone will develop a similarly unencumbered and high
quality video format in the reasonably near future, thereby avoiding the
patents on MPEG video, Real video, and the Quicktime codecs (Sorenson et
al). In fact, the Vorbis folks apparently are planning on doing just that.

The reason the patents matter is because the patent holders are willing to
"work with" the big content companies in aggressively squelching
"undesirable" uses of the technology. There's no one for the RIAA and MPAA
to cry to about free protocols and formats.

All the lawsuits and piracy claims aside, I think companies like mp3.com
have found a reasonable model for the next generation of content
distributor (as in the replacement for record labels and major motion
picture studios). Their business is accepting content of all qualities,
with very little discrimination, and helping the teeming masses find stuff
they like, supported by advertising.

I'm less sure about companies like Napster, who don't really provide
anything other than a content location service. It seems like totally
distributed systems such as Gnutella and MojoNation (if that ever turns
real) would blow away what little utility a central directory server had to
begin with. Note that if one of the distributed systems takes hold and
becomes (near-)ubiquitous, then that only strengthens the business of
companies like mp3.com, since they are then freed from the burden of
actually storing and serving content.

So, there are (going to be) free audio and video formats, and companies in
the business of helping people find content and freely redistributing
content, that only leaves content creation. And, guess what, there are
already a veritable cornucopia of high quality "garage bands" on mp3.com,
and I bet most of them haven't bothered registering with ASCAP/BMI (I know
I haven't; plug plug <http://www.milk.com/fuzzboy/>). That completes the
chain on the audio side.

On the video side, we've already seen South Park turn from a one-off
animation that got poorly-encoded and spread across the net into an
advertising-supported series on cable tv. And, sure it was tired after the
first time you saw it, but "All Your Base" is a fun music video. I bet
we're going to see a lot more of these in the not-too-distant future, and
it's only a matter of time before we start seeing complete independent
films and "tv series" like programs come out *first* as net-available
content. And sometimes they'll end up on the big screen, because people are
willing to pay money to see good stuff projected on a 50' screen while
listening to a kick-ass sound system.

Oh yeah, and cable access. There are going to be a *lot* of cable-access
type shows. Some of them will even be amusing. (I think it'll be great when
_Queen Bee TV_ and _Bevornia_ are viewable by the world and not just those
with AT&T cable in San Francisco.)

No doubt some of the popular independent artists will sign with big record
companies or movie distributors, but an increasing fraction won't bother.
So, the "old media" companies, assuming they don't adapt in some way,
rather than dying outright, will just fade in prominence until they just
don't matter anymore. And when they don't matter anymore, there won't be
anyone who will sue to keep you from converting your copy of _Casablanca_
from the ancient encrypted MPEG format to Video Vorbis (or whatever).

-dan


Copyright © 2001 Dan Bornstein, danfuzz@milk.com, all rights reserved.