Renegotiating power in the digital economy

More details have emerged of the digital rights agency proposed in Lord Carter’s Digital Britain Report. The central plank of the new policy is the creation of a digital rights agency to handle all digital content rights issues, in film, music, etc.

Lord Carter admits the proposal is a straw man, and if it is ‘torched’ by the industry, he has indicated that the government will introduce its own legislation or abandon the industry to its own fate.

I suppose it is conceivable that the new channel owners, the old channel owners and the producers will come to some sort of agreement as suggested by Lord Carter,  however, any such agreement will almost certainly retain much of the existing rights structure and impose more control on internet usage and access. Which is all very well, however, if this doesn’t align to some degree with the expectations of the consumers, then it won’t work, because it’s not just the balance of power between the producers and the distributors that’s changed, the relationship between producers and consumers has also fundamentally altered.

In the past producers and distributors were closely aligned, broadcast channels were tightly controlled and extremely powerful. And even though they moved away from producing all of their own content in the last 20 years or so, they dominated the industry. Now consumers produce as well as consume media, they want to participate, they value interaction with peers over the opinions of journalists, they are media outlets in their own right. (For more about the renegotiation of power between producer and consumer see George Rude’s work on crowds and civil dissent in the 19th century).

So what does this all mean for the proposed new digital rights agency? Well, it would seem that Lord Carter, displaying a fair degree of political acumen,  has firmly knocked the ball back into the industry’s court. However, given the ongoing spat between Google/YouTube and the PRS for example, it’s difficult to see them coming to any consensus. Which means that, according to Lord Carter, the government will either legislate or abandon the industry to its own fate. Personally speaking, I can’t see that this or any future government having the political will to legislate coherently on this subject without risking the wrath of voters used to an open and free internet service.

So, if you accept my reasoning then it looks like industry will be abandoned to its own probably unhappy fate.

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