April 8, 2003 · Lessig
I was one of the “fretters” (as Declan called us) at CFP in New York last week. By “fretters,” Declan means people who “lose perspective” on issues like media concentration, and threats to privacy. “Perspective,” in turn, means recognizing the “tremendous difference” between actions taken by the government and those taken by private corporations. Who exactly doesn’t understand that difference isn’t clear from the article; nor is it clear for how long this “tremendous” difference will remain “tremendous,” as increasingly corporate databases are essentially the government’s (TIA). But no matter: whatever the threat CFP-ers were worried about, there’s apparently *still* nothing to worry about (as of course, Declan’s had this same line in his copy-buffer since I first met him at CFP97). The free choices of the market will allow everyone to choose any problem away (when we will get around to that happy set of choices, though, is not yet clear.)
Declan did criticize me for invoking “1970s rhetoric” when talking about media concentration. I’m still not quite clear what exactly that means. I was criticizing media concentration, which on any measure, is massively greater today than in any period in our history. In 1992, 70% of prime time television was produced by independent producers; today, 75% is owned by networks. There are 91 “major” TV markets; 80% of them are owned by 6 companies. In 1947, 80% of newspapers were independent; that number is below 20% today. In the 1970s, 10% of first run films in theaters was foreign; that number today is less than .5%.
Add to this concentration (1) the expansion in copyright terms, (2) the expansion in copyright’s scope, (3) the expansion in copyright’s reach [ie, to anyone with a computer], and (4) the explosion of technologies protected by DMCA-like laws, and you clearly get, imho, something to be concerned about. It *might* be that all this doesn’t matter, and no doubt, we should keep this in perspective, Declan. But from what perspective is this a happy story?
Anti-fretters are apparently convinced that everything’s just great because now we’ve got “satellite TV, satellite radio, DVDs, CDs, video-on-demand, hundreds of cable channels, movie rentals and … the Internet.” But of course, no one is saying there are fewer *outlets* for media; the claim is that there are fewer “independent” outlets for media. Six companies, which if the media cap rules are relaxed, could well be three.
Should we be worried about this? As I said to Nick Gillespie (whom I had not met before and who is brilliant), my bias has always been not to be worried. I’m a fan of Judge Posner. He’s done lots to slay “big media” myths. And in this contexts, as well as many, big is not necessarily bad.
But the more I hear from people who know something about what the process of creativity is actually like, the more I am concerned. Gillespie says the artists have always been whiners. Maybe. But the “innovator’s dilemma” applies to culture as much as to commerce. Yet we have more reason to be worried about its application to culture than to commerce.
Maybe there’s nothing to be worried about. Maybe the market will make it all turn out just fine. Maybe this really is the best of all possible worlds. Or maybe this is the one issue which my sparring partner has gotten right. As he testified when arguing against relaxing rules requiring independence in programming, he predicted “[t]hey would assert their fiscal authority in such a way that literally three people would have complete authority over what is seen in homes � a monopoly in television never before comprehended or tolerated in this country. … No one industry, no single entity, no group of enterprises ought to be allowed, by special grants of congressional privilege, to dominate the marketplace �. The losers in that ungainly arrangement are consumers��always, every time.”
Who is this defender of diversity and opponent of concentration? The amazing Mr. Jack Valenti.