Canard du Jour: Reselling the remix

Of all the canards foisted on the professional creative community by the professional free riders, none has had such a sustained life as the “non-commercial use” dodge.  I would suggest that the longevity of the fallacy is at the very core of Web 2.0 right alongside another reality: there is no free lunch.  If you do not pay for a product, that’s because you are the product.

How are these two frauds connected?  Fortunately, Lessig crystallizes the scam with yet another elaborate rationalization, his speciality.  Lessig tells us about the “hybrid economy” in his book “Remix”.  And what might the “hybrid economy” be?

“Where commercial entities leverage value from sharing economies.”

Think about that:  Where commercial entities leverage value from sharing economies–or more precisely, where commercial entities extract commercial rents (a/k/a “profits”) that are not shared from works that are “shared” without charge by the creator.  In other words, the commercial entity is given a supply of goods to sell and resell at no charge by users who do not quite understand that they are the product.

Nowhere is this rather demonic paradigm more clearly revealed than in Lessig’s disastrous appearance on The Colbert Reportin Lessig’s unquenchable craving for attention, he found himself caught in a trap and tried to laugh his way out of appearing to be yet another exploitation monger from Silicon Valley.  I don’t know if Colbert intentionally set the trap, but either way we got to watch Lessig in a kind of verbal Chinese finger puzzle of Colbert’s making, but composed almost entirely of Lessig’s own hubris (at 1:12):

Colbert: “The hybrid economy is that everybody does the work, and Flickr makes the money!”

Lessig: “Don’t tell anybody!”

This actually is not funny, unless you think it’s funny that you are the product.  Then you should have a belly laugh.

On the one hand The Man 2.0 wants to say that the “sharing economy” is a noncommercial use of any copyrights that happen to find their way into the “sharing economy” (a/k/a Limewire, Isohunt, Creative Commons or YouTube).  On the other hand, The Man 2.0 wants to extract commercial rents from those user created works–or if you prefer the machine-analog vocabulary, user “generated” works.  Those user works may be family photographs or direct rip offs of other people’s stuff, but the principle is the same.  The user gets nothing, an underlying copyright creator gets nothing, and the “commercial entity” gets all the commercial value it can extract.

Lessig cites Flickr as an example of his “hybrid economy.”   So doesn’t this mean that people who give their copyrights away as part of Lessig’s ‘hybrid economy’–through “sharing licenses”– can have their works exploited to profit commercial entities without compensation?  Is that what is really going on here? After all, when Flickr was sold to Yahoo! for millions in 2005 how much of that money was shared with the people who ‘shared’ their content with Flickr?

It’s natural that Lessig would want to focus on Flickr as a distraction from YouTube, the real behemoth in the “hybrid economy”.  Ever try searching for “Casablanca full movie” on YouTube?  Guess what you get?  Casablanca the full movie, sliced into 10 parts.  In fact, try that search as “[your favorite movie title] full movie” and see what you get.  It’s probably up there and it’s probably sliced into 10 convenient little parts for you to do what you want with.  (Which may explain why YouTube is increasing the maximum length of its clips, given that it’s such a hassle to download all those parts.)

So is that a noncommercial use?  Perhaps if you look at the pages where these clips from Casablanca appear on YouTube you won’t find ads being served.  Does that mean that YouTube doesn’t benefit from having people searching and viewing these and thousands of other clips on the site?

If they didn’t benefit, don’t you think they would take down these clips without ads?  A more likely explanation of why these clips are still up there is not any explanation about “hybrid economies” or anything else–it’s that there is an incremental benefit in traffic that accrues solely to YouTube even if particular pages have no advertising.  At least that’s what the emails from the YouTube founders say unambiguously (produced by YouTube in the Viacom litigation).

Another part of the “hybrid economy” dodge is Creative Commons itself.  The way I read the history, Creative Commons [Corporation] wasn’t founded by a bunch of songwriters getting together saying what we really need is a better way to give away our rights.  It was founded by Lessig following the Supreme Court’s rejection of his ideas about limiting copyright for everyone else.

Let’s be clear: Google benefits from extracting commercial rents from noncommercial uses to an extent we cannot really imagine, and Google is one of Lessig’s biggest financial backers from what we can find.  Google gave Creative Commons $1.5 million and persons related to Google gave hundreds of thousands more.  It should be clear that Google does these things because it profits them to do so.

Which is fine–but don’t try to wrap it up in this “hybrid economy” or “noncommercial use” dodge.  They want you to focus on the “noncommercial” or “sharing economy” and they don’t want you to look behind the curtain at the “commercial entity” eating your lunch.  Actually eating several lunches.  If the Megavideo indictment demonstrates nothing else, it demonstrates how the “hybrid economy” actually works.

Because lunch is not free and these “remixes” are for resale.


“Canard du Jour” means “duck of the day”

See also “Creative Commons: Because it sure seems to cost a lot of money to give things away for free