MTP readers will recall the absurd post from Silicon Valley private equity firm YCombinator entitled “Kill Hollywood” which was a request for startups to…Kill Hollywood (see also New York Times “Investment Firm Y Combinator Goes on Offensive Against Hollywood“).
Yes, bring on the digital chickenfeed. And in a race for gratification between Citizen Kane and digital chickenfeed, we know which one will win out with the Valley Boys. (Citizen Kane is a movie, by the way. That’s what writers call “irony”. They haven’t invented that yet in Farmville.)
We thought at the time that the idea that a venture capital fund would request proposals to fund by startups whose goal was to “Kill Hollywood” was probably the most crystalized form of Geek Hate we’d seen, maybe ever. But what else would you expect from the intellectual loins that gave you Gmail (how Google monetizes emails from children they’d never be able to get through the front door), Facebook (we’ll see if anyone goes to jail on that one), and of course–digital chickenfeed.
All of which the world can live without.
So you may have wondered who in the world comes up with this “Kill Hollywood” idea? Don’t expect the New York Times to tell you. A post on the YCombinator message board may yield an answer:
“Paul Buchheit deserves all the credit for this idea. The YC partners were having lunch yesterday and he suggested posting this RFS. Whereupon we all turned to Jessica, who is usually the one who talks us out of doing crazy things. I was kind of surprised she didn’t try to talk us out of it….Entertainers absolutely embrace innovation, both creative and technological. It’s structures that don’t. Here’s two specific targets: Creative Artists Agency and the Screen Actors Guild. Good luck.”
Right. What we really need to “kill” are the two institutions that have protected artists for 100 years: talent agents and unions. Especially unions. Technology has always done such a good job of protecting artists’ rights.
Now this is an interesting thought coming from those who are such devoted defenders of the First Amendment as Mr. YCombinator. Because you know what else is in the First Amendment?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” It is this assembly clause of the First Amendment (and the Fourteenth Amendment) that protects unions (see, e.g., NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415 (1963), Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Virginia State Bar, 377 U. S. 1 (1964)). And then, of course, there’s Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
So the organizations that the YCombinator folk want to spend their millions to “kill” first are the agents who the artists choose to defend their rights (I’m sure they probably overlooked the lawyers), but most importantly the unions whose leaders are elected (unlike the leaders of say, Creative Commons).
Because what the non-union Valley boys really want is to have the artists alone, defenseless and exploitable. That’s certainly the effect of what Google’s lawyer Daralyn Durie recently argued to Judge Dennis Chin in the Google Books case. Fortunately for artists everywhere, Judge Chin got as close to laughing in her face as a sitting judge properly can. But let’s be clear: the Valley Boys (and Girls) want to bust the unions and any other associations that artists can form to defend themselves against the attack of the machines. (See also “Just So You Know Where You Stand: Google Attacks Authors and Photographers Organizations in Books Case“.)
Now we have seen this movie before–I think Fritz Lang made it. These are people who root for the robots, if you know what I mean. The real irony, of course, is that YCombinator VC Paul Buchheit who dreamed up the venture fund’s “Kill Hollywood” campaign is credited with “suggest[ing] [Google’s] now-famous motto “Don’t be evil” in a 2000 meeting on company values.” Now that is not something I’d be too proud of, personally.
So I guess he must mean, bust the unions, but don’t be evil about it. So maybe YCombinator will fund Pinkertons.com?
The next time these VCs come to union pension funds to peddle their shares, let’s all ask them to explain that “Kill Hollywood” business. Starting with CALPERS.
And just in case you were wondering, here’s a copy of a union-busting handbill from Google’s Net Coalition that was discovered by Variety.