Category Archives: regulation

Google vs News

It seems like a good 20% of the news produced on the internet in the last few months is about news on the internet. Declined as newspapers are doomed, journalists are doomed, journalism is doomed, we are doomed.  And if you’re looking for the killer, you should probably head to Montainview.

Perhaps that explains why like Google has recently joined the club or the more-or-less enthusiastic supporters of micro-payments, using the Google Checkout platform.

However media companies shouldn’t be celebrating, as I think this will turn out to be little more than a PR initiative from a company that’s being accused of being a parasite.

The reasons why micropayments are very unlikely to work still stand:

– In the math of consumers, unlike the math of business models, the difference between zero cents and 1 cent is not one cent. It’s the difference between the feeling of grabbing something for free and the feeling of paying with your limited resources, plus the hassle of registering into and going through a payment verification system. (Dan Ariely has done lots of interesting research on behavioural psychology, check him out)

News can be easily replicated and divulged. Apart from any ideological considerations now why news should be free, it’s simply impossible to keep them from spreading. The same applies to editorials and any other from of digital text.

The analogy with iTunes is wrong: music is something that you own and use over time, whereas for everyone but researchers news are disposable.

The analogy with iTunes is misleading: from every song purchased on iTunes, an estimated 99 are still downloaded via p2p piracy. That’s not what I would call a successful business model for an industry.

Pricing policies would be a nightmare: is an all-you-can-eat model feasible for a search-driven, snack-size consumption? Can you fragment a newspaper down to its elementar financial value? (Clay Shirky suggested you can’t back in 2000, it’s funny to see how the debate hasn’t moved further.)

– They provide a massive advantage for free-riders: the one news organization that will publish news for free will receive almost all the traffic, and the related ad-driven revenues.

It’s no coincidence that 2009 was supposed to be the year when media starts demanding its money back, and so far everyone’s waiting for someone else to take the first step, and the risk of being considered a fool.

Final Burp: So, why is Google going down this route? PR. Why are media owners doing it? Self-delusion.

“Dear Sir/Madam, do you mind if I turn your world upside down?” (A few thoughts on intellectual property, liability and the internet)

Those above are the words that I believe media owners, the music industry and politicians all over the world were expecting from the internet a few years ago.

The Italian Parliament is currently attempting to regulate intellectual property and personal liability online. You can read about it here, and in the unlikely case you speak italian here and here.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works

 

The suggested law requires nearly every activity — specifically uploads — on the web not to be anonymous (how would they obtain it?) and would hold every provider, social network, website responsible for violations of that rule or any other in the pages they host.

The second matter is even more dangerous, since it’s a bylaw in a broader bill. It gives any judge the power to ask providers to close or block webpages that applaud or approve crimes or contain hate speech.

The bill requires providers or social networks to block such pages, or stand accused of the same crimes. Obviously, no rule explains or defines such crimes, so such a law can allow for any interpretation. 

This law is not the result of an evil plot. It’s just ignorance and shallowness at their worse.

It’s what you get when a political class unable to address the challenges they were elected to address, because the world has just grown too big and complicated, turns to regulate whatever they can think of, in order to legitimate their existence: that’s how you get to politicians regulating what science can and cannot research, what media can and cannot talk about, what comedians can and cannot make fun of…  This happens all over the world, but when you add in the incompetence, egotism and narrow-mindedness of italian politics it pushes new boundaries.

Quite predictably, this law has been generating an enraged debate over the blogosphere.

Quite less predictably if you’re from anywhere else in the western world, there no trace of such debate in traditional media: they’re too busy reporting the latest joke of Prime Minister Berlusconi, or the latest episode of urban violence that raises public concern and media audience, to talk about something they don’t quite understand in the first place.

When I first heard about this I was outraged and frustrated for the latest un-needed proof of incompetence from our elected officials: one that, for instance, would allow a judge to shut down the website of a newspaper backing a certain party, because someone on an opposing party felt insulted by a comment. (Knowing our politicians, such an insult would be likely to be well deserved)

But then I thought: no big deal. 

Digital has always found a way around regulations: when Napster was shut down, Kazaa, eMule and eventually BitTorrent replaced it, and even did a better job.

All it could happen in this case is that some random judge could forcefully shut down a website, and users would find a way get that same website back online, until the stupidity of such an approach will be fully exposed.

Eventually, this could be the best way to show wannabe regulators how pointless this kind of superficial attempts are.

You can’t leglislate against a revolution. (Believe me, lots of smarter people have tried it throughout human history. Noone succeded).

Revolutions don’t ask for permission from parliaments and business leaders, they just happen. And change everything along the way.

 

Final Burp: Tomorrow doesn’t need to be easy, or simple, or reassuring to happen. It will just happen. Tomorrow.