Thanks for the fantastic post, Tom, which reads like the perfect conclusion to this week. Your discussion of It’s a Wonderful Life reminds me of the tremendous amount of programming on the History Channel about WWII, the product of free public domain footage, as another example of how intellectual property law structures not only which texts we develop sentimental bonds with, but also how our collective history is mediated, narrated, and defined.
In my law and media history course, I try to get my students to see that the line between structural and content regulations is often really blurry and that our experience and understanding of the media is inseparable juridical structures of governance. This is easy enough to do in a history course, when you can demonstrate how laws or policies enshrined one use of technology over other competing visions.
The mode of reading you mention, though, seems to me to be something different, an invitation to foreground the law as we explore the affective pleasures we derive from texts. Though you describe this mode as "undefined," I am wondering if you have thoughts about methods one would use in just this form of analysis?
The immodest proposal sounds so ghoulish !
This is to me one of the crucial issues of the new media age, and unfortunately all the existing copyright and intellectual property law in the US is still very much rooted in nineteenth-century notions of "fixed" works in a material form. The Clinton-era so-called "Digital Millenium" copyright act made things much worse, as did the regrettable "Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act." As a result of these, the "work" as such is protected for a ridiculously long stretch of years; works which had fallen into the public domain were magically re-copyrighted, and the window for works to fall into the public domain was frozen at 1923. Worse, common-law copyright (as would be assumed to inhere in any work unless alienated) will be extinguished in a few years. All of this is very good for large media corporations, and very bad for authors, especially if those authors depend on "remixing" previously existing material.
Is there hope? Yes, I think there is. The Creative Commons is a welcome new source of standardized "copyleft" templates, which include the ability to give away (or to restrict) republication rights, commercial or noncommercial use, and even remixing rights. They do not depend on copyright law, but on contract law, which has the advantage of being far more enforceable in the courts. So far as I know, no work registered through their system has had a legal challenge, though, so the actual degree of protection is uncertain.
I used to spend a week on this subject in my graduate Media Studies courses — now I spend two weeks!
And in response to your specific point: is love a form of "ownership" — why yes, it is. And, in the past, one could by owning a copy of a work of art express that love through a sort of surrogate possession. Now, alas, that the "copy" is more likely embedded in some other sort of technological envelope of space, getting that same sense of "ownership" is quite often illegal!
One of the most frustrating aspects of left-leaning political reform is the constant threat of splintered interests and divergent tactics. Your post has brought to light for me how important is a consideration of minority groups and access.
So I went looking…
Indeed, there are minority coalitions actively working against the FCC’s current efforts to preserve net neutrality. As the article notes, the group’s filing incorporates some of the same wording as AT&T’s filing. Net neutrality advocates may not be getting their point across to minority groups, but AT&T sure is.
To what extent might the issue be a better merging of the advocacy of net neutrality with the Broadband Expansion Plan? How often do these conversations occur at the same time? In setting up the ISPs as the "alien," does the fight to preseve net neutrality get caught on the fact that our dependence on industry empowers the same ISPs to bring broadband to the underserved?
Bill and Allison - I agree that Stewart makes media reform activists look foolish here but that is partially my reason for using this clip. It really encapsulates the way that "the left" and their concerns usually get depicted or characterized- as weak, naive and not worthy of being taken seriously. I think that is one of the most dangerous and depressing elements of how this policy issue is circulating. Maybe interested policy scholars could combine energies and ideas to create another visible, substantive public forum to support the work of Free Press and like-minded reformers/activists. Too much accessible policy information is never enough!
Thanks for the thoughtful comments.
Excellent observations Allison, and timely. It’s hugely important that net neutrality has worked as well as it has; seven or eight years ago, I never would have thought it would have gotten this far, to be honest.
But conceptual weaknesses associated with slogans have a way of resurfacing as the years go by, and undermining the political strength of once powerful but over-simplifying constructs, like "the public interest." Does Net Neutrality face that risk? If so, where should we go with it?
Thanks to Erika for that link. 4chan’s ability to regulate off-line behavior definitely adds a new wrinkle to my focus on media policy and highlights the ability of collective action online to supplant traditional police work (I also like the relatively uplifting story of how Metafilter saved two Russian teens from forced prostitution). Here comes everybody, indeed!
Wasn’t it just a few short months ago that Google was not only not evil, but they were freakin’ Santa Claus, promising to bestow a 1-gigabit fiber network on a handful of lucky communities? Somehow the public managed to grasp the economic and political importance of free and open communications then!
(In this regard, please pardon the self-promotion, but to respond to Josh’s question about structures of public engagement, I wrote a post for Antenna on how cities organized and lobbied for Google Fiber, in which I began playing with ideas about popular policymaking that also showed up in my 4chan post.)
To echo Allison, the most dismaying thing about net neutrality is how it has been hijacked by the right to become a cheap "government takeover of the internet" lie. Two years ago, this was a largely bipartisan issue (like station ownership caps before it), but the political climate has obviously shifted, and Obama is showing zero leadership in this area. Sigh.
But my larger point is that, like Google Fiber, people can get it and get it quickly if the issue is connected to their immediate interests: in the arcane realm of media policy, the concept and importance of net neutrality is actually relatively easy to grasp. This is cause for optimism, but it is also why Stewart’s treatment of this issue is so depressing. There are lots of ways to be funny, so was it really necessary to marginalize the good guys on this one?
I have seen this clip a dozen times and used it in class, but I confess I had never considered the class and racial politics of it before, so thank you for opening my eyes to this.
Your insight into the resonances and silences of the "level playing field" discourse is especially good. If I were Free Press, I might retort that "level playing field" is a trope that has been proven to resonate with conservatives, so it’s just good politics (one that can also be deployed to address the problem of connection rates—see the rhetoric of the National Broadband Plan).
But you further connect that trope to our notion of citizenship and the unitary/knowable public, calling into question our imagination of the role and power of "citizens" in media policy. In that move, I see some overlap with my post on Monday: how we imagine citizens is, I think, not just a "problem for" but now a "crisis in" media policy and regulation, especially as citizens gain new/different forms of political power. You highlight a different aspect of that issue (and, no false modesty, articulate it much more elegantly), but I think we’re both grappling with similar questions. Very cool.
This is a really interesting post, and I absolutely love the clip. Your construction of contracts and dealmaking as regulatory mechanisms is terrific….and an excellent complement to Bill’s post in the way that you both are working to expand the framework of what exactly constitutes policy/regulation and argue for a more expansive vision of these realms.
I wonder if everyone writing this week has their own occasional JD fantasies. I know I do.