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Harvey Weinstein speaks during a panel discussion after a screeing of the documentary "Bully" at MPAA in Washington, DC. The producer has become an outspoken critic of the "Open Internet," calling it "stealing."
In the ongoing battle between Hollywood and Silicon Valley over the future of entertainment, two major events - one tragic, the other, comical - have defined the last few weeks.
The tragedy was the apparent suicide of "Open Internet" activist Aaron Swartz. It provoked an outpouring of support for Swartz's at-times radical vision and returned the debate about whether online content should roam free of copyrigh to the national agenda.
The comedy was Kim Dotcom, whose Megaupload site was shut down by the U.S. government last year on the grounds that it was enabling Internet content piracy. Dotcom (not his real name) rolled out a new site last weekend, from the relative safety of New Zealand. He isn't even messing around with the "upload" part any more; the new site is simply called "Mega."
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Former U.S. Sen. and new Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America Chris Dodd. When online piracy legislation came up for a vote in Congress in 2012, he found himself up against open the late open Internet activist Aaron Swartz.
Aaron Swartz — a prodigy, an outspoken political and technology activist, co-founder of Reddit, co-creator of RSS, and a central figure in the open Internet movement — was found dead in Brooklyn last weekend, of an apparent suicide. He was 26 and nearing a court appearance for hacking into an MIT database of academic papers to symbolically liberate the information.
There's already an outpouring of grief among Swartz's former partner, the technorati, and the high-tech venture capital world. There has also been considerable speculation that Swartz, who suffered from depression, was driven to kill himself by a government that didn't at all like his accrued power or point of view. At least one blogger has also suggested a more nefarious explanation for Swartz's demise.
Swartz was something of a techno-anarchist, taking his activism to an place that even garden variety Silicon Valley libertarians have been hesitant to go. In his mind, information was born free, but is everywhere in chains. In this, he lived slightly outside the Big Tech-Big Content debate that I've written about as an ongoing battle between Hollywood and Silicon Valley.
The Google logo is seen at the Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. The company has announced a change to its search rankings, intended to protect copyright.
Last week, Google announced that it's making a change — or more accurately perhaps, a modification — to its search algorithm. This is the explanation, from Google's search blog:
Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results....
Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law. So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won’t be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner.
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Former U.S. Sen. and new Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America Chris Dodd speaks at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace during CinemaCon, the official convention of the National Association of Theatre Owners, March 29, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
You could say that it's the great business question of our era. Certainly it is in California. Why can't Silicon Valley, seat of the tech industry, and Hollywood, capital of the entertainment business, join forces and create a juggernaut of technotainment that will establish the Golden State as the most important place on Earth for innovation and global media?
In theory, it should be a no-brainer. But in practice it's a case of colliding business models. Big Content has built up its ownership of media over the course of a century. It's not going to share the goodies without claiming its cut.
Big Tech, on the other hand, wants all that content to be free, free, free. Chris Anderson pretty well laid it all out, in detail horrifying to Hollywood, in 2009, in his aptly titled book "Free: The Future of a Radical Price." Why? Because the ability to fragment and share content is a critical piece of Silicon Valley's overall business model. Users need to be able to do this by the millions if not billions, so that various Web companies and appmakers can sell ads against the — wait for it — free labor of those users.