Last week, the Copyright Alliance hosted a book discussion to examine both the positive and negative aspects of the Internet’s immense growth. Having recently released his new book The Internet is Not the Answer, author and entrepreneur Andrew Keen sat down with Copyright Alliance CEO Sandra Aistars and accomplished songwriter and musician David Lowery, of the bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, to discuss Keen’s new book, and what he believes needs to happen to ensure that the digital revolution benefits everyone.
No strangers to technology, both Keen and Lowery are pioneers in the “networking culture” as Keen calls it. Keen’s involvement traces back to his early work as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, when he founded Audiocafe.com, securing investments from Intel and SAP, before working for various technology companies. Lowery too was an early proponent of the Internet. With a degree in mathematics, Lowery has always been interested in computers and technology, and was using the Web as a tool to promote his bands in the early 1990s, long before the practice became mainstream.
Keen’s and Lowery’s familiarity with the Internet has however led them to conclude that the Web 2.0 has not always lived up to the ideals of the technologists who first developed the Internet. As Keen pointed out, the Internet has steadily shifted from a government-funded creation run by public-spirited founders to an increasingly commercialized entity. Keen makes clear that commercialization can in fact be a good thing; however, as a result of a wholly unregulated market, a new type of business model has come to run Web 2.0, in which a small number of companies are dominating increasingly large parts of the industry. Citing a few examples, Keen aptly explained how a new economy of concentrated wealth has formed; one where businesses are often driven to amass large volumes of data about their users which they then monetize in various ways, in essence creating an ecosystem in which users of various services are producing value for these companies while not sharing in their bottom line. Similarly, many companies are eliminating businesses that employed many skilled workers and replacing them with models in which value is concentrated instead in the hands of the few.
Keen suggested how we can begin to work towards solutions that will ensure the health and well-being of society in the Internet age. He discussed primarily three types of necessary actions: government regulation, corporate responsibility, and self-regulation by consumers. Comparing this digital revolution to the industrial revolution, another historic shifting point in our history, Keen described how the industrial revolution brought with it both incredible advances in technology as well as challenges; and as a response to those challenges, we passed some of our most important and beneficial antitrust and labor legislation. He believes we must take a broad view of history and understand that government has a place now, just as it has had in the past. Addressing corporate responsibility, Keen emphasized that piracy and other illicit online practices are something that must be fought through voluntary cooperation from all stakeholders. And in discussing self-regulation, Keen emphasized that consumers must understand the ramifications of these new technologies, and realize that Internet rights also bring Internet responsibilities. As the digital revolution is sweeping through all facets of our society, all Internet users must be aware of the consequences of their actions in order to have a realistic view of the vast role the Internet plays in our society.
Lowery validated many of Keen’s observations from a creative worker’s perspective. Harkening back to his early views of services like Napster, Lowery described himself as “agnostic” towards such services. He initially believed that the disintermediation the Internet promised would be liberating for artists. Over time though, Lowery came to realize that the system was unsustainable for artists. While the Internet should have freed artists to release their music in their own ways, the freedom has become illusory because songwriters are not able to adequately direct and monetize the distribution of their work because of various legal impediments such as the antiquated consent decrees governing ASCAP and BMI and the statutory obligations to make work available to particular services. Lowery also described the creative thinking behind his songwriting for Cracker’s new double album From Berkeley to Bakersfield, which addresses some of the same social issues Keen writes about in his book.
The Copyright Alliance thanks Andrew Keen and David Lowery for participating in a successful event, discussing the thought-provoking book by Keen, and sharing their perspectives on the Internet as we know it today. It is essential that creators continue to make their voices heard and educate lawmakers and the public on the challenges they face, especially as the 114th Congress resumes its review of U.S. copyright laws.