Shirky: “50 Years Of Chaos” Ahead In Digital Media

“I am predicting 50 years of chaos,” says digital media thinker Clay Shirky. He’s been speaking at the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Global conference in Oxford, UK. Story here.

Sounds about right, though I’d guess it could be 50 years worth of chaos crammed into as little as 10 years. Hey, it’ll be just like the ’90’s again.

Even though there’s a large constituency emerging for the blanket license model as advocated by the EFF, the big record labels, through the RIAA, will fight it for as long as they can. The idea looks efficient and clean on its surface: Let people stream and file-share to their hearts’ content in exchange for a surcharge on their ISP bill (or some other levy, such as on computer audio equipment), and allocate money by tracking popularity. But the major labels hate it because it would take away their control over collecting revenue and give it to a central bureaucracy similar to a performing rights organization, such as ASCAP, which to them looks like socialism. They also point out that there are other forms of media that would also have to be paid for: TV, movies, print, etc.

Given that the big labels control the greatest part of currently popular content, their resistance will continue to make a big difference until such time as someone can demonstrate the real world success of a better system. Free P2P is way more popular and growing faster than any pay distribution system, but record industry sales seem to have bounced off a bottom and are rising again – the claim that file-sharing doesn’t hurt sales cuts both ways. So, for the foreseeable future, it looks like a complicated, messy struggle in an ecosystem of alternative business models.

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