Bruce Sterling on Mon, 25 Mar 2002 10:20:44 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Dan Gillmor: Bleak future looms if you don't take a stand>http://www.silico

Dan Gillmor: Bleak future looms if you don't take a stand
By Dan Gillmor

Mercury News Technology Columnist

This is a quiz about your future. It's about how you view some basic
elements of the emerging Digital Age.

1. Do you care if a few giant companies control virtually all entertainment
and information?

2. Do you care if they decide what kinds of technological innovations will
reach the marketplace?

3. Would you be concerned if they used their power to compile detailed
dossiers on everything you read, listen to, view and buy?

4. Would you find it acceptable if they could decide whether what you write
and say could be seen and heard by others?

Those are no longer theoretical questions. They are the direction in which
America is hurtling.

Media conglomerates are in a merger frenzy. Telecommunications monopolies
are creating a cozy cartel, dividing up access to the online world. The
entertainment industry is pushing for Draconian controls on the use and
dissemination of digital information.

If you're not infuriated by these related trends, you should at least be
worried. If you're neither, stop reading this column. You're a sheep,
content to be herded wherever these giants wish.

But if you want to retain some fundamental rights over the information you
use and create, please take a stand. Do it soon, because a great deal is at

The offenses against the public interest have been piling up, one after the
other, but we've been acting like the proverbial frog that just sits there
in a pot of water slowly brought to a boil. The frog gets cooked because it
doesn't realize what's happening until too late.

The most recent outrage, detailed elsewhere on this page by my colleague,
Mercury News Staff Writer Dawn Chmielewski, is the music companies' scheme
to control Internet radio or murder it if they can't. Net radio provides
the variety and value that broadcast radio, so dominated today by a few
behemoths, has almost utterly lost. Now it's going to disappear, if the
greedy souls who dominate commercial music have their way -- just one more
whack at the public interest to preserve the untenable business models of
well-connected corporations.

What can we do about all this?

I'd been hoping that Congress would come to its senses one of these days,
and mitigate the damage it has done with laws like the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act. As prescient critics warned, the law has been abused by the
entertainment crowd and its craven allies in the technology business to
threaten scholars, curb free speech and even incite outrageous prosecutions.
I'd been hoping that lawmakers would see the danger of market concentration
in telecommunications and media. No luck there, either.

I'd been hoping that the courts might intervene. But courts are more
political than we learn in our third-grade civics classes. Federal judges
are nominated and confirmed by politicians who only occasionally peek out
of the pockets of the special interests. Again and again, with few
exceptions, judges are upholding laws that trample on tradition and rights.

There's no simple, all-encompassing solution to this dismal situation.
Fighting for the public interest will involve work on a variety of fronts.
It's essential, for example, that we put pressure on Congress and keep it
there. Tell your U.S. House representative and U.S. senators that you want
real competition, not cozy oligopolies or worse, when it comes to
telecommunications and media -- and that further industry concentration is

Tell them you don't want to wake up in five years and discover no more than
two or three ways onto the Net -- at least the truly high-speed connections
we'll find essential once they're actually available -- in your community.

Tell them you don't think it's right that one company should be able to own
all or most of the major media outlets in your community.

And insist that they reject anything resembling legislation introduced last
week by Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C. This favor to the entertainment moguls
would lead us down a control-freak path of putting copy protection in every
digital device.

Tell them you don't want your PC to be neutered into an expensive DVD
player. And tell them you don't want the Internet, the greatest enabler of
free speech in history, to be reduced to online television.

You can find your member's office in your local phone book, or on the Web
(, or by calling the main number at the
Capitol ( (202) 224-3121).

Maybe Congress will listen, though the record so far is bleak. It's still
worth your effort to try. I'd also like to hear your ideas on what we can
do, individually and collectively.

There is a place where we can all make a difference, right now. Let's send
a message to a key member of the entertainment cartel -- the music industry
-- and send it in a language the industry can grasp.

So, here's my line in the sand.

I've bought my last CD from any major label or independent label that puts
copy protection on any of its music.

I have a fine collection of older music, some on CDs and most on
now-ancient vinyl LPs, which I'm moving gradually to digital formats so I
can play them back on various devices including a CD player that can
understand MP3s.

I'm looking for online music from new artists who aren't afraid of this
medium, people who will give me value for my money.

Here's my message to the record industry and its allies:
I'm not a thief. I'm a customer. When you treat me like a thief, I won't be
your customer.

Enough is enough.

Dan Gillmor's column appears each Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday. E-mail; phone (408) 920-5016; fax (408) 920-5917

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