The Digital Walled Garden: A Price on Entertainment

flanagan_walled_garden_03 “The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times.” (Kevin Kelly)

Previously wealth was built on the selling precious copies and as a result the instant duplication of data, ideas, and media undermines all major sectors of our economy. If reproductions of humanities best efforts are free how does one make money selling free copies? The truth is they don’t, so what is the solution here?…An advertising dominated online culture? Harsher punishments for copy right infringements? Intense DRM laws? An end to free streaming? Or the death of piracy?

All these things sound great (to businesses) however what this means for the consumer is the end of a free internet and the creation of a Walled Garden. Which in my personal opinion goes against the entire construct of what the internet is; a global data sharing service that facilitates the free flow of information.

For those not up with the lingo a Walled Garden is a closed platform or software system where the carrier or service provider has control over applications, content, and media, and restricts convenient access to non-approved applications or content (think Apple).

In Australia we have only just now gotten Netflix and at the moment it is very reasonably priced in an attempt to combat the competition of piracy (SMH). I was dumbfounded by the positive response it got and the sheer level of buzz it generated. A few of my friends got it and they couldn’t wait to tell me about how for only $14.99 a month they could gain access to the hundreds of shows Netflix had to offer. Off course my immediate reaction was: WOW that’s super awesome, did you know that for zero dollars a month you can gain access to every show ever?

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Now don’t get me wrong I’m all for supporting the industry and funding the artists but what I cannot understand is peoples willingness to buy into what is essentially a restriction of freedom. Let’s just say for arguments sake that in an ideal hypothetical future, piracy was non existent and access to the things we watched online were restricted only to paid streaming services such as Netflix. The price is cheap now because piracy is a threat but in a world without free downloading these services would have monopoly and therefore total control over price. This would be a world where the price of entertainment could fluctuate as frequently as petrol.

What people need to ask themselves is just what exactly they are buying into. While you are watching shows on Netflix, Netflix is watching you watching their shows. They know what you are viewing, when you are viewing it, how often you are viewing it and what sort of things you like. The luxury of private entertainment in the comfort of your own home is a thing of the past. The question here is, does knowing that someone knows what you are watching make a significant impact on what you watch? Would people stop watching porn if other people knew they watched it? Would manly men suddenly feel embarrassed about watching sappy romantic comedies? Would students start to have their study assistance rejected because their viewing data proves they are not putting in full time study hours?

When a service becomes an inhibitor to your daily actions as a person it becomes a breach of your freedom. Convenient solutions almost always come with an inevitable cost.

All Your Property Is Belong To Me

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We live in an age where copy right acts have gone beyond the point of no return and with the internet freely allowing us to copy at will, it has become increasingly difficult for every day people to know where to draw the line when it comes to the use of other peoples intellectual property. Copy right is very important and highly necessary don’t get me wrong, without it no ones ideas, creations or property would be safe, but has copy right gone too far? To what extent should the Digital Rights Management (DRM) have control over what we as consumers and prosumers are allowed to have access to and or manipulate?

So basically DRM is any form access of control technology that inhibits uses of digital content that are not desired or intended by the content providers.  Sounds simple enough right? The problem is though, it isn’t.  The aim of DRM is to protect the sellers of digital content and give them continued creative control. However in today’s digital  world it is hard to specify what digital content can and can’t be controlled. As a result we as consumers suffer from these restrictions and are at times completely dumbfounded by the ridiculous nature of the bans we are subject to.  Did you know it’s illegal to sing Happy Birthday in a public or commercial context due to Copyright laws?

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Almost everything is protected under copy right and it is almost impossible not to be considered a criminal in today’s digital society. Every time you watch a video on Youtube you are most likely infringing on some form of copyright. That music playing in the background, do they have permission to use that?, that hilarious Lord of the Rings parody you just watched, was it officially approved? Every time you surf the net you are quite literally downloading digital data that you did not create.

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What this means for society is a block on creativity and innovation. How are people supposed to expand on an idea if they can’t even use an existing one without being sued for stealing intellectual property. Now days almost everything has been done before so the idea of coming up with something entirely new is unfathomable. This causes us to take a step backwards from innovative growth.

In 2011 the  American Entertainment Consumers Association attempted to prevent a change to current copyright law that would include not just the unauthorised distribution and replication of copyrighted works (like pirated games and bootlegged movies), but also “public performances by electronic means.” ECA said in its statement. “We don’t need this draconian measure that’d make criminals out of millions of Americans who just want to share their enjoyment of their favorite entertainment.” That is the problem with DRM, the extent of it’s restrictions can extend to a point where suddenly people aren’t allowed to do simple un-harmful things like upload a cover of a song or a review/walkthrough of a video game.  Only recently EA was under scrutiny for its Sim City fiasco, in which they refused to let players (who had legally purchased the game) to play offline or even save their game files on their own computer, claiming that although they purchased and therefore ‘own’ a copy of the game, the game in no way actually ‘belongs’ to them and everything created within the game was in fact the ‘property’ of EA games itself.

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Copyright laws can be ridiculous, that is where Creative Commons come in. CC’s allow creators to specify how and to what extent their creations can be used. Are CC’s a shining beacon for the future of copyright laws? perhaps, but they are still not without fault. Not many things fall into the creative commons category due to the fact that is a rather difficult process to actually sit and specify the limits of your digital product use. So what does the future Of Copyright legislation have in store for us? who knows? but I do know that I don’t want to live in a world where absurd bureaucratic protocols stifle my rights as a consumer left, right and center.

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