The value in tech companies like Wikipedia, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and so on, is the platform they provide to allow their users to express themselves. They provide tools that blur the lines between consumers and producers of content and profit by increasing access for their users and by providing the best possible experience.
On the other hand, traditional publishers (music, film, book, academic publishing) are simply a delivery mechanism for the creative work of others. They profit by restricting and controlling access, in ways not always aligned with the success of the actual author of the work. The Internet has greatly reduced their traditional value added by physical distribution of media. Content creators are beginning to find their ways around the traditional publishers, by using technology created by the companies that are protesting the new anti-piracy laws being considered in Congress.
There is nothing inherently wrong with intellectual property protection, and in fact, many of those tech companies fighting against the laws are incredibly protective of their own software IP. The Google campus is tightly controlled – be prepared to talk to security if you snap a picture with your cell phone inside one of their buildings. Tech companies stay competitive not with lawyers and lobbyists, but with engineers and product managers.
This is not a battle between those who want to prevent privacy and those who don’t, which is what the laws’ proponents want you to believe. This is a battle over how much power the government has to regulate access for the majority of web users who do not violate copyright laws in the name of stopping the minority who do. Laws didn’t push music file sharing sites out of the mainstream – Apple’s iTunes Store did.
Let’s hope the recent online protests force Congress to learn enough about the underlying technology and the new media landscape before they pass laws with unintended consequences.
It’s no wonder these two sides are battling it out in public. The side that stays in front stands to profit. Unfortunately for the publishers, unless they find new ways to add value to the content they are distributing, they may win a battle or two, but they will surely lose the way.