The Decline of the Gatekeeper

Our idea of Intellectual Property as a legally defensible commodity has changed much over the years. But from the beginning, legislation around this concept has been aimed at balancing the needs of both creator and consumer, and maintaining an environment that encourages innovation.

As such, the original intention of the patent was to give the innovator a monopoly over their creation for a limited amount of time, so they had ample opportunity to benifit from their own labors. In exchange for this, to balance the equation, upon completion of the period of sanctioned monopoly, the innovation would move into the public domain, and serve society at large.

Unfortunately, in the last 50 years, we have seen many changes in legislation and litigation that upset this delicate balance. The duration of sanctioned monopoly has been extended again and again. Fair Use is often overlooked in legal cases. The needs of the public are being neglected in favor of the needs of the copyright holders.
This on its own is cause for concern, but the truth of the situation is even more tragic: the copyright holders that are tipping the scales with their expensive legal campaigns are not the innovators. They are the publishing houses and distribution networks that have long served as gatekeepers and mediators between innovator and public.
Compare then the intention of our copyright law with the trends. We are no longer serving either side of the equation. Neither consumer nor composer benifit under this system. The middleman benefits, to the detriment of either side.
The gatekeepers have long provided valuable services to both sides, public and producer alike. But the world is changing. The importance of the gatekeeper is diminishing. Peer-to-peer networks, the iTunes store, Pandora, YouTube, the Amazon Marketplace and other emerging channels are connecting composer and consumer in a much more direct manner.
In face of these changes, the gatekeepers are doing everything they can to maintain their position. They struggle to criminalize peer-to-peer networks and restrict content with Digital Rights Management technologies in an attempt to slow the progress of technology and culture.
At one time, these gatekeepers were a necessary part of each transaction. When a consumer wanted access to a book, for example, they would purchase it from a retailer. That retailer was supplied by a publishing house that had printed, stored and shipped the book to them (they also provided many other services--all of which cost money). It was not only natural but correct and just for the publisher and retailer take a portion of the proceeds.
But now, many of those services are unnecessary. Yet the gatekeepers insinuate themselves into every transaction they can, even those for which they have provided no tangible services.
The gatekeeper is no longer guarding the gate, yet they demand a larger tribute of salt at every crossing, at every exchange. They are becoming less like facilitators of exchange and more like highwaymen.
It behooves us to explore other options, to take back the highways while we have the chance. It is our responsibility to ensure that the needs of our artists and innovators are balanced with the needs of the public. Change is upon us, and we have a choice. We can let others decide for us the shape of culture to come, or we can make that culture ourselves, and forge it in our own image.
Do we want a culture designed to support the corporate middleman?
Or do we want a culture designed to balance the needs of our artists and innovators with the needs of public interest?     

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