Avast ye, Google

Pirate Bay trial ends in a guilty verdict, after the prosecution dropped half the original charges and rephrased the remainder to fit in with an understanding of how the site actually worked. It’s a qualified victory for the music industry, and the comment from the International Federation Of The Phonographic Industry (“It would have been very difficult to put on a brave face if we had lost, but this verdict sends a strong educational and deterrent message”) is wringing with relief. Guardian blogger Jack Schofield wonders if Google will be next, and is quite keen that it is: “Still, it would be interesting to see Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt jailed as well.”

There’s quite a high-powered crowd of media people who seem to share Schofield’s interest:

Rupert Murdoch accused Google in a speech of “stealing copyrights.” Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Robert Thomson called Google and other aggregators “parasites or tapeworms,” charging Google and other unnamed aggregators with the crime of “encouraging promiscuity” (managing to combine fear of Google and fear of sex, in what could be a model platform for the Republican Party in 2010).

The Big Money, Death a la carte

For people who publish the news, Murdoch and Thomson don’t seem to read an awful lot of it: the track record of efforts to prosecute the sharing of copyrighted information is supremely lousy. Taking down file-sharing individuals and facilitating websites hasn’t stopped other individuals and new websites from using the same technology (and more ferociously), and since text is even easier to copy and transmit than music and movies, it’s even less likely that squeezing a search engine will have any permanent effect.

And what about that “educational message” the IFPI was so pleased with? The hope of copyright holders is to teach their potential audience that everything they read, see or hear has to be paid for: it’s an incredibly mean message and one that’s totally opposed to the nature of culture and information. Like almost everyone, I’ve exchanged CDs and mixtapes, loaned books and DVDs, shared newspapers – because when something is exciting or important, you want to share it. There’s an obvious quantitative difference in digital reproduction, but qualitatively, it feels like sharing and not stealing. By trying to stick a price on everything, copyright holders risk sucking the value out of their own product.

Newspapers wonder: why aren’t we more like the beloved and successful recording industry?

Why the sneaking emergence of pissing and moaning about Google in the newspapers? Because the Assosiated Press is trying to establish search engines as the enemy in the latest attempt at saving a newspaper business model that only ever worked because of the economics of the printing press, that’s why:

Last Monday The Associated Press announced at its annual meeting that it would begin tracking how its content and that of its member newspapers was used and seek a share of the revenues generated by it. If an accommodation was not reached, The A.P. and its members would pursue legal remedies, the association said.

Beyond the saber rattling (or empty threat, if you remember how poorly hunting down users went for the record industry), The A.P. said it would build its own search-friendly landing page, a place where links to licensed content from member newspapers (including The New York Times) would be aggregated.

There are sites big and small that scrape content and serve it up with their own ads, often supplied by Google, but the clearest target of The A.P.’s announcement was Google News, which was not mentioned in the announcement, but which features an enormous amount of content from The A.P. and its member newspapers.

David Carr, “The Media Equation: Papers Try to Get Out of a Box”, WSJ

Of course, the recording industry is still trying extremely hard to penalise its customers into coming back (and the RIAA seems to be having a nice run of political success at the moment, even if everything else in the world is screaming that they’re doing this wrong).

But however much print tries to emulate the “sue your punter and carry on as before” model, political muscle isn’t enough to compensate for a transformed knowledge economy. Traditional print media outlets are preoccipied with wishfully thinking that they can carry on making money in the same old way while everything around them is changing – and as a result, according to Clay Shirky, “the conversation has degenerated into the enthusiastic grasping at straws, pursued by skeptical responses.”

So what’s going to happen? Thrillingly, nobody knows. Shirky again:

Print media does much of society’s heavy journalistic lifting, from flooding the zone — covering every angle of a huge story — to the daily grind of attending the City Council meeting, just in case. This coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers, because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers. The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model. So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.

TV hates itself and it wants to die

I don’t buy The Observer anymore because I’ve decided I can never forgive them for employing Nick Cohen or for the bullshit they pulled over MMR, which means I totally failed to notice that the lovely David Mitchell writes a column for them. It occasionally falls into the Columnist’s Great Dialectic Error of jumping from issue to opinion to exaggeration like an attention-hungry frog, but it’s mostly pretty good, especially where he expresses his horror and fear towards new media like in this section of his column from the 22nd February:

I’ve found the internet frightening from the start and spent many years in denial of the threat it poses to the established media and, by threat, of course I mean opportunity. But let’s leave opportunities to the opportunists, I used to think, and get back to working on our studio-audience sitcoms, silent movies, epic poems and morality plays – there’ll always be a market for them.

I love Mitchell for being culturally conservative and recognising the futility of conservatism at the same time: audiences and technologies develop irresistibly, but there’s still something unseemly and self-destructive in it when old media starts sniffing frantically after the novelty of the internet. And Mitchell is smart enough to acknowledge that his ambivalence comes partly from the fact that his occupations (TV actor and writer, broadsheet journo) are among the ones being squeezed hardest by internet aesthetics. From this weekend:

Teenagers are not all or even mostly morons, but almost everyone is at their least prudent and reasonable at that age. […] But I’m particularly bitter about feckless teenage spending because of the disastrous effect it’s had on television.

Television audiences are falling but not plummeting. Purely in terms of numbers, there’s no need to panic. But they are plummeting among the young, who are deserting TV in favour of new media, and the advertisers and their money are following, leaving commercial broadcasters skint. Last week ITV announced job cuts and huge losses – it’s unclear whether it will even remain a viable business in the long-term. Channel 4 is not much better off with a vast hole in its budget to fill. On the plus side, Five is also in trouble. Advertisers’ obsession with youths and their money doesn’t just cause financial problems. It also affects programming as TV executives cravenly try and tempt teenagers back. This has become BBC Three’s raison d’être even though it’s not even dependent on advertising revenue. It seems to want young viewers purely because they’re sought after by its competitors. And the programmes that are produced by this demographic thinking are so often shit.

Lily Allen’s show, Lily Allen and Friends, on which I was once a guest, was a hopelessly misconceived attempt by older producers to appeal to the young. Emptily flashy and effortfully flippant, it made the cardinal error of constantly mentioning the internet. You might as well put up an Aldi price list in Waitrose.

Cynically targeted programming of that kind is hardly ever any good and is immediately seen through by the targets, who find it patronising: “Here’s your first bike without stabilisers – soon you’ll be ready to watch proper programmes.” Proper programmes are what they want like the rest of us. However irresponsibly they spend their money, teenagers will still watch dramas that are gripping, comedies that are funny, documentaries that are interesting and reality shows that you can’t turn off even though they make you hate yourself.

It’s not just the big TV channels who are struggling to live on advertising at the moment, of course, and if YouTube or Twitter suddenly decide that their business models need to include ‘making money’ I’ll suddenly find myself with a hell of a lot more time to waste. But what Mitchell’s right about is how much of the damage to the TV channels seems to be self-inflicted, regardless of the advertising squeeze. Fatally, the networks have been trying to rub some of the internet’s new-media glamour onto their shabbiest product and neglecting the qualities which can make big, lumbering old media worth the big, lumbering money it costs to create. If the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five decide that the best way to compete with online media is by offering the same sort of content with less flexibility and at greater expense, then they deserve to fail. And if the networks kill off glorious things like Peep Show in the process, then they thoroughly deserve to die out themselves.