Culture wars: the battle we didn’t know we’re losing for access to our culture

Our culture is being held hostage

Humans are a collection of story tellers. When we hang out with our friends, new and old, we spend a great deal of time telling stories. These stories define who we are. In cases where we first meet we try to find common ground through current events, current cultural experiences, like the Olympics – TV shows, books, and movies. When you know nothing about another person, these are the only basis you have for building an understanding of what they stand for and who they are. To be honest, in many ways they are terrible indicators of what type of person they are, but they can help you identify if that person is someone with a similar world view to your own. Once you move past those conversations you move on to personal stories. The things that made you laugh and, conscious or not , enter into a game of one upmanship. Now most of the time you’re just trying to find a similar experience to relate to theirs, but it can be misconstrued.

In many cases the only context you’ll ever have with the person is through a shared experience, access to our communal culture. Regardless of our awareness or how willing to admit it we are, we have cultural gate keepers. To access any of our current culture we have to pay to access it. That’s fine, the people that produced it should definitely get paid for the work that they did. However, the people we’re paying are necessarily the people that produced the work. We’re paying for internet access at least twice (if you have home internet and a mobile data plan). In some cases that means you’re paying the same company twice for access to the same thing (verizon wireless and verizon FiOS).

Additionally, these companies have no incentive to provide better access to the content that you want o see. It’s actually in their best interest to make it more difficult and have worse service, so that the services that you want to access will pay them again for you to access the service that you are paying to access. Furthermore, these same companies think that if you use the internet a lot you should pay a higher rate!

This isn’t really anything new. I’ve been saying this for a few years. But what drives this is rent seeking behavior, investors that don’t really know what’s going on, and arrogance.

Shrinking Public Domain

The public domain is the area of our culture that no one owns any more. It’s been published for so long that it’s free to be consumed by everyone. Disney hates this. The main reason is that Mickey Mouse should be in the public domain, or would be based on the laws at the time of his creation. However, Disney is not above using the public domain to make a lot of money. Here’s a list of movies they’ve created based on public domain (over 50). FIFTY movies based on the public domain – it’s great for a corporation to exploit the public domain, but if you try to do something you’re going to get sued.

I’ve written about Lawrence Lessig a lot, he’s a bit of a hero of mine. He’s got a lot of integrity and really pushes for what he believes. He recently was sued (he’s a copyright lawyer) and forced a settlement with the company. He’s one of the few people that can do this, he has the knowledge, the money, and the desire to do this. In many other cases, it’s up to pro bono lawyers to fight these cases because the person in the wrong cannot fight. It’s literally David vs. Goliath. However, if David is provided the right resources most of the time Goliath goes down.

This is the case we’re dealing with in the propose Comcast Time Warner merger. Where the people most impacted have little voices. Companies are pushing to turn more of our activities into opportunities to make money. Gamers that stream on Twitch are going to be pushed to pay more, Twitch is going to be pushed to pay more for high quality access for uploads and downloads, and the people watching those streams are going to be forced to pay for quality streams. This is our culture. We are people that don’t want to be controlled by cable companies. We don’t want to be forced to deal with this. Our needs are not being met by the market.

Because we’re disparate, companies and incumbents are winning the culture war. Most people aren’t aware that we’re in a battle over affordable access to our culture. Memes, TV shows, Movies, and whatever retarded shit we watch on the internet is our culture. Making it inaccessible is a battle our gate keepers are winning. We need to figure out how to fight back. I plan on switching from Comcast when I move and never going back. I plan on switching to T-mobile and never going back to Verizon. It’s time to put our money where our mouth is. It’s going to be painful, but without our support those companies can’t oust the incumbents and cannot force change.

We need to force change with our wallets.

Nintendo doesn’t get fair use

In the YouTube community there’s a bit of a kerfuffle over the fact that Nintendo has been doing two things. First, they’ve been taking down Let’s Play videos because of copy right infringement. The second is they’ve been putting ads on those videos they aren’t taking down. I don’t believe that either of these should be allowed. As always, I’m not a lawyer – keep that in mind.

Let’s Play videos are essentially play through of a particular game. Nintendo is claiming that they own the copyright to video because they created the content that is in the game, including the text, music, artwork, and characters. This is of course completely true. However, they don’t own everything in the video. The person doing the let’s play makes choices so, while the overall story arc is in fact the same, the manner in which the game is completed is unique and can happen in very different order. Which means if Nintendo owns the copyright of the way you play it, then it owns every possible way the game could ever be played. I could see that there’s some logic to that argument, however, it’s impossible to predict how the game will play out any given time and it also means that Nintendo also owns every time the player fails to beat the game and gives up.

If this was the only thing in the video, I’d say Nintendo has a decent argument, but even then it’s something of a remix, because things are being changed, events happen randomly that aren’t under Nintendo’s control, they set the parameters for something to happen, but they couldn’t predict a priori when something was going to happen or what items would be dropped at any given time – which makes the game different each time.

Furthermore, many of these videos have voice overs by the players. In many cases the players are talking about things completely unrelated to the actual game which Nintendo cannot claim as their own copyright. In many cases it is actually the YouTuber that is driving viewership to the video and not the game alone. Of course if you don’t like Pokemon you’re not going to sit and watch a 45 minute play through of Pokemon even if you find the person hilarious (or you might). It’s the personalities that make these videos valuable as much as the Nintendo game material.

I also think that Nintendo needs to put this in perspective of other mediums that people do a similar type activity. Think of someone analyzing a film, a book, or TV Show – in all of these cases there are direct quotes, clips of the video or whatever with pausing and zooming and highlighting and whatever. In addition there is custom material that the specific critic ads to the video which makes it something new. This constitutes Fair Use. These reviews make the film more valuable because it draws viewers to the movie, the is the same for video games.

Nintendo doesn’t understand this and it’s likely to be contested, eventually Nintendo will lose this and will have lost a lot of good will from the gaming community. This will end poorly for Nintendo.