Free the information!

Benkler’s writings are some of my favorite that I’ve done so far early in this young semester. First of all, not only is he drastically ahead of his time, clearly seeing the writing on the wall from the Napster cases, but he so eloquently brings up points that I have been echoing for the last three years about government restrictions on information and media. 

First, we have to accurately define “media”. It is the plural of “medium” which basically means the middle point between two points in a flow of information. However, over the last decade or so, the definition has changed in the land of public policy. Technically media are our televisions, our radios and our computers. The things that flow through them are nothing more than information or entertainment. However, due to copyright laws, this information has been restricted from an open flow by means of the government, in no small part due to lobbyists from corporations like Disney and Sony. 

Benkler would argue that these restrictions on information were never intended in society. I agree with him. But I want to take it a step further. The reason that these restrictions are in place is to protect the interests of people who are selling things that were never meant to be sold in the first place. Twenty years ago, the only way to access music and movies was through purchasing tangible goods that contained the things we wanted. Like records, VHS tapes and CDs. Now, information has flowed back into its non-physical form thanks to the internet and computers. Suddenly corporations that made their fortunes off of producing things that exist best in a non-physical form. For example, iTunes and the distribution of MP3s from a platform for pay. Unfortunately, when free versions of the same product exist on the internet, you’re stuck with a failing business model, and suddenly the government is asked to help save corporations from the people. 

It seems that no matter what restrictions are created, information will always find a way to present itself in a free form through the medium on the internet. My question is this. When will media producers change their model, as opposed to undercutting their customers? 

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