The biggest story of 2017? To my mind, there is no contest — the broad emergence of an awareness that the irresponsibility masquerading as Internet freedom represented a threat to global societies and to cherished aspects of our humanity, and that a course correction was badly needed.
While recognition of the fact that rewarding lack of accountability would likely incentivize anti-social and illegal conduct took longer than it should have, such an awareness came to fruition throughout 2017. Whether motivated by concerns about sex trafficking or the prevalence of other internet-enabled crimes, fake news, foreign government interference in elections, monopoly or monopsony power, or the perceived political or cultural biases of platforms, the question at the end of 2017 wasn’t whether the current legal framework for platform responsibility should be amended, but how.
It became clear that the twin pillars upholding the current lack of accountability in the internet ecosystem — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and Section 512 of the DMCA, each of which was adopted at the dawn of the commercial internet, would need to be reexamined and a new framework established.
Your margin is my opportunity. Now bend over.
Inspired by Jeff Bezos
If a record company pulled your music from a retailer because of a commercial dispute that had nothing to do with you or the label itself, how would that make you feel? If you ran to your contract to see if you could stop them, do you think anyone would have ever thought to negotiate protection against anything so philistine? This little life parable shows you why you should never underestimate the highly innovative monopolists forcing their way into our lives.
Alphabet Inc.’s Google pulled support for its YouTube video service from Amazon.com Inc.’s streaming-media devices, citing the internet retailer’s failure to make Amazon Prime Video available through Google’s gadgets and the recent halt of the sale of some Nest products on its website.
What’s interesting about YouTube’s behavior is that you would think that YouTube actually owned the videos on YouTube. Which in probably 99% of the cases, they do not. (It’s unclear if the Amazon boycott includes Vevo, the premium content provider co-owned by Google, but I would assume it does.) I’m no fan of Amazon, God knows, so I’m not suggesting that YouTube’s move here is hard on Little Jeffie, the destroyer of worlds.
I’m suggesting that it is hard on artists and is not something that any other distributor would think they could get away with. And the fact that YouTube exists to screw artists and songwriters doesn’t excuse YouTube’s tone deaf wielding of other people’s property to gain a commercial advantage against Amazon accruing almost entirely to Google. So what did Google do, exactly? Bloomberg tells us:
Google blocked YouTube access via the Echo Show, Amazon’s smart speaker with a touchscreen, on Tuesday and will stop supporting YouTube on Amazon’s Fire TV set-top box on Jan. 1. In a statement, a Google representative said it’s taking the action because the YouTube apps on Amazon products aren’t made by Google, like the YouTube app on the iPhone is, and the retail giant doesn’t sell some Google products, such as Chromecast and Google Home.
“We’ve been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other’s products and services,” Google said in a statement. In its own statement, Seattle-based Amazon said its gadgets now send users to the YouTube website, and the company hopes to resolve the dispute as soon as possible.
In other words, Amazon stopped carrying totally unrelated Google products and Google responded by blocking your videos from Amazon devices. Did anyone ask you if that was OK? According to the Verge:
Three months ago, YouTube pulled its programming from Amazon’s Echo Show device — the first skirmish in what is apparently an ongoing war. Shortly after, Amazon stopped selling the Nest E Thermostat, Nest’s Camera IQ, and the Nest Secure alarm system. Two weeks ago, Amazon got YouTube back on the Echo Show by simply directing users to the web version, a workaround that left a lot to be desired. But even that version won’t be available after today.
In other words, this boycott of the billionaires has nothing to do with any YouTube artist or Vevo artist, but all are being harmed by it for reasons they have no control over. You might, however, be able to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Google and possibly both Google and Amazon by clicking here.
[Editor Charlie sez: Meet the new boss, way, way, way worse than the old boss.]
Google, as with many large companies, has skeletons in its closet that it would probably wish to keep quiet. But after interviewing almost 40 current and previous Google employees, The Information has found that there is an internal culture that has virtually normalized inappropriate relationships. The reasoning for this is primarily because most who have been found in these relationships were not penalized or punished for their actions.
While there are the widely reported and known about relationships like those between Larry Page and Marissa Mayer, Sergey Brin and Amanda Rosenberg, as well as Eric Schmidt and Marcy Simon, The Information was able to identify another previously unreported relationship. This time, it was between David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, and Jennifer Blakely, a paralegal in the legal department.
This relationship was kept secret from the HR department until the two had a child together. At that point, the company was forced to intervene and moved Blakely to the sales department and into a position that was not her specialty. Her then coworkers, as interviewed by The Information, stated that Google handled the situation poorly and unfairly. Blakely ultimately ended up leaving Google and the relationship. [But David Drummond is still Google’s Chief Legal Officer.]
This isn’t the only story of misconduct within Google, though. Throughout multiple interviews, employees discussed the downplaying by male employees whenever a female would get a promotion or get one-on-one time with a high-level manager. In many instances, comments were made about the female employees sleeping with bosses or providing other favors to advance their careers.
[Editor Charlie sez: Just in time for the Spotify IPO…or debt rollover…Billboard is poised to visit agita on streaming boosters when it corrects the absurd equal weighting of free streams and subscription streams in its sales/airplay/streaming chart, which should also change the way some people…ahem…average the revenue value of the ad/paid streams.]
One of the biggest stories of 2017 is playing out right now, as Billboard works on a revamp of its Top 200 album chart that will give greater weight to paid streams, while ad-supported streams will be devalued. Most majors have been lobbying for just such a revenue-based revamp.
Presently, all streams are weighted equally, with 1,500 streams counted as one album. Those in the know believe the formula for paid streams will be adjusted to 1,250:1, while ad-supported streams will be devalued to 5,000:1. In other words, premium streams would have four times the weight of ad-supported. Under the existing metric, 100m streams of any kind would count as 66,667 albums, while under the new proposal, 100m ad-supported streams would count as just 20k albums, and 100m paid streams would count as 80k albums. On the other hand, albums that rely heavily on ad-supported streams for long periods of time could lose thousands of chart units.
YouTube streams will supposedly continue to be excluded from the Top 200, following vehement protests by rights holders over their possible inclusion.
In a ground-breaking report, Music Canada, a national trade organization, documents the scale of harm being caused by the Value Gap – defined as the significant disparity between the value of creative content that is accessed, particularly through user upload content services like YouTube, and the revenues returned to the people and businesses who create it.
“This is the story you will not hear from Google,” says Graham Henderson, President and CEO of Music Canada. “YouTube would never have emerged as the largest music service without distorting the use of safe harbour protections in copyright law that were created to protect ‘mere conduits’ or ‘dumb pipes.’ We now know that today’s digital platforms are the smartest pipes that have ever been imagined.”
Creators and governments around the world are taking notice, and taking action. In Canada, thousands of musicians, authors, poets, visual artists, playwrights and other members of the creative class, have urged the Canadian government to address the Value Gap in a campaign called Focus On Creators.
The Value Gap: Its Origins, Impacts and a Made-in-Canada Approach is available for download at https://musiccanada.com/resources/research/the-value-gap-report/.