Digital Media at the Crossroads

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(Speaker- Keith Rose)

Over the weekend I attended the conference Digital Media at the Crossroads: A Conference on the Future of Content in Digital Media.

At the conference, Astra Taylor (author and documentary filmmaker, and activist) argued that when it comes to the media, we are in a rearrangement not a revolution. She asserted that we are not seeing a “levelling of the traditional gatekeepers” but merely a rearrangement of the key players.

Astra further argues that: massize asymmetries between the voice of the little guy and the old legacy media continue to exist, persist, and are only getting bigger.  Media power is being consolidated, centralized, and commercialized. As media power becomes more concentrated and the middle-man disappears, we are manufacturing compulsion. The new platforms for media are addictive by design.

The change in technology has also changed the way copyright is enforced. Now we have algorithms that flag when copyright is violated and subsequently mediate the problem by giving the copyright holder options. For example, with a YouTube video, the copyright holder of the music can choose to block the infringer’s video, allow the video, etc…

Keith Rose, a lawyer at McCarthy Tetrault LLP (and my former classmate), spoke at the event as well. He discussed Canadian Copyright Tariffs and asserted that the law shapes business models. For instance, in music, legal rights shape the way the music service operates. There are different licenses for different ways of delivering music, e.g. choosing a song versus streaming music from a platform like Pandora.

Just as law shapes the business model of information technologies, information technologies shape the law.

Richard Susskind shares the view of anthropologists that humans have traveled through four stages of information sub-structures. These sub-structures are: the age of orality (dominated by speech), the era of script, the era of print, and now the era of communication enabled by information technology.

Currently, we are in a transitionary phase between print and technology, from a print-based society to an internet-based society. The information sub-structure determines to a large extent how much law we have, how complex it is, how regularly it changes, and who can advise on it. At the core of law is information, and we are in an information revolution.

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