opinion

Boning Up on the Hybrid Economy *Updated*

Tom Hymes
Last week, the Free Speech Coalition organized a day-long summit that focused on the issue of digital piracy. It was a more significant occasion than it sounds. In convincing a day's worth of motion picture, music and television industry execs to participate in a public discussion with members of the adult entertainment industry, FSC's fabulous Diane Duke, with the help of some connected law firms, engineered quite the coup. The exceptional program she put together culminated in a lively discussion between Vivid's Steve Hirsch and AEBN's Scott Coffman, which I was privileged to moderate. So a lot of ground was covered that day.

For many in attendance, though, much of what was discussed was more than familiar, and some expressed frustration that more new ground, i.e. solutions, was not forthcoming. But it never was to be; this first go-round was an initial conversation between previously estranged members of the same digital family, an essential step but too soon for the whispering of sweet secrets; if, that is, any exist.

Truth be told, it was all too clear that our big Hollywood brothers have no silver bullet (or sword) in their possession with which to smite pirates, and in fact continue to ask of themselves many of the same questions we have asked of ourselves these several years. But more saliently, it also came clear that the industries, as much as they differ, also tend to frame the questions similarly, and in doing so reveal a shared view of the desired uses of copyright and the business models that flow from them that are increasingly at odds with the myriad ways that people use and enjoy digital content.

It was in this context that the one comment during the day that really caught my ear happened to be a passing remark about the incoming Obama Administration and the fact that "we" could not expect any relief in the area of strengthening copyright laws to better protect against digital piracy. The reason offered was the presence of Lawrence Lessig on the transition team.

The comment interacted with a sense of unease I had been feeling that we who had convened that day were coming at the issue of piracy and copyright from an incomplete and ultimately ineffective perspective. My sense of unease was heightened by the fact that while there was such a high level of experience, intelligence and mainstream corporate influence in the room, an imperative side of the copyright argument was barely being acknowledged.

A few days later, I bought Lessig's latest book, "Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy," and read it over the holiday weekend. Lessig is, of course, a professor at Stanford Law School and a well-known advocate for easing legal restrictions on copyright. Remix is the third in a trilogy of books he has written on copyright and content in the digital age. If he has Obama's ear and the attorneys for Hollywood et al see him as their (and our?) ideological enemy, I wanted to know exactly what is on his mind.

What's on his mind is far more that I can convey in this or a dozen columns, but I will try in the months to come to insert his ideas into the discussion where relevant, not just for argument's sake but because they need to be incorporated into our everyday assumptions. They need to become a central part of our continuing conversation.

In my column in January's XBIZ World, I'm going to talk briefly about two of Lessig's core ideas - Read Only (RO) and Read/Write (RW) cultures and the three core economies; commercial, shared and hybrid - and their relevance to the adult entertainment industry.

If the Obama transition team is boning up on this stuff, so shouldn't we?

*UPDATE*

There has been some transition activity related to copyright, with Lessig right in the middle, of course.

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