“Net neutrality” is the latest buzzword to become the subject of Congressional debate. The odd thing was to watch the representatives of organized labor at the hearing described in this LA Times article – Patric Verrone of the WGA and Justine Bateman of SAG – side with the free market ideologues like Stanford law professor Larry Lessig. (When he got out of Yale Law – a few years ahead of me at it turns out – Lessig clerked first for Judge Richard Posner, the right wing appellate court judge, and then for a Supreme Court justice. Guess who? hint: he is the only Italian-American on the court and he was recently profiled on 60 Minutes).
If you are in the business of organized labor, or organized business for that matter, and you find your self on the same side as Lessig (unless you are a really huge organized business that pays really well like Google) then you better reach for your wallet because your business model is not likely to survive until sundown. Lessig was a big defender of Napster, for example, and afterwards – although Napster went under – the recording industry (and recording artists) were never the same.
The facially attractive argument for net neutrality is that preventing the telcos and cable companies for charging different prices for those who access their distribution pipes will limit the growth of new content creators. In theory some creators would face higher start up costs in order to get their product to consumers over broadband networks.
But so what? The guilds already have an established distribution system known as the studios and the producers! Of course they have an adversarial relationship with those entities when it comes to dividing up the pie. But they also benefit from the market power that these entities wield. Of course new media means the emergence of new forms of product creation that competes with the studios. But does anyone think these new forms will be unionized? Would a former clerk of Antonin Scalia get on board with that? I doubt it.
So back to the recent Congressional hearings – what do Verrone and Bateman think they are doing arguing for the destruction of the studio system? Helping the guilds? Trying to look all modern and what not? Or do they have their own individual interests (such as an independent production company they may want to set up) that they are using guild resources to promote? Seems quite unlikely in the case of Verrone but perhaps more so in the case of Bateman, who bragged openly about her pro-capitalist leanings to the eager Senators.