First Netflix, now Google/YouTube. Silicon Valley’s technology companies continue their assault on the aging business model in Hollywood. Netflix announced recently that it had purchased exclusive rights to distribute a new TV show produced by Media Rights, a group linked to talent agency William Morris Endeavor. Now YouTube is talking about doing deals through talent agents with star actors to produce content for distribution on its popular platform.
Google has been trying for several years now to appropriate centuries of intellectual effort by writers by scanning books and yet not paying royalties. Since it is very difficult for authors, especially those who are no longer alive, to organize to defend their interests, the company has been able to strike deals with intermediary groups (who appointed them?) such as the so-called “Authors Guild” to pay nominal royalties where authors could be located.
But the patent inequities of the arrangement convinced a US district court judge to scuttle the deal. A US Justice Department investigation of the Google maneuver is also underway.
One tactic used by Google that caught the judge’s eye: the private company requires authors to “opt out” of their attempt to take author’s works and make them available on their computer system rather than “opt in” – this greatly disadvantages groups like widely dispersed and poorly organized authors. Berkeley Law’s IP law professor Pam Samuelson wrote about the issue in greater detail here.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Egypt had begun arms shipments to Libyan rebels. Had this effort been expanded into full blown support by Egypt for their Libyan brethren it might have been enough to turn the tide in Libya and prevent Big Power states led by France and the US from intervening. That would have been a far better outcome for the wider future of the democratic wave sweeping the Middle East and North African region.
Now, however, the Big Powers – which to date have only brought the IMF’s and World Bank’s neo-liberal reforms to the region – will have gained a significant role in influencing the MENA revolution. They will try to shape it in their interests.
In fact, the willingness of Egypt to help Libya may have frightened the US into acting preemptively lest they lose all influence in the region. Of course a key role was also played by “State Department Socialists” like Human Rights Watch and other groups that have developed the theory of “humanitarian intervention” as a new form of fig leaf for Big Power intervention in the region and elsewhere. I have written on this development here.
Here is my take on the recent events in Wisconsin, in the form of a short talk and roundtable discussion at Santa Clara’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, where I am an Ethics Fellow.
Here is a recap:
Governor Walker’s attack on unions is part of a longstanding animus from employers in this country to unions, what some call American exceptionalism because this kind of hostility to trade unions is rare in the rest of the world, outside of countries like China.
Walker’s approach is also dysfunctional because it is an attack on labor policy but it does nothing to address deep concerns we should have about fiscal policy and social policy, which are the other two key pieces of the debate.
Our fiscal policy is out of whack because pension funds are now used by Wall Street for financial engineering at great expense to those funds not for investment in long term economic development.
[Left out as there was a time constraint]: We need to shift our approach to social policy away from the volatile and chaotic capital markets to investment in infrastructure and other methods of revitalizing the economy, a process in which state and local public employees can play a vital role.
This essay in the Guardian makes the key point about Wisconsin and also shows why a narrow trade union approach to the issue will fail. Walker is implementing the Greek solution – the looting of public goods to fend off the bond markets.
Greece tried it and it failed and it nearly brought down the EU. If the Republicans want to go down this road they better be ready for the consequences.
But the left must broaden their response – it is about trade union rights but only because the trade union acts a check on the abuse of power that would return to the state sector if these reforms go through.
Forget a US led No Fly Zone or a Nato intervention force, the force that could save the Libyan chapter of the people’s revolt in the Middle East and North Africa now is the Egyptian military.
It is an army in which all Egyptians serve – its leadership is corrupt but no doubt the reason that leadership was not willing to use force to crush the Egyptian revolution was the fear that the rank and file soldier would refuse and then it would be all over for the officer corps.
Now that army faces a real test and so does the heart and soul of this region-wide movement. As the brutality of Qaddafi is on full display against poorly armed people’s forces, the Egyptian army could intervene and tip the balance.
Not only would the Libyan revolution have a chance to succeed, it could be the first step to genuine regional independence from the world state system that has sent only the IMF and World Bank, together with training in torture of dissidents, to the region over the last two decades.