Who are the "Luddites" in the post-Industrial economy?

I have written often on various public policy issues in Canada, most specifically on various laws commonly referenced as "Intellectual Property" as well as various other economic policies. I have made submissions to the 2001 copyright reform process.

I argue that as we move from an Industrial to some form of post-Industrial economy, that we need to ensure protection for new innovative markets through stronger enforcement of updated competition policy, as well as a commitment to consumer protection.

I believe we need to look to our past to understand the present situation. Companies that wish to increase protection for traditional business models, especially those based on property, should be understood as the post-Industrial era's equivalent of the Luddites from the the past.

In the case of the Luddites of the 1800's it was workers who opposed the "inhuman machines that characterized the Industrial Revolution" (The New Luddite), but now it is business executives opposing natural human usages of modern technologies.

[IMAGE: Mickey Mouse about to smash
computer with gavel] While the Luddites physically smashed the machines which they saw as threatening their jobs, these modern Luddites are using lawsuits and considerable lobbying for new laws to protect their existing businesses and business models. It is interesting to note that the tables have turned as many of these industrialists are now the obstacle to technological progress.

We as a society must get involved in this battle, and to contemplate and decide what type of a future we wish to live in, and what type of economic system should form the basis of that future. I happen to believe that these new advances in technology, and the new post-Industrial economy it can bring, will be of benefit to society.

One of the tendencies of the Industrial economy has been a centralization of the control of this economy, with the barriers to entry into a market being quite high. With buying/selling/renting/licensing of various form of manufactured products having a savings if done in bulk, this has tended to create fewer-but-larger large industrial players.

A post-industrial economy need not have these limitations. As an example, the thinking required to advance in a knowledge economy does not have savings if done in bulk. One of the most important tools to advance knowledge will be communications tools to allow collaboration in the advancement of knowledge. In this case the higher the level of collaboration, the better and easier to use the tools of communication, the more productive a knowledge worker can become.

With this difference in how to achieve better production, so must change the economic policies which drive the economy. The centralization of businesses that happened in the Industrial economy actually becomes a great hindrance to a new economy that would benefit from a leveling of the marketplace to reduce unnecessary middle-men in a more distributed/networked collaborative environment.

With the movement to a post-industrial economy, many of the important social concerns that the nineteenth century Luddites brought forward have now been turned on their heads. It is now the case where technology can be used to liberate the average citizen to be able to more freely take up and succeed in their chosen craft, without needing to be part of some large industrial/corporate enterprise or have their jobs exist at the whims of others. The most successful in our new economy will be those who best learn the decentralizing communications tools and break free from these outdated centralizing tendencies of the old economy.

The most successful industrialists recognize the changes that are coming, and are fighting back hard. In order to protect their centralized business models they are trying to smash any new advancement in communications technology or business model which threatens their current positions.

The cases of the modern Luddites are numerous when one looks at the number of lawsuits, passed laws, or proposed laws. One example can be seen in a recent press release from Electronic Frontier Foundation, " EFF Defends MusicCity Peer-to-Peer Technology : Tests Hollywood's Control of Content Delivery Technology"

In the early 1980s, the motion picture industry tried to outlaw VCRs by claiming that Sony should be held liable for the infringing activities of Betamax users. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected this effort to stifle innovation, holding that so long as the technology is "capable of substantial non infringing uses," vendors can build and sell it without fear of copyright litigation from entertainment companies. The lawsuit against MusicCity will likely be the pivotal test for the Betamax rule in the Internet context.
In this case, it is Metro-Goldwyn Mayer that brought forward the lawsuit, a company that has been involved with many cases opposed to technological innovation. MGM is a member of the DVD-CCA cartel which is using lawsuits, along with a new copyright extension enacted in the USA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) on their behalf, to try to control the DVD player market.

I included the accusation that the DVD-CCA cartel is illegal in Canada as part of my recent submission to the 2001 Canadian Copyright Consultation, in my reply to the Canadian Motion Pictures Distributors Association (CMPDA) submission.

Included in this submission was the fact that this cartel seeks to make illegal competitive players based on Open Source or Free Software, something that turns out to be a bit of an irony when I listed out one of the movies I purchased to show the potential problems with importing the same copyright extensions into Canada.

"AntiTrust" - http://www.antitrustthemovie.com/

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer encoded this DVD with CSS Region 1 - U.S.A, U.S. territories and Canada. The irony will not be lost to anyone who has seen the movie of MGM being actively involved in, and lobbying for protection of, a technology that attempts to make viewing this movie using an Open Source player illegal. Some of us in the Open Source industry can't believe they have the NURV to be doing this.

Similar arguments that were made against analog VCR's are now being made against digital video recorders with more advanced features, with some of the same people trying to sue to stop this advancement in consumer electronics. In this case it is units of The Walt Disney Co., owner of ABC, Viacom Inc. , owner of CBS, and General Electric Co.'s National Broadcasting Co. Inc. (NBC)

To quote a ZifDavis technology update:

SONICblue, whose ReplayTV 4000 video recorder was so good that it won an Emmy for technological and engineering achievement, is now being sued by several major networks -- apparently because its unit makes it too easy to skip over commercials (a feature that consumers very much want).

The debate has gotten so bad that as part of their attack of new technologies, broadcasters have suggested that skipping over commercials is theft. A judge in Los Angeles ordered SonicBlue, the maker of ReplayTV, to develop software within the next 60 days to "record every click from every customer's remote control." (Fast forward as theft, Network World, 2002-05-13)


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Comments

    Re: The Future is Arriving Faster Than We Anticipa [123]
    by Randal Leavitt on Sunday, June 02 @10:16PM
    There are many examples of "luddite" or "industrial" thinking which demonstrate the problems of this old approach. Consider the military model. We have an industrial military designed to fight states. And we now have an stateless enemy. The US is planning to build a ballistic missile defence yet we know that the real dangers are:
    - asteroid collisions
    - atmosphere degradation
    - stateless organizations using suicide techniques
    The solutions to these problems require many changes in our life style.

    I also find it ironic that Disney, the company that was set up to accelerate the future, is now putting the brakes on as much as they can. The future is arriving too fast for them as well.

    Re: The Future is Arriving Faster Than We Anticipa [123]
    by Randal Leavitt on Sunday, June 02 @10:16PM
    There are many examples of "luddite" or "industrial" thinking which demonstrate the problems of this old approach. Consider the military model. We have an industrial military designed to fight states. And we now have an stateless enemy. The US is planning to build a ballistic missile defence yet we know that the real dangers are:
    - asteroid collisions
    - atmosphere degradation
    - stateless organizations using suicide techniques
    The solutions to these problems require many changes in our life style.

    I also find it ironic that Disney, the company that was set up to accelerate the future, is now putting the brakes on as much as they can. The future is arriving too fast for them as well.