For my latest podcast, I read my Copyright Week post for EFF’s Deeplinks blog, , In Serving Big Company Interests, Copyright Is in Crisis.
The essay discusses how the “author’s monopoly” of copyright is of less and less use in serving as leverage for dealing with publishers and other parts of the entertainment supply chain. That’s because these little monopolies have been extracted from authors through the lopsided contracts they were supposed to prevent, increasing the leverage that the industry has over its talent pool. As the monopolies pile up in the industry’s vaults, they contribute to even more market concentration and an even more one-sided, buyer’s market for creators’ work.
But not all copyrights act like this: some rights, like the inalienable “reversion right” in US copyright that lets creators claw their copyrights back after 35 years irrespective of their contracts, actually do enrich creators. There are many similar measures we could be taking to help creators get a better bargain, but we won’t get to them if we continue to blindly demand more monopolies that our industrial partners take and use to enrich themselves so that they, not us, can drive the copyright debate.
2019 was not a good year for competition in the entertainment sector. Mergers like the $71.3B Disney-Fox deal reduced the number of big movie studios from five (already a farcical number) to four (impossibly, even worse). The Hollywood screenwriters have been locked in a record-breaking strike with the talent agencies—there are only three major agencies, all dominated by private equity investors, and the lack of competition means that they increasingly are negotiating deals on behalf of writers in which they agree to accept less money for writers in exchange for large fees for themselves.
On top of that, the big entertainment companies are increasingly diversifying and becoming distribution channels. The Trump administration approved the AT&T/Time-Warner merger just as the Obama administration approved the Universal/Comcast merger a decade earlier. Meanwhile, Disney has launched a streaming service and is pulling the catalogs of all its subsidiaries from rival services. That means that the creators behind those works will no longer receive residual payments from Disney for the licensing fees it receives from the likes of Netflix—instead, their work will stream exclusively on Disney Plus, and Disney will no longer have to pay the creators any more money for the use of their work.