Finished reading a late 2022 book I highly recommend on the state of entertainment and informational intellectual property, CHOKEPOINT CAPITALISM.
Rebecca Giblin and Cory Doctorow are authors specialising in the analysis of how law and institutions have permitted Big Tech and Big Content to wreck, ruin and degrade sectors within what used to be termed the “intellectual property industries“.
Long ago it became silly to use that quoted expression because the word industry has been robbed of much meaning, similar to words like disruption. The expression is never used in the book.
It is ridiculous to now use the expression when about two dozen Big Tech and Big Content corporations in the United States and China are effectively chokepoints using contractual terms and conditions of use, and other legal mechanisms, to extract value from users, creators and others in intellectual property value chains.
These virtual monopolies, as Peter Thiel (author of Zero to One) probably agrees, are hardly in industries, many in their fields are virtually “the industry”. Consider YouTube for videos, Amazon for ebooks, Spotify for music streaming.
I started immediately reading Chokepoint on a recommendation by Yanis Varoufakis in the Notes of his thought-provoking and easy-to-read 2023 book, TECHNOFEUDALISM: WHAT KILLED CAPITALISM.
Both books deserve very long considered reviews. This is just a short note focused on Chokepoint because of its greater practical implication for legal and business advice, for lawyers, clients and business advisers.
Varoufakis takes a helicopter view of the shift from feudalism to capitalism and back to feudalism, recognising what has taken place over the last dozen years, in particular within long spans of time to empower the 1%. Cleverly he writes it as a communication with his father, who was a chemical engineer in a steel works near Athens.
The authors of Chokepoint Capitalism cover royalty rates, advances, clause provisions and other topics central to the work of intellectual property lawyers and people who trade in IP. They cover music recording and performing sectors in depth, but also books, ebooks, news, video, film, television, and online games sectors.
They detail how Spotify, Facebook, Amazon, Sony, Netflix and other platform owners and digital media dominant actors have pushed into precarity creators and others in production value chains. I had not realised how bad the financial position of authors, composers, recording artists and other creators had become in the United States, Australia and elsewhere dominated by digital media oligopolies or monopolies.
Being a political economy student for decades I found the Varoufakis book inspiring. On his recommendation, I immediately bought and read Chokepoint.
However, I was immediately struck with a profound feeling of depression from the first chapter and first half of Chokepoint. You see, being an intellectual property specialist lawyer in 2023 in his 40th year of practice I remember what used to be called “intellectual property industries”, the deals, the benefits to many.
For clients with IP work and businesses, over 40 years I’ve assisted them to license, buy, sell and complete other types of transactions. That has involved IP sectors in music composition, recording and performing; elearning; books; ebooks; magazines; websites; arts and crafts; fashion; food and beverages; sports training; wine; video; film; television; and online games. Chokepoint made me ask, chapter after chapter: What might become of all the people in these sectors?
Fortunately, the second half of Chokepoint provided inspiration. Why? Because the two authors provide a stream of novel ideas, novel in their combination, which can provide solutions and fresh thinking to take cultures out of the degradation resulting from Big Tech and Big Content.
So, now, on the first day of November 2023, I am both more informed and more wary when I provide legal and business advice to clients with informational and entertainment intellectual property.
Vaouroufakis, Yanis (2023) Technofeudalism: What Killed Capitalism. London: The Bodley Head
Giblin, Rebecca and Dotorow, Cory (2022) Chokepoint Capitalism: How Big Tech and Big Content Captured Creative Labor Markets and How We’ll Win Them Back. Melbourne: Scribe.