Does Fighting the Digital Dangers Destroy Jobs?


(this page is part of the Family Guide to Digital Freedom, 2007 edition. Please do read that introduction to know more about the Guide, especially if you mean to comment this page. Thanks)

Does Fighting the Digital Dangers Destroy Jobs?

In order to answer this question correctly it is useful to look separately at two quite different worlds. The first is the one which consists of all those who directly make a living today from the current situation. Almost all these investors, companies and workers can be divided into two large classes. One is that branch of the Information Technology industry which develops and markets proprietary software. The other is the entertainment industry, or at least that part of it which produces and redistributes movies, music and so on relying heavily on DRM and extensions of copyright as broad as possible.

Digital Dangers and software makers

Technological progress reduces the need for many jobs, no question about it. Using digital technologies which are not under total control of some multinational company, however, can have two important effects. The second one will be discussed in the next chapter. The first is helping to keep as many as possible of the remaining software-related jobs in your Country or State.

In and by itself, switching to open ICT technologies doesn’t reduce the number of jobs more than the general advancement of the computer industry is already doing; it just changes the kind of jobs which are needed and makes it much easier to obtain software which is completely customized to local laws, needs and languages. If there is no need for permission or exclusive support from one (possibly foreign) company, many more local companies and consultants can create what local people and businesses really need. For the record, this is exactly what many developing countries are already doing to avoid unnecessary expenses and the risk of finding themselves in the same situation as Iceland was some years ago.

Besides that, many companies already make money out of software that can be legally installed and distributed at no cost. Some of them are even listed at the Stock Exchange. How can they do it? In practice, there is more than one way. Some of these companies just bundle together that software with their proprietary programs, all packaged together in a way that makes much easier to install and run them. Other sell the software as part of other services: installation, maintenance, customization, training… When software is developed in this way, it creates jobs and services that may not produce dream salaries or executive benefits larger than a small city budget, but which will be much, much less likely to be outsorced: you may think of such software as a job security insurance policy for your children.

What kind of music and movies do you want?

There is no doubt that some kinds of extremely expensive movies, TV or live shows, as well as most worldwide merchandising campaigns are only possible with the current economic model of entertainment industry. There is also no doubt that a lot of great literary, musical or film works are so great and see the light only because a lot of competent professionals, from editors to special effects or make-up specialists, could be paid to work full time to assist the authors and artists who all too often are the only ones who become famous.

But if producing a blockbuster costs tens or hundreds of million dollars; if only one out of every ten blockbusters is profitable; and if there must be at least five blockbusters, albums or live tours per quarter with six digit profit figures, not because the public wants or needs them, but to make a few stock holders happy, then it is no surprise that the most popular movies always come from a handful of big movie and music companies. Financial efforts on this scale are possible and justifiable only if those who undertake them are sure that they can monopolize all profits for decades by successfully suing, just as an example, everybody who:

  • independently produces entirely new and original stories with the same characters

  • reuses more than one second at a time of any music, movie scene and so on which already exists

  • produces T-shirts or anything else with slogans, drawings (not logos, that’s a different issue) or anything else remotely resembling something which already exists

  • tries not to pay for the same thing twice, for example copying a regularly purchased VHS movie on DVD to save shelf space

and so on, regardless of how, and to what degree such “competitors” will ever be profitable or how many real world losses they will cause for those who did or financed the original work. Therefore it is very likely, if not almost certain, that in a world with a much shorter copyright duration and really fair regulations on reuse, format or time shifting and similar issues there would be many fewer pop stars a la Britney Spears or James Bond movies. In such a world it would also be possible to purchase or obtain every music, movie or book more than a few years old from many independent sources, that is, at the smallest possible cost.

What about job creation and making a good living only out of artistic talent? On one hand, there would be much less space to make huge amounts of money by just being intermediaries or “assistants”, in the largest possible meaning of the word, of the actual artists and authors. At the same time there would also be many more possibilities than today for starting and running many collateral businesses, from repackaging and distributing older works to selling “special editions” for niche markets. The effects of a more balanced system on beginning, independent artists would also be much, much less harmful than on the Top Ten pop stars of today, and it is very likely that most of them would benefit (if copyright were reformed, but not abolished of course!) from it.

Everybody, parent or citizen should decide for his or herself whether this is a bad thing or not. What is important is to decide as soon as possible, before all roads are locked beyond return, and act accordingly.

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