Net Neutrality = Choice = Leverage
Forgive me for waiting until the last day to chime in here. I've spent my time just reading and absorbing this fantastic discussion.
Doug: the answer to your challenge is Net Neutrality.
I say Net Neutrality because it is an issue currently on the table, but more generically, I'd call it "Unfair Legal Leverage for Strong Middlemen Whose Strength is at Least Partially Due to Prior and Often Continuing Public Support."
Chris uses the right word: leverage. The Benjamins and strong legislative support are two excellent forms of leverage, but they are not the only two and for many art makers, they are not the most important. The most valuable leverage is choice. Choice in subject, choice in discipline, choice in market, tools, techniques, collaborators, employer, choice in vendors. Choice is what gives us leverage over every organization, person and idea to which we are beholden.
The Internet has opened up a world of choices for artists that weren't present 20 years ago and as many again that weren't present 5 years ago: effectively free international marketing, cheap self-publishing, truly independent media distribution, active word-of-mouth marketing (aka social media), trivially easy market research, national market for vendors, etc., etc. It could do so because its open and global nature makes it possible to create niche businesses that focus on idea and technique instead of market.
Where there are more options to choose from, choice is a stronger lever. I'm not worried about ISPs service-fixing and rendering the entire Net biased towards certain technologies. Even if we lose this one, I expect that some enlightened ISP will begin marketing themselves as Net Neutral and clean up. But it will, I am certain, have a chilling effect on Net entrepreneurs and therefore on the leverage individual artists (and non-artists) gain through choice.
Unfortunately, it does look like Net Neutrality is going to be won or lost in the well-lit back room with the virtual cigar smoke piped in over government subsidized, privately owned fiber optic lines. And yeah, artists and their agents, unions and vendors and their audience need to stand up on this one and need to do so collectively. I am a firm believer in the power of artists, nerds and entrepreneurs to work around all manner of stupid barriers in law and business, but this one is tough. The Net has become as essential as power and water and it needs to be as fundamentally free in its use.
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