Monday, 6 January 2014

A little screed on the "free data" brigade

The following screed is the result of a highly frustrating conversation I had on Twitter today with a man with an answer to everything about the publishing industry although he knows nothing about what publishers produce: literature and journalism.

Aaron Swartz got it in the end. Overestimated his own grit. Fell victim to a pre existing condition that the trouble with the Feds exacerbated beyond tolerance. He gave in and took his own life. Which is funny when you think about how convinced Aaron was with his own way of thinking. Liberate data, he said. Free it up, it wants to be free. He even wrote something like a manifesto to buttress his bravado. In the end, though he was defeated by fear alone. Sheer terror of what awaited him in federal prison.

It's hard to blame him but it's also an indicator of the measure of the man that he buckled when the chips were really down. Other men and women greater than he have stood up to far more terrible threats. Some even survived. Unfortunately it looks like the immoral "free data" brigade will go on unabashed. Staunch in the confidence they have in their geek ninja skillz, these men and women see no problem with making everything that can be digitised free to consume. 

There is no collateral damage they hear about. They ignore the struggling writers and the freelance journalists who have to take PR work to make ends meet. They do not care that media companies around the world are relying on rich patrons to survive. Secure in the knowledge that the virtuous market will always decide what needs to survive or die, they continue to work away at the fabric that has sustained generations of publishers. They do not care that unchallenged market forces will result in a biased media and an homogenised literary product, that undervalued writers will just have to keep working in restaurants, that major news stories will not get the dollars they need to be researched. Nothing of this kind worries them. On and on they go, marching in formation against the evils of paid-for content. On and on ...

1 comment:

Bill said...

I wrote a piece on copyright and stealing a few years ago and got into an argument with a commenter on the topic.

By coincidence, I met him at a meet-up at a pub last week. He has since come around to the idea that content needs to be paid for somehow. Even so, when he brought the topic up, I just started drinking his beer. When he said, "Hey, that's my beer," I just said, "Yeah. So?"