MIT International Conference about Web 2.0
The weekend of April 27-29, 2007, the international conference MiT5: Creativity, Ownership and Collaboration in the Digital Age was held at the Massachusets Institute of Technology in Cambridge, USA. Various digital technologies and internet specialists were gathered to think about the Web 2.0's social, economical and legal implications. All with the same questions. Are we really in a new era? What is this new culture? How can we make the best of it? What traps should we avoid?
Web 2.0: Not so new
The now very trendy term « Web 2.0″ expresses the promise of a new Internet version. This is maybe not a revolution but there are undeniable evolutions. How do we understand the difference between marketing buzz and real social transformations? What is really new with the Web 2.0?
Communication is the key word. There is nothing new in the desire to meet people and build communities. However, the Internet users can now express their preferences and interact with (virtually) the entire world, with sites like MySpace, by posting a commentary, voting, and sharing a file. The participatory culture reaches a new scale, with P2P systems in particular.
User-generated content is also a great Web 2.0 novelty. It goes along with remix. With sites like YouTube that offer fast and simple tools, the « reuse culture » becomes widespread. It is no longer about reaffirming the authority of the original piece but illustrating the intention of the new one. No more passive contemplation, it is an open call to join in. Thus, the media convergence goes along with a producer-consumer convergence.
As long as there have been humans, individuals have gathered in order to collaborate, think and act. Since the last few years, a new kind of collective intelligence appeared, in a way that would have never before been possible. The free collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia shows the power of the Internet that makes it possible for experts and non-experts to collaborate and produce a quality content accessible to all (the ones who are connected to the Internet…).
The business world is also part of this new gathering, with sites like eBay or Amazon. From now on, as Chris Anderson explained it with his Long Tail concept, there is room for all products, no more storage problems. All niche[s] markets can make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the few bestsellers and blockbusters. From this abundance came the « culture snack », as defined by Wired magazine. « Pop culture now comes packaged like cookies or chips, in bite-size bits for high-speed munching. It's instant entertainment – and boy, is it tasty. »
A new social activism appears. New social activists take hold of the Internet to criticize and offer an alternative to the capitalist system. The aim is to connect to the Web for political action and get off the Internet to act in the real world.
While the Web 1.0 challenge was access, the Web 2.0 demands better understanding of the beneficiaries of all those changes and of the growing industry appropriation of the Internet.
Copyright 2.0: Not so fair play
New technologies change the way we see property. In cyberspace, value no longer lies in object but in access, the author is no longer individual but collective, the aim is no longer to safeguard the original but to create an evolving piece of art. How do we make two very different semantics of property coexist? What is the impact on our relationship to new technologies? How can copyright evolve?
Copyright is based on a classical liberal framework with the notion of exclusive right. Digital copyright has threatened all that, through non-commercial users. The DRM tried to limit the bleeding. But the industry realizes its limits. It is now important to think about a way to compensate user-generated content. Collective licensing also appears as an interesting way of expressing a new copyright view.
Aside from the legal repression, the industry has been attempting for a few years to educate the Internet users through anti-piracy campaigns which show users as criminals. Those actions seem to protect only the industry interests and raise the problem of
the presence of corporations in classrooms. They shape how a whole generation sees new technologies. Then, fair use is not presented at all or is discussed as risky.
The US copyright law, faced with technological changes, evolved along with court rulings. In 1984, the Supreme Court decision in the case Sony v. Betamax reaffirms fair use by allowing VHS recording and copying for personal use. In 2005, the case MGM v. Grokster rules on the P2P systems. A victory for the majors. One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties. Last March, Viacom filed a lawsuit, accusing Google of copyright infringement. If this goes to trial, the sentence will be decisive for the evolution of copyright and the Web 2.0.
We must keep in mind that capitalist culture is part of the new technologies. Thus, as soon as we buy a computer, we are owned by a big corporation.