„Thieves in the temple“ or nails to the coffin?

Haltet den Dieb!“ by Marcus Rohwetter in „DIE ZEIT“ (10.07.08, German) is just another illustrative example of the warmth in the relationship between the established commercial print and broadcasting in Germany and Web 2.0. Rohwedder argues that YouTube is nothing more than a combination of a garbage can for private junk video and a violation of copyrighted video material. He seems convinced that YouTube stands for a decline of media culture. Watch teenagers eat pizza or that guy named Expanda touch his belly after drinking four liters of Coca-Cola. Find copyrighted materials stolen from publishers, music lables nd broadcasters and feel encouraged to upload new unauthorized material to the Platform, e.g. from high quality German public broadcasting stations. Thereby Rohwedder does not even mention alternative legal constructions vis-à-vis the traditional „all rights reserved“ copyright such as creative commons and GNU licence used in Wikipedia. Rohwetter interprets increasingly widespread collaborative practice of producing, distributing and organizing knowledge online that is known as produsage as deviant behavior or even crime. Interestingly, the author ignores that „DIE ZEIT“ where his article was published, offers RSS feeds and invites readers to bookmark and tag the articles as do many German newspapers. Rohwetter seems unaware that content, code and metadata can be produced, criticized, improved, combined and re-combined in creative processes by every ordinary person, that a critique, improvement, organization of content by bookmarking and tagging or creative re-combination of content, code and meta-data is a ‚value added‘ to a global public good. Jan Schmidt and I have worked out this argument in our essay in Herbert Willems (2008). „Weltweite Welten“ (German). None of these potentials are recognized in Rohwetter’s contribution in „DIE ZEIT“. He writes about Web 2.0 as what it seems to from his perspective: another nail to the coffin of a media business model in decline.

„Thieves in the temple“ or nails to the coffin? Technology edition

Just in case Rohwetter is already troubled by nightmares, here is another reading recommendation:  „Das Internet und die Transformation der Musikindustrie. Rekonstruktion und Erklärung eines unkontrollierten sektoralen Wandels“ by Ulrich Dolata at MPIfG (pdf, German).

While in the mid 1990s, the music industry was a flourishing well structured and flourishing industry economic sector, living well on LPs, Singles, tapes and even profiting from the CD an music television and dominated by five large companies: Universal/Polygram, Sony Music Entertainment, EMI, Warner Music Group and Bertelsmann Music Group. Since the late 1990s the music industry has been in a state of crisis. Sells have declined from US $ 40,5 billion in 1999 to US $ 31,8 billion in 2006 worldwide, from US $ 14,3 billion in 2000 to US $ 10,4 billion in 2007 in the United States and from € 2,63 billion in 2000 to € 1,65 billion in 2007. A new set of technologies  – digitization, data compression and the internet – have been successfully combined in such a way that they jeopardize the business model of the music industry and have forced significant changes. The impulses for restructuring the music industry came both from the fringes of the music industry itself and from actors outside the music industry. First, the CD had no copy protection and the MP3 as an open music format was invented. Subsequently, the music industry was challenged by non-commercial platforms for the exchange of music such as Napster, Freenet, Kazaa and Gnutella originating in the hacker scene starting about 1999 and and powerful new actors with commercial interests invading the music market starting about 2003. So far, iTunes has been the most successful example for establishing a music market introduced by a powerful invader to the music industry – Apple [of course, the user can also choose social music discovery services, e.g. ilike, last.fm]. Established companies within the music industry hesitated to live up to the technological challenges. Instead of seeking their opportunities in the process of change, they chose blockading and containment strategies and only strategically repositioned themselves when change was no longer avoidable.

Dolata identifies four factors contributing to the incabability and unwillingness of the music industry to anticipate and adapt to the technological challenges, the music industry is in the doldrums. First, the music industry had difficulties antiticipating the full impact of the new technological opportunities even though CEOs were well aware that the internet would create challenges. Music labels lived in a state of uncertainty and ambiguity. Change would have meant to integrate well established powerful actors within the music insdustry; so the music industry was reluctant to technological change.  A second obtacle was the music industry’s structural inertia with regard to the complex and time consuming process of implmenting a new techno-institutional match (can be but need not necessarily be a market) combined with the unwillingness to let go the established rules, roles and procedures that were the basis of previous successes: markets, company structures, legal frameworks, licence models etc. Third, the music industry is characterized by a strong structural and technological conservatism. The music industry tends stick with the established technologies. The music tape and the CD were implemented years after they were originally invented. This tendency holds true for data compression and for the use of the internet, as well. The music industry lacked interest for the new technology. The music industry has never been a first mover to new technology but always been a second exploiter. Its dominant orientation is that to the slowest consumer, well established technology and dominant tastes and styles. Finally, an oligopolistic market structure combined with a structural hierarchy between the companies at the core contributed to the unwillingness and incapability of  to undergo fundamental change with regard to the power and dynamics that the global interactive internet unfolds, today. Since change has always originated in the periphery – never at the core – it is no wonder that the music industry has failed to anticipate the impact the internet would have and to implement innovation beyond a minimum of protectionalist designs. Moreover the music labels considered themselves more powerful and more important than they proved to by with regard to the challenges coming from the internet.

„Thieves in the temple“ or nails to the coffin? Educational edition

But this whole argument can also take an knowledge and educational spin. Mike Wesch and his students at Kansas State University have explored the potential of Web 2.0 for higher education in their project „Digital ethnography“ and developed a pretty cool answer to the garbage can model of teaching and learning in tertiary education. In tertiary education of almost any subject, the internet confonts teaching models based on a garbage can model of dumping knowledge into atomized students with severe problems and questions its legitimity: (1) the students are put in the position of thieves in the temple when materials they need to learn are not distributed to them and too expensive on the regular market (e.g. expensive books or text materials), (2) they are put into the awkward position of thieves in the temple when teaching models and testing procedures encourage cheating (e.g. in multiple choice testing procedures when they can have the answer to every question displayed on their mobile).

Instead, students lack a learning environment encouraging discovery, knowledge sharing, critical thinking and collaborative knowledge organization. The technology is at our fingertips, we can do something creative with it. The video of a lecture by Mike Wesch from a guest lecture at the University of Manitoba on media literacy is pathbreaking in how Wesch explores potential of the internet to create a learning environment clearly superior to the established university system confining academic teachers and students to a specific institution and location. The video is also instructive in how the internet can be used for the specific purposes of social sciences and humanities in the broadest sense since almost anything that is found online is genuinely social in character. So watch Mike Wesch’s experiences with an integrated online participatory learning environment (Wiki) in his video „A Portal to Media Literacy“ (ca. 67 minutes).

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