Chokepoint Capitalism

by | September 29, 2023 | Newsletter

Here a quote that summarizes Giblin’s and Doctorow’s thesis as to where we are at: “Our exploration shows corporations have strategically achieved the conditions they need to take control of creative markets and use them to shake down creators: anticircumvention laws, vertical and horizontal integration, high costs of market entry, captured regulators, opaque accounting, and the power t o aggregate copyrights on an industrial scale and wield them against the very people they are ostensibly meant to protect. Combined with antitrust’s blinkered focus on consumer welfare and the neoliberal economic dogma that a company’s only purpose is to increase profits and maximize shareholder value, the outcome is inevitable: ever bigger corporations squeezing out an ever bigger share. That’s why the choice between Big Tech and Big Content is no choice at all. Whomever creators throw their lot in with, they’ll get essentially the same deal: the least the industry can get away with, and the promise it will be ratcheted downward whenever it’s possible to do so.”

The hopeful aspect of the book is that it not only lays out the problems that media artists face, but half of the book discusses potential solutions. Giblin and Doctorow encourage us to dream big and create plans that might seem unrealistic but are what should happen – by creating “ideas lying around.”  They argue that eventually there are crises (like the one we are in now) and the right has always been good about having these “ideas lying around” for those crises. For example neoliberal icons Milton Friedman and Robert Bork proposed ideas in the 60s and 70s that people thought were crazy and would never happen – and now we are suffering under the imposition of those ideas and resluting policies throughout the west and beyond.   So we should think big.  They illustrate number of ideas (some from adjacent industries) that can serve as inspirations.

One idea I found intriguing is laid out in Chapter 16 on Radical Inoperability.  A small example of what they mean by this (this concept is related to a broader “right to repair” campaign going on now) is requiring streamers and others to put links back to artists’ pages to give people an option of connecting with and supporting the artist.  They give an example from music: What if Spotify was required to provide an artist’s Bandcamp link whenever that artist is mentioned?  What if Amazon was required to provide a link back to your website – along with alternative ways to consume your content that might benefit you? 

Giblen and Doctorow suggest a two prong approach – one through government initiatives and regulation – like stricter enforcement of anti-trust regulations – shout out to the Biden administration for appointing activist heads of the FTC and antitrust division of the Justice Department who are now prosecuting Amazon and Google respectively.    But it also takes organizing – and grass roots solutions.  Very excited for the pending resolution of the WGA strike – but where is the documentary union?  (I know the DPA is doing research and learn-ins about this).

Would love to hear your thoughts.  Take a read and give me a shout.