“Parisitic” Technologies

by on March 16, 2006

Tom Giovanetti at the Institute for Policy Innovation has a good critique of the Stan Liebowitz paper on “parasitic technologies”:

The author, Stan Liebowitz, with whom I also frequently agree, characterizes a technology that allows consumers to avoid or skip commercials as a parasitic technology that destroys property rights. He also compares technology that allows one to avoid commercials to technology that allows one to steal intellectual property, like file-sharing software in the mode of Grokster.

I find the comparison astonishing, and the distinction between so-called “parasitic” and “productive” technologies arrogant.

It is not theft to avoid a commercial. If I mute the sound during a commercial, or leave the room during a commercial, what have I stolen? Absolutely nothing. Only if you assume that an advertiser has a property right to a consumer does that logic hold.

When I watch a TV show, I’m under no legal or moral obligation to watch the TV commercials that come along with them. Certainly, the TV studio hopes I will do so, and they sell a lot of advertising based on the fact that many consumers do. But the mere fact that a companies base their business plans around the assumption that I’ll watch their commercials doesn’t obligate me to do so.

This is particularly true given that the Internet is on the verge of making all sorts of new business models viable. Even if we assume that TiVo will destroy the broadcast TV model (which seems unlikely) the networks can still sell their shows directly to consumers via the Internet. Or they might come up with more sophisticated advertising strategies, such as placing text ads alongside videos, or embedding advertising within the video. The video game industry has been particularly innovative on this score, embedding advertising within the game environment itself.

Surviving in a post-TiVo world may require some ingenuity on the part of Hollywood, but that hardly makes TiVo a parasite.

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