BY ITS OWN HANDS HOLLYWOOD BEING HURT BY TECHNOLOGY THAT MADE IT SUCCESSFUL.
IT is time for Hollywood and the entertainment world in general to make peace with their own particular Shiva, a god who serves as both creator and destroyer. That Shiva is modern technology.
A friend shoots me an e-mail this week to report that technology has suddenly made life hell in her office. Her office is located on the Burbank lot of Warner Bros., which is fortunate enough to be the mother of the newest ``Harry Potter'' film and unfortunate enough to see its progeny pirated on the Internet even before the movie is released.
Elsewhere, a research firm reports that online sales of compact discs have plummeted. How could this be - wasn't Napster crushed? It turns out that it has been succeeded by services such as Gnutella and Morpheus that are even harder to defang.
Is this unfair? Not one bit. Technology made Hollywood's fortune, and now it will inexorably loot substantial portions of that fortune. But just as Shiva plays the role of restorer in Indian mythology, technology will provide a future for those entertainment people who can let go of the past, stop clogging up courtrooms and adapt to the free market on its own terms.
Let's tell a story to angry and threatened Hollywood executives. In the olden, olden days, there was no such thing as technology. People sang songs and told campfire stories because they wanted to, not because their intellectual and creative content was protected. Rumor has it that plagiarism ran rampant among early cave painters, but the matter was generally dropped due to more pressing matters, such as escaping from the saber-toothed tiger who just entered the cave.
After saber-toothed tigers were rendered extinct by Western colonialism, and once technology ushered in the age of amphitheaters and popcorn, singers and storytellers had more opportunities to cash in. They began to perform for set fees and drew large crowds. Later advances in society and in technology allowed the performers to copyright their works and distribute them to people who eschewed amphitheaters due to the long restroom lines and expensive chariot parking.
This technological age inexorably led to the advent of the studio, the agent, and, of course, the showbiz wannabe. The system yielded big bucks for the few on the inside and the loss of many bucks for those on the outside.
But then, Shiva predictably decided this was too boring and moved into a phase that heralded destruction for those on the inside but new opportunities for those on the outside. Suddenly, any idiot could make a home movie and distribute it on the Internet. Any boob could come up with his own Web log, and many did. Any fool could share files, and most of us did, thanks to Napster and its progeny.
And suddenly, those alleged capitalists, who once argued that the market justified their vast profits, now want the legal system to prevent the free market from doing its work of winnowing creative content. The threat is that, if Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears can't be assured massive and maximum profits, they will go away, and we will be all the poorer. Don't believe it - we're probably stuck with those two, come hell or high water.
And even if they did go away, something better would replace them. The majority of entertainment dollars in the future may come from social activities such as live theater and live musical performances (this explains why the touring Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones are doing so well, even though the entire planet already owns their records). And new technologies might create profitable new niches. But many old niches will die.
Such is the genius of our free-market system, which galvanizes both artists and charlatans. The best works of Shakespeare, Mozart, Bach, Dante and Cervantes did not result from protection from studios and legal entities. They rose from the liberated human spirit. Studios and lawyers must learn from this. They cannot stop their Shiva as he continues on his cosmic dance of creation, destruction and renewal. They must learn to stop attempting futilely to protect the turf of the past and instead join in the dance.