Ransom To The Gatekeepers


Exactly what do we own when we purchase media?

When I was a lad my father took my brother and me to see Gorgo; in effect he made us a gift of the movie going experience of watching Gorgo.

Gorgo made quite an impression on me as a young lad, so much so that even with only one showing I was able to vividly remember the plot, characters, key scenes, and even bits of dialog.[1]

A few years later I saw it again on TV and enjoyed it once more.  This time I had to pay for my viewing experience with my time:  Periodically the film would be interrupted as commercials for various products were shown in the hopes I would either purchase them directly or pester my parents to purchase them.[2]

I don’t remember if I saw Gorgo again after that for many long years, certainly not until it started cropping up on the various super-stations during the cable TV boom.  I did think of the film quite often and quite fondly, and whenever stuck in some boring mind-numbing task (waiting in line, f’r instance) I might replay it (or literally hundreds of other movies as well) in my head.

At some point I acquired a VHS machine, and I probably taped Gorgo off of one of the premium channels or Turner Classic Movies so I could “have” it.

But truth be told, I don’t think I ever re-watched it.

And I probably have it sitting in my DVD collection somewhere, either part of a multi-set I bought in a bargain basement bin, or a copy I burned directly off the air.

As best I can recollect, I’ve never watched that DVD.

Why should I?

I can access YouTube, and Gorgo is on it, and if I feel like watching Gorgo it is a lot easier just selecting it off the menu than searching through my DVDs, firing up the player, and loading it in.

What, exactly, do I own in regards to Gorgo?

Well, I own the memory:  They can’t take that away from me.  And I acknowledge that in terms of remembering films and stories I’m much sharper than the average person; that’s the way I’m geared and that’s one of the key components in my being a writer.

Anything I’ve forgotten about Gorgo wasn’t that good / interesting to begin with.

I don’t own the stories or the characters: If I tried selling a Gorgo story without the copyright holders’ permission, at the very least I would find myself on the receiving end of a cease & desist letter from their lawyers.

But…if I came up with a story about an old man (as opposed to a young boy as in the original film) who befriends Champ, the legendary lake monster of Vermont (as opposed to Scotland and London per the movie), and tries to free her when she’s captured by people who want to exploit her, only to see her much younger, more vigorous, more vicious brood rise from the lake to rescue her (as opposed to Mama Gorgo stomping London flat to rescue her baby), well, the Gorgo rights holders couldn’t say boo.[3]

Okay, let’s look at the VHS copy I probably made of Gorgo.

Was I pirating the film? Stealing from the rights holders?

No.  The Supreme Court in the US and other courts around the world have ruled that if you have paid for access to media in your own home, you may copy it for your own personal enjoyment.

I couldn’t sell a VHS copy of Gorgo, or charge money to others to see it, but I could sure watch it whenever I felt like since I had already paid for it via my cable fee (a fraction of which was sliced off and paid to the Gorgo rights holders).

And I could take that copy of Gorgo with me wherever I traveled, to watch whenever I liked, and I was as free to invite as many non-paying guests as could fit into my home to enjoy it with me as often as we wished.

What about the Gorgo DVD?

As digital media I can easily -- and legally! -- port it into any machine I own.  If I choose to edit it down to a “good stuff” highlight reel[4], I am free to do so, again with the caveat that I not sell / lease / charge admission for same.

But why bother since I can access Netflix through any wifi and just fast forward through all the boring stuff to the good scenes where Mama Gorgo carves London Towne a brand new bunghole?

What exactly have I purchased in all my acquisitions of Gorgo in various media?

As best I can tell, all I’ve really purchased is the right to access Gorgo through a variety of gatekeepers.

A funny thing about consumers:  If they don’t have to drag out their wallet, if they don’t have to write a check or swipe a credit card, they have a tendency to think of their purchases, particularly their smaller ones, as “free”.

This is not true, of course, but to the person who has set up an automatic monthly payment on their credit card to access Netflix, Netflix seems free because they never have to think consciously about purchasing access to a film or TV show again.

One movie or a hundred, it’s the same invisible price.

Media piracy has existed since way back when, possibly even to prehistoric times.[5]  A traveler encounters a troubadour with a catchy song, and the traveler carries it in her head to another land, where others hear it and re-interpret it in their own fashion.[6]  Eventually their troubadours put it in their repertoire…

…all without ever compensating the originator of the tune.

Then as now any payment for the media was through the gatekeeper:  If you wanted a song from the troubadour, you tossed a coin in his hat; if you wanted a copy of a scroll, you either copied it by hand (thus paying for it by your own labor) or hired a scribe to copy it for you.

The printing press (and later photography and audio recordings) upset that little applecart.  It permitted gatekeepers to put a price on access to the content, not just the performance of same or a physical copy of same.

It gave a brief golden age from Guttenberg to the digital era where it was possible for the creator of any given piece of media to share in the gatekeeping fees.  A publisher advances a writer a sum for his book, a sum the publisher recoups through sales.  Should the book prove popular, the publisher theoretically shares any excess profit with the creator in the form of royalties.[7]

But we are entering a new era, one where access to audiences is so transparent, so sieve-like that gatekeepers find themselves impotently ranting and raving against a tsunami that is rolling against them.

A lot of gatekeepers -- and here I include many creators -- are going out of business because they add no value to the final product by their gatekeeping:  Quite the contrary, by making it more difficult to access media instead of making it frictionless, they steer the public tidal wave away from them and to pirate sites.

The gatekeepers will ask “Why can’t we set a price for our media?”

You can, go right ahead.

But the consumers will decide if they want to pay that price.

Give the audience frictionless access.  Stop gouging them for a ton of money upfront and recognize you’re in it for the long haul.

Yeah, once upon a time it was possible to be a media mogul or a one hit wonder and flood your coffers by restricting access to the content down to a trickle.

But those days are over, and a new business model is in order.[8]

Nowadays the flood belongs to the consumer, and the trickle to the gatekeepers.

Deal with it.




[1]  I remember how, as they were helping London prepare for the onslaught of Mama Gorgo, the two protagonists paused to resolve a personal issue that had come up between them earlier in the film; this may have been the very first inkling I had of plot points and beats and B-story and counter-theme.

[2]  In essence, the TV station was recruiting me to be a salesman, and my payment was the opportunity to watch Gorgo again.

[3]  This version of the Champ story is duly copyrighted © Buzz Dixon.  It’s mine, Bissette, mine!  But if you’re interested, gimme a call…

[4]  And trust me, most 1960s kaiju movies are essentially 60-70 minutes of melodramatic padding around 20 minutes [max] of city-stompin’.

[5]  Though by definition, how would we know?

[6]  This is how the English ballad "The Unfortunate Rake" ends up as “Streets Of Laredo” in the American West and “St. James’ Infirmary Blues” on the southside of Chicago.

[7]  I say “theoretically” because history has demonstrated that the worst thieves, pirates, and gougers are the very gatekeepers screaming / bitching / moaning the loudest now as consumers do unto them as they have done unto creators.  This is the motive behind the effort to do away with net neutrality and continue to funnel money into the self-appointed gatekeepers' pockets, not those of the creators.

[8]  Essentially universal access to all media paid for by a slice of internet access fees.  It can be done and has been done regionally, so stop kvetching and move.

Fictoid: the last dinosaur

Fictoid: the last dinosaur

Larry Ivie R.I.P.