image Ten years ago the United States carried 70 percent of the world’s Internet traffic.

Now? A mere 25 percent, according to estimates from Andrew M. Odlyzko, a well-regarded specialist in these matters.

Just the decentralized nature of the Internet means that America can’t control the beast forever. But Luddites in D.C. are unwittingly speeding up the decline.

Check out two of the points in Internet Traffic Begins to Bypass the U.S., in today’s New York Times:

"Since passage of the Patriot Act, many companies based outside of the United States have been reluctant to store client information in the U.S.," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. "There is an ongoing concern that U.S. intelligence agencies will gather this information without legal process. There is particular sensitivity about access to financial information as well as communications and Internet traffic that goes through U.S. switches"…

Internet technologists say that the global data network that was once a competitive advantage for the United States is now increasingly outside the control of American companies. They decided not to invest in lower-cost optical fiber lines, which have rapidly become a commodity business.

To the above list, I’d add Hollywood-bought copyright legislation, which, come to think of it, ties in. Pampering big movie-makers counts more than copyright reforms that would aid the many-to-many model, one way to spur demand for optic fiber. And Hollywood is hardly the only villain here. Here’s one example. I love the Associated Press news reader for iPhone and am rooting for the American-dominated AP to survive despite the exodus or planned exodus of major members and other issues, but if you quote just a few paragraphs from the AP, you just might open yourself up to a DMCA takedown. Not the best encouragement for many-to-many.

French company blissfully beyond Bono’s reach

image Similarly the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act means that theoretically you might get into trouble for using your iPhone to download Feedbooks’ content that is beautifully integrated with the Stanza e-book reader. You see, the French-based Feedbooks offers The Great Gatsby and other classics that are still under copyright in the U.S., thanks to Bono.

Bottom line? In many ways America is less friendly to technology than to Hollywood studios and politicians receiving bloated campaign contributions. And even content-oriented businesses such as Hollywood and the U.S. news organizations will suffer long term—because the popularity of content reflects the ease which which it can be accessed.

Thanks to D.C.’s Net-blind policies, governments and corporations outside U.S., including the Chinese, may enjoy more control than otherwise over the pipes that Hollywood and other American content providers want to use to distribute U.S. content. No telling what filtering technologies could pop up in the future to hurt both the U.S. and Internet freedom in general.

Again, the trend is away from the States anyway. But D.C. is accidentally speeding it up. And so are American cable companies, with their new fondness for bandwidth caps.

Where the dollars and jobs are

Meanwhile if you want to understand where the big economic action is—hardware and Net connections—check out a First Monday article by Odlyzk:

Content certainly has all the glamor. What content does not have is money. This might seem absurd. After all, the media trumpet the hundred million dollar opening weekends of blockbuster movies, and leading actors such as Julia Roberts or Jim Carrey earn $20 million (plus a share of the gross) per film. That is true, and it is definitely possible to become rich and famous in Hollywood. Yet the revenues and profits from movies pale next to those for providing the much denigrated "pipes." The annual movie theater ticket sales in the U.S. are well under $10 billion. The telephone industry collects that much money every two weeks! Those "commodity pipelines" attract much more spending than the glamorous "content."

image Remember, tech jobs aren’t just in Hollywood. They’re in West Virginia, too—in jobs laying optical fiber or putting up towers for wireless, or selling new hardware. If the U.S. want to protect content providers, then it’s far, far more efficient to create a TeleRead-style national digital library system, with fair compensation for publishers, writers and others, than to continue backwards copyright policies. I’m against 14 years terms. But Bono overdoes matters in the opposite direction—which just paves the way for eternal copyright: death, in the long run, for the public domain.

Related: E-books, Obama-Biden and Prohibtion: Any hope of educating the Dems about anti-consumer laws like Bono and the DMCA?, an earlier TeleRead item (photo). Also see Researcher: Encourage more, not less Internet traffic, in Ars Technica.


  1. A good example of just what this commentator refers to:

    First, there was Project Gutenberg. Then America jacked up the copyright terms so high that Project Gutenberg Australia started, and hosted all sorts of works that were not yet ‘legit’ in America. And THEN Australia responded to American peer pressure and increased THEIR terms from life-plus-50 to life-plus-75. And so we got Project Gutenberg Canada, which hosts life-plus-50 works, among others. I am waiting for Project Gutenberg Russia, myself :) They have hardly any copyright laws there.

  2. David Rothman said the following regarding the term of copyright: “I’m against 14 years terms.”

    The first federal copyright act specified protection for 28 years. The term was 14 years, with the right to renew for one additional 14 year term should the copyright holder still be alive (says Wikipedia).

    What do you think the term should be? I will state my admittedly inflammatory opinion below.

    I think that we must return to the 28 year limit. Copyright holders have woefully abused the general public with their relentless and grotesque lobbying for the expansion of the length of the copyright term. Blaming “Hollywood” is simple-minded and misguided. Was Sonny Bono primarily motivated by money from Hollywood? Bono was a song writer and music performer, and like many creators he wanted his copyrights to last as long as possible. Orrin Hatch, another supporter of long copyrights, was also a song writer.

    Mark Twain said the following about limits on the length of copyright “I am quite unable to guess why there should be a limit at all to the possession of the product of a man’s labor. There is no limit to real estate.” Twain supported longer copyrights and embraced the proposal to substantially extend it to fifty years after the death of an author. Too many authors, publishers, and other “creators” insist on enacting the role of a greedy egotistical villain in a plot of self-serving corruption.

    The U.S. constitution provides insight into one legitimate rationale for copyrights when it lists this goal, “To promote the progress of science and useful arts.” Copyrights were never designed to ensure that authors or other creators become mega-wealthy. Copyrights were never supposed to provide a guaranteed life of leisure to the great-great-grandchild of a popular author.

    Almost all books generate their entire stream of compensation within a fraction of 28 years. If a book is still generating substantial revenue after 28 years then the author and publisher have already been adequately enriched. Unbridled avarice should not be allowed to impoverish the public storehouse of knowledge. A copyright should provide a reasonable incentive. It should not furnish an authorization for extortion and barratry.

    The copying of works older than 28 years is fully justifiable in the current deplorable legal situation as a noble form of civil disobedience.

  3. I would say life of the author plus maybe ten years? That way, we can make sure their stuff does not go on the internet, ambulance-chaser style, the day after they die. And in cases like Douglas Adams, where he died fairly young and left a young child behind, it can ensure that his creative works can leave a bit more of a financial legacy for this family. But I absolutely do not think it needs to last forever and ever because the problem with that is, it only benefits a few people (i.e. the mega-popular ones) and leaves many other works which could find new audience in the public domain sort of languishing in limbo. And as you said, that was not the original purpose of copyright :) If you are Disney and I tell you that you cant have exclusive use over Micky Mouse anymore (you can have use of him, but so can everyone else) then it forces you to come up with something new. It stimulates creativity. The current terms are much too long (and I say this as someone who writes, and has been paid for it!)

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