Tuesday, April 12, 2016

When threads collide -- anti-trust and copyright

[via Brad]

This piece on the new age of trusts by David Dayen does an excellent job discussing the extent of our growing monopoly/monopsony problem, but I wish he would have gone a bit further with the ramifications.
At a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on antitrust oversight, the first such hearing in three years, everyone—Democrats, Republicans, and the two witnesses, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) chair Edith Ramirez and assistant attorney general of the antitrust division William Baer—agreed that there had been a “tsunami” of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) recently. Baer attributed it to money coming off the sidelines after the Great Recession. But the numbers are historic in nature: 2015 was the biggest year of M&A ever, with more than $3.8 trillion in deal value. That means lots of fees for Wall Street banks that shepherd the deals; it’s become a major profit center for them. And 2016 promises to be just as good, if not better.

This makes sense if you think about everything you buy and every service you pay for, and how they come from concentrated suppliers. We have four airlines serving 80 percent of all passengers. We have four cable and Internet companies providing most of the nation’s cell-phone and television service. We have four big commercial banks, five big insurance companies (only three if two proposed mergers go through this year), and a handful of producers selling every major consumer product. Even when you think you have a choice, like in the array of online travel-booking sites, two companies (Expedia and Priceline) own all the subsidiaries.

This dovetails all too neatly with the points we've been making in the past about copyrights. Though Dayen does not spend a great deal of time on the entertainment industry, media is certainly one of those areas that demonstrates the one-two punch of consolidation and regulatory capture: You get really big, you buy up the intellectual property of smaller companies (which they pretty much have to sell either to you or to another major since they don't have the capacity to capitalize it on their own), then you send an army of lobbyists to Washington to extend those rights indefinitely. (I suppose that's technically a one-two-three punch)

Think of a famous movie or TV show or comic strip or song or fictional character. If the creation you have in mind is less than hundred years old, the chances are extraordinarily good that it is now owned by one of a tiny handful of major media companies, and at this rate, they'll still have them a hundred years from now.

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