Black creatives should apply constant lobbying pressure on Congress…

The concern: Theft and appropriation ….

The internet has provided opportunities for black creatives to create music, art, film, and writings, and distribute these products all over the globe.  When I set up my first website over 20 year ago, it took an employee at a local print shop to drive home the point with me that I was no longer local, as my mailing address on my new letterhead would imply.  My web address and e-mail he pointed out now took me to another level.  I was now global.  To this day I am still amazed and humbled when I hear from someone in Eurasia or Africa who either needed legal advice, sought some business representation, or read a blog post.

For black creatives in particular the opportunity to share our art and culture and dispel myths about our people is equal to and probably outweighs (slightly) the potential to increase the income for doing what we are good at; for doing what we love.

Centuries of oppression, for being negatively targeted physically and economically because of who we are can manifest itself in anger when our art is appropriated by the majority culture without acknowledgment or compensation.  Ironically, it is that same majority culture that has no problem asserting that blacks have no culture while stealing and re-engineering the culture we have created for the purpose of communicating with and consoling ourselves.

I think this problem, of cultural appropriation, is not relegated to blacks in America alone.  To varying degrees this problem also occurs in other parts of the Diaspora, but because I have spent my entire adulthood in the U.S., I will speak to the impact raiding black culture has on black America.

My concern in the United States is that the sharing economy may seep itself into intellectual property developed and sold by black Americans via inappropriate legislation or the misapplication of current rules applied to copyright, patents, and trademarks.  Blacks in the U.S. need to be aware of the business model that has been emerging in technology and media over the last two decades: appropriating what is considered “public” information or data and re-engineering it for resale.

There is a faux libertarian attitude among many young liberals in media and tech that everything produced should be considered as part of some commons where anyone with the capital and technology can sweep in and extract.  This is the same attitude behind “net neutrality”, where large content aggregators want to transport exabytes of data over public broadband networks for free and if these content providers can’t get their way i.e. send millions of cat and twerker videos over these networks for free, they will then argue that the democratic rights of their subscribers are somehow being violated.  Networks as well as content provided by their subscribers are simply there for free extraction.

This same liberal view toward content, in my opinion, poses a threat to black creativity.  Black creatives in America who do not take action to push back against this attack will find themselves back in the chattel-like slavery of their ancestors.  Whereas their bodies were used for slave labor in the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, their intellectual property, their creativity, will suffer the same fate in the 21st century digital economy.

Taking the property rights approach ….

Blacks own between two to three percent of private capital in the United States.  Giving away our creativity would be tantamount to suicide.  Lobbying pressure should be maintained on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the U.S. Copyright Office, the U.S. Senate Sub-committee on Intellectual Property and the U.S. House Sub-committee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet.

Action cannot be reactive. It must be proactive.  Black creatives must take action to ensure that legislation is being monitored and where threats are trending, be prepared to draft and present legislation to members of these committees for their consideration.

As creatives we tend to live in our heads, but we must make the concerted effort to keep our third eye open and on the Administration and the Congress.

The Senate Commerce Committee has another information market issue on its hand.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on the re-authorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELAR). The Act, along with its predecessor forms, have been in existence since 1988 and is intended to guarantee that consumers with satellite access to television programming has access to programming provided by over-the-air broadcast stations.

Consumers, due to terrain or distance, may have problems receiving signals from over-the-air broadcast stations.  Some consumers may choose satellite television as their medium for obtaining programming provided by these stations.  Depending on the agreements entered into to carry or re-transmit signals from a broadcast station, there is a chance that the consumer may not receive programming from broadcast stations within her local area.

This possibility of not receiving local broadcast station signals lies at the heart of the localism problem, where consumers may be denied information on what’s happening in their local communities and instead, in return for receiving content from a broadcast network outside of their locality, they would only have access to “local” content from another community, content that would be useless to them.

Critics of the Act want to see STELAR expire on 31 December and not be re-authorized.  Critics claim that not only are local consumers of satellite services being denied local broadcast content as a result of the agreements their satellite services enter into with outside area “local” broadcasters, but they are also bearing the burden of lost advertisement revenues where their local content is being replaced by the content of outside area broadcasters.  In addition, local broadcasters incur another dent in revenues where satellite companies are opting to lower re-transmission fees to outside broadcasters versus local broadcasters.

But if a consumer can’t receive signals from their local broadcaster due to terrain or distance, why should they be denied access to content from outside area broadcasters via satellite?  The argument that these consumers are being denied access to information about community events sounds laudable on the surface, but there are alternatives available that can supplement the lack of local television news that covers community events.

For example, more and more local stations are streaming news content online.  They are also supplementing their video content with texts and graphics.  They are noticeably expressing their journalistic chops by providing digital print and video.

Local programmers could also take advantage of this supposed demand by offering this local content online via their websites on a paid basis, assessing a fee commensurate with that of the local newspaper.  People do that today when they purchase Netflix, HBO Go, etc., so why not with local television content?

As for emergency alerts and other emergency information, there are mobile apps available that can keep consumers informed about urgent events.

Congress, when contemplating extension of STELAR, should keep in mind that at the core the issue is about competitive provision of content in another information market. Local television broadcasters must find innovative ways of getting their content in front of their local consumers.  Just being a part of the community is not enough for local broadcasters.

Congress should also bear in mind that satellite companies should be expected to meet local needs for network programming by providing broadcast packaging at the lowest cost possible.  This may mean creating packages that do not include programming from the local broadcaster because local broadcaster re-transmission fees are cost prohibitive.

If anything, extending STELAR puts the onus on local broadcasters to become more innovative on how they meet local community information needs.

Representative democracy has failed black people in America

The growth of political capitalists …

Representation means nothing if the spoils of society are not being delivered for each vote provided by citizens.  Black voters in particular are interested in optimal physical safety, a need stemming from violence perpetrated on them during the Jim Crow era; optimal access to capital, without which economic security is near impossible or very difficult; and the right to exist as a unique and thriving culture.

What I see being exchanged for each vote delivered by black citizens is the acquisition of a title by one or two elected representatives.  Representative democracy has created political capitalism, where owners of the political factors of political output are not creating political outcomes that address protecting uniqueness of black society, optimal black economic security, or optimal protection from violence.  Government, rather, is a feeding trough for black political representatives, with the number of voters they can persuade to vote for their party serving as the tickets for admission to the political feeding spots.

Government as a club you swing, not a club you join …

Blacks should not look at government as a club to send their smoothest talking salesman to.  Rather, blacks should look at government as a club that can be swung in order to generate capital access, physical security, and economic empowerment.  The outcomes should be a result of pressure politics.  This means that black political leadership should not be found embedded in the political machinery.  Black political leadership should be manipulating the political machinery from the outside.

Blacks in America need only go back to 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education, vacated the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, holding that segregated educational facilities were unconstitutional.  This major landmark civil rights action did not flow from the efforts of black members of Congress.  There were hardly any.  This ruling was the result of blacks taking alternative action in the courts, an approach that was focused and targeted on, in my opinion, the most important branch of government.  It is here where the social and public policy goals of law are interpreted and in some cases, where current social policy is brought to light and used to overturn precedent.

Creative chaos versus status quo ….

When black representatives allow themselves to be embedded in the current electoral structure, their priorities shift to satisfying congressional leadership and mining votes for their national parties.  These activities serve the interests of a majority white congressional leadership versus the black constituents black representatives are supposed to be advocating for.  Take for example U.S. Representative Al Green’s attempt to bring forward articles of impeachment against President Donald J. Trump.  The articles were blocked by the House with Mr. Green, Democrat of Texas, not being able to bring the majority of his own party on board with the proposal.

Mr. Green’s actions were in keeping with the status quo of congressional politics.  But did his actions result in any benefits for black constituents?  Did they lead to an increase in physical or economic security?  Did they lead to increased influence of blacks in the national Democratic Party?

What is likely is that Mr. Green lost political capital and as a political capitalist he must realize that a decreased ability to bring voters with him to the trough means lessened prestige in the Congress.  The other issue he has to face is how his constituents will deal with the knowledge that their congressman has wasted scarce political capital on a go nowhere initiative all because being embedded in the machinery creates the obligation of delivering outcomes that don’t serve them.

Conclusion: Representative democracy is failing blacks …

Representative democracy has failed black people in America.  The representatives from the black community in Washington have been converted into agents for their respective party’s leadership, securing the votes needed so that they can pull up a chair at the trough.  Just like social media has turned subscribers to social networks into resource and product for advertisers, the electoral system has turned black voters into lumps of coal with black congressmen acting as the conveyor belt carrying the coal to the primaries and the national elections.

The question is, what is the alternative approach?