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Reddit Cofounder, The Band's Ex-Tour Manager Debate SOPA, Antipiracy, And Levon Helm's Legacy [Video]

At Fast Company's Innovation Uncensored conference, things got heated between Reddit and Y Combinator's Alexis Ohanian and USC professor Jonathan Taplin, director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab, former tour manager of The Band, and friend of its drummer Levon Helm, who died the day after this debate.

On Wednesday, at Fast Company's Innovation Uncensored conference, Reddit cofounder and Y Combinator ambassador Alexis Ohanian squared off against professor Jonathan Taplin, director of the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and former tour manager of The Band. The debate—which covered everything from antipiracy to SOPA to the current state of the movie and music industries—was vigorous, to say the least, with both Ohanian and Taplin passionately arguing their positions.

Lots has developed since the debate. First, Ohanian published an open letter to Taplin, in which he pushes modern solutions to problems between artists and the business models they rely on—in particular, he suggested The Band get back together for one more release. Then on Thurdsay, The Band's drummer Levon Helm, who became a symbol during the Innovation Uncensored debate for the harsh realities of the music industry in the digital era, died. 

We'll publish Taplin's response to Ohanian's suggestion (which was, again, written before Helm's passing) on Monday. And if the two want to keep the discussion going, we'll keep providing the forum. In the meantime, catch up on how this all got started with videos from Wednesday's debate below. The debate really heats up after opening statements, about 11 minutes in. 

[Videos edited by Adam Barenblat]

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  • Joe H. Wise

    Interesting, not unlike the neighbor-against-neighbor debates coddled by the press, disintermediated by the Internet... Etc. - both sides have merit and generational allure.  To Taplin, it's true the answers aren't this black and white (or are they) and we lost a national treasure when Levon passed.  Those of us who knew or heard him can and will feel his spirit for a long time to come.  The argument could have been better rephrased - if more information was available.  Why did it take this long to expose the gross inequalities in a system that could have been better shepherded and how will you fix it by transferring the blame to the next generation of consumers, however they may have changed with their times?  To Ohanian, it is not enough to disrupt or disintermediate just for the sake or sport of it without allowing for art or philosophy or enlightenment or greatness the same platform.  You will sooner than later have these roles reversed.  Will you reflect on chaos or legitimate change?  I don't miss newspapers but I do wonder why their is not a Kickstarter for democracy.  Too often your callousness (youth?) belies your inexperience.  It is not enough to speak without reflection or research nor state we're all on the same runaway train we might as well enjoy the wind in our hair.  We need solutions that are bigger than our problems and not another crowd-funding messaging social interaction (data collection ad platform.)  To both I implore - where are the real innovations, where is our Arab spring?  Where is the platform to accomplish what Levon did in his well regarded life?  Who will meet me in the stream and raise a hammer in the hollow to build a bridge across this great divide?

  • Sid Harth

     This is my first time, here.

    Please use as much space as possible.

    What are we talking about?



    or Free Speech (issues in SOPA PIPA), now defunct bills?

    Grow up!

    ...and I am Sid

  • Tyler Gray

    I found it interesting that Alexis considered it a zinger when he asked (rhetorically): How's your relationship with your cable company? Well, it sucks, right? Maybe not. No one *thinks* they like paying for something (despite Alexis's own statement to the contrary). But whether we realize it or not, we do love what our cable company makes possible--because of the fees we pay. Alexis himself talks about really loving Game of Thrones. And few would argue that cable TV has driven one of the most engaging times ever for TV (Louis, Thrones, It's Always Sunny, Mad Men, Walking Dead, East Bound and Down, etc.). Guess what makes those expensive shows possible? Not ads. Carrier fees. The same kinds of fees that Prof. Taplin suggested tacking onto web access. And why not? Sure we bitch and moan about paying the cable company. But we *love* what that money gets us. Would the effect be the same with the web? To paraphrase Rob Levine, author of "Free Ride": want to cut your cable in exchange for crowd-sourced, free web-based video content? Get ready for the exciting new season of The Skateboarding Bulldog.  

  • Tucker Sherman

    I agree that wasn't a very strong point for Alexis, the crowd sourced free distribution model probably wont ever be able to compete with today's supercharged film and tv industries.  That said, I really dont see the merit in forcing the internet to adopt cable tv's model.  The effect would not be the same on the web, Who would collect the fee?  It would further centralize content creation around a few organizations. Premium networks, who have a pretty big stake in the current renaissance of TV, were a step away from this type of centralization.   

  • Dmitry Ostrovsky

    My relationship with my cable company is non-existent. I have cut my cable for three years now relying on Reddit, Netflix, and (gasp) books for entertainment. Sorry if I choose not to rot away in front of my TV watching garbage. The internet has more public domain and free educational/entertaining video content than cat videos. Are you seriously that much of a luddite that you think that's all there is? Look at etc. 

    Cable TV does not allow me to selectively not support FOX news or any other media that I disagree with like "Jersey Shore". The same way that religious Christians don't want their taxes going to enable abortion. I refuse to have ANY part of my cable bill go to fund News Corporation or to fund the continued mental and moral decay of this country. I refuse to support a media oligopoly and will continue to fight for liberty and freedom when it comes to free and uncensored dissemination of information. 

    I am not saying that artists do not deserve to be paid for their creative work, but their record managers, PR reps, stylists, makeup artists, photoshop artists, publishers, and other leeches to their talent do not deserve to get paid at such a dire cost to society. In an age where technology has made self-publishing so accessible, it has also decreased the cost of production and inherent value of a singular piece of recorded sound and rightfully so. No industry has the right to stop technological innovation and progress to protect their interests. This is completely undemocratic, anti-capitalist, and morally criminal in my honest opinion.

    Here is my perspective. Artists can directly distribute their work (Like Louis CK: and make a decent buck. The industry built around that artists will struggle because unfortunately for some and fortunately for most, technology has evolved. 

    Here is a historical story about aluminum for some perspective,

    Before the Hall-Heroult_process of electrolysis there was no way other than expensive melting and filtration to get pure Aluminum. Aluminum at that time (before the 1888) was more expensive than Platinum, gold, and silver! Now imagine if all of the people in Aluminum smelting industry protested the government to put restrictions on the technology of electrolysis because it devalued their principal commodity. Would that make sense to you?

    In the 21st century free market. 1$ is too expensive for a song I can watch on youtube for free. It is too expensive for a song I can stream onto my smart-phone from youtube. There are so many more people benefiting from technology than from music royalties that restricting multiple industries Verizon/Youtube/Google for a song seems like legislative overkill to me. 

    If you could only keep one industry and send the other away to some more progressive country would you keep Hollywood agents or the High Tech industry. Because, mark my words, if America keeps attacking the tech industry, they WILL leave to greener pastures. I mean how difficult could it be to relocate a few servers?


  • Matthew Conroy

    Not especially convinced by Ohanian's arguments. Kickstarter as the solution for all of the entertainment industry's ills? Who knew?

  • acarr

    Feel free to keep the debate going in the comments. Who do you agree with more, Alexis or Jon? Do both arguments have merit?