Amateur to Amateur

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= concept and report



"The term “amateur-to-amateur” describes the social phenomenon of popular information creation and free distribution. The produc- er-participants in this process are “amateurs” because they lack financial and proprietary motives.The audience-participants are also amateurs because they generally do not pay for the information that other amateurs create or the services they provide. They often build upon, copy, select, and retransmit the original information in ignorance, and in technical violation, of copyright law." (


"A leading example of such amateur partici- pation in copyright processes is the social phe- nomenon of Web logs, or “blogs”: regularly updated and freely accessible Internet-based writings." (



Policy Report: Amateur-to-Amateur: The Rise of a New Creative Culture. by F. Gregory Lastowka and Dan Hunter. Cato Institute, April 2006


Report on the trend towards Mass Amateurization

Executive Summary

"It is commonly said that copyright matters because it encourages the production of socially beneficial, culturally significant expressive content. Excessive focus on copyright law and policy, however, can obscure other information practices that also produce beneficial and useful expression. The functions that make up the creative cycle— creation, selection, production, dissemination, promotion, sale, and use of expressive content— have historically been carried out and controlled by centralized commercial actors. However, all of those functions are undergoing revolutionary decentralization and disintermediation.

Different aspects of information technology, notably the digitization of information, widespread computer ownership, the rise of the Internet, and the development of social networking software, threaten both the viability and the desirability of centralized control over the steps in the creative cycle. Those functions are being performed increasingly by individuals and disorganized, distributed groups.

This raises questions about copyright as the main regulatory force in creative information practices. Copyright law assumes a central control structure that applies less well to the creative content cycle with each passing year. Copyright law should be adjusted to recognize and embrace a distributed, decentralized creative cycle and the expanded marketplace of ideas it promises." (

F. Gregory Lastowka is an assistant professor of law at Rutgers-Camden School of Law. Dan Hunter is an assistant professor of legal studies at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.


By Tim Lee [1]:

"how the rise of the Internet has enabled the emergence of a new model for cultural production.

They walk the reader through the “supply chain” of the culture industry (creating new works, selecting works for publication, producing copies of the work, distributing them to consumers, and promoting them) and shows how technolog is radically decentralizing each of them. Fifty years ago, only wealthy people and commercial movie studios could afford the technology needed to create professional-quality videos. Today, you can do the same thing with a few thousand dollars of equipment, and the cost of that equipment drops every year. Twenty years ago, if you wanted to become a nationally-known pundit, you needed to spend decades working your way up through the ranks of a large, hierarchical media organization like the New York Times. Now, as Julian explains, you just start a blog, and the size of your audience is limited only by the quality of your work. A decade ago, creating an encyclopedia required hiring dozens of full-time employees to solicit and edit articles. Today, a far more comprehensive encyclopedia is being produced by volunteers, and it’s available for free on the Internet.

Some people dismiss these developments as anomolies, or at least as isolated incidents. Blogs, Wikipedia, open source software, and the rest are just manifestations of people having too much free time on their hands, the theory goes—the real work is still done in hierarchical, commercial enterprises. What Lastowka and Hunter do a good job of demonstrating, I think, is that these phenomena deserve to be regarded as a new form of production on par with the 20th century’s industrial production model. It’s in its early stages yet, so naturally it still accounts for only a minority of cultural products, but that’s not surprising, given that industrial production methods had a 100-year head start.

I do have a criticism of the paper, however.

I think the authors ought to more clearly distinguish between decentralized production of new content and decentralized distribution of content that’s already been produced. For most of the paper, the authors celebrate the fact that amateurs are creating new works on a scale that people a decade ago couldn’t have imagined. Yet in their penultimate section, they seem to be holding out Kazaa and Morpheus as examples of this creative culture. I think that’s wrong. Whatever one thinks of the legal merits of Kazaa’s case, it’s clearly the case that (at least at present) the popularity of those programs (and their successors) is parasitic on the industrial content industry. Most of the files being traded on those networks were created and distributed by centralized, capital-intensive music labels. It may be that in the future, peer-to-peer networks will be dominated by music created for the purpose of free online distribution, but that hasn’t happened yet. And I think it undermines our argument to conflate creating free music with stealing commercial music. The authors don’t come out and say that we should cheer the widespread copyright infringement occurring on peer-to-peer networks, but they also don’t seem bothered by it.

Relatedly, the authors flirt with the notion that we don’t need commercial culture at all They suggest that in the future, we’ll have amateur music, peer-produced replacements for all commercial software, and—perhaps—an open-source blockbuster movie. Therefore, they seem to suggest, copyright doesn’t really matter.

This strikes me as wrong. As I’ve argued before, certain types of cultural production are unlikely to be amenable to peer production. Blockbuster movies and certain kinds of commercial software are two examples. Novels and textbooks might be other examples. Obviously, I could be wrong, but it strikes me as extremely premature to start discussing the end of copyright. If peer-production is superior in a particular domain, it will crowd out commercial production with or without copyright law. This is already happening with punditry, and I suspect it will begin to happen with music in the next decade or so. Although at the margin copyright does discourage certain kinds of cultural production (and, accordingly, I think certain aspects of the law should be reformed) copyright at its core is not a significant obstacle to peer production." (



"Instead of a model that posits separate manufacturers and consumers, consider the creation of content as a feature of human expressive activity. The amount of expressive content created by and available to individuals today is staggering, and, surprisingly, copyright law has little to do with it. The majority of Americans today have computers that give them regular access to the information phenomenon known as the World Wide Web. A recent Pew Internet study on the cre- ation of online content by individuals found that 53 million Americans have uploaded works to the net, including writing, art, video, and audio creations."


"Emerging digital and network technologies are challenging copyright law’s claim to prominence in creative information practices.

Copyright has historically facilitated information distribution by way of centralized and integrated models of creation and distribu- tion. Seven processes have traditionally been chained together in this model: creation, selection, production, dissemination, promotion, purchase, and use. Until recently, all seven functions were conjoined out of necessity and were under the control of centralized intermediaries. Only profitable works could be pro- duced and distributed, and those works were controlled, primarily, by integrated business operations that took an intense interest in protecting their business models through copyright laws. The past model of centralization and focus on profit contrasts with the present moment, in which the information practices that copyright affects are increasingly nonprofessional, socially distributed, and disintermediated.

Two parallel spheres of information production exist today. One is a traditional, copyright-based and profit-driven model that is struggling with technological change. The second is a newly enabled, decentralized amateur production sphere, in which individual authors or small groups freely release their work to other amateurs for experience, redistribution, and transformation. The amateur sphere of content production is today providing the public benefits that were previously provided exclusively by the mechanisms of copyright law. The emergence of amateur-to-amateur content development as a viable alternative is something to her- ald and to protect."

The Disintermediation of the Content Production Value Chain

"The creative content cycle entails seven discrete functions: (1) creation, (2) selection, (3) production, (4) dissemination, (5) promotion, (6) purchase, and (7) use. Every one of the func- tions involved in this process is being decentral- ized and “amateurized.”


Distributed-information networks are pushing content control away from commer- cial exploitation and toward amateur-to-ama- teur models."



"This first stage, in which a creator writes, compos- es, draws, paints, or otherwise creates fixed expression, is “creation.”

Historically, for example, aspiring filmmakers were unable to produce motion pictures without the help of financial backers and technical specialists.

... The dominant means of organizing all those peo- ple is the firm.


Advances in technology, however, are dra- matically reducing the costs of formerly expensive creative genres.


Individuals now have many of the creation tools that were formerly available only to pro- fessionals in the content industries.



"The next function in the traditional chain of copyright practices is selection. By “selection” we mean the exercise of some discriminatory judgment about which creative works warrant reproduction and distribution. Selection is the process whereby someone decides which works are worthy of the additional investment in conveyance to society.


Tens of thousands of “speculative” screenplays are created each year by aspiring writers and mailed to agents, producers ...

Most such scripts go unread, a number are rejected, and a very tiny percentage is actually judged worthy of commercial development.

The decision that a script is worth consider- ing for turning into a movie is the epitome of the selection function.


Selection is absolutely necessary because investments should not be made in works that will not recoup investments.

... In high-risk industries like pop music and movies. Those industries are based on a venture capital model of risky production: No one knows what type of con- tent is going to be successful, so many bets are placed on various alternative products ... one high-performing “hit” will more than cover the costs of a large number of failures.

Someone, somewhere, must make decisions about whether a given work is worth exploiting.


Distributed selection is increasingly a more reliable predictor of preferences than are the traditional industry selection agents—com- missioning editors, movie executives, and so on. Distributed selection is real-time, individ- ually tailored, and resistant to the personal generalities, inconsistencies, and information deficits that plague traditional industry agents. The average selection agent makes a gut reaction decision about the interest level in a particular market or submarket. The algo- rithmic distributed selection agent makes individualized predictions based on the end user’s interests.

In the music field, for exam- ple, AudioScrobbler is a plug-in for various music-playing applications. ... AudioScrobbler checks your ratings against the playlists of other users and finds those users whose rank- ings are most similar to yours. It then recom- mends songs that those users rate highly but are not on your playlist.


The technology news and commentary sites of Kuro5hin and Slashdot provide a distributed selection mechanism through their modera- tion process. Any posting on those sites is rated by multiple users, and an average score is assigned to the posting. Other users can then set their threshold, to see only those postings that are rated above a certain level.

... adopts this approach in the fashion industry: Contributors submit T-shirt designs to Threadless, and users both vote and comment on the designs. Designs that are rated above a certain level are then made available for purchase by users.


It seems inevitable that the func- tion of content selection in the future will be more socially distributed. Central selection agents will lose their relative power in much the same way that the proliferation of cable television channels has led to the decline in prominence of the three major American broadcast networks.



In the production function, someone invests in preparing a work for the market.

... production invariably entails the re-production of the work.

In book and magazine publishing, the text and graphics are typeset and multiple copies are run off from that master version.


The last 20 years have profoundly altered produc- tion and reproduction of content. This started with the introduction of consumer reproduc- tion technology: Xerox reprography, audio cassettes, and VCRs. Those technologies were introduced at a time when distributed cre- ation and selection of content were not possi- ble, so we think of them as “reproduction” devices.44 However, more and more, reproduc- tion devices are content production devices.

Consumers once needed intermediaries such as the recording industry for the production of music.


Today, with the advent of perfect digital copies, the public can take care of the production function on its own.


Not only is the computer a production device, but, as noted above, the Internet itself is a technology of production.


The genius of cheaper, decentralized production is, not just that people who oth- erwise would publish can do so more cheap- ly, but that those who never considered that they could publish are now free to do so.


The production function, like the cre- ation and selection functions, has been radi- cally decentralized and amateurized by the technology of distributed networks.



Dissemination has historically entailed the distribution of copies of works to outlets for purchase. Physical distribution beyond one’s immediate sphere invariably requires the coor- dination of supply chains.


The Internet revolutionized distribution at the same time it revolutionized production.

Consumers still have to be made aware of the content and be convinced that they need it. And that is the job of the promotion function.



The most important function in the copyright business has always been promotion ... individual consumers must some- how be made aware of the work’s existence and, more important, be convinced to pur- chase the work (or access to it).


In the past, the processes of selection and promotion were separate, both temporally and strategically. The work of a selection agent was to find the diamonds in the rough, but the promoter was a specialist in selling ...

The importance of the promotion func- tion to copyright industries is hard to over- state, and it is ignored in almost all accounts of copyright.

“Brand licensing” is one of the success stories of the entertainment industries of the second half of the 20th century.

... The promotion function is primarily about finding a mechanism to con- nect potential consumers with content they are interested in using. Promotion is probably the most important function making the differ- ence between successful and unsuccessful exploitation of copyrighted content.


Increasingly, however, we are seeing the decentralization and consequent amateur- ization of the promotion function. In fact, the selection and promotion functions are merging.

The rating of a particular movie, book, or article by people who are just like you may be a much better mechanism of pro- motion than any of the mechanisms that centralized actors have had at their disposal. The review function in is one in which individuals are, essentially, promoting content in a decentralized manner.


Distributed recom- mendation systems like Epinions have been built to express opinions on all manner of things, people, and content.

Purchase and Use


Purchase, in the traditional theory of copy- right, creates the incentive for creation and also subsidizes the previous five processes. In exchange for cash, a consumer acquires the right to access a work ...

A traditional purchase function is possible, and easy, for decentralized actors. Five years’ experience with online payment demonstrates how simple it is for purchases to be made through the Internet ...

It also must be observed that a direct financial return is not the foremost goal of many players in the content chain.


The final function in the content chain is use: the experience or manipulation of the content by the purchaser.


... Content is giving way to individual authorship and selection designed to build an artist’s brand and personal reputation or to establish a person’s membership in an online social community. While such reputation enhance- ment and community recognition will gener- ally lead to financial rewards of some sort, this may not occur through direct purchase.


Use is an integral aspect of the life cycle of creative content.

If one thinks of use under the traditional copyright model, use is merely passive recep- tion of the content, and nothing has changed.

However, if one sees use as adapting, retrans- mitting, modifying, or otherwise building pon the content, much has changed. In essence, whereas the “use” stage of the creative process in the past was when a creation reached the public, the “use” stage in the ama- teur-to-amateur model is merely the begin- ning of the next stage in the creative cycle. The amateur end user may become the amateur recreator or redistributor."

The emergence of Distributed Selection

F. Gregory Lastowka and Dan Hunter:

"Today distributed selection is an emerging reality. In various ways, distributed selec- tion is replacing the past functions of the entertainment industries by sifting through and prioritizing large numbers of works.

Increasingly, “social software” allows for the profiling of personal preferences, cross-indexing of those preferences among individuals, and thereby predicting with relative reli- ability the preferences of consumers.

Perhaps the best known social software–reliant tool is Google, which ranks the relevance of any given website by determining the number of other sites that are linked to it. As computer scientist Edward Felten has explained, “Google is not a mysterious Oracle of Truth but a numerical scheme for aggregating the preferences expressed by web authors.”34 Google fil- ters out the vast panoply of irrelevant material by collecting relevance assessments made by other users.

Capturing individual preferences and writ- ing preference algorithms that rank information’s relevance are generally known as collab- orative filtering. Analog collaborative filtering has existed for a long time. For instance, the notion of good “word of mouth” to drive up sales of movie tickets, Billboard’s listing of top singles and albums, or the New York Times’s listings of “bestsellers” are processes by which, to some extent, the public casts votes that buoy the sales of information products. But well-written collaborative filtering software can offer much more personalized and nuanced varieties of recommendation.


Distributed selection is increasingly a more reliable predictor of preferences than are the traditional industry selection agents—commissioning editors, movie executives, and so on. Distributed selection is real-time, individually tailored, and resistant to the personal generalities, inconsistencies, and information deficits that plague traditional industry agents. The average selection agent makes a gut reaction decision about the interest level in a particular market or submarket. The algorithmic distributed selection agent makes individualized predictions based on the end user’s interests.


Central selection agents will lose their relative power in much the same way that the proliferation of cable television channels has led to the decline in prominence of the three major American broadcast networks. In situations in which we can actually compare centralized ex ante and decentralized ex post selection directly—for example, the ex post distributed Google search engine as contrasted with the ex ante centralized, human-selected Yahoo! directory — the distributed agent has garnered greater market share because it apparently works better. And for scope of material covered, the work of the volunteer, amateur, and socially distributed Open Directory Project is more comprehensive than the Internet directory produced by Yahoo!

Distributed networks are transforming the selection function. The conclusion is simple: Traditional centralized ex ante selection is costly and decreases total available content. Now that distributed selection is possible, ex post selection among works by decentralized agents seems to be a better alternative." (

Is the rise of the amateur-to-amateur model inevitably a destructive force for media industries

The functions of the creative cycle that formerly supported centralization have migrated to the edges of the system, to the amateurs who create the content and the amateurs who use the content.

Two issues emerge from this movement toward amateurization:

(1) why some industries are disproportionately affected by the move toward the amateur-to-amateur environment and

(2) whether the rise of the amateur-to-amateur model is inevitably a destructive force for those industries.

With all the attention paid to the exchange of copyrighted music on the Internet, it is too easy to forget that, in terms of net transfers of material protected by copyright, the peer-to-peer transfer of music files is really an exceed- ingly small fraction of Internet traffic today.

By far the prevalent exchanges are copies being made of texts, images, and computer programs. The World Wide Web is constructed from those components, and each time a web-page loads, a transfer of material protected by copyright law has occurred. However, practically all webpages are provided by the copyright holder with the express intention that the material be copied by others on the network, which makes lawsuits over copying unlikely.

The problem, originally with Napster and now with other peer-to-peer services, is not that legions of downloaders have less respect for musical copyrights than for other copyrights. Rather, the centrifugal pressures described above disproportionately affect music because of the way it is disseminated and consumed.


Is decentralization necessarily a destructive force for the content industries?

The discussion above draws attention to two, seemingly inconsistent, notions. Decen- tralization seems to provide greater opportu- nities for creativity, yet an entire creative industry, the music industry, is supposedly faced with wholesale evisceration as a conse- quence of applying decentralized functions to music. At first these two positions don’t seem to be reconcilable. How could creativity flour- ish but the creative industry founder? Our suggestion is this: When, as is true today, valuable content can be created for decreasing costs, decentralization of the func- tions in the creative cycle will lead to a much greater proliferation of expressive content without great participation by copyright- holding firms. The erosion of the power of the centralized copyright firm heralds the rise of the power of the decentralized copyright ama- teur.

It is often said that everyone has a book in him: decentralized content functions mean that everyone can now write the book inside him, produce it, distribute it, and have it select- ed and used by that tiny subset of the popula- tion that would really love it. The majority of writers may well be better off under this model, and the majority of readers may well be better off in this model. Those who benefited from the centralized system envisioned by copyright may be worse off, but if society is better off, does the erosion of copyright’s value matter so much?

Of course, there are some downsides. The story is somewhat more complicated when it comes to large-scale creative endeavor. With the average cost of a studio movie now in the tens of millions of dollars, and some reaching hundreds of millions, we might think that decentralization will spell the end of all moviemaking, since file sharing will destroy the movie industry’s revenue model and pre- vent massive investments in blockbuster films."


"“Rome did not fall. It was transformed.”

Rome was once the center of the world. What we think of as the fall of an empire was, Peter Brown reminds us, just the transfer of Roman influence into a much different world. It is meaningless to ask whether the unitary might of imperial Rome was some- how inherently superior to the distributed, messy agglomeration of states that emerged after Rome fell. Some things were better, things were worse. On average, things were just different.

Imperial Romans saw the disappearance of their empire as the end of civilization. They could not conceive that another, more interest- ing order might rise in its place. But instead of empire we saw empires. Instead of Rome we saw the emergence of many different cultures, peoples, and states. A similar process is hap- pening in the creative content cycle. Instead of a unitary system called copyright governing our information practices, we are seeing the emergence of a distributed, messy agglomera- tion of opportunities in content creation, pro- duction, distribution, and so on.

This transformation does not signal the end of culture. In fact, it does not even signal the end of copyright. But it does suggest that, just as the Roman Empire became modern-day Europe, copyright might be best transformed into some- thing else. It should, chiefly, come to be a more democratic system. It should reflect contempo- rary reality by becoming a law that protects lim- ited rights in particular valuable forms of expres- sion, not a law that acts as a censor."