I am a child of the 1980s, and therefore lived in what is quite possibly the worst decade for cars in the history of that four-wheeled invention. The K-car still sends shudders down my spine. What made it worse were the stories my dad would tell me about the 1960s and ‘70s; the age of the affordable Italian exotic, the plucky British roadster and the muscle car. It was an era that could quite reasonably be described as the golden age of the automobile.
At this point it might be useful to explain my criteria for a “golden age” before going much further. A golden age isn’t merely a period of time when things were pretty good. No, a golden age exists when something is about as good as it can conceivably get in as many ways as possible. Furthermore, a golden age can normally be defined by a single event that signifies its demise, the fuel crisis ending the golden age of the car, for example.
I have often wondered if I will be able to tell my kids about a golden age in which I lived. Television’s ended with the cancellation of The A Team, it could be argued that music’s ended with the breakup of the Beatles, the Internet is still too young to be in a golden age, and movies, I’m told, used to be a lot better. However, while each of these things on their own can’t be applied to the age we are living in, I think, together they might just define our generation’s golden age.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare that we are living in the golden age of the media consumer. Think about it: music, if you choose to pay for it, is dirt cheap — remember when record stores could get away with charging $25 for a single CD? TV show broadcast times have been made irrelevant by the Internet — through illegal downloading and legal streaming — and movies exist, for all intents and purposes, on demand.
Furthermore, in order to keep as many consumers as possible from turning to the dark-side — illegal downloading — media outlets have been forced to keep prices in check, and content fresh.
But what about the final requirement for a “golden age,” the requirement that necessitates a dramatic occurrence which heralds its demise? According to Michael Geist, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa and the Canadian research chair in Internet and e-commerce law, this age might be quickly coming to an end.
Since 2005, the Canadian government has been trying to pass new copyright legislation that would attempt to bring Canadian law in line with that of the U.S. and Europe, without much success. Most recently, Tony Clement, the federal minister of industry, held country-wide consultations in 2009 with the public in an effort to draft copyright law which would be fair for both Canadians and industry. However; this effort to update Canada’s copyright legislation may be nullified by a new international treaty called the anti-counterfeiting trade agreement (ACTA) currently being negotiated behind closed doors between representatives from Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore, Switzerland and the U.S..
While Clement has stated in parliament that ACTA will not take precedent over Canadian copyright legislation, such as bill C-61 (the latest iteration of Canada’s copyright bill) Geist feels that Canada’s participation in the ACTA negotiations will put pressure on the government to adopt its policies, some of which impose harsh penalties on individuals who illegally download media, such as disconnection from the Internet under a controversial policy called “three strikes,” which is already implemented in some countries, such as France.
I fear that without the need to convince consumers to pay for something they could easily download for free, media producers will once again raise prices to pre-download levels and no longer feel a need to go above and beyond simply broadcasting a television show. In other words, us consumers will lose the power we have come to enjoy, and will once again be hostages to the whims of media executives, bringing the golden age of the media consumer to a crashing end.