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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Sony's Michael Lynton relaxes his death grip on the Internet

May 27, 2009 |  1:08 pm

Michaellynton Having endured a torrent of online abuse after blasting the Internet a couple of weeks ago, Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton has decided to take a mulligan. If you missed the original story, Lynton was on a panel at a May 14 breakfast hosted by the New Yorker and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications when he boldly stated: "I'm a guy who doesn't see anything good having come from the Internet." He added that the Web has "created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time. It's as if the stores on Madison Avenue were open 24 hours a day. They feel entitled. 'Give it to me now,' and if you don't give to them for free, they'll steal it."

Most studio czars secretly feel the same way but rarely have the nerve to say it in public. Reaction from the blogosphere was swift. Software Interrupted's Dave Rosenberg wrote off Lynton's comments as "short-sighted and borderline absurd," saying that with leadership like this, Sony, which just announced a $1-billion loss, "only has itself to blame." Game Stooge's Jonah Falcon called Lynton "hysterically neo-Luddite," adding "maybe he should abandon online communication altogether, like e-mail, Web browsing, online conference calls, Netflix streaming video, the PlayStation Network...." Zero Paid's Drew Wilson was so convinced that Lynton was an overpaid, ignorant dolt that he mistakenly identified him as a record executive.

When I talked to Lynton the other day for a story about the collapse of the DVD market, he was still smarting from the barbed responses, believing that his comments were taken out of context. After gathering his thoughts, he's decided to make a second try at explaining himself, this time by writing a post for the Huffington Post, which of course -- irony alert! -- is one of the great Internet media success stories, proving that indeed some good things have come out of the Internet after all.

Lynton doesn't retreat from his pivotal point -- that most content creators, be they music, newspapers, movies or books -- have been seriously harmed by the Internet. But while he acknowledges that the Web has had a "transformative impact on our culture," he argues that someone needs to erect "reasonable boundaries -- rules of the road -- that can help promote the many positive attributes of Internet technology while curtailing its hugely damaging effects," especially at a time when many governments are subsidizing the spread of high-speed broadband Web access.

But who should do this? Is Lynton advocating that Congress pass laws that would protect artists and songwriters and filmmakers -- and presumably those of us bedraggled journalists laboring in the crumbling newspaper biz? Who would ensure that these safeguards wouldn't hinder innovation? Lynton is mum on the specifics except to say that he is opposed to censorship, taxation or burdensome government restrictions. But who besides government has the clout to enforce order in the chaotic world of the Web?

I agree with Lynton that "freedom without restraint is chaos." But I wish he had been more specific, since I'm in one of those endangered professions that has seen its business model collapse in recent years. I'm all for new rules of the road, since the road my profession is careening down is the road to ruin. But I'm also skeptical than Washington lawmakers -- who've proven over and over again to be under the influence of the most powerful nearby lobbyist -- would write a law that would serve the average citizen as well as the corporations with the deepest pockets.

 I'd like to hear your thoughts: Is the Internet, which clearly has allowed for an unprecedented rise in piracy, a threat to our most vibrant artistic culture? Or is it healthy to have fewer boundaries and less stringent rules as we wrestle with the many possibilities of new technology?

Photo: Michael Lynton. Credit: PRNews Foto/Sony Pictures Entertainment.