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Expand chart
Illustration: Caresse Haaser, Rebecca Zisser / Axios

Tech platforms have littered the media universe with crap — stolen ideas, pirated video, plagiarized text, manipulated content, and fake news. And efforts to protect and elevate quality original content have faltered in the digital era. 

Why it matters: While technology has made it easier for creators to find an audience and upend media hierarchies, it's also made it harder for owners of original content to get paid for their work. Just ask the news industry.

What's happening: A slew of new laws and market conditions are beginning to swing the pendulum the other way — albeit slightly — and return at least some power back to original content owners. 

  • In news, Google executives have warned that they will shut down Google News in Europe if policymakers there move forward with implementing a "link tax," a provision that would give publishers copyright over content that is shared online via platforms like YouTube or Facebook, per The Guardian.
  • In music, Taylor Swift announced last month that as a part of her new contract with Universal Music Group, she negotiated a provision that would help fellow artists get a cut of Spotify shares owned by UMG, if they were to ever sell them. The move comes just months after Congress passed a hallmark law that will also help music creators and record owners get paid.
  • In video, AT&T discontinued internet service to customers who have repeatedly violated the company's piracy policies, signaling that telecom companies are taking video piracy more seriously as they get into the original content business themselves.
  • In streaming, many new subscription video players are in a bitter fight over who can afford to create the most original content and buy up the most popular franchises. This is considered great for production studios, but terrible for TV networks who can't afford to pay up.

Yes, but: These efforts are minuscule when you consider the importance of scale to dominant digital distributors. 

  • Digital media businesses that are struggling to meet revenue goals are waving white flags at TV companies. Meanwhile, TV companies are lining up to get bought by telecom business.
  • Facebook and Google are expected to take roughly 75 cents of every dollar spent in digital advertising this year, despite months of scandals, congressional hearings and employee revolts.
  • Most major distributors still feel the need to fight for scale, which means that for every good piece of content they produce, many more pieces of less quality content (especially for TV) is also produced, as The Economist explains. The amount of new programming can be overwhelming for consumers.
Expand chart
Reproduced from an FX Networks Research report; Chart: Axios Visuals

The bigger picture: Disputes over the value of good content — and the definition of good content — are becoming more prevalent and complicated in the digital era. 

  • In the case of TV, market value has played a key role in negotiations over what prices telecom giants should pay TV networks for their content.
  • But years-long agreements around those rates have been tested as traditional TV declines, and a record number of carriage disagreements is leading to more TV blackouts than ever before. 

The bottom line: Despite some shifting forces, market dynamics still make it difficult for good content to consistently thrive online.

Go deeper

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
45 mins ago - Economy & Business

Biden's inflation danger

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President-elect Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal has economists and bullish market analysts revising their U.S. growth expectations higher, predicting a reflation of the economy in 2021 and possibly more booming returns for risk assets.

Yes, but: Others are warning that what's expected to be reflation could actually show up as inflation, a much less welcome phenomenon.

Ina Fried, author of Login
3 hours ago - Technology

CES was largely irrelevant this year

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Forced online by the pandemic and overshadowed by the attack on the Capitol, the 2021 edition of CES was mostly an afterthought as media's attention focused elsewhere.

Why it matters: The consumer electronics trade show is the cornerstone event for the Consumer Technology Association and Las Vegas has been the traditional early-January gathering place for the tech industry.

The FBI is tracing a digital trail to Capitol rioters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Capitol rioters, eager to share proof of their efforts with other extremists online, have so far left a digital footprint of at least 140,000 images that is making it easier for federal law enforcement officials to capture and arrest them.

The big picture: Law enforcement's use of digital tracing isn't new, and has long been at the center of fierce battles over privacy and civil liberties. The Capitol siege is opening a fresh front in that debate.