Modern Day Protectionism How copyright has turned the record labels, software writers and film studios against their own customers

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The consumer
entertainment industry lobbyists lie. They lie over, and over, and
over. They lie to the media, they lie to the politicians, they lie
to you. The lies in question are rarely looked upon critically by
the media or the politicians, only by grassroots opposition. The
main lies involved are all variations on the same theme; copying
equals theft. That is to say, if you copy a piece of data — be it
a software program, a song, a movie, a book, that makes you a thief.
You’re depriving the producer of that work of money which they supposedly
have a right to.

I don’t know,
maybe I wasn’t “educated” well enough in government schools, but
no matter how I twist and turn my logic, I still fail to see how
this even remotely makes sense. If I walk into a store and leave
with a jacket for which I have not paid then I have deprived the
store’s owner of his or her justly acquired, tangible property.
They have one less jacket. They are directly harmed by my action.

If a friend,
however, lends me a music CD and if I then make a copy, so that
I can listen to the music without having to borrow the disc again
in the future, nobody is harmed. It is possible that I could, for
example, have made an agreement or contract with him when I borrowed
the disc stating that I cannot copy it. If I were to do it anyway,
I’d be in violation of a private agreement. If not, who is harmed
by my act of duplication? I used my own tangible property (CD drive,
computer, and hard drive or blank CD) to fashion a duplicate of
the data on the CD. The original CD is still my friend’s property.
I return it to him, and while he is no better or worse off than
he was before, I am now better off. The imprint of the music on
my tangible property makes that property marginally worth more to
me, as I can enjoy its use to a greater extent than previously.

Was anyone
harmed at any point here?

Yes — if you
choose to believe the consumer entertainment industry. They claim
there was a third party here that was being harmed. Can you see
the third party? There was me, and there was my friend. There was
my property and that of my friend. I don’t see the third party anywhere
in that process. I suppose my friend could have been in a contract
with the person or organization he purchased the CD from not to
copy it, but I wouldn’t have been bound by that contract. Either
way, I did nothing wrong.

So who is this
mysterious third party? At which point does he appear, and how is
he harmed?

Well, let me
explain. You see, there’s this notion advocated by some — primarily
media lobbyists, objectivists and government officials — of an intellectual
property (IP). What is an intellectual property, you may ask? Well,
the gist of it is that if you do anything that requires a bit of
work with the big, roundish object mounted on top of your neck,
you have a time-limited monopoly on that action if you’re the first
person to do it.

Not understandable?
Let me enlighten you, dear reader, with some examples.

None of the
above.

In fact, not
only are they unwilling to innovate, they have gone to the extreme
of starting to sue their own potential and real customers — with
the number of lawsuits now over being over 20,000. I’m not a business
major, but I’m pretty damn sure that’s not a good way to
gain favour with your customers. In their view, every copy made
is a lost sale; each person who makes a copy — and a download from
a file-sharing network is a copy — must equal a lost sale. Because
I’m sure you’ve all gone and bought every single song or movie you’ve
heard or seen at a friend’s place, on the radio, on TV, and so on.
Let’s cut the crap, okay?

There are many
theories on why the entertainment industries’ profits are going
down the drain. My own personal favourites are as follows:

  1. Lack of
    innovation and fear of technology. The industries have always
    been afraid of new technology. The radio, the player-piano, the
    phonograph, the VCR, cassette tapes etc. were seen as threats
    by the industry, which responded by attempting to restrict sales
    and ownership. They’re notoriously skeptical towards new technology,
    and will bend over backwards to prevent it from becoming commonplace.
    They’re unwilling to experiment and find new ways to fulfill customer
    demand. Apple practically had to force iTunes onto the market,
    the record labels weren’t willing to go along with it at first.
    They weren’t willing to only sell individual songs, they wanted
    whole albums sold.
  2. One glaring
    example of the entertainment industries’ fear of technology was
    ex-MPAA president Jack Valenti’s 1982 statement to a U.S. Congressional
    panel:

    “I say to
    you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American
    public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”

    As we all
    know, VCRs went on to become one of the biggest profit sources
    for Hollywood in history, and now we have DVDs and Blu-Ray discs
    filling the VCR’s role.

  3. Appealing
    to the lowest common denominator. This applies both to movies
    and music, but in my opinion, especially music. With their tight
    working relationship with radio and MTV-like TV channels, the
    IFPI members of the music industry have, until the last decade,
    had a virtual choke hold on customers. The radio and TV was the
    way new music was promoted and exposed to the customer. This is
    why a good portion of the popular music available today (which,
    of course, is a subjective opinion — but one many people would
    echo) is of dubious quality. Need I mention anything more than
    Britney Spears? The control they once had is now eroding. This
    is, I believe, one of the core reasons behind their stubborn unwillingness
    to embrace new technology, and especially the Internet: they give
    consumers more choice.
  4. Movies and
    news media, of course, aren’t exempt. Every year, Hollywood cranks
    out hundreds of movies, on which only a handful are truly worth
    spending one’s finite time. Who truly needs to see movies like
    Brüno? I mean, okay, it’s mildly humorous. But it’s far from
    intelligent.

    Here
    is an article
    by Michael Crichton discussing the quality of
    the media, with emphasis on news media in particular. While that
    isn’t directly what this article is discussing, its observations
    can be applied to that of the entertainment media as well.

  5. Treating
    the customer like a criminal. You walk into a cinema, buy a ticket,
    sit down and wait for the movie to start. Then you see this.
  6. Doesn’t give
    you the impression that they like or trust their customers a whole
    lot, does it?

    The results
    of using DRM have been mainly preventing non-tech-savvy users
    from making backups of their own discs (as tech-savvy users can
    figure out ways to copy them anyway) and to introduce unnecessary
    inconvenience to the customer. Here
    are
    a few
    examples.

  7. The entertainment
    industries’ crusade against file sharing. A truly stillborn, yet
    relentlessly continued policy. This harks back to #1 & #3,
    but deserves a mention of its own. File sharing, which is to say,
    people sharing media content in the form of digital files such
    as MP3s, has had a history dating back to the beginning of the
    digital computer age, but in its current, Internet based incarnation
    dates back only a decade. It started with Shawn Fanning releasing
    Napster in 1999. There were a few file-sharing networks prior
    to Napster, such as HotLine and Audiogalaxy, but Napster is the
    first one that got real traction. Millions of users copying music
    files from each other via the Internet. The music industry freaked.

That treaty,
if passed, would mark the death of the Internet as we know it; pretty
much every single website and service with user-uploaded content
would be forced out of business by the sheer cost of compliance.
Bye-bye YouTube, Flickr, Google Book Search, digg, Wikipedia, etc.

We can’t let
this insanity go on any longer — eliminate imaginary property!

Thanks for
editorial help from John T.

November
9, 2009

Vedad Krehic
[send him mail] is a student studying
digital media production in Norway.

This article
is under the Creative
Commons Attribution 3.0 License
. Stephan Kinsella explains
why.

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