Saturday, April 02

Geek

And Now For Something Completely Different

Daniel Henninger has an article in today's Opinion Journal (an online offshoot of the Wall Street Journal) discussing the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer v. Grokster case currently before the Supreme Court. The article is called Wonder Land.

In case you haven't heard of Grokster, it's just one of the new crop of file-sharing systems. The all work the same way, basically: You put files on your computer, and you share them with other people.

Which is fine and wonderful and exactly what the internet was designed for (all this email and web stuff was just a hack added on later). The problem is copyright, or more specifically, that people are sharing files that they don't have permission to share.

The music industry (represented most notably by the RIAA) and to a lesser extent the film and television industry (represented by the MPAA) have been doing their level best to stamp this practice out. They've been trying for years, and they have made some small progress; at the least, they have splintered the file-sharing networks into many small segments, and discouraged businesses from trying to make a profit out of aiding and abetting copyright infringement.

I'm a writer, a programmer, and a musician, so my income depends to at least some degree on the protections of copyright law. (These days I work as an in-house programmer and not for a software publisher, so it's more a matter of trade secrets than copyright, but we'll leave that point for the moment.) So as you'd expect, I'm firmly on the side of the file-sharers.

Yeah.

The reason being, whatever the technical and legal merits of the case, the recording industry is a corporate cancer devoted to ripping off everybody: Musicians, songwriters, the public. Well, not politicians or "music industry" execs, but all the people who actually matter in the process. They have been paranoid about file-sharing and savage in their attacks (verbal and legal) precisely because they no longer add any value. Their time is done, and they are merely forestalling the day the doors are closed for good so they can keep looting the coffers for a little while longer.

This does not apply quite so much to the film and television industry: The big studios are still necessary, they don't always screw everybody, and they have been more circumspect in their approach to file-sharing (though still fundamentally opposed to it).

Henninger says:

Further, most downloaders would likely concede that in a royalty-free world the incentives for the next Dylan diminish. Even writers gotta eat. But this means one has to buy into the validity of eeeek, "profit." I would push this even further; it requires a moral or at least philosophical commitment to the legitimacy of profit. Absent that, there's no hope.
Most downloaders (not all, I admit) accept and indeed approve of profit. What they don't approve of is being ripped off. A CD costs rather less than a dollar to produce; we know that the musician is not (with very few exceptions) getting rich of the CD sales. We now, in fact, where the music is going, and we know that the recording industry has set itself up with a tightly ruled little monopoly, an empire of greed. And we don't appreciate that.

I've got about 600 CDs here, about 500 DVDs, and as many more VHS tapes and laser discs, so I'm not exactly a freeloader. But when unit costs are going down and retail prices are going up, people object.

Henninger says:

What a weird ethic. Some who will spend hundreds of dollars for iPods and home theater systems won't pay one thin dime for a song or movie. So Steve Jobs and the Silicon Valley geeks get richer while the new-music artists sweating through three sets in dim clubs get to live on Red Bull. Where's the justice in that?
Ask Janis Ian. Even with CD prices the way they are and file-sharing stamped out for good, most new-music artists would still be sweating through three sets in dim clubs for a percentage of the bar tab. Thus it ever was. And we can accept that. What we don't accept is a recording industry that is still structured as though it were the 1950s. If there were any actual competition, most of the record companies would have gone bankrupt years ago.

But Henninger also says this:

For starters, if "the people" don't solve this problem themselves, Congress will, and you won't like the solution--unless you enjoy the tax code. Try Googling "Chapter 17 Federal Code Copyrights." Then click on any of its 13 chapters or any of Sections 101 through 1332. It can get worse.
He has no idea how much worse.

The only way to really block file sharing is to ban everything that can be used for file sharing. That includes - just for starters - every computer, every tape recorder, every VCR, every video camera, every microphone in existence today. Every last one has to be seized and destroyed; every new product sold has to be designed from the ground up so that it cannot possibly be used to share files. The requirements for enforcing this are so odious that they'd make the tax code look like Dr Seuss.

There is a way around it.

First, stop screwing around with DRM (digital rights management). Until every electronic device in the world has been destroyed under the new RIAA World Government, DRM can always be broken. All it does is annoy people because they have to go and break the DRM before they can do what they want with the music (or film) they have just bought. Like, in many cases, listen to it.

Second, stop charging those absurd prices. A buck a track? You're dreaming. Your unit cost was less than that when you were selling CDs; your cost now is zero. A buck an album. Two bucks for a feature film. Maybe five bucks for a season of a TV show.

The rental places will scream at the latter, but hey, they're dinosaurs too. They're not parasites like the recording industry, it's just that they found a niche and now it's disappearing. Nothing in the constitution* guarantees you profits in perpetuity.

Make it quick and easy and convenient to buy the things. Offer subscriptions so that people can have the latest episodes of their favourite shows delivered straight to their digital home entertainment centre. Make it so that it's just not worth the bother of going out and finding a stolen copy.

Because most people want to be honest. They're just not willing to be robbed. And stop trying to force people to buy the same thing twice.

* Yours or mine.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 11:48 PM | Comments (4) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
Post contains 1123 words, total size 7 kb.

1 What the RIAA and its cronies are doing is so insidious as to be evil. Effectively they are saying to people "Hey, we're going to control the way that you develop technology and what you can do with it." thus stiffling creativity because they want money, but more importantly, control. I used to work in games and we accepted piracy as something that would happen. As soon as CD burners became available it became more prevalent, but we just tried to make it harder for people to break the protection and suddenly we realised it would always be broken - hell, we would try and break it ourselves just to see how long it would take. Piracy will never go away. No matter how cheap you make something there will always be someone who wants it cheaper or for free, but reducing your costs makes it less prevalent (if it was the equivalent of 25 cents per track, and you could make your own compilation CD then hell yes please). Secondly, and more importantly, how much does it cost to make an album? I know people buy albums but in all honesty I cannot name a single album that I like ALL the tracks on - so why shouldn't I have choice? At 25 cents a track I have nothing to lose. Mass storage is also very cheap, cheaper per GB that ever before, the means for recording or copying is cheaper than ever before so the RIAA is justifying what? That they have invested in production plants (that are used, incidently, for processing DVD's and CD's from a lot of different place) but then that is their infrastructure - imagine Ford complaining that they had to invest in plants because "you can build yourself a car in your own yard". It would be laughed out of court. The issue is mass piracy and the sooner the RIAA and its sister bodies recognise this the better. Where people are selling these things at markets or out the backs of their cars because they have produced thousands of them. But these guys take more effort to find, so why not go for the soft targets?

Posted by: Alex at Sunday, April 03 2005 08:21 AM (8Ef3q)

2 The rental places started because most people couldn't afford to pay the $70 to $100 that studios charged for tapes of their movies. Actually, studios still charge that for tapes, which is why rental places are turning to DVDs--and so studios are considering upping the prices of DVDs. They're idiots.

Posted by: Susie at Saturday, April 09 2005 10:25 AM (I7fob)

3 Here's an extremely intelligent essay on the issues:
http://www.negativland.com/minidis.html
Is it any wonder that more and more people are sharing instead of buying? BTW, CD prices are even worse in Japan (where I used to live), so I only bought stuff that I couldn't get elsewise. Incidentally, it's often cheaper to buy the imported version of a CD than the domestic Japanese version--and they're sitting next to each other in the store! (The main reason for wanting the Japanese version is for the Japanese-language lyrics & liner notes).

Posted by: Squidley at Tuesday, April 19 2005 10:50 PM (2qJKm)

4 Thanks to the virtual properties of an electronic archive, you can also do a computer search of all the obituary notices to look for specific words, and so check for specific patterns and features in the way his times valued MT. mercedes-benz4me com It's interesting, for example, to see whether "Tom" or "Huck" is mentioned the most - and what other characters and novels are singled out.

Posted by: aboutbigbusiness com at Monday, May 08 2006 08:09 AM (jGfWu)

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