By David Poland firstname.lastname@example.org
Piracy: A New Thread
Kim Voynar got things rolling with her Piracy, Again? Arrrrrggggh entry, which was based on Mike D’Angelo’s honest, but wrong headed shrug-of-the-shoulders piece about piracy.
I have commented on the thread a few times and this morning, the single stupidest meme in the whole piracy discussion was repeated AGAIN by Mark F…
“Since the owner of the so called ‘stolen’ material still has the material, there is no theft.”
I started to respond on the thread, but 50 comments in, things are going in circles. Also, those of you who are not playing over at Film Essent – and should – might have more to add. My response to Mark F…
Sorry, Mark F, but that argument is patently ridiculous.
To argue that opportunity costs are not real is either ignorant or willfully avoiding responsibility for anything other than “what you want when you want it.”
Spinning your analogy to reality, it would be like stealing cable television… the neighborhood is wired… no one is getting a weaker signal from the theft… the owners of the copyright are not individually affected by your actions… but you are stealing the cable company’s potential—for which they have invested heavily—to sell you a monthly subscription. And if enough people steal that cable signal, it will have a direct effect on the cost to everyone else in your neighborhood that is paying for their signal.
The mentality is that movies, music, television and whatever is like fruit… it is just there… an act of nature… so if you pick an apple here or there, does it really matter to the orchard that sells them by the ton?
Every time you duplicate and distribute—whether for profit or not—a copyrighted work, you are eliminating at least one, perhaps a dozen, perhaps more opportunities for the copyright holder to sell that work. Period.
There is a limited window in which this is considered reasonable. It’s called Fair Use. If you purchase a copyrighted item, you have the right to share it with others in a “fair” way. But you don’t have the right, for instance, to reproduce the content and sell it.
The logical, unspoken, step in the “still have the television” argument is… “So what? Why does it matter if I see the copied item or give it away for free? They still have their content. I’ve just copied it.”
The loudly spoken step is now being taken by Barry Diller of all people, whose Aereo is one of the great scams of modern media. Diller is taking broadcast TV off the air, including the major networks, and broadcasting it over the internet, charging people $12 per household for this.
How can you be sure it’s a con? Because Aereo pretends they are getting the broadcasts off of 100s of thousands of tiny little antennae… and maybe, somehow, they technically are. But it’s clearly a bullshit attempt to find a legal loophole and claim that they are empowering the individual with rights they already have. Does it really matter to anyone, aside from lawyers and judges, where the signal comes from? The undeniable bottom line is that Aereo is selling something they are not paying for in an industry that is just now coming to grips with how costs and profits are going to be divide up in the new unwired—but fully wired—digital world.
It’s weird to see Barry Diller as a barnacle on an industry he helped build. But that’s what he has become. Aereo’s only real play is getting purchased as a technology buy by one of the big cable or satellite companies, having laid out software and a system for streaming delivery. (I am assuming that it doesn’t suck.) DirecTV and the cablers are all working on having their streaming of their basic services untethered from your home wi-fi so you can do what Aereo offers as well as getting the cable nets, all in a legal package. Diller’s plan must be to sell to, say, Time-Warner Cable because they are too slow to have built their own streaming network while Comcast and DirecTV rush into the fray.
Point is… even the “legitimate” players are willing to be pirates for 30 pieces of silver. They just have a lot more infrastructure to do it.
But there is a big difference between intellectual content and your television or blender. The inherent value of an object is whatever it is. Builders of those objects take those chances and do their best to get it right. But that is their game and there are rules for it.
If you write a book or write a song or make a movie, the thing you sell is not the paper or the digital coding that makes an mp3 or the film stock/file of a film. The value is defined by the interest and willingness of people to spend money to engage your intellectual property. Copying, outside of the boundaries of Fair Use (boundaries which we can argue separately), is a theft of that potential willingness or interest.
You can argue all day, dancing around the detail, about how you have a right to what I create because… well, you want it. And if I put up a pay wall and made The Hot Blog a pay site, I would surely lose the vast majority of my readers. But it is my right to do as I like with my intellectual property. And no one has a right to say, “Well, it was free for 15 years and I miss it, so I have the right to take it… it’s not like me getting around the wall is going to cost him money.” You’re right. It wouldn’t cost me anything… except you as a subscriber if you missed reading me enough.
But I get to make that choice for myself. You don’t.
I am one of a very small group of people who can make a living off of sharing their ideas. I am lucky as hell. I appreciate that every day of my life. And when I’ve squeezed the last drop out of that lemon, I will have to find an alternative way of living, presumably off of my ideas. Maybe consulting. Maybe seminars. Maybe a private subscription site that offers even more specific things that industry people want. Maybe DP/30 becomes a cash cow. Maybe Starbucks is in my future. I don’t know. But again, I have to navigate that. And you don’t get to do it for me, for better or for worse.
Personally, I think the biggest ongoing thing about piracy is that people feel they are in the right. They feel that corporations are raping and pillaging and so what if we get the what drops of the cart. Fuck them!
But I see, living in the situation, the costs to smaller organizations and individuals. Maybe they are not as easily measured. Maybe the cause and effect is not as obvious. But believe me, when big companies get screwed, they push along the losses to us all.
It really comes down to a parking space at a busy mall. I was there waiting, but you are in a rush, so you zoom in front of me to take a space that just opened. I will eventually get a space. You would have eventually gotten a space. No one is dead. The sun will still rise the next day.
BUT… you only thought of the rush you were in, giving no consideration to my reality or feelings. You broke the unwritten rules of parking civility, again, without any thought to others. Fortunately, I am not insane and I didn’t have a gun and not only weren’t you shot, but the person walking near your car didn’t get hit by a ricochet. And maybe I won’t feel entitled to zoom ahead of someone else who is patiently waiting because, damn, it just happened to me. Or maybe I will. Maybe I won’t yell at my kid for whining because we haven’t parked and they need to pee and another 5 minutes is torture. Maybe I will. Etc, etc, etc…
And maybe you really needed to get to the store so you could get home to your dying wife. If I had known, I would have let you have the spot anyway. But it does work both ways. There are people with righteous anger.
Have I digressed? Not sure.
I’ll simplify. Golden Fucking Rule, people.
If you wrote the 400-word novel over 5 years and 80% of novels were being read on digital devices, would you be okay with someone posting the novel so people could download it for free while Amazon was charging $10 a download? All between friends, of course. I e-mail it to 2 friends and they e-mail it to 2 friends and so on and so on and so on…
Deep dark truthful mirror… it’s only cool when you do it to a nameless, faceless corporation, right?