Music and Piracy

OK, there have been a lot of articles recently about the Internet and copyright law etc. This probably was prompted (in the mainstream press; geeks sites have been following this for some time) by the Supreme Court’s decison to let stay the Sono Bono Copyright Extension Act (Ashcroft vs. Eldred, I believe).

I’m still trying to makes heads or tails of all of this — both what was, what is now, and what the future will/could/should hold.

With the emphasis on looking down the road, obviously. Bear with me as I attempt to write my way through this; maybe I’ll have an epiphany.

Let’s begin with a few, let’s say, a basic postulate before we attempt to construct a forward-looking theorem:

Agree or disagree with what is going on with copyright and the Internet right now, realize that the whole issue of copyright and the Internet is really not that big a deal. It’s not as important as privacy issues, government control of Internet or content, freedom (of access, to content, whatever) and so on.

That said, understand that the copyright/Internet issue is huge simply because it is the first real test of the following two points:

  • The limits that will/will not be put on the Internet, as well as what form those limits may take (monetary, oversight, technological, combination of any of the preceding and so on)
  • How traditional business models (here, the content providers: RIAA, movie studios) will co-exist — if at all — on the Internet, and what form this co-existence may take

In other words, this could be — and to some degree probably will be — precedent setting. It will affect future litigation and technology.

Don’t get me wrong: Yes, there have been plenty of collisions between the pre-Internet world and the Internet in the past, as well as others that continue to take place: e-mail snooping; pornography; ISP’s culpability for users/sites hosted with them; hackers/virusus/encryption wars and so on.

But this is the first one that has really boiled over in a wide-ranging, orderly fashion that will have significant repercussions for a wide range of people/entities.

In other words, going after Kevin Mitnick was a big deal, took government work and court cases and so on, but how did it really affect the Average Joe?

Not at all. Some precedent was set; Kevin didn’t like it … but ask Average Joe about this, and Joe won’t know about it.

But the outcome of the copyright duels may well affect the Average Joe: He’ll for example, stick a CD that he purchased into his CD player and all will be well. He’ll stick the same CD in his computer in his home office, and it won’t play because of the protection built in (one scenario).

Suddenly, Joe understands something is happening.

And before I go any further, full disclosure:

  • For my entire adult working life, I have been working in what could be considered intellectual property (IP) or content positions: Photographer, editor/writer; coder. Three careers, and no real physical objects that are unique (yes, my slides are unique, but posted slides can be swiped and I still have them, as well). It’s not like I build custom furniture for a living, where if someone steals a couch…it’s gone. I guess I should have some bias toward the content-providers concerns, but I don’t think I do. But worth disclosing.
  • My bias is still on the side of the U.S. Constitution as envisioned by the creators of same — limited government monopoly for IP; then it’s public domain. And fair use is always permitted.

OK — as I’ve noted, I’m just trying to get a handle on this right now. I read so much vitriolic about this issue — from all sides (*sign* fanatics are necessary, but they are annoying at times…) — that’s it’s hard to really sit back and decide what seems right/wrong/sensible.

Because everyone is out for their own vested interest, which is the American Way, I guess.

Note: The government’s interest is difficult to divine: Should be to uphold the Constitution; the recent actions of the Supreme Court — which should not be biased by lobbying groups, let’s say — seems very non-constitutionally oriented in this area, but that may be my bias.

Let’s get some facts and so on down here and see if some insights can be drawn as I go along:

  • The increasing sophistication of digital content makes perfect copies of existing material increasingly easier, cheaper and more accessible to more who want to make copies, legit or otherwise.
  • The current Internet does make it simplier to distribute content, if for no other reason than it’s less steps: Rip/post or whatever. Don’t need floppy disks, sneaker net, Post Office and so on.
  • One issue I have not seen mentioned in any copyright issue article I’ve read is the shadow of Internet2: With its unbelievably (today) fat pipes, a movie can be downloaded in the same amount of time it takes to download a single MP3 today (assuming high-bandwidth connection on each backbone). Today, downloading a pirated movie is totally possible, but time-consuming even with a broadband connection (cable, DSL, T-1). Again, the Average Joe Factor. I assume this future shock scares the shit out of the content industry. It should.
  • People will always pirate material: photocopies, pictures of artwork, digital copies of movies/song and so on. Get over it. It will always happen. And often this “pirating” will actually be fair use (MP3′s for my computer off CD I purchased).
  • Insight — Unless the content companies are total idiots (I doubt this, but some of their actions…..), their concern is not the Average Joe, but the “pirate shops” with stacks of burners that copy and sell “101 Dalmations” for $4.99 or post same for free. They are just trying to patch the holes in the dam before they get too big. I can appreciate that.
  • At the same time, look at some the content companies’ actions — it does go to hurt the end user (CDs that can be used in CD player but not your computer’s CD player [huh? -- both CD players...], regional DVDs etc — that hurts Average Joe)
  • There is no system/series of systems that will completely halt piracy. While I firmly believe this, I don’t think the content providers do. They want to keep sticking layer after layer (software/hardware/key registration etc) of protection; someone is going to get through. Get over it. I don’t think they get this yet.
  • Insight: Content companies should, at worst, attempt to curb piracy, not stamp it out. Doing the latter will trapple Average Joe (unintentionally or otherwise); why is that a good thing for the bottom line?
  • The voice of the content providers — the artists, musicians and so on — are not either out there or not really being heard. Yes, Janis Ian has been vocal on the issue, but there are not a lot of photographers, writers and so on that you hear about. Is it because they agree with the content industry, or that they aren’t heard? Or are they simply not speaking, for one reason or another?
  • This is not really a battle of IP, it is a battle for the money associated with IP. Big difference, but don’t lose sight of it.
  • The content industry has overreacted to every new technology that posed a potential threat to their bottom line: VCRs, cassette tapes and so on. So this rant againt the Internet and file-swapping could be dimissed as more of the same. However, I happen to agree with the content providers on this point: I think the Internet, file-swapping — the whole digital stew — does pose a very real threat to the established content industry. Whether or not that threat will upset their apple cart remains to be seen, but I’m sure it’s going to change things. I just don’t agree with the method the content industry is taking to preserve their business model. They are, simply, attempting to preserve their business model. Dude, welcome to the 21st Century…

Well — fortunately for anyone foolish enough to be reading this — I’m logging off for now.

I guess what this all comes down to is the fight between business (content industry) and creativity (the actual content creators, as well as the tech-heads).

It’s not going to be pretty, especially with the conservative govenment in power right now. Thank some deity that music is not (yet) construed as part of “national security” — lockdown would be immediate…..