Sunday, May 23, 2010

Intellectual property and piracy


I'm still pondering Piracy... Again by Joe Konrath.

The first problem I have is that the chief advocate of the pro-intellectual property/anti-"piracy" side of things are groups like the RIAA and the MPAA. They're big money folks, and more than that big power folks.

Mind you, I have no argument against people having money or power. But there is a genuine tendency for both of those to corrupt people. People who have them tend to gain an increasing notion that they deserve them, regardless of whether they do or not.

(I have enough controversial ideas in mind, so I don't want to sidetrack into who may or may not specifically deserve money or power. Let's simply agree that some people exist who have money and/or power don't deserve them. Say, I dunno, Osama bin Laden. Is that universally agreeable enough?)

And people who think they deserve money and power tend to justify their money and power. Many with a very "by any means necessary" kind of approach, and that includes lies and kind of lies by intent.

"Lies by intent"? Sure, like those ads with some grip explaining how if you download a copy of his last movie, it's like taking money from his family. Those are filled with lies.

First lie by intent, if the studios, whose money paid for those ads, could get away with paying him less money, they would. Period.

Second lie by intent, he's not Steven Spielberg or Tom Cruise. He made whatever he's going to for hanging lights on that movie.

Third lie by intent, they're nowhere near the point where making movies ceases to be profitable, so they will hire him for the next movie they make.

And that's just one type of ad, one argument.

But everyone knows, if you put the CEO of whatever multinational out there and have him beg you not to cut into his massive profit margins, it's not going to do anything for the argument. But that's it. That CEO, Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise. Those are the folks who stand to lose money if piracy decreases their profit margins.

Ok, this is the point I'd leap in myself and say, "I agree that most of them are liars and douchebags, but stealing from liars, douchebags and rich people is still stealing."

Indeed.

If you go and steal some big CEO's car or Tom Cruise's TV set, you should totally go to jail.

But while they want to paint the argument in black and white, that intellectual property theft is always theft, it's not necessarily that simple.

As much as they don't want it to, it's impossible to dismiss the lack of a tangible item does make a difference.

The lack of a tangible item matters to everyone.

No one argues that I shouldn't be able to borrow a copy of a book from a friend. As with "piracy", that might cost a sale.

No one argues that I shouldn't be able to borrow a CD from a lending library. As with "piracy", that might cost a sale.

No one argues that I shouldn't be able to rent a movie from a local brick and mortar shop. As with "piracy", that might cost a sale.

Of course, it's possible that I might not have bought that book, that CD or that movie at all. Lacking those legal and currently accepted options, I might have simply neglected to read, listen to or watch the items in question.

Of course, it's also possible that after reading, listening to and watching them, I might decide that I want something tangible. A book, CD or DVD that I can put on my shelf and celebrate, enjoy at my leisure and share with my friends and loved ones.

Yeah, if instead of borrowing or renting, I simply downloaded it, I arguably have something tangible, right?

Well, arguably.

The only one I'd give much credence to the argument on is music, although it's close with movies and is getting closer all the time.

I think we can write off the music industry at this point. I don't have any clue how the big corporate middlemen who have facilitated our music buying will survive in anything like the form we've known them in for the last few decades.

But who cares?

They are a despicable, predatory industry. Absolutely, wholly without scruples.

Fuck 'em.

Seriously.

Most of them should probably be in jail.

In their history - which let's face it, is short in the scheme of things, even if most of us don't remember them not existing - they have demonstrated nothing but the most deplorable contempt for artists and consumers.

We all know that.

They traditionally advanced artists more money than they would likely be able to pay back on royalties, charged them for studio time, etc., leaving them indebted to the companies. Even now hardly any artists make significant royalties off record sales, which is a boon to the rest of us, because that's why they tour so much... to make money.

On the consumer end, they fought tooth and nail against the CD, and then when they marketed them, in hopes of getting all consumers transferred over, they regularly told us that because CDs are so much cheaper to produce, the price to consumers would drop in short order... which never happened.

How does this work for musicians? We're figuring it out.

I suspect in the future, it'll become more difficult to become The Rolling Stones or Britney Spears, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing.

Big movie studios can survive at least as long as they can hold the monopoly on event movies. Technology that makes pirating movies isn't going to be their downfall. It will be when technology makes it so a relatively low-budget moviemaker can make something that will look as good as what they're making. It's not tomorrow, but it's coming.

It's exactly the same as with music. Anyone can raise the money to get recording studio space, if they put their effort into it. Anyone can get access to computers and software that will make their record sound as good as a record company's. The only thing they lack is the distribution network, but those are being developed.

Is there money to be made in all of this?

Sure.

The money may be different than it once was. It may come through different sources, it may even not be as much.

But one is not entitled to a certain amount of money for producing intellectual property. Thousands and thousands produce it for nothing at all, even at a loss. Most of those thousands probably don't produce anything you or I would be willing to pay for. Let's face it, a lot of them probably produce things that you and I would pay to avoid, if we had to.

Of course, we are entitled to request, even demand, we be paid whatever amount we want in order to sell it, but that doesn't mean we'll get it.

And that's where the big companies - and even some smaller companies and individuals - come off badly to me, their sense of entitlement.

All of the industries discussed here are pretty new, in the scheme of human history. They aren't entitled to exist at all. Industries die. They become obsolete. Throughout human history, new ways have replaced old.

It's only recently that we've taken up the idea of fighting that. Governments subsidizing various industries to ensure they aren't able to fail, etc., and that's weird, if nothing else.

The mass media are facing obsolescence. Not tomorrow, but they can see it eventually.

The music industry would fail because a talented enough guy can make an album that sounds as good as the ones they make and put it online for free or cheap on his own. That will happen, sooner or later, regardless of whether you or I illegally download the new Beyoncé album or not.

Movies are behind that. They will be later. They've always been more expensive than music. They require more people involved. They require more effort to distribute.

But all of this will change in our lifetimes.

More than these people care about money or morality, they care about keeping that from happening.

These people are corn growers demanding subsidies. That's the bottom line of their much protesting. They don't care about morality at all. They don't care about money even, so much as they do the power.

Look at the way they block YouTube from showing trailers for movies! Trailers! Advertisements that they created in order to distribute far and wide, that they ordinarily pay to get shown to people. We want to do their jobs for them and they fight it.

Why?

Power.

"But, Neil," I'd say, if I weren't me, "I understand everything you're saying, but it still seems like you're saying that these people are self-destructive douchebags and so we should steal from them. Is that right? And if the 'little guy' ends up 'winning', as you suggest, won't that leave future generations in the habit of stealing and then they won't even be stealing from big, rich douchebags, who we've agreed still shouldn't be stolen from just because they're big, rich douchebags, but from that same 'little guy', right?"

Well, kinda.

I'm not sure the "little guy" has much chance of "winning" here in general.

Like everything else, some other big, rich douchebag will find a way to muck it up. Passenger trains aren't really profitable, but that doesn't mean that interstate travel in more democratic. It's just run by the even more obnoxious airline industry.

And I'm not sure we should be illegally downloading books, music or movies that belong to big corporations, small companies or individuals.

Not for the reasons that the mass media corporations and their spokespeople say. Those reasons are specious at best.

But then my opinion on it doesn't matter too much. We are illegally downloading books, music and movies. We as a populace.

Whatever comes next will have to deal with that as a given.

Ultimately, the issue is more complicated than either "Information wants to be free" or "It's stealing!" make it out to be. Until we engage it as a gray area, we'll remain fruitless in our discussion of the issue.

2 comments:

Sleestak said...

As far as artists go I foresee some sort of Darwinian process to happen as the industry fails or falters further. Artists will be handled in a manner similar to the old movie contracts. The studio owned and operated you in all things, using your image to turn a profit. Those who can't make it at that level will be required to have the talent and savvy to be independent and still make money largely on their own.

Neil Sarver said...

Interesting. I can see big business of some sort working in some other way. Perhaps even more predatory, as you - accidentally? - suggest. The distribution of pure publicity.

But then I see on the other hand, as you say, it being more possible to make an adequate living on self-distribution.

Luckily, I don't claim to be a prophet. Seeing that things will change isn't hard at this point. Seeing exactly what, that takes more than I claim to have.

I'll be watching with more than a little interest.

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