Copyright Wake-up Call

I just had an interesting conversation with some folks on IRC. (I know, shocking, eh?) While reaffirming that it IS in fact a vast wasteland, it was interesting to see what sort of misconceptions are out there about copyright law.

First off, everyone hates the RIAA, myself included. Their behavior is reminiscient of the Gestapo of Nazi Germany, and they need to be stopped. Their reactionary behavior simply feeds the fire, and exacerbates the problem.

Next, many of these “pirates” believe themselves to be safe by being in another country. To quote some, “Thats why I love living in Canada. Downloading music here is legal … see in canada we pay a tax on all music anyway … and the RIAA has no jurasdiction here” and “[copyright] can be international only if the country accepts it, and very few do. Thats why they can’t do shit to people in canada denmark finland and the like.”

Let’s not forget this concept that the RIAA is snooping everyone’s computers, so if you don’t keep pirated music on it, they can’t see it. “If I burn my mp3s to a cd, they can’t trace it!”

I can’t believe people genuinely believe this crap. I suppose it’s a good thing they do, though, in case they ever do get caught, they can honestly say they didn’t know it was illegal there. With good lawyers, that might actually help reduce their fines. Let’s run down my responses to all this.

If the RIAA genuinely want to help stop piracy, then they need to put in reforms in their own industry. They need to pay the artist a fair share, and pursue more original outlets, in order to keep the public interested in buying their product. Additionally, they need to provide an effective method to sample music. Note that I say “provide,” not “develop.” There are several methods already out there that would be more than enough for this. This includes the new “barcode reader” systems in music stores, allowing you to scan in any album in the store, and listen to 30 seconds of any song on the album. Another example is the Apple Music Store, which allows purchase of individual songs, albums without a significant markup, and lets you sample any song before you buy it. The tools are out there: USE THEM. Give people a reason to NOT pirate music. The level of media piracy going on is in direct relation to the extortionist prices of music currently.

As for the Canadian pirates: sorry guys, but you’re wrong. It is always wise to research what laws you are actually beholden to before you make gross assumptions. Some things ARE of international importance, and one of these things is the protection of intellectual property. But don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself.

To discuss that next bit of idiocy, lets first discuss the current practices of the officers currently working for the RIAA to track down pirates. It’s a pretty basic (and unconstitutional) process. They track downloads, trace the IP, geographically locate the download source, put surveillance on that location to ascertain who it is, and then they raid the place. When they raid, they raid HARD. They confiscate all computers, hard drives, and disc media, sifting through all of it. So really, unless you keep all that at a separate, secret location, they’re going to find it and fine you for it either way.

Basically both sides (and the rest of the entertainment industry, and the software industry) need to understand two very basic economic principles: TANSTAAFL, and “Don’t Kick the Cow.” TANSTAAFL is an acronym from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein, meaning “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” What this means in economic terms is that everything is related, and if you take something for free, the costs of that will make itself known in other ways. “Don’t Kick the Cow.” is talking about the proverbial Cash Cow. The masses, the public. By abusing the public, it hampers the production of “milk” (cash). While we do live in a capitalist society, this does not mean that one should necessarily charge all that the market will bear. Just like we’ve had to learn conservationism in the environment for extended sustainability, economic conservationism calls for charging a fair price for all involved. This allows for continued growth.

Instead, the RIAA enforces high prices for music (kicking the cow). Music pirates continue to ignore the effects of their piracy on the global economy (ignoring TANSTAAFL). The entertainment industry continues to put out shoddy work while charging premium prices (kicking the cow again). And the software industry… well. They push for legislature that protects THEM against consumer protection laws, allowing them to release non-working software with no form of restitution for the consumer. They then charge a premium for these programs, and are now switching to a subscription-based model, where you have to pay them the same exhorbitant amount EVERY YEAR. (Though in fact we’ve been doing this anyway in the form of paying for annual upgrades to the software.)

Okay, done ranting for now. In other news, my essay is nearly complete, and I’ve begun watching the last of the anime I own but haven’t seen yet: Boogiepop Phantom. It’s by the same guy who did Lain, and you can tell. I’m only through the first dvd, but it’s been excellent so far. I’ll write more about it when I’m done with it.