Moral Suasion at the Movies

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Reader Rex Stetson notes that the MPAA's anti-piracy campaign now includes a series of ads running with the trailers before films.

These include testimonials from various folks who work on movies (downloadable here) in an attempt to drive home to individual viewers the idea that it's not just mega-wealthy studio execs and actors who are harmed by piracy.

This will probably be slightly more effective than the ham-handed "copyright-infringement-is-exactly-like-physical-theft" line that Jack Valenti pitched on a recent finger-wagging tour of American colleges, but that's not saying a whole lot. There are a few reasons I don't see this being terribly effective.

First, people who wouldn't have rented or bought the movie in question (I'm assuming downloads don't primarily compete with in-theatre viewing; people go see stuff on the big screen because, well, they want to see it on the big screen), can correctly tell themselves that their downloading a movie online has no effect whatever on revenues, and therefore on the ability of the key grip or the best boy to feed his kids.

Even for those who would have bought or rented it, there's a second, more psychological problem, maybe related to what's often referred to as the "diffusion of responsibility" effect, or a kind of moral collective action problem. Individual pirates are likely to think to themselves: "The few bucks I would have otherwise spent on this movie get split a thousand ways. So I can't be making a difference to any one individual of more than an incredibly tiny fraction of a penny. The difference of one more or less rental or sale isn't going to change a studio's decision to make a film, or the amount that anyone working on it is paid."

This latter case, of course, is bad moral reasoning, as Derek Parfit's famous example of the harmless torturers so vividly illustrates. But, barring strict Kantians, most people probably don't weigh the harms of their actions in terms of the aggregate effects of following certain maxims.

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  1. I understand the concept of diffusion or responsibility, but it doesn’t always work out that way. I can dismiss what my parents’ line of reasoning, “Don’t do X-activity because what if everybody did that?” by recognizing that my habits has little direct effect on the similar habits of others. Nevertheless we all engage in activities for the sole purpose of “doing our part” and “pitchin’ in” even though we could get away with whatever activity is collectively harmful.

    For example, we generally don’t litter, we tip our servers, we give a penny/take a penny, etc. That is to say, when shown that collective benevolence is useful, people generally opt in. It doesn’t always take fear to control a people.

  2. I would be more sympathetic to the argument (while acknowledging the moral wrong of the thousandth-of-a-penny argument) were I not as informed as I am about how the studio and music industries work.

    Most of the “little people” on a set have union-protected wages that have to be paid up front. Anyone who is paid as a percentage of the profits of a film essentially gets no money already. Films never make profits, as far as Hollywood accounting goes. A studio can have every single film fail to make a net profit yet still have several billions of dollars of profit for the studio in a given year.

    Anyone who matters (re: will get paid more than $1 million) gets a cut of the gross. Anyone who depends on the industry to survive either has a union-protected or salaried job (film composers actually make their money from the fees they charge for part copying and conducting the orchestra, not for the composition itself, which is paid as a percentage of the net, or in other words, isn’t paid). So film downloading only takes money away from the gross, meaning that Mr. Moneybags is the one feeling the pinch, not Joe Sound Recordist.

    Sure, this will trickle down to Joe S. Recordist at some point as movies fail to get greenlighted and work becomes more scarce, but it remains to be seen if the harm to stuido profits has actually been that great.

    The recording industry is slightly different, but similar. Session players have union-protected wages. Everyone else has fees paid out of the advance if they make very little money (say, recording engineers), or out of gross sales if they make a lot of money (the various and sundry 10-percenter lawyers who get inbetween the artist and distribution to the fans who pay for the stuff). The artist only sees money after everyone else has been paid, up to and including the recording engineer. So the artists do hurt, but only because the system is rigged so that they take the lion’s share of the risk. Mr. Moneybags takes a slight risk, and the recording engineer has a nice, steady income. Again, it’s possible for a record label to have artists who all owe money but the label makes a very nice profit for the year.

    So people who only act (if you can call it that in some cases), like Ben Affleck, suffer less from downloading than people who sell records (J-Lo). The studio and the label suffer less still.

    So yes, downloading, if we accept the still-unproven thesis that downloading hurts sales in both the RIAA and MPAA’s cases, will hurt somewhat, but the people primarily hurt are not the ones depicted in the ads.

  3. One interesting effect I’ve personally noticed about littering, and why I generally avoid throwing things out the window unless I’ve good reason to do it (like having killed an insect – don’t ask): when people see trash lying around they are generally more willing to throw their own trash with it.

    The exact and full explanation of why this is get’s a bit complicated, but the biggest bit I think is that of Social Proof – in short, it’s why you throw your trash in trash cans and dumpsters in the first place.

    It’s also a Pristine Paradox, wherein for instance one feels nearly no pressure to not have sex for the second time whereas one might feel considerable hold-ups about doing it for the first time. Similarly, adding a little more pollutant to an already polluted stream just _feels_ like a rather minor offense, whereas doing the same to a perfectly clean stream is far different.

    In yet another example, urinating in a pool vs a water glass. The idea of the first is probably at least a _little_ icky for just about everyone, but the latter is likely a whole LOT icky for just about everyone. Why? Well, partly it’s a matter of dilution, but it’s also a matter of “there’s certainly already urine in the pool, but in the WATER GLASS? Yuck!”

    The Pristine Paradox and Social Proof (not unrelated concepts) help show why it seems that often “trends” languish for awhile, being observed by a small but slightly growing population, until finally the movement “catches fire” and blows throughout an entire society in short order. It also explains why it seems like getting someone to stop to help you with your car might take a long time, until one or two people stop…and then it seems like everyone wants to pitch in. Tons of examples, really, once you get to thinking about it.

  4. You know, I would think if you’re what they used to call “a good person,” you don’t need a utilitarian equation to know that stealing is wrong. It doesn’t have anything to do with how much money you’re taking out of whoever’s pocket — you DON’T TAKE THINGS THAT DON’T BELONG TO YOU. Like movies, or CDs.

  5. Or the public domain. Whoops, that got stolen long before this started.

    Retroactive copyright extension is theft and the **AAs know it; nothing annoys one so much as one’s own faults reflected in others. Watch me so not cry over their plight.

  6. As odd as it might seem, Captain, a lot of people – those that dl music and movies will take issue with you and scrutinize the meaning of each word you said in “DON’T TAKE THINGS THAT DON’T BELONG TO YOU.”

    Observe: What do you mean by “take”? People borrow, share, transfer, watch, view, lisen, or screen media files, but take?
    What do you mean by things? Is a digital code of 1s and 0s a thing? Is information a thing? Or is “the message is the medium” true?
    What do you mean by belong? Who owns what and why do they get to own it?

    And on and on …

  7. El Capitan:

    I don’t download music or movies. However, one can recognize that while something is illegal, certainly, and morally wrong, possibly, that the tear-jerking being used to convince you to stop is disingenuous. They’re lying through omission. Lying is wrong. Can we fine them millions of dollars now?

    Can you tell me that you’ve never copied a piece of software? Used the student version of shareware when you’re not a student? Not paid a shareware fee? Downloaded a picture you liked from the internet? Passed along a picture or movie you received in the e-mail lacking explicit written permission from the author to do so? Taped an album and lent it to a friend? Taped a friend’s album?

    Can you really truthfully say you’ve never done those things?

    Because if you have, you’ve broken the law, and more importantly, you’re stealing and THAT’S JUST WRONG.

    I expect you to voluntarily pay your damages to the RIAA and MPAA and programmers and the photographers you’ve harmed forthwith.

  8. The problem with saying we shouldn’t take things that don’t belong to us is that the film (and music) industry also want to stop us from taking things that DO belong to us. If I buy a car, I can change it any way I want. I can replace the radio, I can fancy up the tires, I can paint it flaming yellow. Same goes for a house, a stereo, a piece of furniture — pretty much everything in the known universe. Now, contrast that to someone like Valenti, who insists that even though you paid for that DVD, it’s still not yours. You can use it only as they’ve designated, in the form they’ve designated. You can’t forward through the commercials at the beginning, for example. This is not about piracy; it’s about arrogance and control and an industry mired in an old business model that refuses to adapt to a new age.

  9. Well, I’m still basically a consequentialist. Thousand torturers cases are indeed a problem, but with the social organization rather than with the morality of the participants. It’s not at all contradictory that components of a system (here, people) can each be working correctly (here, morally) while the system does not. Of course, just which weights to give to which and whose advantages in this case is rather fuzzy.

  10. Don’t forget about all those destitute coca farmers in Peru & Bolivia.

    If you pirate movies, people in the film industry can’t afford as much Nose Candy and all those coke farmers in South America will be out of work.

  11. Personally, I have trouble being morally opposed to “stealing” that doesn’t actually deprive of anything that is rightfully theirs – or that which isn’t rightfully theirs, even.

    Maybe I’m just depraved, on account of I’m deprived…but I just can’t manage to wrap my head around feeling bad about it. I’m afraid I’m just too ‘earthy’, I suppose.

  12. Copyrights have always had weak claims, at best, to the claim of being genuine property. In fact, they were a form of theft, in which the state’s armed thugs forced anyone who wanted to buy books or music to pay monopoly prices to whoever held a grant of privilege from the state. Now forms of duplicating technology have finally come along that render the enforcement of these dubious property claims much more difficult. Boo hoo.

    Before this revolution is over, the publishing and music industries as we know them will be dead, and books and music will be marketed directly on the internet. Without copyrights, creator will have to devise new ways to make sure they are compensated for their work, like relying heavily on a one-time fee up front to distributors. Distributors will have to compete by charging low enough prices that the convenience of buying an already-made CD is worth the charge. Given the actual labor and materials cost of producing a CD, I think plenty of people would be willing to pay $3 for a ready-to-play recording, without all the hassle of downloading.

    Eventually, the production of movies and music may take on the characteristics of folk music, with artists having followings of a few hundred or thousand fans, and a lot more people than at present producing for the net.

    In a generation or two, there may no longer be blockbuster movies or musical artists with national name recognition.

  13. Technology has made a once viable business model no longer as profitable as it once was.

    No amount of law can fix that.

    In the old days before records, bands made money by playing live. Song writers made money by selling sheet music.

    In this new age it may be that only the perfomer/song writer can make money. It is a tough life. No one is guarenteed a living.

  14. Those were some interesting insights, Plutarck (July 25, 2003 03:18 PM.) I, too, avoid throwing things out the car window, but I do so regardless of whether I see trash lying around or not. If I see a pile of litter along the shoulder, I?m definitely not going to add to it. Never have, never will.

    Call me individualistic, if you want, but I?ve always had an independent streak that way. If I see a group of cars slowing down ahead of mine on the freeway, I make every effort not to go join them. I avoid groups of cars like the plague. (Maybe that?s why I have never initiated a rear-end collision.) My behavior is simply opposite that of the herd.

    And speaking of sheep, have you noticed that people tend to come into stores or at gas stations in waves? First there?s no one around. Then, suddenly, everybody is piling on. Never fails. Strange phenomenon, though. Never been able to figure it out.

    Finally, did you know that the Mayor of San Francisco was once fined for throwing an apple core out of his car window? His rationale, as he explained it to the cop, was that ?the thing is biodegradable.? He wouldn?t throw paper or plastic or metal objects out on the street, but food, he says, would be OK. (I still don?t know whether he had to pay that ticket or not.)

  15. Technology has made a once viable business model no longer as profitable as it once was.

    No, actually, widespread copyright infringement has made a once-viable business model no longer as profitable as it once was.

    If technology were fostering a new kind of LEGITIMATE competition — say, new musicians using it to get around the old label system — that would be fine and dandy. But that’s not what’s happening. What’s happening is that an illegitimate competition — mass piracy — is destroying an industry’s value.

    I really don’t understand why so many thinking people struggle with this distinction. If the record labels are going to be the “buggy whip manufacturers of the 21st century,” then so be it. But the buggy-whip industry should die because this fancy new automobile gizmo has come along to supplant it; not because people have taken to stealing buggy whips.

  16. Talk about people piling in and coming in waves. Once again, the anti-copyright crowd pours full-bore onto Hit & Run, plump with all manner of excuses, justifications and faux-“revolutionary”-thinking to rationalize infringement of copyrights.

    How predictable.

  17. Sandy, your observations are quite astute. And if I might add to them …

    “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want to have done to you.”

    0 + 0 = 0

    In other words, two wrongs make a wrong. Trite*, I know, but while we’re on the subject of hackneyed citations … those who continue to violate The Golden Rule, will see it happen to them someday.

    (*Trite, because they are true. The apothegms our forebears taught us are still with us because they have withstood the test of time, else they wouldn’t be trite.)

  18. Coop, I’m not sure that being predictable is bad (after all, even George W. Bush is predictable). But you treat it as an insult, so I’ll take it as one.

    There are no excuses necessary for trading / downloading. The right of property owners to dispose of their property (the CD that I buy, for example) as they see fit is hardly a new idea. Add on to that the acknowledged legal principles summarized as “fair use” (which explain why I can go to the library and photocopy any article I want for my personal use), and you have something very different from excuses: you have a reasoned opinion. One that is exactly the opposite of revolutionary. Do you have a reasoned opinion? I doubt it.

    Or perhaps you are going to campaign for the destruction of libraries next, which after all allow people to read books without paying for them… oh the horror! At least then you’d be consistent.

    As long as there is no profit derived from the transaction, there is no reason that trading music files is morally wrong. Pirate productions are another matter, because then people profit from other’s work. But in a free trade situation, it’s fine.

  19. Thieves will steal. They’ve done so for thousands of years. Burglars will break in. Liars will lie, and cheaters will cheat.

    We’re not going to change such habits ? which seem almost ingrained into human behavior.

    But what we can change is access to our property — not by any laws, but by locks of all kinds.

    Since thieves will steal, we put gates around our houses; since burglars will break in, we put locks and sophisticated alarm systems in place.

    Talk about fancy new gizmos, enterprising businesses can (and will) come up with the means and methods to protect property.

    Even shareware programmers now have ways of making continued unpaid use difficult or impossible. So when it comes to electronic entertainment, it’s quite likely that private solutions are already on the way (and without any more laws, thank you.)

  20. I would really be interested to see an honest accounting from MPAA folks as to how many taped albums or illegally copied software titles they might have or have had at one point.

    And I’d be curious to know if any RIAA folks have ever snuck into a movie. I’m guessing that a lot of lawyers have done that sort of thing. I’ll also bet there’s at least one illegal program at RIAA headquarters. I’d love to sick the BSA on them.

    I’d say the Golden Rule is actually a big reason why few people are feeling great sympathy for our RIAA/MPAA masters: if they didn’t consistently screw everybody they met and their mothers (including their own), people would feel more sympathy.

    I’m not saying the behavior would change–when the perceived threat of getting caught is low, lots and lots and lots of people will steal. But it’s now generally accepted that not paying shareware fees is wrong, even though lots of people do it. That’s because while some may feel the software is overpriced, there’s not a huge amount of lying or predatory contractual behavior going on (the same is not true of the larger commercial software industry, particularly in regards to Microsoft). Shareware authors are legitimately just programmers out to make a little money by providing a piece of software that meets a need. They don’t front for the real programmers and stiff them of any profits, they don’t claim that the janitor on a union wage will go hungry if you steal, they just say “I made this, if you like it, pay for it. If not, don’t use it.”

    Again, lots and lots of people don’t pay for their shareware, but most people agree it’s not a good thing that they are doing this. Try to find “lots and lots of people” who think that taping an album for a friend is a morally bad thing. Or even better, how many teenagers feel like they are cheating somebody when they make a mix tape and give it to someone? If you tell 90+% of people that they should spend the money for CD versions or CD Single versions of all those songs and give them to the intended recipient along with the mix tape, they’ll look at you as if you’d grown an extra head.

    So, the music companies are perceived as greedy, and the golden rule is applying to them.

    That being said, I don’t use KaZaa or Napster. But then again, I don’t buy RIAA member CDs either, and haven’t for four years. When they stop screwing artists and their customers, I’ll start contributing to their filthy lucre. Until then, well, I won’t get too upset by filesharers because they’re just doing unto the music companies as they do unto everybody else. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but that applies equally to the RIAA/MPAA.

  21. What I learned on reason.com today:

    1) It’s ok to steal from people as long as you think they’re rich, greedy or dishonest, or based on unsubstantiated innuendo that they probably do it as well. (Thanks to several posters.)

    2) The creators/producers have to prove injury before we can allow them to have property rights. (Thanks Sandy.)

    3) “Retroactive copyright extension” is bad because it decelerates the transfer of property from the evil creators to its rightful owner, the government. (Thanks to an anonymous poster.)

    A question for Citizen: What, exactly, do you mean by “what”?

    All smart-ass comments aside, I have a question for Plutarck: Let’s suppose you produce, say, a song and distribute under the terms of unlimited personal use for $1.00. Now let’s suppose that I like your song, but don’t like it to the tune of $1.00. So instead I download it from someone, and now I have a copy for my unlimited use, but you don’t have your dollar. Have I committed a theft? Absolutely! I haven’t stolen 0s and 1s, or a file, or any of the other abstractions people try to use here to make it seem ok, what I’ve stolen is a dollar of your revenue that rightfully belongs to you as the creator of the song. It is basically the same as if I had taken a dollar from your wallet, which everyone would recognize as theft.

  22. You forgot to mention these things we learned at Reason today:

    4) Owning a CD means you own the rights to the material on that CD. (Thanks, Frenk)

    5) The public library, in which authorized copies of media reside, is no different from downloading, in which potentially infinite, new, unauthorized copies of media are made. (Thanks, Frenk)

  23. C.S.: Things you missed about 3. Retroactive copyright extension is is not something that deserves to be placed in derisory quotes: it is a reality. Copyright in the US was originally 14 years – it is currently the life of the artist plus 70 years, or 95 years for corporate copyright. Disney was a big backer of this extension, as they were desperately afraid of Mickey Mouse becoming public domain. After all, someone might put their own spin on Mickey, in the same way they’ve made successful movies out of public domain tales like Snow White and The Little Mermaid. Classic rent-seeking.

    Public domain does not mean government ownership (well, except for in Mexico if some bills goes through.) It simply means anyone can use that material, without restrictions, and having changed it, copyright the derative work. It’s sad you’re so ignorant as to confuse the passing of the government-granted monopoly of copyright with property. Does the government take something when patents expire?

  24. Frenk, I suspected you’d be back, continuing to write things that are incorrect. I was right.

    You do not understand copyright, and you do not understand fair use.

    This is simply not true: “As long as no profits are extracted, and copies are for personal use, there is nothing illegal done.” While this could apply to particular cases, it does not stand up as a prima facie statement. In other words, not every case of copyright infringement in which copies were made for personal use and no profits were “extracted” is defensible under fair use.

    Incidentally, in your paragraph about fair use, you mention that “the RIAA wants to change the law.” Please back up your assertion. What part of fair use/copyright law is the RIAA seeking to change?

    The library is, in fact, not a good analogy. The fact that both the library and Kazaa offer “free access to copyrighted materials” does not somehow inherently make them analogous on the matter of infringement. That’s like saying apples and fire trucks must both be fruits because they are each red. Sometimes we really do need to think a couple more steps to understand something.

    A book in a library is a single authorized copy, created and distributed by the copyright holder. The fact that a potentially infinite number of people may read this single book does not make it the same as a potentially infinite number of people on Kazaa making and distributing NEW copies of copyrighted material.

    Not sure why your brain isn’t allowing you to grasp this distinction, but try chewing it on it awhile and see if it sinks in.

  25. Take a bite from the apple, kids.

  26. Coop, as I suspected would be the case, you don’t offer a reasoned opinion — I guess that you are just as predictable as us pore downloaders.
    The point is: it is principles of “fair use” that permit copying at libraries–not the fact that the copying happens in libraries.

    Fair use allows copying for personal use. As long as no profits are made, it is permitted. If you let a friend copy from your copy — a process that can go on without limit — it is permitted.

    Now, maybe you should go to the library. You will find things there called “books.” If / when you learn to read them, you can learn to develop and present reasoned arguments. Until then!

  27. Frenk,

    Your ignorance of the topic at hand is so blatant and pervasive that it’s hard to know where to even start.

    Let’s tackle your misconceptions about fair use.

    First off, you’re confused about the very concept of fair use. Fair use doesn’t “allow” anything. Fair use is simply a possible available defense against a claim of copyright infringement. In other words, it is not a positive right. It’s simply an available legal defense.

    Next, you’re confused about what actions fall within the scope of this defense. Not every photocopy you make at a library is necessarily among them, for instance. I suggest you look into the four statutory factors that can together comprise a fair use defense. (Sec. 107 of Title 17)

    This is not true: “As long as no profits are made, it is permitted.”

    This is not true: “If you let a friend copy from your copy … it is permitted.”

    Also, you’re confused about the different “library” assertions you’ve made and to which I’ve responded. You’ve made two assertions involving libraries: one about photocopying, and one about reading books “without paying for them.”

    The line in my 11:28 a.m. post about libraries was a response not to photocopying, but to your analogy that equated downloading with libraries, “which after all allow people to read books without paying for them.”

    So, again: The books in libraries that are read by people “without paying for them” are copies that have been authorized and distributed by the copyright holder. (Hit Google with “doctrine of first sale,” if you wish.) The songs at issue on Kazaa, on the other hand, are unauthorized and distributed against the copyright holder’s wishes.

    This much is clear: Anybody who in 2003 is still making the fallacious “public library” analogy — long after it’s been patiently knocked down countless times — really should be careful about traipsing into a copyright/downloading debate.

    Somehow it’s not hard to conceive that you’ll come back for more anyway. See ya in a bit.

  28. Now, is the law a good thing? Those who have never violated the letter of a copyright may answer.

    Yes.

  29. Coop makes a lot of sense. (Thanks for the education, Coop.)

    You see? You learn an awful lot on H&R. Aren?t you glad you came here?

    Frenk, if you really believe that letting friends copy from your copy is a process that can go on without limit, then you must never have photocopied photocopies. Ever heard of multiple-generation degradation? The thing becomes almost illegible after about the 5th or 6th generation copy.

    This is also the reason why you shouldn?t equate downloading with library copying. Electronic media do not suffer from such degradation, no matter how many copies you make.

    And that is also why copying library books is authorized by copyright holders but why downloaded music is not. Copyright holders of either media are not stupid.

  30. We went to the theatre last night, to see the Governator’s latest robot movie, and were treated with one of those “don’t pirate” commercials as the very first thing on the trailer reel. It featured a set painter. I mentioned to my wife the business about union scale and gross/net percentages. “So, he wouldn’t get hurt at all?” she asked. “Not unless they simply didn’t make movies, and he was put out of work altogether,” I answered.

    For that fellow, in particular, probably the more tangible threat has to be the proliferation of “virtual scenery,” given that so much work is done in front of green-screens these days, with the background supplied in whole or in part by digital effects. Think of the last scene in “Simone,” for example.

    Ultimately, I think the intellectual property piracy issue will be resolved by dissecting a product into its components and charging separately for them. For instance, when you buy an audio CD or DVD, you will purchase not only the physical package, but also the right to make copies for your own personal/household use, to perform the work (on a casual, non-profit basis) in your own household or personal space, or even to make derivative works for your own casual, non-commercial purposes. You will also be able to buy those rights separately from ANY physical package or (other) performance. So, if I wanted to buy the household use rights for “Bridge over Troubled Water,” I could pay a fee for that, and a separate fee to receive the bits that correspond to Simon and Garfunkel’s version, then a separate fee for the actual transmission of the bits. At least, the vendor would see these as separate fees. More probably, I would just elect to download that version of the song and all the separate fees would be consolidated for my billing purposes. The next day, I might decide that I want Clay Aiken’s version of that song, on CD. This time, I would pay to produce and ship the CD, and for Aiken’s specific performacne, but not for the song itself. I’d get that “discount” because my computer would provide the vendor’s machine with the “discount coupon” for the household song rights, which I obtained when I bought my first copy. Later, perhaps I might wish to collect all versions of “Bridge” I own onto a single CD: “Bridge to Infinity.” I could do this using my own burner, but if I didn’t have one, I could also pay KTel/Ronco/iTunes to burn and ship me one. This time, I would not pay for either the song or the individual performances; only for the production and shipment of the CD.

    The point and goal of this approach would be to ensure that the appropriate parties got compensated for the actual value they brought to the table at each stage of production and distribution. The challenge is several fold: 1) to make transactions as transparent and straightforward as possible, even in the absence of data-processing equipment; 2) to preserve the privacy of the consumer and maximize his fair-use options; 3) to ensure that all participants at each step in the value-adding process receive fair compensation, minimizing the situations in which a transaction “falls through the cracks” of the system, or occurs outside of it, without requiring draconian and unwieldy enforcement methods.

    Do we have any such systems in development or on the horizon? I certainly hope so, but if not, I am confident that at least one will emerge.

  31. In response to Coop’s July 26, 02:15 posting:

    First, let me admit that I’m no expert on the issues being discussed here…

    That being said, the way I see it is that technology WILL end up ‘fostering a new kind of LEGITIMATE competition’. The record companies, movie industry, etc will have to either stop trying to get the government to save their ass by extending copyrights to such a ridiculous level (artist’ life +70 years???), for example, and figure out a way to use this new-fangled technology for their benefit, or someone else will, which will be their destruction.

    I don’t illegally dl any music – I’m a dj and I buy all my vinyl from a record store. But I, like many others, just cannot shed a tear for the RIAA/MPAA. Much like radio was seen as a threat to their monopolies(?), it is their short-sightedness and reliance on ad hoc government intervention that is the real problem. They should have seen these technologies coming (I mean, they knew cd’s and cd’s burner’s were coming, right – else how did they begin making cd’s in the first place?).

    What I think will happen, is as costs for the equipment necessary for musical production, media creation, and distribution come down (as they have been for years now), artists will finally be able to get out from under the yoke these industries have had them struggling under for years now.

    So to me, your argument is correct, but not for the reasons I think you intended.

    (And if I’m way off-base here, it won’t be the first time.)

  32. Coop, sorry, but you are not correct. At least you expressed a few thoughts this time, so I guess maybe you already took my advice about visiting the library.

    Anyway, US Code Title 17 Chapter 1 Section 107 explicitly states, ” the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction … is not an infringement of copyright.”

    Look it up. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

    So, while perhaps not guaranteed in the constitution, “fair use” is certainly protected by law. As long as no profits are extracted, and copies are for personal use, there is nothing illegal done (that is why the RIAA wants to change the law, get it?).

    The library is a very good analogy, in fact. A library permits free access to copyrighted materials; you can copy, memorize, or just enjoy. A peer-to-peer network offers free access to copyrighted materials; you can copy, save, or just enjoy. There is no special dispensation given to libraries; these are principles generally available to all purchasers that do not make profits.

    Rick brings up an interesting point, but since the law specifically permits different kinds of reproduction, to focus on the mechanical limitations is off the mark.

  33. Actually, C.S., what you should have learned from me is that crying crocadile tears gets you no sympathy. I never once said anywhere that anyone has to prove harm to have property rights.

    Instead, I said they were hypocrites, as are those who defend them.

    Legally, they are 100% correct. However, their argument in these ads is an appeal to sympathy. And that depends much on the character of the appealer.

    Much as Saddam begging for relief from the hounding of the U.N., or the KKK complaining of stereotyping, organizations who screw everybody they come into contact with evoke little sympathy.

    But yes, legally they are completely correct.

    Now, is the law a good thing? Those who have never violated the letter of a copyright may answer.

  34. Wow, James! You sure did some in-depth thinking about this issue. (You must be “in the business” or something, yes?)

  35. ADDENDUM: I guess I should first surf some more before asking dumb questions. Just visited the blog with your handsome photo and found out that you wear (wore) several hats: radioman, computer guru, tech writer, among others. Either way, looks like you?ve been around the block a few times.

    Nice site, though: http://jamesamerritt.blogspot.com/

    And while I was at it, I visited challenger Bennett?s, too. Bennett says, ?Verizon’s acting like the Internet bubble never burst.?

    Well, Richard, isn?t that a good thing? I?ve always contended that ?the economy? is not some vague phenomenon ?out there? in the world somewhere, but that it is simply comprised of people like you and me (and corporations) acting in the marketplace. (But I guess this is a discussion we should save for elsewhere, eh?)

    Like at: http://www.bennett.com/blog

  36. I’ve downloaded a few movies, but they’ve all been movies I never wanted to see in the theater and never was willing to rent. Basicly, the movies that I might watch if they happened to come on HBO or someother channel one night.

    On the other hand, I have downloaded films and series that are in a sort of gray-area: foreign works that have no US distributor. Some of these never make it to the US and are not intended for the US market. Yes, I’m stealing, but only something that no one wants to be borthered to sell. In cases where they do come over to the US, I usually buy the DVDs. I’ve spent several hundred dollars on Anime that I would not have bought if I hadn’t got a chance to watch it free and find out how good it was. (I’ve also saved my self money by screening out the crap – the real reason studios don’t like the arugment that “try before you buy” is a good thing IMHO)

  37. Coop:

    Really? Never taped an album? Not once? Never photocopied an article for a friend? Never? Never taped a song off the radio? Ever? Never copied a program, or failed to pay a shareware fee in the alotted time? Ever?

    I kinda doubt it.

  38. Really? Never taped an album? Not once? Never photocopied an article for a friend? Never? Never taped a song off the radio? Ever? Never copied a program, or failed to pay a shareware fee in the alotted time? Ever?

    Nope. Sorry if that makes me come off like some sort of tight-assed puritan. Though I don’t think that’s what it’s about. I think it’s more happenstance than anything — even when I was younger, before I knew much about copyrights or knew the right and wrong, I guess I just never happened to do it.

    Either way, you seem to be basing your argument on this idea of “everybody does it.” Maybe they do. But when “everybody’s doing it” to an extent at which a copyright holder perceives real harm, the copyright holder can seek remedies. Which is exactly what the record industry is now doing.

    This is not random kids sitting alone in their bedrooms sticking a tape recorder next to the transistor radio waiting for the latest hit song to get played. This is mass, widespread duplication and distribution of digital copies of music. There’s a difference of degree and scale. And the infringed have a right to use civil courts as the law has prescribed.

  39. I feel so sad for the price-fixing record and movie cartels.

    Gutenberg put a lot of monks out of business. So what? It was the birth of the system we have today. But no system deserves any perpetual right to exist over any other. Doing everyting possible to keep one system in place only makes it more diffucult to put an even better system in place. The difference is that everyone defines the term “better” differently.

    This whole thing is just a re-hash of the same thing that happened at the beginning of radio. “People won’t pay to attend a performance if they can just hear the song on the radio!” Did that kill anything? Probably; and at the same time it gave birth to many others. And if you know anything about how broadcast royalties are paid out, it’s a total shell game.

  40. Home taping is killing music! And it’s illegal!

    Sounds pretty stupid twenty years later, doesn’t it? Which means it was stupid twenty years ago, too.

  41. First of all, what’s happening on P2P is not “home taping.” You’re pulling the same poor apples/fire trucks logic I outlined above. Simply because there appear to be similarities at one level does not necessarily make two things the same.

  42. Pete says, “Wow, James! You sure did some in-depth thinking about this issue. (You must be “in the business” or something, yes?)”

    “Or something” is more like it. I was a radio disc jockey off and on throughout the 70s and 80s, and during that time I saw how record and media companies operated, a stomach-turning revelation to be sure. Also, in the 80s, I wrote a few pieces of commercial software, very minor “hits” of the time; one in particular was ripped and copied all over the world. That is to say, lots of people used my stuff but didn’t pay, and it didn’t make me rich. These days, I make a good living for myself and my family, writing tech manuals for medical informatics systems.

    So I have seen this intellectual property thing from both sides: I’ve seen how people from artists & creators down to the consumer get ripped off by even the normal and commonplace practices of the media industry. And I have also been among those creators who have been ripped off by not-so-fair-use copying. Yet I am not on the side of the RIAA, and I do not believe in the perpetual, unlimited rights of copyright holders, especially the Disneys of the world, to dictate all aspects of usage for PUBLISHED works. Far from it.

    Even back in the day when my software was being ripped off, I understood that intellectual property litigation wasn’t the answer; complex (and trouble-prone!) copy-protection wasn’t the answer. The best answer, it seemed to me, was to allow for a wide spectrum of fair use and to be able to deploy immediately through a low-overhead, consumer-friendly distribution network at low consumer prices, which the vast majority would be happy to pay. With the internet, I think we are pretty much there.

    As far as the amount of thought I put into this, you only have to think for a few minutes every few weeks, over 20 years, to end up with a fairly broad and deep opinion on a subject. Basically, I’d get a little farther with every news story I would read about IP issues in the mainstream newspapers — and there have been a lot of them. I did take notes here and there. So I can look back on my early ideas and compare them with (or test them against) my latest thinking. The whole process hasn’t been that hard at all; about as normal and automatic as breathing, actually. I din’t even think about it until Pete made his comment.

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