The Trouble with the Copyright Debate

Does every illegal download represent a lost sale?


A few days ago, I committed an illegal act.

Instead of watching the latest episode of the British fantasy show Merlin on the SyFy channel and suffer through a hundred commercials and pop-up ads that sometimes deface the screen during the show itself, I got online and watched an illicitly streamed video. What's more, I intend to continue my crime spree and download the three-episode second season of Sherlock, which aired on the BBC earlier this month, rather than wait until May when it finally gets to PBS.

The point of this true confession is that the current debate about copyright enforcement and piracy on the Web largely misses the boat. Yes, creators and copyright holders have important rights and legitimate interests. And yes, some Internet users display an obnoxious sense of entitlement to "free" intellectual content. But media corporations and other owners would be far better helped by being savvy about consumers' wants and needs than by draconian and ultimately futile attempts to police the Web. 

Right now, the copyright enforcement debate has focused on two controversial congressional bills, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), both withdrawn a few days ago due to a ferocious backlash from technology companies and websites—a backlash that culminated in a day-long blackout of popular sites including Wikipedia. Among other things, the legislation would have enabled the federal government to take down websites based on mere allegations of copyright infringement, even if the offending material was uploaded by users without the owners' knowledge.

Yet even without these bills, which may yet be revived in some form, there's plenty of heavy artillery in the war against Internet piracy. Even as SOPA and PIPA were breathing their last, news came of the government's seizure of Megaupload.com, a hugely popular file-sharing site, and the arrest of several of its top executives on charges of racketeering and criminal copyright infringement. 

Megaupload, which has made $175 million since 2005, was a particularly juicy target due to its size, popularity, and apparently blatant moneymaking from enabling copyright violations. But most experts acknowledge that the raid will barely make a dent in the black market for copyrighted material. At most, Internet users looking for illicit movies or TV episodes may have to search a bit longer and settle for less convenience (for instance, having to download the video without the option to watch online).

It is commonly claimed that digital piracy causes huge revenue losses: $3.5 billion a year to the film industry, over $4 billion to the music industry. Yet these figures come from industry sources, which are hardly objective. A 2004 analysis  by Harvard business professor Felix Oberholzer-Gee and economist Koleman Strumpf found the impact of file sharing on legitimate music sales to be negligible. In a 2009 paper, Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf noted that several other studies supported their conclusion while others documented a real but small effect, accounting for no more than 20 percent of the overall sales decline.

The notion that every illegal download represents a lost sale, on which official claims often seem to be based, is frankly absurd. It's unclear whether these estimates even account for the impact of legal video streaming through Netflix and video-on-demand services. They certainly don't account for the positive effect of unauthorized content sharing—for instance, sales to people who buy a TV show on DVD set after sampling it online, as I and quite a few of my friends have done.

A common retort is that theft is theft. But do owners of intellectual property have a right to collect a profit from every consumer? Consistently applied, such a position should lead to a ban on libraries and make it illegal to lend a book or DVD to a friend—or even to resell used books, CDs, and DVDs.

Of course, if few consumers paid for media content, the entertainment and publishing industries would either collapse or require vast public subsidies. Most people understand this, and are willing to pay their way. But this is where entertainment companies should meet customers halfway. Why not make more content available via pay-on-demand? (To take my earlier example: if British shows with a substantial American following became available in the U.S. shortly after their original airing for a reasonable fee, many fans would gladly pay to watch them legally.)

In their 2009 paper, "File Sharing and Copyright," Oberholzer-Gee and Strumpf conclude that file sharing does weaken copyright protection—but does not discourage artistic production and, in fact, benefits society as a whole. It is important to remember that copyright was originally instituted, as the Copyright Clause of the U.S. Constitution says, "to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries." The "limited times" have been extended again and again, from an initial maximum of 28 years to the present term of author's life plus 70 years, or 95 years for corporate creations. Copyright law has also been extended to derivative works, raising roadblocks for authors and artists who engage in the sort of creative reimagining of classics—such as Gone With the Wind retold from through a slave's eyes—that has always been culture's lifeblood. 

The defeat of SOPA and PIPA is the first time a proposed expansion of copyright enforcement has been stopped by those who champion intellectual freedom. Perhaps it should be the start of rethinking and rolling back an overgrown law that, in its current form, arguably hinders rather than promotes creativity and expansion of knowledge.

Contributing Editor Cathy Young is a columnist at RealClearPolitics, where this article originally appeared.

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  1. Sarcasmic just got a boner.

  2. Why should Rearden be the only one permitted to profit from Rearden Metal?

    1. he wasn’t. Tagart profited from it too. Anyone who he sold it too could then resell it.

      1. Rearden was forced to sell it, idiot.

  3. Alt-text: “Show me where the Jedi touched you?”

    1. There are some who say that the alt-text should always be left blank, while others insist that it should always say “Niggers for Hitler.”

      America should consider the possibility that other possibilities are possible.

      1. Choicist!

        1. Better alt-text: DESU?

  4. To put it simply:

    There are basically 3 kinds of honest people

    Of the honest people, you can group them by those that really like something, those that hate something, and those that are in the middle.

    When it comes to movies or music, art, or literature, politics, whatever, those three groups will form.

    If a person in the fan group doesn’t buy something, then its a lost sale. If a person in the non-fan group gets a download for free, its a potential future sale in that the downloaded material may move them from non-fan to fan.

    For example, recently our college hockey team had a special event to get as many people into the stadium as possible. to do that, they worked with a local credit union to give away 4 tickets to anyone with an account. You could open an account with $5. So for loaning the credit union $5, you got $80 in tickets. Many people later commented on how much fun they had and have since bought season ticket packages for the rest of the season.

    The free ticket lead to the subsequent purchase.

    Hollywood and the music industry fear the free download because they know they are making highly variable crap. The free download may suck, and turn off their user. What they don’t get is that a person in the fan group doesn’t stay there. They can go into one of the other groups quickly.

    Consider George Lucas and Steven Spielberg pre-Indian Jones 3 and them post Indiana Jones 3. Pre, lots of fans. Post, not so many. Bad product can burn even the biggest names, so these entertainment guys want all of us to buy downloads so that they get paid at least this time, knowing full well that the item you bought may suck and you won’t come back.

  5. the current debate about copyright enforcement and piracy on the Web largely misses the boat

    It sure does.

    most experts acknowledge that the [Megaupload] raid will barely make a dent in the black market for copyrighted material


    others documented a real but small effect, accounting for no more than 20 percent of the overall sales decline.

    A 20% loss in sales is “small”? Try sustaining that over several years and still stay in business without a sugar-daddy.

    But do owners of intellectual property have a right to collect a profit from every consumer?

    Still missing the point.

    “to promote the progress of science and useful arts…”

    A grave philosophical flaw in the Copyright Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The state has no prerogative or legitimate function in “promoting” anything. The state exists as a protector of its citizens’ inalienable rights, not as a pitchman or “investor” or carnival barker.

    1. It’s not a 20% loss in sales, it’s 20% of the loss in sales. So if the loss in sales is 20%, then piracy is responsible for a 4% loss in sales.

    2. A somewhat different sense of the word “promote” than pitching product. Promote as in guarantee a period of exclusion.

    3. A grave philosophical flaw in the Copyright Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The state has no prerogative or legitimate function in “promoting” anything. The state exists as a protector of its citizens’ inalienable rights, not as a pitchman or “investor” or carnival barker.

      Patents aren’t inalienable.

      1. That’s correct. Patent laws are vastly different than copyright laws. If they weren’t then there would only be one producer of everything ever invented. Patent protections are afforded for a very short period of time in most cases, and the period they are afforded has actually decreased in most cases over the years.

    4. Re: Biff,

      A 20% loss in sales is “small”?

      It has nothing to do with so-called “piracy”. That’s the point. If your sales projections were based on keeping a virtual monopoly, then that’s entirely YOUR problem, not everybody else’s. Imagined sales do not represent real wealth any more than a wet dream represents real sex.

      1. Tell that to my sheets

  6. Consistently applied, such a position should lead to a ban on libraries and make it illegal to lend a book or DVD to a friend?or even to resell used books, CDs, and DVDs.

    I’ll be in my bunk.

    1. There’s such a thing as right of first sale that negates this threat. It allows for used goods to be sold and libraries to operate. That’s why with ebooks, publishers aren’t selling books, they’re licensing content. This negates right of first sale, meaning you can’t lend an ebook to your friend without permission, but the paper one you can.

      1. Actually the Nook does have a lending feature (to other friends/family with a nook).

        But regardless, how do they control my handing my ereader to someone else and allowing them to read everything on it?

      2. Yes right of first sale does do that, but you’re missing the point.

        If the copyright laws were enforced the way they are now written they would be in conflict with the right of first sale. Meaning the laws as written are invalid.

        1. What?!?! First sale is only guaranteed by a federal law (specifically 17 USC 109). So it can definitely be rescinded by other federal laws. It hasn’t, but it could be. I have no idea what you’re talking about.

          1. When you have two laws that are in conflict with one another, they cannot simply exist in conflict. The conflict has to be resolved.

            One law or the other has to be invalidated, or the language has to be changed to indicate when each law supercedes the other.

  7. There are two kinds of people:

    – those who think there are two kinds of people

    – and those who don’t.


    1. ASSPWN’ED!

    2. I am highly certain that there are in fact 10 kinds of people: Those who understand binary, and those that do not.

      1. You realize that 10 in binary equals 3 right?

        1. Lol. Seriously? 10 = 1*2+0*1 = 2. What are you talking about?

  8. OT: Ron Paul has sick, misogynistic, privileged supporters. http://freethoughtblogs.com/bl…..-ron-paul/

    1. By reading the comments and their lack of cleverness, I have to conclude that you write those yourself by using different nicks.

    2. Anecdotal diatribes an argument do not make. Regardless, I saw plenty of ‘alignment with the religious right’ amongst Bush supporters and Romney supporters, and I’ve heard much ado from both camps about said nonsense. It is a fact that waxing prophetic to the group du juor will curry votes.

      I don’t normally respond to Ad Hominem but wow was this link just terrible.

  9. Another idiot arguing that illegal downloaded are really just good samaritans held back by the oppressive system of capitalism that they are merely sidestepping in order to keep feeding their fat asses with illicitly received goods.

    Mental gymnastics for shoplifters. BTW, stealing British TV shows hardly constitutes as a credible plea for the free exchange of knowledge (itself an entirely idiotic concept). Nice to see that her taste in TV shows mirrors the quality of her weasel like arguments. Kinda like justifying shoplifting with hunger, after taking nothing but chewing gum and bic lighters.

    1. Actually it’s not the same at all. If you shoplift, even if it’s just gum, that is a scarce resource. No one can ever have that stick of gum, and it will cost the manufacturer some amount of money to reproduce and replace it.

      Digital copies of items can be reproduced literally indefinitely without taking any additional resources away from anyone. It’s non-scarce. If I create a digital file of a song and send it to you, I don’t lose the use of it…all that happens is now we can both use it.

      The logical extension of strict copyright laws is that you should never make a mix-tape for anyone because you’re depriving the artist of a potential sale. However, no one has a right to potential, theoretical customers.

      1. get rid of cars! we’re losing sales!

      2. But someone has a right to the intellectual output of someone else simply because it can be cheaply reproduced?

      3. Digital copies of items can be reproduced literally indefinitely without taking any additional resources away from anyone. It’s non-scarce.

        Most money exists only digital form. So does most stock.

        Yet no one argues that allowing people to reproduce their own copies of stock or money should be allowed.

        I suspect that the simplistic “non-scarcity” argument doesn’t quite get you all the way home.

        The reason that people aren’t allowed to just digitally produce their own money or stock is because doing so actually reduces the value of money and stock held by others. So, even though you still have exactly the same digital item that you did before, you have suffered a loss.

        1. Yet no one argues that allowing people to reproduce their own copies of stock or money should be allowed.

          I do. My preference is for it to be the responsibility of the note or stock issuer to prevent counterfeiting of their goods.

        2. … doing so actually reduces the value of money and stock held by others.

          When the label releases the new Rihanna song, say there are 1 million legitimate purchases (at $1 each) online, therefore the song is “valued” at $1 million. Then, that song will be duplicated by Gojira and his ilk, and e-mailed to 9 friends. So now there are 10 million copies of the song in the world. That doesn’t reduce the “value” of the song to $100,000. Nobody’s personal copy of the song loses value, and the label still has it’s $1 million.

        3. A bank note (money/stock/check) is a non-scarce representative transfer of scarce goods, and therefore scarce in its scarcity. While we are limited by infinite possibilities representations of recorded material, suggesting records are a scarce resource is absurd.

          1. I admit, fiat currency doesn’t actually follow this concept. Accept it or the government fuckers are going to fuck you.

    2. Way to rebut the ‘weasel argument’!

      (well, not really, the above being primarily name-calling)

      Basically, your argument is, “its Illegals!!”

      And Illegal Immigrants are bad too, because they’re illegal.

      Master of tautology!

      1. (I was responding to Sanchez, FYI)

        1. Thanks to threaded comments, we already knew who you were responding too; you did not need to inform us.

          1. Well, actually, it might have looked like I was commenting on Godzilla’s retort to the ‘weasel comment’. Dont lecture me about threads you monoinitialed snot!

            1. It would only look that way if the reader either did not understand the way the comment threads worked or if they believed that YOU did not. Given your reaction, I do admit that the latter case may in fact be the correct one.

  10. Below is a fascinating history of the role of ‘copyright’ (in the context of music) and how it was confronted by problems every time new technology emerged, and how new laws/rights frameworks had to be reconstructed =


    Everything from sheet music publishers fighting the development of the *player piano*, then freaking out about the Phonograph, to the Radio Panic… then recordable tape… then digital media… then the intertubes…. including analysis of every single piece of legislation related to the issue

    I almost want to excerpt it, except no single chunk of anything would provide anything but an example of how ‘this shit has happened many times before’….

    I think the short take away might be is that the copyright structure has basically been making tweaks to a very basic model over 100 yrs, and over time, the tweaks have turned the law into a kind of Rube Goldberg contraption, where there are so many details and exceptions and limitations that its ceased to be a viable construct to move forward with. It needs complete overhaul…

    The “Digital Performance Right
    In Sound Recordings Act of 1995”, and “The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998″ were probably short term band-aids to fend off what was ultimately going to be the need for transformative change…. but they kicked the can down the road until shit was basically meaningless. Hence, SOPA =’The old system clearly isn’t working, so we need to find a law that will bludgeon it into working!”

    Not “let’s change how we do things”…

    I’ve always been surprised that media companies weren’t quicker to simply create a simple clearinghouse model, where they could create a “service” whereby you could have access to anything you wanted, anytime, anywhere…. or alternatively, pay more to “own” copies of individual content and not use the service at all. Apple was the only one to make this work with iTunes; if all the music companies had agreed on something like this back in the 90s, and cooperated, *they’d* be raking in billions, not some tech company. Fuckin morans.

    1. Why the music companies didn’t buy and coopt napster is beyond me. I Tunes got so big simply because it was the first and offered the business model of buying buy the song. The record companies could have done the same thing with Napster had they not been so stupid and narrow minded

      1. Stupid and narrow minded are the driving forces of the second half of creative destruction.

        1. ^^^ Word.

  11. Interesting background on the megaupload thing. Very disturbing

    Megabox was just in beta at that time with listed partners of 7digital, Gracenote, Rovi, and Amazon. Megaupload was in a heated marketing battle with the RIAA and MPAA who featured Kim Dotcom in an anti-piracy movie (5:10 mark). The site had just sued Universal Music Group for wrongly blocking Megaupload’s recent star-studded YouTube campaign. Things were getting vicious in December but the quiet launch of Megabox might have been the straw that broke the millionaire’s back.

    Dotcom described Megabox as Megaupload’s iTunes competitor, which would even eventually offer free premium movies via Megamovie, a site set to launch in 2012. This service would take Megaupload from being just a digital locker site to a full-fledged player in the digital content game.

    The kicker was Megabox would cater to unsigned artists and allow anyone to sell their creations while allowing the artist to retain 90% of the earnings. Or, artists could even giveaway their songs and would be paid through a service called Megakey. “Yes that’s right, we will pay artists even for free downloads. The Megakey business model has been tested with over a million users and it works,” Kim Dotcom told TorrentFreak in December. Megabox was planning on bypassing the labels, RIAA, and the entire music establishment.


    1. That’s interesting…..thanks for that post.

  12. eh, thanks to Stephan Kinsella and others, I’ve become convinced that a true free market would not have government-sponsored patents or copyrights. All true libertarians should oppose IP!

    1. I IP, therefor I exist

    2. Just don’t forget to donate to the arts, or Jimmy Wales is going to show up at your house and beat you at a staring contest.

  13. I might suggest that if what you do is not valuable enough, to enough people, for it to pay your bills, pirates notwithstanding, then it really isn’t something from which you should expect to derive a living. If it isn’t, and your solution is putting a gun to people’s heads, well, knock yourself out, but just consider that a) your expectations may be too high, and b) what you do may not be quite as valuable as you think it is. Provide something of value, and respect your customers; you might not end up being Bill Gates, but you’ll do just fine.


    2. you might not end up being Bill Gates

      You really should have picked someone else as an example.

      Bill Gates? You mean that guy who’s motto has been “Screw the Customer Whenever It Can Be Gotten Away With”. The guy who (at least significantly helped) create the “Let’s Make Money By Being A Blood Sucking Leach” business model?

      Yeah, that guy.

      I’m afraid you just activated one of my favorite rants.

      1. Miss the point much?

    3. Okay that’s it. Now that it’s turned on I’m going to rant.

      Let’s start with “Screw the Customer”.

      It was M$ that brought activated software to the mainstream pain in the ass that it now is. Because M$ claimed to have a problem with pirates, their solution is to impose the inconvenience of Mother-May-I? software on us all.

      Ever see a company get bought and sold? Ever see one go out of business? If you buy Mother-May-I software today, your hard drive crashes two years from now, and that company isn’t there to say “Oh you may!” when you reinstall, then you’re screwed. You can’t access any of your own files created in that software.

      I had this happen one time. Which is why I no longer use Mother-May-I software for anything I even might want access to in the future.

      1. Don’t like it? Use something else.

    4. Then there’s the Blood Sucking Leach business model. What capabilities did M$ Office 97 not have that you can find in any newer versions of Office? M$ fixed it so files don’t corrupt quite so often. There’s not much more of a story to tell. Very few useful additions to capability, over more than a decade.

      Yet we’ve had an endless stream of windows and office upgrades to pay for. Because if you don’t, your files won’t be compatible with everyone who does upgrade. But the cost of the software upgrade itself is only the tip of the M$ iceberg.

      With every new version of windows and office, we are forced to waste vast quantities of time relearning the whole command interface because M$ insists on stirring it all around. Not because it leads to any productivity increase (it doesn’t), but because it forces people to buy books and training for the new versions.

      Then there’s the fact that files from older versions of office almost never work flawlessly in newer versions. I’ve spent too many hours having to fix old word and power point files because my company upgraded office versions.

      This is nothing but a waste of time and money to the consumer. M$ has gotten away with it because they stop supporting older versions, sooner or later corporations are forced to upgrade. But this is not giving value for value, it’s the Blood Sucking Leach business model.

      The world would be much better served by incremental updated versions of office and windows both. Something along the lines of DOS 3 to DOS 4. It really is possible to add capability and functionality without forcing everyone to completely relearn the software command interface.

      But then, if they’d done that Bill Gates and M$ wouldn’t be as rich today.

      1. You, and/or your company, did/do not have to upgrade.

        1. It doesn’t take a high level of intelligence to support M$ products. It doesn’t take too much cash to buy M$ products.
          Of course, all those techs who bought and paid for those M$ lessons are going to want you to keep using their products, it keeps them in their support role. If the product didn’t suck, they’d be out of a job. It’s not a bad thing to keep your business talking to techs too…

          Have you ever noticed that you’ve grown up around idiots? Maybe it’s time to invest in M$…

          My theory on Windows 7 is a whole lot of security updates plus a worse than Chinese-immitation of OS X branded M$.

          C’est la vie. Have a beer.

  14. A Short History of My Love Affair With Digital Content. By El Duderino

    In 1990 I purchased my first CD player. It had a tape deck and I could copy my CDs as many times as I wanted and give them to whomever I wanted. I even made the occaisional mix tape hoping desperately as a horny teen to get laid.

    In 1998 I purchased a desktop computer for my senior year in college. That same year, my college rolled out a high speed ethernet in all dorms and apartments. The computer had a CD drive and by then I had hundreds of CDs. My roomate, a computer science geek, showed me the MP3 compression software he had downloaded and I began copying like crazy. The next year, I upgraded my CD rom to a CD R/W and I could make copies of all my CDs and give them to anyone I wanted. I even made some sappy mix CDs in an effort to get laid – this time it worked, high five El Duderino and go ahead and sniff your finger you’ve earned it.

    In the early 2000s I had completely filled my computers HD and had to expand. Also, burning CDs was getting kinda old and ceased to get me laid on any kind of long term basis. Then I read about the Creative Labs jukebox. This device looks like a traditional CD player, but it is an MP3 player. It cost me 600 bucks but it was worth it. It took about nine hours to upload 5GB of music to the device, which was a fraction of my collection. Also, the thing crashed, a lot, but this device effectively fueled my appetite for music. I spent so much money at the Newburry Comics music store that they should probably dedicate an aisle to me. Fueling my desire for music was costly, mostly because a CD could cost anywhere from 8 to 16 bucks and really I only wanted some of the songs, you know, the two or three songs that are good and not the ten or fifteen that they put on there to justify the price and fill out the liner notes.

    Buying CDs ceased to be a hobby when Napster and then Kazaa came along. I spent hours downloading files on dial-up, so I went ahead and got a high speed cable internet service. I had absolutely no use for anything other than dial-up prior to my addiction to these services. Seriously how much bandwith do you need to read email and surf the web. With super fast broadband service at full throttle, I began my journey into music. I started looking for common one-hit-wonders that i liked because I couldnt justify spending 14 dollars on A-Ha’s greatest hits. Then just by digging into the various user catalogues, I discovered all sorts of other music, particularly electronica, which I still love today. There were a few big issues with these services, reliability, viruses and quality. Some songs, while having a high bit rate (an indicator of a quality recording) still sounded like crap. Other songs were not the song advertised, I cant tell you how many goddamn terrible remakes I got just because of this alone. It wasnt all bad, there are a lot of good ska and electronica remakes of songs I discovered, including a version of Warewolves of London by David Lindly and El Rayo-X. Anyway, the other issue was viruses. I got several viruses from these services and so I had to be more cautious. And yet one other issue was that file sharing sites were still dependent on both upload and download speeds, so my broadband was practically useless if the other guy is still on dial-up.

    Then the iPod and iTunes came out. I discovered that I could get most of what I wanted very reliably and quickly. There are no issues with quality, viruses or mislabeled songs. My point is, millions of people download and stream content from these services because they meet their demand at a price they are willing to pay. Before iTunes, there was no other competition on the market for digital content, so it wasnt so much that people downloaded because the music was free, but rather more convenient than the alternative and yes free. For me, iTunes is far more convenient than file sharing services, but those services in a way inspired a digital revolution, which the music and film industry will mo doubt benefit from. Napster and Kazaa proved to everyone that there was a market for downloadable content and allowed the market to shift at the speed of the technology.

  15. How many songs/movies “stolen” off the Internet actually promote the song?
    How many would be “stolen” through physical copying?
    How many wouldn’t be purchased anyways because they were just looked at out of curiosity?

    1. Nobody should give a shit about any of those questions. IP is NOT real property, it is an undue transfer of title of someone else’s property towards someone who claims to be the “originator.”

  16. Copyright is straight up violation of freedom of speech and press. It is nothing more than naked rent seeking. It stifles artistic output. It results in high priced low quality content to the market. It is in all ways vile and anathema to a free society and without redeeming value.

  17. It is commonly claimed that digital piracy causes huge revenue losses: $3.5 billion a year to the film industry, over $4 billion to the music industry.

    Yeah, right – I sold my truck for $600.00 the other day, but I really wanted $3,000.00 so I had a “revenue loss” of $2,400.00 I mean, a lot of money, dude!

    The concept of “revenue loss” is one of those terms that naive and witless journalists take seriously because a) it kind of sounds like it makes sense in the surface and b) they’re economics-ignorant boobs. Any sort of competition would mean a “revenue loss” when compared to your best wetdreams (which the Sales department call “sales projections.”) But the clueless take the term to mean real loss of wealth, when in fact no wealth was destroyed at all. IP proponents that argue that piracy is “stealing” are never able to convincingly explain this conundrum – how can you talk about stealing if there’s no actual loss of wealth? And again, imagined not-yet-obtained wealth is no more real than the sexual exploits one can read in Dear Penthouse.

    1. The concept of “revenue loss” is one of those terms that naive and witless journalists take seriously because a) it kind of sounds like it makes sense in the surface and b) they’re economics-ignorant boobs.

      The concept also appeals to extremely jaded and cynical journalists, because stories with BIG NUMBERS sell.

  18. Copyright laws are way out of control already. They were never intended to secure the rights to something for all eternity.

    The intent was simply to give the original creator an advantage by giving them sole rights to the creation for a limited time.

    The intent was always to make the material public domain after that period expired, which it still does. But as you stated they keep revising the laws to extend the length of time, so that by default all copyrights essentially become permanent.

    Patent laws differ quite a bit though depending on the industry. The period of time pharma companies have to be sole producers of drugs they researched has actually decreased over time, since the government has deemed generic drugs a public good. The laws don’t jibe however. How is a lone author writing a book afforded essentially eternal copyright protection for his work, when a company that spent billions of dollars researching a drug is forced to make their formula public domain in less than three years in most cases?

    Copyright laws need to come back to the realm of reality and the original intent of the laws.

  19. Speaking of music, have any of you checked out somafm? It is donation supported Internet radio coming out of SF with about 17 different formats playing 24 hours a day commercial free. Check out Secret Agent, one of the best ones, which has old spy movie quotes interspersed with music for your stylish and dangerous life.


    1. Can I listen to Sean Hannity there?

  20. Copyright laws could be replaced by contracts. If I buy a movie, or song, i could agree to a use and distribution contract that benefits all parties.

    Consider this. You sell me a copy of your latest song, with a contract that allows me to distribute the song to anyone for any price, as long as you as artist get a cut of the price. In fact, you could even package song with access to commercial distribution warehousing servers and other delivery services free of charge so that I can more easily resell your content. Companies could compete to provide other transaction facilities to encourage sales.

    Imagine millions of different and unique media outlets all competing on the internet and each time the file gets sold, the contract goes with it. Each site pushing its own niche or striving to have the biggest an cheapest catalogue.

    1. Only if the name of your company is VISA… I think there’s still a need for fraud oriented protections in IP. Trademark is not so bad. The pirate bay makes no claims that their links are anything they *created*. Furthermore, there are different modes of distribution – some distributions are locker-like. I don’t want to put private stuff on a server to have the service provider open the locker and take my stuff, even if the locker looks like glass to their technicians. The razor points to the studio, the cloud provider, the transaction company, and the web bundler / coordinator balancing and competing over their services. I say, you don’t have to vastly diversify the distribution if you just accept that you can co-exist with free-as-air pirates. Just because the government doesn’t *force* you to pay for something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay an artist or tip your waitress for services.

      1. The downside is that the fair-use re-mix evolution of things is hardly considered in terms of pricing models. I’m not sure there’s any non-chaotic ideal here. That should be settled by the market, and a short eh- conceptual copyright term.

        1. To be clear, I am not advocating for a structured model here. I would say that we should simply do away with copyright laws and allow the free market to choose solutions on its own, one of which could be this contract model.

      2. I dont think you need special fraud protection in this model, because the distribution network rewards those who resell, even for a very small fee, like a penny with a cut of the sale. While there will always be malcontents and underground black markets, this method would minimize the effect of them by creating a legal, easy to use and potentially profitable used MP3 market. So unless you are just hell bent on giving shit away for free and being poor all your life, taking advantage of the resell option in the contract will be more beneficial for you, and if you feel compelled, you could even troll resellers offering at very low prices and since the resell contract stays with the file, you can buy at a penny download site and sell it at your nickel download site and both you and the artist make something from the deal.

        1. Also, if an artist wants, they dont have to include the contract, but then you get to give away their shit for free, or even charge for it if you wish.

        2. I think the marketplace itself should be a point of competition. I mean, there’s no reason a marketplace could not be an advertiser’s market – cutting in those who do the selling, which seems to be what you’re describing. Still, competitive marketplaces are going to set the ground rules – to offer the most to the artists or whatever. *IF* you wanted to be involved in selling the products, you could make a marketplace for that or participate in one that lets you… No need to make a government system for that… If enough marketplaces existed, studios could make generic market allowance terms, so that any marketplace could sell the product under varied standard terms. Fraud protection exists in other markets, it’s simply if you’re wondering where the people who make money on enforcing things should start refocusing their efforts – that’s really where they should go. If I make a compose a song, I don’t want some other artist claiming they actually composed it. I’m not sure there’s a good parallel in the retail market. Orange juice is orange juice, not the original orange juice, nor does anyone buy the “original” orange juice. What it comes down to is this, the only law we need about selling copyrighted material is that people who sell the product don’t make false claims about what they’re selling. I don’t think many people would pay marketplaces that doesn’t pay the original artist. Comically, the current publishing model is close to that marketplace you should never buy from, and so they are rightly getting the rug pulled from beneath them.

          1. In a way, the current copyright laws are like a generic model use contract that the industry continues to use out of irrational fear. They fear that others will copy their work and give it away free, or resell it without giving them a cut and the only reason why that ever happens is because it is so monumentally difficult to resell the product in any legal manner that the price is artificially high, which drives people to free downloads and black markets. The very thing they are afraid of is caused by the arcane methods they use to prevent it. In this regard, they are not unlike a top down style communist or socialist economy – they want absolute control of the market so they can ensure “fairness” and really all they are doing is locking themselves out of the real marketplace, the one thats going to exist regardless of how badly they dont want it to exist – the one governed by pure supply and demand.

    2. That’s all pointless anyway. They just need to revert copyright laws back to their original intent.

      The way copyright laws work now is essentially to protect monopolies. In a real free market your success would be based on how well you do something in comparison to others. In the phony copyright controlled market your success is based on locking up things as your “intellectual property”, which secures monopolies for people, not allowing real competition.

      If the rest of the world worked like the industries controlled by copyright laws you’d have a bunch of monopolies with companies producing poor quality goods with no competition. There’s a reason monopolies are supposed to be illegal in the U.S. and eternal copyrights are nothing more than monopolies.

  21. The argument theft is theft, isn’t sneakin across the border breakin the law. Breakin the law is breakin the law. The notion that these downloader’s would all run out and buy the item is tomfoolery. They do it because it’s easy. They can sit at home and get on the pc and download it free so they do. If it wasn’t available they would find a friend who bought it and copy it from them.

  22. I think Hollywood gladiators should consider that they’re fighting the wrong battle miles away from the real war field.

    We’re in the middle of a game-changing period where several technologies will reshape the multimedia and communication industry. So it’s time to think about redesigning business models to avoid extinction.

    The movie industry has until now been “protected” by the highly expensive production and distribution costs, making it a reserved VIP club. Yet, this is going to become old history.

    In fact, new professional digital cameras cost several thousands dollars and provide similar quality as the big expensive legacy machines. Furthermore, cloud computing and datacenter facilities will provide unlimited processing power making complex film-editing and visual effects accessible to millions of people. And moreover, the fast development of the telecommunication networks is making remote collaboration and team-building easy.

    Thus, we’ll start seeing cheap high quality movies made by independent and amateur producers that might be available for free on Internet using ad-based or telco-packaged business models.

    Movie-making business is going beyond hollywood’s private club, and initiatives like Sopa will not solve the problem. Instead, business model lessons should be taken from cases such as Kodak’s and EMI’s.

    In middle-east, africa, south america and the developing world, nobody can afford buying legal DVDs, and royalties are higher than what theatre owners can afford. This “illegal” public counts by hundreds of millions and loosing it will affect the whole ecosystem built around Hollywood icons, stars and culture.

    What we are witnessing is a non-sense narrow-mind battle.

  23. A modest proposal. The purpose of intellectual property law is to encourage, and benefit, authors and inventors. Fair enough. So let us secure these benefits to the true creators of IP by making it non-transferable. No corporation may own IP, only the original human creator. I believe the ensuing wholesale disintermediation would benefit everbody except the vampire squids.

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