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Feb 08 2012

The Worldwide Copyfight

The Internet won a blow for sanity in defeating SOPA/PIPA, the content middleman industry’s latest salvo in the fight to keep the old ways of making money off content profitable. And yet, the content middleman industry lumbers on, as only a dying cash cow can.

To be clear, when I say “content middleman industry”, I mean the RIAA, the MPAA, the Canadian CRIA and ESAC, and everyone else who does absolutely nothing to add value to content but works to “defend” the content creators by exacting huge levies from them so they can lobby governments for more Draconian measures in copyright law. They are the vultures who make money off of others, and use that money directly to attempt to maximize profits in several old methods of monetizing content — via enforced scarcity of physical media despite humankind having moved to a digital age. Now that redistribution costs so close to nothing as to be negligible, one no longer has the ability to control flow of product via physical media. Plenty of laws exist to make illegal the redistribution of copyrighted content without a license, but that doesn’t actually go far enough to control the flow of data on the worldwide and all-pervasive data miasma that is the internet. So people who are used to monetizing via scarcity of media are attempting to shackle the internet, as a whole, to these old methods, by demanding the ability to unilaterally turn off parts of it at their own discretion.

This of course means the internet, as a vehicle for data transmission of all kinds, is under dire threat. As soon as one person decides another person’s speech damages them, they would be empowered to remove whole swathes of the internet to exact revenge. In no time, the internet would be eviscerated, figuratively disemboweled, and every organ that makes it live would be removed at someone’s behest.

For example, in Canada, the music industry lobby is actively engaging the government to include SOPA-like provisions in C-11, the Canadian copyright reform bill being discussed presently.

The music industry claims to be a big supporter of Bill C-11, yet few groups have demanded more changes. In fact, when it appeared before the House of Commons committee reviewing the bill, one MP noted that their demands were “substantial” and “anything but minor.” Their demands include:

  • expansion of the enabler provision to include SOPA-style expanded liability
  • create new injunction powers to block websitescreate new injunction powers to remove content from websites
  • require ISPs to implement a policy on repeat infringers that could include Internet termination
  • remove the non-commercial liability cap for statutory damages
  • restrict the user-generated content provision
  • create new limits on personal copying exception
  • create new limits on time shifting exception
  • create additional limits on backup copy provision
  • limit the safe harbour for ISPs
  • limit the safe harbour for caching activities
  • limit the safe harbour for hosting content
  • limit the search engine (ILT) exception
  • eliminate the ephemeral recording amendment

The music industry is seeking a huge overhaul of Bill C-32 that makes any requests for adjusting the digital lock rules look minor by comparison. As it escalates the rhetoric by claiming critics stand with piracy, it is apparent that the lobby groups’ fight to blend a Canadian DMCA with a Canadian SOPA will only intensify in the weeks ahead.

And an international copyright pact, being negotiated behind closed doors between governments across the world, is barely being forestalled because Poland has pulled out of ratifying it. If ACTA is passed, every ounce of the detrimental effects of SOPA on the internet would be enforced by international treaty, where countries’ copyright holders could unilaterally demand certain sites be removed from the internet as a whole. And this wouldn’t just be a one-country deal like SOPA was for the United States, it would be global. And it would criminalize copyright infringement at any scale. While it’s intended to provide a framework for dealing with counterfeit goods, it impacts the internet, and individuals, most significantly. And all because the consumers of content know better than the producers and gatekeepers of content what sort of license should be used.

Prior to the internet, prior to the existence of content gatekeepers like the content middleman industry, content creators found ways to monetize their creations and found motivation to create that content regardless of what people are saying now — that supposedly, somehow, people are being demotivated by the existence of piracy. No matter what law is enacted, people will go on pirating. Every copyright is pirated to various degrees, and no laws will ever end the practice. All they can do is criminalize individuals, and damage public goods like the internet, out of self interest and a desire to maximize profits.

The worst part of all this is, despite the industry’s claims that piracy hurts, the sky is not, in fact, falling on content creators. The sky is, empirically, rising, as this infographic from the linked book shows.

The Sky Is Rising infographic - demonstrating that copyrighted content is generating MORE revenue, and even more content, in the new environment of the internet than ever before

There is more content being generated, at greater profits, than ever before in human history. How can this be, if copyright infringement is so crippling?

7 comments

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  1. 1
    slc1

    What’s most interesting is the reaction of other file sharing services to the shutdown of Megaupload by the FBI. Fileserve and Filesonic have disabled file sharing and Wupload has gone on an aggressive binge of file deletions.

  2. 2
    otrame

    So, tell me. If I give a book I have finished reading to a friend, is that piracy?

    I believe people should get paid for their work and always pay (well, I’ve copied a few songs from borrowed CDs, but only if I’ve already bought the song at least twice in previous media) I am not sure they are losing all that much to piracy, though. I suspect that most pirated material would not be paid for if it was not available free, so realistically, they should count every pirated copy as the equivalent of lost retail revenue. And pirated stuff often serves as a form of advertising, something that the music industry finally figured out about YouTube and TV & such figured out about fan fiction..

    Meanwhile, more and more people are self-publishing because the publishing industry is imploding and making it harder and harder to publish anything the traditional way. In book publishing, if you don’t have an agent, they won’t read your manuscript. They no longer read unsolicited manuscripts. Publishing something that isn’t a serial is a risk and by reducing risk they are choking off sources of creative raw material. And now that there are ways to get around their bottleneck, they are in trouble. They are killing themselves. Piracy has very little to do with it.

  3. 3
    scotlyn

    Jason, your link to the source of this graphic is broken.

  4. 4
    scotlyn

    Regarding ACTA, you may be interested in the story of Kader Arif, a French MEP who was originally involved in some of the negotiations, who resigned in protest at the lack of acountability in those negotiations.

  5. 5
    Cathy W

    And pirated stuff often serves as a form of advertising, something that the music industry finally figured out about YouTube and TV & such figured out about fan fiction..

    There are at least a few independent musicians that operate on that principle. Their business model works out to “Give away MP3s. Encourage fans to share, which will increase my fanbase. Some of those fans will drop cash in my tip jar. Some of those fans will get me booked for paid performances. At those performances, some of those fans will buy things at the merch table. If ‘some’ is enough, I will make a decent-to-good living as a working musician.”

  6. 6
    peicurmudgeon

    <blockquote"@ otrame So, tell me. If I give a book I have finished reading to a friend, is that piracy?

    I have been contemplating this exact question. I am free to give or sell any physical copy of a book, movie, or music that I have legally purchased. The recipient is then free to do the same. This is not only done on a personal basis, but there is a huge network of stores that are based entirely upon selling these products. None of the profit from these sales is returned to any IP holder.

    The attempted control of the dissemination of electronic works is based entirely upon the possibility of control of digital works.

  7. 7
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    Thank you. I’m always happy to see the “IP” world addressed in the freethought communities by excellent bloggers.

    Cathy W, you have an important observation.

    There are at least a few independent musicians that operate on that principle.

    The thing is, this works whether an artist, content company, or distributor likes it or not. Sales always tend to increase when content is shared.

    For less established artists, I would suggest that give it away and pray is not the best model for everyone, and most artists usually do more than that, even if they don’t do it with a conscious plan. The abstracted concept is Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy. There are endless methods of doing this, and the uniqueness of your method can even be part of the “product”. The beauty of DIY is that the middleman isn’t taking most of the sales, and artists tend to make more money, even established artists. This is what pisses off the obsolete production and distribution associations so much.

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