More on copyright

7 Mar

Discussions, discussions, discussions…

One of my favorite blogs–even if plenty of the commentary and more than a little of the posts are beyond my pay rate–is Popehat. I found it not that long ago via Dear Author, and have since enjoyed reading and even (though very rarely) commenting there.

There are a variety of points of view and interests reflected in the blog, as befits any group blog, but there is quite a bit of emphasis on freedom of speech, its challenges and its defense. It’s the posts on this topic that I enjoy the most, particularly because I love being witness to people who do put their principles before their likes/dislikes. Ken White in particular is very good about defending the law rather than siding with entities or people he may or may not have a beef with–to wit: Eat Less Totalitarianism.

The reason I’m mentioning all this here is because a more recent post–or rather, where the comment thread has wandered off to. The post gives some background about Prenda Law, a thuggish law firm (or shop) which seems to act much as the proverbial ambulance chaser for copyright holders. And in the best tradition of such fine representatives of the legal profession, they have mucked things up in fairly entertaining ways.

What made the whole bit all the more interesting to me is the conversation veering towards copyright law, infringement, piracy and the like. (Something those who have read the blog may have noticed I’m interested in.)

Some of the comments annoyed the hell out of me–the same tired old excuses for “I want, I take” that have been trotted out before (a solution? *snort* gimme a fucking break). And I confess that I was pretty gobsmacked about some of the commenters difficulty in seeing the difference between a idea and the execution of the same (“poor rich uneducated chick snags über-rich classy guy” is not the exact same thing as Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice or North and South, is it?)

And how on earth no one (so far as I draft this) people go on about “counterfeiting/forgery” when describing plagiarism, either for profit or glory?

Some of the rhetoric on the opposite side also bothered me some–mostly because what I perceive as disconnect, or perhaps honest ignorance, about some of the issues involved in geographical limitations of copyrighted material (my area of limited knowledge). Readers all over the globe have often complained about being unable to legally purchase digital copies of certain books because of this–they are willing to pay for the privilege, they just can’t, and while many do grit their teeth and move on, there are also many who do download pirated versions of the material.

I agree with much of this comment–let me quote the parts I agree with:

Copyrightholders should be able to make money, they should not be able to record 1 hit song and expect to be paid for 120 years. Copyrightholders should use the laws, but those laws need to be updated significantly in an age when copy paste and not a printing press is required to make a copy. Copyrightholders should pursue commercial copyright infringers, but not be awarded those same numbers against “regular” people. Copyrightholders should put the product in the market without consulting a release chart they have been using since 1950.

Can we agree that sometimes “piracy” is a symptom of refusing to acknowledge that they desires of the consumer are not being met? (not the zomg want it now now now for free ideal, but the idea that I can not download a childhood favorite show at any price in the age we live in is a huge failure on the part of the Copyrightholders.)

However, trying to argue, as others in that thread to, that piracy does not equal theft, and that just because someone wants something that is not placed within easy and affordable reach, then taking it is justified somehow, is pure unadulterated bullshit.

It annoys me, a lot, to hear people complain that they want what they want without regard to the small print. When you buy a pair of jeans, you don’t buy jeans for eternity. When you buy a cup of coffee with free refills at the store, you don’t buy free coffee for life (or the next day–true story). When you buy media or content in a specific technology, why should you start crying that now that the technology is obsolete you should be allowed to own it in formats you didn’t buy? You bought a copy of the song–in cassette, vinyl, CD or DVD, and you are legally allowed to make backups in case of device failure–not the right to listen to the song on any device in existence or invented in the future, until the day you die.

Should copyright law change to address current technology? I believe so, yes–but under current law, piracy is theft, whether it’s “commercial piracy” à la China or individual piracy, “because I can’t have what I want for what I deem a reasonable price”

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And because you rarely can go wrong with The Oatmeal: The state of the music industry (apply to others at will)

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Edited to add: this is why copyright law is needed, this is why it should be enforced:

Speaking as an artist that self-produces, sells and controls my own content, and has low overhead costs:

I still deal with rampant plagiarism and yes, it does affect my income. Profit margins can’t be increased by reducing costs if no profit is made because my customers go elsewhere and get my stuff for free.

This also assumes that lower overhead costs outweigh other things, like creation of content, purchase of electronics, and so on. I’ve had to borrow money just to replace a broken camera this year. Yes, I don’t have to pay a 30% commission to a local gallery for posting my stuff: but I do still have to pay for materials and other things. What you think that just because a photo is digital it’s somehow cheaper to sell online? (Let’s not forget marketing – overhead may be cheaper but heck you have to spend 20 million more hours on marketing, and who gets wages for that?)

We may have more control over how/where/when we show our work, but that doesn’t do much for convincing anyone to buy something they can rip from someone else’s website for free. Especially when few people care who made what, so long as they get their precious now and for nada.

Oh and the whole “artists should just make things cheaper” line is bull hockey. We already shortchange ourselves out of profits to compete with the market. Any lower and we go out of business. And I speak from personal experience here, I’m not charging anywhere near enough to pay myself wages, but can’t raise my prices because the general public aren’t interested in paying what I actually need to cover my costs. (“Why does a painting cost $5000? It’s just a frame and some paint…” Seriously, how do you expect to lower prices when you spend X hours on labour and want wages included in the pricing?) I have several part-time/casual jobs so that I can pay my bills. Making art and getting paid for it is not made easier simply because you can cut out the middleman.

Frankly, people who speak like this sound like they have no fricking clues as to how much time is spent making the content. Hence people would rather pay nothing, than something – they’re too busy worrying about making it cheaper for themselves, and feeling entitled to have more for less. The content creator has become nothing more than that mean middleman who is preventing me from having my stuff; instead of that awesome artist who I love and should be able to live as comfortably as I do, so here have some money.

I agree with many issues of copyright reform; but so many people here talk about it like it never actually effects anyone, except for millionaire rappers and big movie producers. But it doesn’t. The people who you hear complaining about copyright infringement are the ones who can afford the lawyers. That doesn’t mean they’re the only ones hurting from it.


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