As regular readers of the site know, I have an interest in Hollywood movie mashups. So when I heard that Boing Boing blogger Cory Doctorow was writing a novel about remix culture and copyright law, I was intrigued. I love the guy’s blogging, and he’s been a great source for news about SOPA, PIPA, and other scary acronyms. I also enjoyed his novels Makers and Little Brother, in which he dramatizes the issues he blogs about through technologically-savvy-underdogs-take-on-The-Man narratives. He’s cyber-Upton Sinclair.
But like Sinclair, Doctorow isn’t trying to lay out both sides of a complicated issue and let the reader make her own decisions; he’s trying to fill people with outrage and get them to storm the Bastille. He’s writing shameless propaganda that makes one side good and noble and pure, and the other greedy and corrupt. I was willing to accept this easily enough was his target was the Department of Homeland security (as it was in Little Brother) because I’m a big old leftie. This time, however, Doctorow takes a complicated issue and tries so hard to erase all shades of gray that I ended up being more against him than with him. Since I’m as big a fan of video remixing as there is, this is quite an achievement.
What I mean by shades of gray is that while you might think that the current state of copyright law is unfair (and it is!), surely the 25 million people who pirated Game of Thrones are also in the wrong. I mean, no one outside some smart aleck in a high school Civics class is going to make a serious argument that everything should be available for free. Right? Well, the characters in “Pirate Cinema” go there:
They say it’s about protecting property, but they invented this idea that creativity is property! How can you own an idea? They say their imaginary property is more important than our privacy, our creativity, and our freedom. I say bugger that. I say we’ve got a moral duty to pirate everything we can, until they’re nothing more than bad memories.
Wowzers. I wish I could say that any character in the book feels like “there is no such thing as intellectual property” is an extreme position, but it’s what passes for conventional wisdom. (Throughout this article, I’m going to assume that the views of Doctorow’s main characters represent his own views. This could be completely wrong of course – an author is allowed to have characters believe things he doesn’t agree with. But given the fact that’s Doctorow is an outspoken “copyfighter,” I think it’s a safe bet that these characters are pretty much in line with his own opinions. It would be strange if he wrote a whole book about copyright full of arguments he doesn’t support. If he doesn’t believe this stuff, I apologize for attributing the ideas to him, but that doesn’t make the novel any better.)
This is a speech that the protagonist’s girlfriend “Twenty Six” (everyone gets Matrix-y codenames in this book) yells as the police arrest her and a whole political assembly for copyright infringement. They’re rounding everyone up in the hopes of nabbing a small group that’s been holding underground (sometimes literally) film festivals of mashups. This mass arrest is one of the many comically evil things Doctorow has his version of Big Content do, even though I can’t find any mention of the real-life police raiding a Turkish restaurant in broad daylight to charge everyone with illegal downloading. (The book is set in the near future, so I suppose Doctorow would just argue that mass-arrests are just the next logical step, as soon as Snidely Whiplash gets appointed Chairman of the MPAA.)
Maybe you’re getting some idea of why this book rubs me the wrong way. The good guys have incredibly simplistic and convenient ideas about copyright (it’s not only okay to download all your movies for free, it’s a blow for freedom) and anyone who thinks there should be some sort of penalty for piracy should be shot out of a cannon directly into the sun. Here’s a speech that the protagonist’s sister gives later in the book (I’m using some ellipsis, but I promise I’m not misrepresenting the argument):
Back in the old days, they didn’t have science, they had alchemy. Alchemy was a lot like science, except that every alchemist kept what he learned to himself… Until, one day, everything changed. Some alchemist decided that rather than keeping his results secret, he’d publish them and let his peers review his results. We have a word for that kind of publication: we call it ‘science.’ And we have a name for the time that followed from this innovation: we call it ‘the Enlightenment.’… And wouldn’t you know it, some people are so bloody stupid and greedy and blinkered and ignorant that they think that this is a bad thing… They think that the Internet’s power to make sharing easy is a bug—and they’ve set out to ‘fix’ it, no matter how many lives and futures they ruin on this stupid mission.
This would be a great speech if it were about internet censorship, but it’s about piracy. She’s saying the people downloading Skyfall on opening weekend are the new Da Vincis, and those who try to fight it are trying to send us back to the Dark Ages. LITERALLY the Dark Ages. (In the interest of being as fair to Doctorow as I can, his argument is probably more like: “In order to stop the people downloading Skyfall, you will also inadvertently stop the new Da Vincis, and therefore inadvertently send us back to the Dark Ages.” But that’s still ridiculous hyperbole.)
Let’s examine Doctorow’s objections to specific copyright enforcement laws. The book begins with the protagonist, Trent (his nom de remix is “Cecil B. DeVil,” which I won’t be calling him), getting his whole family’s internet access suspended for one year because he’s been accused of copyright infringement three times. Doctorow makes this seems like the most unjust punishment since the case of Bakery v. Jean Valjean, mainly because of the catastrophic consequences for the rest of his family. Has father can’t find work. His sister falls behind in her classes because she doesn’t have the internet. His mom can’t find any remedy for her chronic leg pain. When Trent calls her later in the book, she talks about how defending copyright can’t possibly be worth cutting off a family’s internet access:
If the only way the films and music and that can get made is by giving them the power to just cut off all our connections to each other and work and school and health, I think we should just let ’em die.
Another way to look at the situation is that Trent should have stopped downloading stuff after the first two warnings, thereby sparing the family those extreme measures. But okay, Doctorow has a point about how this policy hurts the innocent as well as the guilty. So what about requiring video-sharing sites to monitor the content they host? A law passed halfway through the book requires this, and immediately afterwards a site that “had never been much for pirate clips” closes up shop because they can’t afford to risk the new penalties:
We’ve been a place where dying people can share their final thoughts with their loved ones; where people in trouble can raise funds or support; where political movements were born and organized and sustained. All of that is collateral damage in your war on piracy—a crime that you seem to have defined as “anything we don’t like or that eats into our bottom line.”
Well no, they defined it as “unauthorized use of stuff that we own,” same as always. But nevermind, new plan: what about imprisoning the most egregious downloaders? Would that be fair?
Jimmy Preston, the kid they took away, had some kind of mental problems—autistic spectrum, they said on the BBC—and he didn’t go out much. But he’d collected 450,000 songs on his hard drive through endless, tedious, tireless hours of downloading. From what anyone could tell, he didn’t even listen to them: he just liked cataloging them, correcting their metadata, organizing them.
Preston is sentenced to jail for five years, and then he’s discovered dead in his cell after only a couple weeks. Does anyone else feel like Doctorow is stacking his deck just a smidge? There seems to be a puzzling lack of actual pirates in the book, just innocent folks chewed up by a heartless system.
Okay, so if all these laws are so terrible, what does Doctorow feel WOULD be a sane and sensible copyright policy? The closest we get is a sketchy idea thrown out by a friendly member of Paliament:
“I’m going to introduce a bill to amend the Theft of Intellectual Property Act. It will rescind all criminal penalties and end the practice of terminating Internet connections on accusation of piracy. In return, it will explicitly permit rights-holder groups to offer what are called blanket licenses to ISPs… Under this scheme, film studios, game companies, publishers, and music companies could offer ISPs a per-user/per-month fee in exchange for unlimited sharing of all music, books, and films.”
I tried to make sense of that. “You mean, I sign up with Virgin and give them, whatever, fifteen pounds a month for my Internet. They give five pounds to these groups, and I get to download everything?”
She nodded. “Yes, that’s it exactly.”
A blu-ray of Avatar costs 30 pounds according to Amazon. So what Doctorow is proposing is that for FIFTEEN pounds a month (only five of which gets split between the actual copyright holders), everyone gets UNLIMITED access to ALL the movies, books, video games, and music in the world. And in addition, piracy is completely decriminalized.
I really want to be fair here. I really do. But I have to say it: this is a dumb idea. Doctorow damn well knows that the average cost of cable TV by itself is well more than fifteen pounds a month, and it’s only a small fraction of “all music, books, video games, and films.” Even if you could get all the different copyright holders to give up on their distribution methods and go for this, the cost of such a service would be so high that most people would stick with piracy. The idea only works if you can somehow force all the media companies in the world to devalue their products so much that it’s not worth it to pirate the stuff. Maybe Parliament can also decree that I get to have a new Lamborghini Gallardo for $9,999. Also, if I steal one, they’re not allowed to arrest me.
The sad part is, even if it only cost 15 pounds a month for unlimited access to everything, the people in this book would not pay it. For one thing, nobody has a job or any source of income at all (beyond panhandling). But more importantly, they all feel entitled to have everything they want, for free. They don’t want to pay rent, so they live in a squat that they renovate into a palace. They scavenge food from dumpsters, but they’re so good at it that they eat nothing but gourmet meals, which Doctorow loves to describe in mouth-watering detail. They hook up the power illegally and mooch off someone else’s internet (the Tragedy of the Cyber-Commons!). At one point, Trent meets a friend-of-a-friend with a warehouse full of spare computer parts, who seems perfectly happy to build him a supercomputer for free:
How’s this sound, then: Twelves gigahertz, sixteen gigs of RAM, four terabyte raid, two gigs of VRAM, twenty-five-inch display?
That sounds like a pretty nice gift from a near-stranger! Here’s how Trent describes the lifestyle of his gang, none of whom has any regular source of income:
It was all brilliant, sitting in our cozy, candlelit pub room, using our laptops, playing the latest dub-step revival music we’d pulled down from a pirate radio site, watching videos on darknet video sites, showing our screens to one another.
I found myself growing increasingly offended on behalf of all the REAL homeless people, who probably have to suffer with mere dial-up internet and only eight gigs of RAM.
I can completely understand why Trent and company love this lifestyle. What mystifies me is the sense of genuine moral outrage they muster up at the idea that anyone would oppose their industrial-scale piracy:
I realized that somewhere out there, there were gleaming office towers filled with posh, well-padded execs who went around in limos and black cabs, who lived in big houses and whose kids had all the money in the world, and these men had decided to ruin my family for the sake of a few extra pennies. There were actual human beings who were answerable for the misery and suffering of God knew how many people all around the world—rich bastards who thought that they alone should own our culture, that they should be able to punish you for making art without their permission.
Did you notice how in the last sentence, Trent substitutes “making art” for “illegally downloading copyrighted material?” This is because Trent’s speech would be a lot less convincing if the last sentence was:
Rich bastards who thought that they should be able to punish you for downloading Black Ops 2 without their permission.
This false equivalence of piracy and art is absolutely central to the book. Here’s the synopsis off of the book’s Amazon page.
Trent McCauley is sixteen, brilliant, and obsessed with one thing: making movies on his computer by reassembling footage from popular films he downloads from the net… This brings him in touch with a demimonde of artists and activists who are trying to fight a new bill that will criminalize even more harmless internet creativity…
So illegal downloading becomes “harmless internet creativity.” If you knew nothing about BitTorrent, you would get the strong impression from this book that the only folks who use it are remix artists looking for raw material. When Trent first lands in London, he randomly meets up with two more teens who had their internet cut off. And wouldn’t you know it, they too were only doing it for artistic purposes:
Rabid Dog had got his family kicked off the net with his compulsion to rework horror films to turn them into wacky comedies, romantic comedies, torture comedies, and just plain comedies…
[Chester] was another video nutter, obsessed with making dance mixes of Parliamentary debates, looping the footage so that the fat, bloated politicians in the video seemed to be lip-syncing.
Let’s be honest: only a vanishingly small percentage of all the pirated copies of Final Destination 3 are being downloaded by mash-up artists, and it’s kind of disingenuous for Doctorow to pretend otherwise.
(An aside. When I read that description of Chester’s Parliamentary debate remixes, I thought Doctorow had made a mistake, because in the United States any video of a government proceeding would be 100% public domain and fair game. But when I Googled it, I found a 2011 blog post by Doctorow himself where he points out that UK citizens are not allowed to use videos of Parliament for satirical purposes. Doctorow obviously knows his stuff. That’s why I’m truly puzzled why he decided to dumb his book down to the level of a Saturday morning cartoon.)
Trent’s claim that he only downloads to create art is his whole defense when he’s put on trial for copyright infringement. Here’s what his barrister argues:
My client is a young man who stands accused of selectively downloading short clips for the purpose of making acclaimed transformational works that act as commentary and parody, and which constitute rather impressive creative works in their own rights. He is, fundamentally, a competitor of the claimants. They may paint him as an uncontrollable menace to society, but what business magnate would characterize his competition any differently?
So according to his lawyer, Big Content isn’t after Trent because he illegally downloaded thousands of their movies. It’s after him because the mashups that he throws on YouTube for free are a grave threat to The Avengers. To this I say, how does Doctorow explain this video of Star Wars characters singing “Call Me Maybe?” Has Lucasfilm (now Disney!) just not noticed this yet? Will their lawyers send a takedown notice to YouTube any second and then come after its creator with the fury of a thousand suns? Or is it possible that Big Content actually doesn’t care about internet mashups? Is it actually possible that Big Content LIKES internet mashups? This isn’t a big secret; for years now, YouTube has been offering to help copyright owners make money off of fan videos that use infringing material.
- Make Money. Hundreds of media companies have signed up already, multiplying their inventory of monetizeable videos.
- Fan Interaction. Turn your fans into marketers and distributors of your content—while letting them interact with their favorite content.
I’ve seen it at work with my own stuff. Way back in 2008, I made a video of an actual seal singing the Seal song “Kiss From A Rose.” It was immediately blocked for copyright infringement. Four years later, I got an email from YouTube that said the video was live again, but with an ad and a link to iTunes. Warner Media Group gets a tiny bit of cash, and I get to share my video. This is a win-win! And the fact that it’s happening after four years leads me to believe that Big Content is growing MORE tolerant of remix culture, not less. So when Trent’s lawyers are claiming that the film studios are desperate to stop his remixes of old movies most people have never heard of, I’m skeptical.
Nope, the studios are pissed because of the many, many films Trent has enjoyed without paying them a dime. Here’s Trent’s response when his lawyer tells him not to pirate anything while the trial is going on:
I smiled back, but I was thinking, Not download? You’re having a laugh, right? I didn’t really stop to count up how much downloading I was likely to do in a given day, but of course, it was an immense load. I probably broke the law a few thousand times a day.
But somehow, during the trial, Trent has the audacity to be offended when they accuse him of serial downloading:
Their lawyer made a big deal out of the number of legal claims that had been laid against me and called me a “compulsive thief” who “could not seem to stop downloading, no matter what the stakes.”… They made me sound like a maniac who pirated everything and anything. It would have been funny if it didn’t make me want to crap my pants with terror.
Yeah, imagine the nerve of that guy calling you a “compulsive thief,” just because you kept downloading after two legal notices telling you to desist and a court order cutting off your internet access, and because you ran away from home in large part to continue downloading stuff, and because you kept downloading while you were being prosecuted for downloading?
How does Trent explain his compulsive behavior?
I left home a year ago, when they took away my family’s Internet access because I wouldn’t stop downloading. I couldn’t stop downloading. I know that sounds stupid, but I was making films, and to make films, I had to download films.
Okay, so his argument is that piracy is the only way he can make his mashups. And since the mashups are art, and art is good, the piracy must be justified. I mean, it’s not like there’s any legal way to get copies of films, right? They don’t just sell them in stores on little silvery discs, do they?
In all honesty, if Doctorow had decided to focus his book on what you’re allowed to do with your own legally purchased content, it would have been much more interesting. Trent could be a kid who spends all his money on DVDs and blu-rays, which he then uses to make remixes. The central question of the book would be whether this is allowed. But Doctorow goes a bridge too far and argues that buying a copy of the copyrighted work is totally unnecessary. To me, this is the difference between supporting Trent and feeling like he’s kind of an entitled ass.
Trent spends all his waking hours remixing the works of fictional movie star Scot Colford, without paying anything for the content. He believes this is his right, because he is an artist. In case you had any residual doubt about this, Colford’s granddaughter reaches out to Trent to bless his work and absolve him of any possible guilt. “We’ve made (and continue to make) plenty of money off Grandad’s works,” she writes him, “notwithstanding your so-called piracy.” One guy pirating hasn’t cut into your royalty check? Then piracy must be a-okay!
So how does this case end up?
The judge only deliberated for forty-five minutes. I wasn’t surprised—the dinosaurs’ case was ironclad.
His Honor was kind, though: he reduced the damages to £152.32: one penny per charge. The entire courtroom laughed when that was announced, and I had to hide my grin.
So Doctorow’s happy ending is that the fine for pirating a movie is one penny (technically one British penny, whatever that is). Everyone laughs and laughs about this clear victory of good over evil. But if this is the new precedent, than why would anyone ever bother to pay for a DVD again? And if that’s true, how can the entertainment industry stay in business? Maybe that doesn’t bother Doctorow, since the entertainment industry is just a cabal trying to figure out “how to stay rich if kids go around downloading rubbishy pop music without paying for it,” in the words of one of the characters. Rubbishy! Good riddance!
But here’s the contradiction: this is a book about people who are absolutely obsessed with remixing these “rubbishy” songs and movies into something new. Speaking from personal experience, you don’t spend dozens of hours remixing stuff you think is crap. You do it because you’re inspired. And without copyright law, none of those movies Trent is obsessed with would have been made in the first place. The studios didn’t produce Bikini Trouble in Little Blackpool out of the sheer joy of creation. They did it because there was a business model that made it profitable to do so. This is such a basic, obvious point that I feel silly for pointing it out, but Doctorow’s incredibly one-sided book kind of forces me to.
I’ve read enough of Doctorow’s writing to understand the broad strokes of his position. There is no way to police illegal downloading (according to him) without restricting what computers are allowed to do and policing internet traffic. The idea of machines or systems being purposefully crippled to protect the entertainment industry enrages him. If THAT is the price of copyright enforcement, he says, than it’s not worth it. But decriminalizing piracy ALSO has a price, and we need to balance it against completely unfettered copying. Trent scoffs at the idea that:
… we were taking food out of their kids’ mouths by remixing videos or sharing music, when every kid I knew spent every penny he could find on music as well as downloading more for free.
First of all, at no point in the book does ANYONE pay anything for music. Second of all, I would suggest that these kids should just STOP DOWNLOADING MUSIC AFTER THEY RUN OUT OF MONEY. But finally, I would not be so quick to dismiss the idea that piracy hurts sales. Take a look at the Hong Kong film industry. It used to crank out films at a massive pace in the 80s and 90s. But in China, piracy became mainstream with the introduction of video CDs. Instead of packing cinemas on opening day, people just picked up a bootleg for a fraction of the cost. Today, Hong Kong cinema is a shadow of its former glory, and it’s largely because the audience there is so accustomed to piracy that it’s not worth it for production companies to create new stuff.
That’s the gaping black hole at the center of this book: any sort of acknowledgement that copyright law is IMPORTANT. What he dismisses as “greed,” the entertainment industry would certainly defend as “basic fairness.” Surely Doctorow is grateful for the money he received when Little Brother was optioned, so maybe intellectual property laws are a good thing after all. And if that movie gets made, I’m sure he’d take issue if teenagers started handing out pirated free copies of it outside cineplexes on opening day, as his protagonists do. Oh, did I not mention the single most infuriating part of Pirate Cinema yet?
About halfway through the book, a big Hollywood blockbuster called Milady de Winter Part 18 is opening in London. It is literally the 17th sequel in the series, and Trent admits that everyone he knows goes to see these movies. But he also assures us that the they are a “miserable, festering gush of cinematic puke.” So naturally, this gives Trent and his friends the right to sabotage the film. They load up a thousand thumb drives with a pirated copy of the movie and include this message:
When you go to see terrible shows like this one, you just give money to the people who are destroying our country with corrupt, evil laws. Your children are being sent to jail by laws bought with the money from your purchase. Don’t give them your gold. If you must see this stupid film, do it at home and keep your money for better things. Make your own art.
They distribute the thumb drives outside the movie theater on opening night. Then they watch a reporter interview an outraged motion picture lobbyist while they “cackled like a coop full of stoned hens.” I hate to say this, but if those are Doctorow’s heroes, I’m rooting for the lobbyist.
I am reminded of an American Dad episode were they are saying something in the like of “People forgive anything if you are likeable” (I can’t quite find the proper quote. Roger the alien in this episode manage to sway a jury in his favor despiste the fact he is convicted of running a sweat shop.
(What make it more amusing is that they keep brining up Ferris Bueller as comparaison to Roger behavior, essentially both doing stuff that usually get condemn, but charisama manage to make you forget all that ).
I guess the pendlum swing the other way as well, were we are willing to tolerate crime against certain individuals is we see them as deserving of it. Within the context of the story, the studios deserve to be rip-off because they only turn in crap, but the whole argument for piracy would fall if they were doing quality work.
If the movie get 18 sequels and his pirated on a massive scale people probably get some enjoyement out of it.
Also isn’t there a similiar point in rent were the “artiste” seem to think they don’t need to pay for the massive appartement they own.
Your point about “If the movie gets 18 sequels people must actually like it” is quite valid. Who are these guys to go up to the folks in line to see the film on opening night and tell them that they have terrible taste and they support evil laws? It’s snobbery, and it’s hypocritical snobbery since Trent admits that THEY all watched the series as well.
I wonder what Mr. Doctorow would think if I bought a copy of “Pirate Cinema”, scanned the complete text, and then sent the PDF to everyone I know and posted it on every forum, message board, website, etc. that I know of with a message “Go and do likewise!”….
I mean, why should people pay $13.99 (or whatever) for a copy when “Information wants to be free!!!”?
The cost for unlimited acces to everything is about the same as the princess as one copy of his book!
Also is that me or content creator seem either people re-editing old stuff or more corporate stuff. The suits seem to at least try to make up new content more than the protagonist.
Actually Richard, Doctorow puts his money where his mouth is. Here’s a site where you can download the book for free:
As for why people should pay full price for the book via Amazon, I assume those are people who don’t know they could have the book for free. Maybe the people who buy it on paper just want it on paper, but there’s no reason to buy the retail Kindle edition (as far as I can tell).
But there’s a long way from “I’m giving away my intellectual property for free” to “other people don’t have the right to charge money for THEIR intellectual property.”
Actually, he makes a rather interesting case in one of his essays about his dialogue with people doing exactly that- that going to the trouble to scan his books and share them was a sign that you were a pretty serious fan putting in some serious legwork to make his work accessible to people that couldn’t afford it, or find it in the format that suited them best, and the people who read it as a result of those efforts fell into two groups- people who wouldn’t have read it before and wouldn’t read it again, and thus represented no lost revenue, and people who were now interested, and might drop a few bucks in a virtual tip jar, or pay to see him speak, or pony up for an autographed paper copy, or whatever. He concluded that obscurity was more likely to screw him than piracy, and freely distributes digital copies of his books- and seems to still be able to pay his rent as a result. It’s not proof of anything of course- but it’s an interesting data point, and a hypocrite, he isn’t.
Doctorow makes money through traffic/ads on his site that sits at the surface level of the Web, which is why he can afford to pooh-pooh other ways of making money through content.
Non-fans of Doctorow generally view him as a delusional techno-utopian idiot. However once you consider that Silicon Valley is an enormous, powerful industry made up of an ownership class rather than the young community of bright, idealist technocratic upstarts it portrays itself as; these starry-eyed treatises to undermine the labor of everyone outside of IT come off as less clueless than insidious.
Silicon Valley wants content creation’s monetary value at zero; Tumblr’s yield explodes from free labor because of it. They have a disproportionate voice on the internet so you rarely hear them criticized as the new capitalist “landowners” profiting off of free labor (euphemistically called “sharing”); instead you get red herring whining about vague, meaningless stuff like Facebook violating your privacy. Google openly wants to reduce everything everyone does to “data” for their benefit (so they can sell your attempts to muck through it all to advertisers).
Whether or not this is intentional, communal campaign to destroy livelihoods or just the result of myopia on the part of people with too much power is another question; Google reportedly believes quantifying everyone is a benefit for all. And honestly the people within the Valley justifiably (thanks to “technology” becoming synonymous with consumer software and appliances, according to newspaper section titles) have an ego that brings contempt for the soft-skills they think can be replaced with algorithms. Yelp killed food criticism, but to little lament because who can complain about democratizing dining? But like that Niemöller saying goes, your soft skill is next.
I don’t like cory doctorow, but the idea that copyright infringement should be a crime seems pretty sketchy to me.
Like sodomy or recreational drug use, copyright infringement has no effect on anyone but the perpetrators. A world where there’s a secret underground society of mole people who are constantly smoking crack and having gay sex and pirating every film from Avalon to Zodiac is indistinguishable from a world where there’s not.
Also, this article was about ten times as long as it was deep. It’s a good thing it was free, because if I paid for it I’d be mad.
Piracy definitely has a victim. The pirates are denying the production company and artist revenue for their work. They enjoy Skyfall for free instead of buying a movie ticket or buying the DVD, and the studio doesn’t get that money. A lot of pirates defend their actions by claiming they NEVER would have seen that movie if they didn’t pirate it, so this hypothetical lost revenue was never there in the first place. That’s probably true in some cases (when something is free, you consume it less discriminately) but CERTAINLY not in all cases.
I believe your characterization of piracy being victimless comes from a sense that a digital file isn’t a product in the way that a toaster or a DVD is a product. It didn’t cost the studio anything to make this digital file, and therefore why should the studio care if these files get distributed? Thus, your hypothetical about the mole people who pirate Skyfall without the studio every realizing it. They haven’t lost anything.
But we’re not talking about mole people here: we’re talking about some percentage of THE POTENTIAL PAYING AUDIENCE FOR SKYFALL that decides to pirate it instead. Clearly, this DOES hurt the studio’s business. If EVERYONE pirated Skyfall instead of watching it legally, the studio would not make another James Bond movie, because they would not make any money.
And if everyone only had gay sex, the human race would go extinct.
Nah, we’d just have to grow people inside Brave New World style incubators.
Never mind the content, which is complete nonsense, but Doctorow couldn’t write to save his life. The passages you’ve quoted are some of the worst I’ve seen since the Twilight boooks!!!!!
Cory Doctorow has a unique talent: a deaf ear for the English language.
Any subtlety nuance or poetry is missing. Reading his prose is like wading through a scrapyard of clichés, buzzwords and mangled metaphors in bare feet.
It reads like inverse Atlas Shrugged.
I think it’s important to note that voluntary collective licensing isn’t a pipe dream- it’s how radio has worked for the better half of a century. Somehow, you have to resolve the fact that this one physical copy of an album, in the possession of someone other than the creator, gets turned into an indeterminate number of listening experiences by people who aren’t paying piecemeal for the privilege. The EFF proposal that Cory is emulating is essentially what ASCAP and BMI do, and a fair sight better than the early days of radio, when songwriters had exactly the sort of piece-by-piece legal wrangling we’ve observed with downloading. A $10-20 collectively licensing fee isn’t terribly outrageous when you consider the prices of Netflix and Rhapsody and HBO and so forth (and abandon the fiction that streaming is somehow discreet from downloading. It’s not. You get the bits either way- attempts by said services to make you get those same bits again later are ineffectual against clever users, frustrating to everyone else and rough on bandwidth.) Going by the media cost of a movie is misleading- imagining how much two hours of your eyeballs attention to the advertisers on AMC is a much better gauge. Pricey physical media when TV and TiVo exist is an instance of price discrimination from market friction, not a real price floor necessary to keep producing the good.
Cory’s twirpy characters may be wandering off in the bushes, it’s true, but there’s no getting around the fact that supply, demand, price, and theft get kinda weird when the process for viewing a piece of media intrinsically creates a copy, and that copy had a marginal cost approaching zero. Prosecuting each download as equivalent to the theft of physical media containing it is fundamentally operating under the assumption that each time they get paid, one set of eyeballs sees it- but that’s never been true. Book publishers have estimated that for the last hundred years, between loans, and libraries, and used book stores, ten households will read a book for every time the publisher gets paid- and in that light, the notion that 90% of digital media is illegitimate suddenly looks much more like business as usual.
It’s not that piracy is a Good Thing (though we do tend to consider it a social good for people without means to still have access to media, ergo, the library,) it’s that there’s precious little evidence that it represents some tremendous moral discontinuity with the way we have always consumed media, nor that any impact on revenues represents an existential crisis worth confronting in the courtroom rather than in the marketplace, or that the countermeasures- DRM that frustrates the casual user and is trivial to circumvent for a pro, overzealous takedowns, iPods full of downloads with courtroom valuations greater than that of small countries- are effectual or fair. On the flip side, creatives who are largely indifferent to “protecting” their work- Louis CK, Cory, Radiohead, the Humble Bundle contributors- still can send kids to college and drive nice cars.
The Internet is an ecosystem, and few ecosystems are complete without parasites and deteritovores and scavengers and other unseemly, occasionally problematic (and occasionally vital) inhabitants. You can live with it, or you can go all scorched earth and trash the place, and watch as the crawly things proliferate in the ruins. I think the evidence is in that begrudging tolerance is the only way through.
> any impact on revenues represents an existential crisis worth confronting in the courtroom rather than in the marketplace,
This is where you lose me. Even if you think that media ought to be distributed in a certain way, or that it would be beneficial to do so, the reason the courts get involved is that you only get to make this decision legally for content you own yourself.
The market mechanism would be for competitors to spring up who use the new model, and to have those competitors outcompete the new model.
The court model happens because of people who instead just smuggle the existing product on a black market.
If the market mechanism really worked the way you say, or if the market mechanism you describe were so advantageous, then you wouldn’t need to illegally download media — the new media using the new model would put the old media out of business.
And in fact there is plenty of media that is totally legal to download or stream as much as they way. If people restrained their downloading to that media, they’d get plenty of entertainment.
But they insist on the higher-quality media that is produced by media that is supported by a paying audience, and doing it illegally.
That’s why the courts need to get involved — because a market remedy isn’t enough in this case — consumers and illegal distributors / smugglers aren’t respecting the market, trusting it to work, or operating under market mechanisms.
How do you feel about libraries?
It always surprises me when people I think of as being smart internet culture types come out in defense of copyright law. Belinkie apparently doesn’t even KNOW anyone who seriously thinks copying is bad, and has to invent a hypothetical smart alack in a high school civics class.
In my circles, there’s barely anyone who DOESN’T think copying is good. The idea that society is enriched by twisting culture itself into an imaginary business economy strikes me as absurd, and slightly offensive.
er, s/bad/good… too many double negatives…
Seriously though: Libraries!
When you check a movie out from the library, doesn’t it “hurt” the copyright holder just as much as if you pirated it? Or watched it on youtube with an adblock plugin installed?
How can the unlicensed content redistribution that libraries provide be of net benefit to society unless the capitalist/libertarian model of art is essentially bullshit?
If the capitalist model of art is so bad, then stop consuming art produced by capitalists for capitalist purposes. There are plenty of alternatives.
Yes, further to Pete’s point about the taxpayer money going to buy the books, in the UK at least, money is also paid to the author on a per read (well, per loan) basis, so the content is not ‘free’ in the sense of pirating in either the sense of acquisition or use.
I would believe this purist argument more if people who hold it (like the echo chamber at r/technology) weren’t so interested in the products manufactured by the “imaginary culture economy.”
As I said — there are plenty of freely available pieces of art that you can download and copy with permission. Why do people so strongly prefer to copy the work that they don’t have permission to copy?
The reason is that the culture economy isn’t imaginary — and that content you pay for is better content. Daniel Craig doesn’t work for free, and Inception didn’t just spring out of generations of hikers singing around a campfire.
If pirates were really so culturally elevated and so above the crassness of show business they wouldn’t be downloading the Dark Knight or the Avengers more than any other movie.
The moral high ground claimed here is hypocrisy, it isn’t what is actually going on, and I find the willful ignorance and lying that supports it to be equally offensive as the offense you take at those who would question it.
Libraries are different because they have a dedicated mission to serve the public trust, and they carry inventory that serves that mission, with a specific additional goal of not undermining the profit motive of the publishing industry. If libraries are what you say they are, they would become like Blockbusters, throwing out all the old books and just lending out the new releases.
But they deliberately don’t do that. They limit the inventory of new releases. They employ people who are trained in an academic tradition that knows its role and curates the collection. People go to the library for completely different purposes than they go to the Pirate Bay (which is really Doctorow’s more flagrant, odious lie — that people who pirate are universally pure-souled artists looking to enrich the culture and not just people who want movies for free) And they also use taxpayer money to pay for books.
And of course the scale and technology of piracy change the game — which is incredibly obvious.
Libraries support commercial publishing, they aren’t against it.
And the reason you don’t know anybody who doesn’t think copying is good is probably because you hang out in a propagandistic echo chamber where people do insane things like defend Kim Dotcom.
I mean, I understand why somebody would want movies for free rather than pay for them. And I understand why somebody would take the easy and illegal route and download illegal stuff. There’s a big financial incentive to do it. I don’t expect people to be perfect.
But you lose me if you start saying that this thing that is obviously wrong but that people obviously have a financial incentive to do anyway is somehow pure as the driven snow.
“If the market mechanism really worked the way you say, or if the market mechanism you describe were so advantageous, then you wouldn’t need to illegally download media — the new media using the new model would put the old media out of business.”
You mean like Netflix &c. putting video rental stores out of business by charging me $8/month for being able to watch a large selection of movies streaming, on-demand (did you know that $8 is about one quarter of 15 British pounds?), and the web making it easy for me to get TV shows and movies that don’t play on the local broadcast networks? Or are we all market fundamentalist all of a sudden?
Doctorow’s figure of 15 pounds (~$25) per month sounds like small change, but even if the number is way off, I don’t see what’s wrong with the basic idea. And actually it’s not *that* small an amount-it’s more than what I would be paying for movies even if I still had Netflix. And I almost never watch pirated movies or even check out movies from the library.
It’s a very obvious and uncontroversial fact that the vast majority of people have limited time in the week for watching movies and TV, and even if (or especially if…) they have a lot of time, they have a limited budget for these things, and giving people access to a lot of movies for a smaller price is not going to drive the studios broke.
I used to pay $50-100 per year for music in the 90s, CDs were twice the price of cassettes, $12-18 usually, and the selection was really crappy. Now, I could get incredibly awesome selection for about that amount–as it is, I pay next to nothing for not-quite-awesome-but-pretty-good selection, because I’m a broke-ass grad student–but if I had disposable income I’d be disposing it. Clearly the competitiveness of internet-based services like last.fm and pandora helped (since that’s actually how I get a lot of my music), but I don’t think we would even be in the current situation without piracy. The record companies were not going to bring the current situation about out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s a struggle. Let’s not pretend the magic market fairy is going to reach out of the sky with its invisible hand and sprinkle libertarian magic dust over everything and make the best of all possible market/legal models out-compete all the other models in a reasonable amount of time.
‘On the flip side, creatives who are largely indifferent to “protecting” their work- Louis CK, Cory, Radiohead, the Humble Bundle contributors- still can send kids to college and drive nice cars.’
I wouldn’t assume they’re indifferent. They may have done their homework and decided that they’ll make enough profit in spite of giving some away. Doctorow has made most or all of his books available to download for free, made free podcasts of some of them, and promoted some people who have made audio recordings of his books available for free. But he still goes through a publisher to sell print copies for profit.
Thank you for this! Doctorow has always rubbed me the wrong way, despite the fact that I generally agree with (less extreme versions of) his positions. I suspect that these cartoonish arguments at best preach to the choir, and at worst do actual harm to the cause of intellectual property reform. (Cory Doctorow, secret agent for Big Content? “Don’t worry Viacom, I’ll make sure lawmakers think all copyright reformers are ridiculously spoiled anarchist whackos!”)
Books in a library are still a scarce good. The library argument isn’t compelling and it’s annoying that it’s always brought up.
Veering slightly off-topic, the baby seal singing Seal is the greatest thing I have ever seen.
I completely agree with you Belinkie, with 2 comments:
It’s absolutely hilarious that Overthinking It’s “copyright” tag has only 2 articles, being this one and “Hitler’s Xbox”, the latter being in many ways the antithesis of this article (it even quotes Cory!). But I digress. Just thought that was funny.
I think anyone’s perspective on copyright starts to change/evolve/mature when they try to actually make their living by selling their “ideas” (music, programs, art).
I used to be very anti-copyright until I started trying to be my own boss. I went from being paid a good wage for my time to working for myself and seeing people either steal/copy my work or accusing me of charging too much.
For example, just the other day a member of my family balked at paying $5 for an iOS version of Settlers of Catan. Since when was $5 a lot of money to pay for something that took one or more developers many months (sometimes years) of hard work to produce? (Not to mention that the actual board game runs for over $30…)
This is what our pirate culture has brought us to. I’m not very sympathetic to “big culture”. But when everyone pirates their “big culture” items, they get used to everything being free. And suddenly it’s not just the rich guys getting screwed. It’s the independents.
We’ve gotten to the point now that if you’re an artist, a writer, or a software developer, you need a real home run of a product to enjoy any significant amount of success, because on a per-customer basis you’re making a pittance. Which makes playing the game a bit like playing the lottery. You have a small group of massive winners, and a long tail of struggling workers, hoping for a big break.
It’s funny that Matthew liked “Little Brother” because much of the same arguments against “Pirate Cinema” can be said against that. It’s never a good sign when the protagonists are so annoying and and exist merely for author exposition that one actually roots for the other side.
First of all, this was an absolute delight to read. The conclusions you draw from those excerpts said exactly what was on my mind… I can’t believe that anyone could take that guy seriously…
Anyhoo your writing reminds me of a book I’m reading now more geared toward the indie music industry than any other. It echoes many of your sentiments on copyright and asserts that while it must be reformed, it’s still very much essential to the industry’s existence. It’s called “Freeloading” by Chris Ruen. Highly recommended.
And thanks for this insightful read.
My main point of contention against Big Content is not that it wants to charge for its products (I’m willing to pay), but the way it actively sets out to restrain legal access to products for market reasons. Your mileage may vary on this, as I believe it’s different from country to country.
Back in the days of buying CDs, it was appalling the number of excellent, essential albums that were not readily available or out of catalog, because record labels were mostly interested on pushing fabricated mass-market instant success.
Same for movies. Relevant new production never get to be released in theaters because it supposedly doesn’t appeal to a large audience, or it’s otherwise not interesting for studios/distributor quick profit interests.
Now, I completely get that businesses will seek profit. There’s nothing wrong with that. But when legal, paid access to relevant cultural production is made unavailable strictly for commercial reasons, then you can tell the system is seriously flawed and needs change.
The irony is that digitally distributed content would go a long way solving problems like the ones I mentioned, should the industry be willing to face reality and evolve their business model.
I don’t know if not getting access to media that exists is unethical as you seem to imply.
Disney loves doing this (as has Lucasfilm… a match made in heaven). Animated features are sold but then “go into the Disney vault” and become unavailable for several years until some newly packaged version is released (at full retail price).
You may call this greed, but this is a proven way to keep the value of a product high. Disney animated movies are consistently selling for higher prices than other movies (even used copies at garage sales) and this not only bolsters demand for these movies (and associated branded merchandise) but creates controlled ways/times for new generations to be introduced to these movies.
In other words, when Cinderella is released on BluRay for the first time, it becomes relevant to the current generation, driving up sales as it’s all third grader girls are talking about at the recess water cooler (or whatever).
This has allowed Disney to survive hardily in times of economic or creative famine and gives us high quality media like (I hope hope hope) Wreck-It-Ralph.
Is it unethical for Disney, the creator (or owner of rights) of the media, to not lower the barrier for you to consume its media if lowing that barrier may affect its future viability?
Yes, but to shape the whole copyright law, including the period of time before things go into public domain, around the needs of Disney? That’s not really fair, is it?
If that were what I was saying, that wouldn’t be fair.
The Disney example shows how protecting something like The Avengers from piracy today will help to insure that The Avengers 5 will not only exist, but has the potential to be strong even when the 4th one sucked (as you know it will… all 4th movies suck, The Voyage Home being the exception that proves the rule).
That whole business strategy you just described depends on very long-lived copyrights. Disney couldn’t make so much off of Cinderella blu-ray if it had gone public domain decades ago as it should have. Disney wouldn’t have the added revenue to get it through lean times if it weren’t making bank off of stuff the company produced 50 ago. The whole scenario you described with Disney depends on a lot more than just not suffering from virtually unlimited piracy, Disney’s success has depended on their being able to control their own products from many decades ago and probably, to some extent, able to inhibit competitors’ products from reaching the American market.
The “Disney Copyright Extension” meme is misleading propaganda that doesn’t stand up to historical scrutiny. The reality of the Copyright Extension Act of the ’90s was bringing US copyright laws into harmony with the rest of the world. “Life plus 70 years” began in Europe, and efficiency in international IP is most easily implemented across the board, or else you’d end up with countries that would act somewhat like ‘Cayman Islands’ refuges for copyright. It could ultimately lead to certain countries/governments controlling too much creative output; as well as limiting the potential job growth of creative industries in non-IP friendly countries (since everyone will set up publishing companies and such in the IP-friendly regions).
When you look at the term length of copyright through the lens of international agreements, you quickly realize how futile the idea is of rolling it back. Nearly *every* major country would have to agree to change the laws at the same time. It’s not going to happen. Ever. It’s best to move on to a more winnable fight, like expanding Fair Use exceptions for non-commercial work.
“Disney couldn’t make so much off of Cinderella blu-ray if it had gone public domain decades ago as it should have.”
I’m not sure you understand how copyright works in this instance. Cinderella is already public domain, and it was so when Disney adapted it. *Their* particular expression of the Cinderella story is protected. And even if that had lapsed into PD, the blu-ray would constitute a new derivative that would be entitled to a new copyright. The blu-ray most definitely wouldn’t be public domain yet, under any previous copyright laws.
However, if you animated your own adaptation of Cinderella, you’d be legally free and clear and you’d control the copyright of *your* expression of it, while everyone else is still free to adapt the ‘original’ Cinderella tale for their own purposes. I don’t see how the public domain is being so irreparably harmed here (and to wit, Cinderella has been animated dozens of times by other companies since Disney’s release, look it up). Besides, the important part of creativity, the ideas behind a work, are never protected by copyright. All *ideas* are public domain.
Disney hasn’t locked anything away except for their own expression of the Cinderella story. The *idea* of the story is still free for anyone to use/adapt/sell/etc.
To be fair, I can see why people feel the copyright term is too long, and I tend to agree, but like I said, it’s hopeless to fight for change on such an international level. More pragmatic to fight for Fair Use, if you ask me.
I can only barely follow your argument but I’ll try to take it on.
Let’s say movie studios are to blame for not distributing smaller, more artistic movies. This doesn’t prevent you from accessing them. It simply means you won’t have easy access to one particular film. You can still see it at a film festival or buy a DVD from the film’s website. Hell, nowadays, you’ll probably be able to watch it on Netflix or Hulu at some point.
But, lets say that wasn’t true. What if every non-major studio release was nearly impossible to watch? By pirating, you only hurt the people who actually made the film. The writer, director, actors, production company. You don’t hurt the studio. You punish the people who make this supposedly wonderful content. How do you expect people to continue making content if no one will pay for it? Everyone needs to pay their rent and film/CD/book making ain’t always cheap.
“What if every non-major studio release was nearly impossible to watch? By pirating, you only hurt the people who actually made the film.”
In that situation, wouldn’t you say that pirating is much less of a problem than the non-studio films being nearly impossible to watch?
Years ago there were a couple of film clubs that showed non-studio films, sometimes the big cinemas also showed special interest films too. All those clubs are no more and I don’t see the local mega complex showing any art house movies either. Probably the only place today is the University cinema.
“How do you expect people to continue making content if no one will pay for it?”
If I recall correctly, copyright laws in the US were meant to give creators a temporary monopoly on their own work, to encourage creativity. But how many years of monopoly ownership on their content do they need to encourage creativity? It started with something like 25 years, now it’s extended to some number of years after the death of the original creator.
Are there a lot of creative people who would withhold their poetry or painting or fiction or gonzo journalism or sculpture or tv shows if they thought the copyright would not be guaranteed through the life of their children and grandchildren? There just aren’t many people in the world who are in a position to profit that much or that long. Most creative people are leading lives of quiet desperation, cranking out art or fiction even when they know few people will ever consume it. We already do it without reward.
If all the John Galts of creative endeavors withheld their content, there would be waves of desperate artists trampling each other to death to take their place. Even given Sturgeon’s Law, they wouldn’t all suck.
Rob Northrup wrote:
Are there a lot of creative people who would withhold their poetry or painting or fiction or gonzo journalism or sculpture or tv shows
The argument is a little more complex than that. It’s not a case of creative types withholding their genius in some sort Randian strike of the ubermensch, it’s more a case of those creative types not having the time or opportunity to create the poetry or painting or fiction or gonzo journalism or sculpture or tv show in the first place.
Getting paid is what allows creative types to support themselves while producing the poetry, etc. Creating those works isn’t something they do in their spare time when they aren’t working, it’s what they do while they’re working, which means they can devote more time to it. When mommy or daddy is in a room by themself hitting the keyboard to produce stories about hard-boiled detectives or swashbuckling space warriors or tender romances about true love, they aren’t being selfish gits who would rather spend their free time off by themselves in some imaginary world rather than with their spouse and kids, they’re working, earning the money that helps support their spouse and kids. And, after putting in their eight hours (or whatever) typing away, they can go out and spend their actual free time with that family.
Doctorow’s characters survive — even thrive — without any jobs or income, but that doesn’t mean everyone else can do that (actually, I’m dubious that even Trent and co could really do that, but let that pass). Other people need a livelihood and an income.
Now, if something like Milady de Winter Part 18 fails because no-one likes it and so they don’t go see it, you could write off the loss of livelihood by the creators to market forces, but if they loose their livelihoods because a bunch of freeloaders who want their product, but just don’t want to pay for it, well, that just comes across as malicious and evil — or exceedingly narcissistic and sociopathic — on the part of the freeloaders.
I’m just trying to point out the distinction between people who make a living at their art, who might have to reconsider whether they have the time or money or energy left to do it after it becomes an unpaid hobby (not that I’m saying it should); vs all the people who currently make art for little or no pay, wishing they could make a living at it. Plus some set of people who can’t make art right now because they lack time and/or money.
I assume Belinkie’s characterization of Pirate Cinema is accurate, and I’m not defending the anti-copyright stance of those characters. Just that anyone trying to define art as only those creations which earn someone a full living, as if unpaid art is all bad or beneath consideration, they’ve got one big, fat, failed novelist gunning for them, as soon as I get some time off my dayjob. ;)I’m just trying to point out the distinction between people who make a living at their art, who might have to reconsider whether they have the time or money or energy left to do it after it becomes an unpaid hobby (not that I’m saying it should); vs all the people who currently make art for little or no pay, wishing they could make a living at it. Plus some set of people who can’t make art right now because they lack time and/or money.
I assume Belinkie’s characterization of Pirate Cinema is accurate, and I’m not defending the anti-copyright stance of those characters. Just that anyone trying to define art as only those creations which earn someone a full living, as if unpaid art is all bad or beneath consideration, they’ve got one big, fat, failed novelist gunning for them, as soon as I get some time off my dayjob. ;)
There are hobbyists, amateurs and professionals in many fields. The main difference between the groups is the amount of time each spends on working in the field, with professionals devoting the most time (because they can afford to). This doesn’t mean that what hobbyists and amateurs produce is inferior, only that they produce less.
If you like The Avengers, then you probably want the people involved in making it to be off working on more films so you can enjoy them to. If they have to spend most of their time worrying about their hedge-trimming business (or whatever) while saving up the money to cover their living expenses while making another film, then you’re going to get fewer films from them and the gaps between films will be longer.
Professionals exist because specialisation allows those that are good at something to spend more of their time doing that thing so that society as a whole gets more of that thing. By exchanging the products of their various labour, everyone ends up better off. Singling one group of specialists and not paying them because some people feel they should get the products of their labour for free is really undermining the whole system.
Focusing on the fact that some people produce art as a hobby or as amateurs is kind of like arguing that people shouldn’t have to pay restaurants or caterers because their mom used to cook for free, they shouldn’t pay removalists because a friend once helped them move, they shouldn’t pay taxi fares or bus tickets because someone once gave them a lift, and so on. The correct response to such an attitude is to point out that those who don’t want to pay just shouldn’t use the service or product. Problem solved.
@Zoran – This is precisely right. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how anyone honestly believes that “No one should get paid for their art” is a pro-art position. I feel like sometimes anti-copyright people can sort of paint themselves in a corner, which brings us right back to the book. The characters that are the MOST obsessive devotees of movies are the same ones who want to completely destroy the system that makes those movies for the crime of making them pay for those movies that they love so dearly. It’s weird.
But nobody’s actually arguing that. Everyone agrees that people have to be paid for their creativity in order for them to make a living being creative and have the ability to continue creating. Nobody disagrees.
The issue is whether this requires every single person who consumes their creativity to pay the same price, or even pay at all. A rich guy donating money to an artist gets the artist paid just as easily as the artist selling tickets to view his work, or a publicly funded national art foundation giving him a grant, or Netflix paying him to create content for which they can charge a monthly fee, or a TV company paying him to make the content so they can show ads along-side it. Paying the artist does not require copyright.
Reply to Zoran’s Nov 6 3:27 pm post.
I’m not trying to focus on hobbyists or non-professionals, or use it as some kind of argument to oppose copyright. It was meant as a reminder to anyone making blanket statements about artists needing to make their living, which seems to imply that only those who make a living at it qualify as “artists.”
I agree that the extreme anti-copyright position sounds like equivocating deadbeats.
But nobody’s actually arguing that.
Yes they are. Some are quite blatant about it (from the paper File-Sharing and Copyright by academics Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf):
A second reason that a decline in industry profitability might not hurt artistic production has to do with artist motivations. The remuneration of artistic talent differs from other types of labor in at least two important respects. On the one hand, artists often enjoy what they do, suggesting they might continue being creative even when the monetary incentives to do so become weaker. In addition, artists receive a significant portion of their remuneration not in monetary form – many of them enjoy fame, admiration, social status, and free beer in bars – suggesting a reduction in monetary incentives might possibly have a reduced impact on the quantity and quality of artistic production.
The issue is whether this requires every single person who consumes their creativity to pay the same price, or even pay at all.
Other than the fact that no rich guy is stepping forward to pay all the creative types involved in producing content, I can think of three reasons why a market system in which pays for the art they consume is a good thing:
I. It’s fairer. No-one has to support anything they don’t like or don’t want. If you don’t like the Twilight books or movies, don’t buy them or go see them. That way none of your money will go to the author or producers. Those who don’t consume any art at all won’t pay anything, leaving all their money available for other things.
II. As a consequence of only those who actually like something paying for it, the sales of a book, movie, song, etc. are a good guide to the size of the audience. A best-seller is obviously liked by many, many people and it’s clear that they appreciate and respond to what the artist is doing. That kind of feedback is an important part of the artistic process. As others have pointed out in this thread, the fact that the Milady de Winter series in Doctorow’s book has managed to reach part 18 just shows that a huge number of people must have enjoyed it and gotten something out it, so that the efforts of Trent and his friends to sabotage it just come across as elitist and churlish.
III. Further, how much someone likes something can be gauged by how much they’re willing to pay. This means that things that don’t have a wide following can still survive because the audience they do have are willing to support it, even at a higher price. Aficionados of jazz routinely pay more for new jazz albums than they would for albums featuring other types of music. Fans of gay/lesbian romantic comedies pay more for the DVDs of such films than they would for DVDs of other types of movies. And so on. This tells the creators of such works that while their audience may not be large, it is passionate about the work. Again, that sort of feedback is a large part of the artistic process.
Piracy not only destroys the livelihoods of creators, it also destroys the feedback mechanisms that make culture — and, indeed, the broader market and economy — work.
Reading this article makes me think of Doctorow as the yin to the Ayn Rand yang (granted I’ve never read Doctorow and only read a little more than the first movie’s worth of Atlas Shrugged). Both create comically one dimensional characters as protagonists to paint their view in such a black and white way that you cannot be sympathetic to their view at all. Does Doctorow’s writing have really creepy sex scenes in it too?
Additionally, I liked that Belinkie highlighted the fact that these characters do seem to ever want for money (or housing, or clothing, or high-tech computer equipment) even though they have no job. There is a reason that the “starving artist” is a thing. Real artists are waiters or bus drivers or IT guys or strippers or something. They need to pay for their paint or guitar strings or video editing equipment. Or they could steal (pirate?) it.
Does the book actually deal at all with the idea that maybe the reason Hollywood only produces “miserable, festering gush[es] of cinematic puke” is because of the loss of revenue due to piracy?
That might make the book interesting, but it would seem to challenge the very argument being made, something it appears Doctorow (a la Ayn Rand) is not comfortable doing in this book.
Dammit. Above should read ” that these characters do _NOT_ seem to ever want for money”
You’ve got it exactly right, Andre. The more recent Doctorow novels are basically simplistic polemics on the same level as Rand, only with a different political slant. Which is unfortunate, because his early works like “Down and Out In The Magic Kingdom” weren’t like this. Yes, they were utopian dreams of a post capitalist world, but much like Star Trek, I didn’t get the feeling that they were meant to be literally as blueprints of a future society, but more as metaphors for building and exploring because you enjoy them rather than financial gain. Which makes sense because most discoveries and works of art don’t make money.
What do you think about Makers or Rapture of the Nerds? I think the distinction isn’t between Doctorow’s early works and his current stuff, but between his “YA” stuff and his stuff written for an adult audience.
Little Brother and Pirate Cinema are very polemical (For The Win less so, maybe). Pirate Cinema has lots of examples of author-insert characters quoting Cory Doctorow speeches pretty much verbatim (that passage about alchemy is one of many examples). Perhaps the problem with that is that Cory Doctorow’s “Dickensian” protagonists aren’t nearly as likable or well-thought-out as Doctorow himself (they’re more “Great Expectations” than “Oliver Twist”).
(For the record, I think that Doctorow’s position on copyright is quite reasonable: Copyright law seems calibrated to regulating interactions within the entertainment industry, but not to regulating every instance of copying. Wholesale (non-transformative) non-commercial infringement can be a harm to content creators, but is often not a net harm, and is more likely to be a net harm to those who are already wildly successful. Furthermore, the proposed and current penalties for non-commercial copyright infringement are not at all proportionate. Compulsory blanket licensing would be a great compromise solution, as it has been in the past. It would also be beneficial to reduce the term of copyright such that things get added to the public domain again ever.)
I liked the first half of Makers quite a lot. I liked the second half, which was about some sort of ride that didn’t seem that fun, a lot less so. But it got interesting again at the end when the protagonists decided to cut a deal with the seemingly evil corporation. Makers proposed that art and business can coexist just fine; they can even help each other. That’s something that’s glaringly absent from Pirate Cinema. The only people trying to make a living in the arts are the bad guys.
I didn’t know that the alchemy thing was from a Doctorow speech. When the character gives the speech in the book, the narrator mentions many times how much the audience loves it and laughs at all the jokes. Hm.
Great article Matt, and I think Pete hit the nail on the head.
Those advocating a complete abrogation of copyright law have to do one of two things:
1. Explain how a movie that costs $200M+ (like the Avengers) is going to make money without copyright protections.
2. Be OK with no one making big budget movies like that.
Because those are you two options. It’s easy to criticize big-budget Hollywood as being “crap”, and yes, the entertainment is relatively low brow, but the fact is I ENJOYED Avengers. I gladly shelled out my 10 bucks to see it in a theater, because when the Hulk punches that thing in the face, it was awesome. I would like to continue to see Hulks punching things in the face. If there’s not a chance of making more than 200M from a movie like that, they won’t get made. Period. In fact, there has to be a chance of making LOTS more than 200M, because there’s no guarantees – lots of big budget movies actually LOSE money, so they only way investors will be ok with shelling that kind of money out is for a high-upside.
And if you get rid of copyright altogether, that goes away, and so do the movies.
Interesting choices for your argument and wrong ones too! What would copyright, or lack thereof, do to The Avengers? It was a ripped off as it was going to get whether it was copyrighted or not. It made a ton. As did Avatar (supposedly the most pirated movie). Neither are good examples.
What is the problem are marginal films. Things that take a chance or are unique enough that Hollywood can’t market them properly. People will look at it and pass on actually spending money on it because it looks “iffy” and download it instead. Unless this leads to disc sales each download is a loss. That’s a problem.
First off, as much money as Avatar and The Avengers made, who is to say they wouldn’t have made a lot more without piracy? (I know it’s difficult to play that tiny a violin.)
But I think your real mistake is to assume that piracy has reached its high water mark. Sure, maybe piracy didn’t seriously damage The Avengers. But what about 5 years from now? 10 years from now? I think we haven’t seen anything yet. Before you know it, the internet will be many, many times as fast as it is now. We’ll be able to download a 5 gig movie as quickly as we do an mp3.
It won’t be in theatres in 5-10 years. The b.o. is gone. Dead. As a catalogue title? I hate to think what the catalogue is going to look like in 5-10 years. Doubt any disc will be available. And even so, so what? What is relevant about an old movie? The production will probably have folded by then, the studio could be gone, the artists dead, retired or otherwise occupied. The money has been collected from the project. It’s dead. If any money comes in from a decade old property, it’s pure gravy.
You misunderstand me. I meant that while piracy may not take a huge chunk out of TODAY’S blockbusters, that may not always be the case. I would expect piracy to be far more widespread in the future, as download speeds get faster and hard drives bigger. Wouldn’t you? By the time we get to The Avengers 3, it could be 10 times larger than it is today.
Or not. Who knows? But it seems baseless to say that since Hollywood is doing fine today, piracy must not be a threat.
Those advocating a complete abrogation of copyright law
Isn’t this a strawman? Cory Doctorow doesn’t advocate a complete abrogation of copyright law.
Furthermore, big budget movies like the Avengers did get made with incredibly ineffective (though incredibly cruel to the poor random souls it does go after) enforcement of laws against non-commercial digital piracy. People’s decision to see the movie in theaters or to buy the DVD was generally not impacted by the presence of the movie on BitTorrent. And copyright law that regulates commercial piracy is largely effective, so most people who bought a theater ticket or a DVD paid some money to the studio.
@L33tminion – I’m sure that Cory Doctorow does not advocate a complete abrogation of copyright law, but several of his characters come close. People talk about how everyone has a duty to pirate everything they can until the studios go out of business. People argue that “culture belongs to everyone,” and how can a company own a story. And the final verdict of the protagonist’s trial fines him only a penny for each act of piracy.
Maybe I misread the book, but “no copyright laws at all” doesn’t seem like a strawman at all.
The biggest issue though, that no one acknowledges, is that we don’t buy IP. We’ve *never* bought IP. There’s no mechanism that will work to make us buy IP as much as the content businesses try.
We buy product or a service. We want a tangible benefit for our money. Whether it’s a disc, sheet music, an entertainment experience or a house, that IP that has been so diligently worked over for our benefit doesn’t have any value until it’s presented to us in a form that WE value.
The architect’s drawing doesn’t mean anything until that building is built. That performance is worth nothing until it provides value as an experience. Radio had a chance to change this but, of course, couldn’t see how to charge for the entertainment value brought to your homes. TV just kept on using that model and it’s far too late to try to change anyone now. If it comes to you as a personal experience it’s “free”. This is where tech has changed the equation. Losing the tangible portion of IP has hurt, badly. IP has become ephemeral again and we’re not willing to pay for it. We pay for access, we pay for convenience, we pay for experience.
To add insult, business is reinforcing that mindset. In trying to protect, or at least monetize IP, they undermine the whole concept. Licensing instead of owning. Reducing or actually removing paid content unilaterally over disputes. DRMing paid content into unusability.
Why wouldn’t you go get it for free if you can?
You’re ignoring the fact that media is not just a product, it’s an integral part of our language and culture. By protecting the monetization of media, what you’re really doing is telling poor people that they should have less capacity to engage with other humans because they can’t afford the same shared experience.
Look what the internet has done to industry knowledge. Methods and techniques that used to be kept secret inside an industry are now all over youtube, and as a result people with the ambition can teach themselves and become desirable for employment. That’s an equal opportunity that never existed before.
Media is no different. Sure, watching a pirated movie is not itself art in the traditional sense, but it does make the viewer (and ultimately the culture) more exposed to and appreciative of art. This *increases* the abstract valuation of art and creates more artists that would never have been inspired before. Piracy may be anti-establishment, but it is definitely not anti-art.
What this boils down to is that piracy is fundamentally an economic problem that results from artificial control of supply restricting the market. Digital piracy is no different from old-fashioned smuggling, while Kickstarter proves that people are still more than willing to support the creation of art when it is not commodified. Piracy isn’t about never paying for anything again, it’s about removing the ability for those with capital to unfairly control everyone else’s access to culture.
“By protecting the monetization of media, what you’re really doing is telling poor people that they should have less capacity to engage with other humans because they can’t afford the same shared experience.”
OR MAYBE by protecting the monetization of media, we are making sure that future generations will be able to HAVE A CAREER IN THE ARTS. Piracy doesn’t just hurt a bunch of Ari Gold-type suits; it hurts the creative people who have their PAYCHECKS signed by those suits.
Honestly, I’m not buying this argument that “Star Wars is a part of my culture, so I should get to have it for free.” Yes, it’s a part of your culture. No, you don’t get to have it for free. It was only produced in the first place to be a commercial product, and you should be very glad that system was in place.
Theoretically, you SHOULD get to have Star Wars for free after some number of years, but Congress keeps extending it. Imagine how much cooler the world would be if copyright expired after 30 years.
Look at it from the perspective of a kid who has never seen Star Wars and is thus ostracized from his friends. Or someone who wants to go to music school but can’t because they’re too poor to afford to listen to all the material the school requires them to be familiar with.
And no, I disagree that artists only produce art as a commercial product. Even the biggest artistic sell-out finds creating art more rewarding than accounting. Art and media (and myth) is more than just a product that is consumed, it actually changes way you think and feel and engage with the world.
You could make the argument that media is like plastic surgery for your brain. While I personally want to make sure my surgeon gets paid for his services, I also don’t like the idea that my social mobility depends on what surgeries I can afford.
Obviously, libraries solve a lot of these problems and have for years. The problem is in adapting that model to the digital sphere, and so far content companies have no incentive to do so and have in fact been trying to use license-based arguments to criminalize content-sharing.
When it comes to rich kids having more access to media than poor kids, I’d say libraries are a good answer. Also, used DVDs and CDs are much cheaper than new ones, and usually every bit as functional. Does this completely level the playing field? No way. But rich kids have MANY advantages over poor kids, access to Star Wars being the LEAST of them.
I didn’t SAY people only produce art for money. What I said was that I wanted to make sure future generations can potentially MAKE A LIVING as an artist. Quickly, think of your favorite artist. Now ask yourself, did they do it as a hobby? Or did they make an income from it? Is it possible that your favorite artist would not have had time to make your favorite work of art if their art did not pay the bills?
What I am saying, and I would think it should be pretty uncontroversial, is that lowering the price of books/music/movies to free will result in less of these things, which is bad.
First off, regardless of whether used CDs and DVDs are as functional as new ones (my experiences have somewhat differed), those physical media are already obsolete and there’s no such thing as a used digital file.
Full disclosure: I actually work in the entertainment industry, TV specifically. I definitely have a vested interest in people getting paid, myself included. My point is that artists getting paid does not require everyone paying the same price to view their art, even if that price is free for some.
Just looking at my coworkers (whose opinions vary immensely on these issues, btw), I can tell you that you won’t get a job in this field if you *haven’t* first learned in your own projects off the clock. Nobody wants to hire someone and then have to train them for the job, they want someone who already knows what they’re doing and will independently learn everything they don’t know without the company having to worry about it. The most successful people are those who are also hobbyists, as they’re always learning the field regardless of their immediate motivation to get paid.
My other point is that piracy ultimately doesn’t hurt the content producer’s bottom line. “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” tanked because it sucked, not because it was widely pirated early. There are lots of systemic financial problems in Hollywood, but most of them are things like financiers cooking the profits to give the producers a smaller cut or considering profits that aren’t huge a failure. (Remember “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, which is so often used by the industry as an example of piracy hurting sales? It still made over twice its production & marketing budget just at the box office.)
In a functioning Keynesian economy, money should always be flowing. People with money are still going to be spending it, and it’s up to the content producers to figure out what people are willing to pay for. Your customers are always the people who pay, not the people who pirate your product online. If the pirates are actually potential customers, then the content producers are doing a bad job adapting to what their potential customers want.
Netflix and Pandora turn profits, so there’s definitely some consumer demand in the flat monthly fee model, and Spotify and others are still working out the kinks. More and more, it seems that many consumers are unwilling to pay ransom to content distributors who take content hostage. It’s the responsibility of the producers to adapt to new business models, not co-opt the government to preserve their old ones.
“What I am saying, and I would think it should be pretty uncontroversial, is that lowering the price of books/music/movies to free will result in less of these things, which is bad.”
I don’t think so. There are millions of people right this second working on books, music and movies who have not been paid for it, who will never make a living at it. Look at poetry. Nobody makes a living at poetry right anymore. Not many rational people working on poetry tonight really think they will make a living at it. But they’re still filling up art/is/anal moleskine notebooks faster than Brooklyan hipsters can stitch them together by hand.
I’m not arguing that copyright should be gone, just this narrower claim that no one makes art without getting paid. We already do.
A separate issue is, how much unpaid art is good? A lot of it is bad. A lot of paid art is bad too. This is Sturgeon’s Law applied to the dollar value of art instead of the genre. There are probably lots of really good unpaid novels, screenplays, poems, sculptures, paintings, being made right now that would delight viewers, but won’t find the right kind of distribution or audience. Because the kind of people who have sculpting skills are not necessarily skilled at marketing or promotion or distribution. I don’t think it can all be dismissed as garbage just because no one has paid for it, or because people who would pay have not discovered it. (I’m trying to counter this argument in anticipation of anyone raising it, not trying to present it as an argument that you put forward.)
I don’t know a total solution to copyright on digital works, but I’d start to compromise by at least pulling back the length of copyright to maybe 25-30 years, certainly nothing past the life of the author or creator. Hir kids and grandkids can go out and get their own jobs. Suffer like the rest of us. It builds character. Nobody who feels an inclination to create a song or novel or profitable artistic product is going to refuse to do it just because their copyright would be limited to 25 or 30 years. Maybe James Patterson would stop churning out novels where he writes a synopsis and farms it out to a “co-author” to complete it for him. Oh no, a world without James Patterson’s 108th novel, shiver!
But yeah, production assistants should get paid, and your article sounds like a fair condemnation of Doctorow’s novel.
I’m struggling with how to respond to that top paragraph. Because I disagree in principle, but have a lived experience that sort of justifies what you’re saying.
On the one hand, a kid that hasn’t seen the “right” movie because of income and gets kicked out of their circle of friends for it has a lot more on their plate than the fact that they didn’t see the movie in itself. Not just that they have terrible friends, but that thus things at home must be pretty tough, to put it lightly. Similarly, if a kid can’t afford music school, the school part itself is of course a terrible situation, and it must be symptomatic of a whole barrage of issues. But while perhaps assisting the kid in getting those things (the movie, the school), I’d also instead ask why the kid couldn’t afford it and look at the systemic reasons their household is in the situation they’re in. Not seeing that movie or attending that school are tiny bits of a much more serious situation, and letting them see the movie isn’t going to make the next day any financially better for that kid and their family, nor will sending them to music school (unless they somehow become a famous, paid musician- which runs counter to your argument). So I wouldn’t want to change the laws that seem to be denying the kid the movie, I’d want to change the market mechanisms that put their family in such a situation in the first place.
On the other hand, I feel as though the part about the kid that wants to go to music school is a mus-characterization, or at least a weak metaphor. Music education is an entirely different realm from movie-watching. Education in general is, really. I think it’s somewhat of a crime that education is a for-profit industry in the U.S., and I wish it was free and universal for all. But that’s for reasons completely unrelated to copyright law.
I was a poor kid at a music school. Or, well, performing arts, but it was for orchestra (cello, yay!), so same difference. Anyway, the class barriers I encountered had nothing to do with the music itself. It was access to and maintenance of a good instrument; appropriate concert attire; application fees; dues to play in contests and city-wide orchestras in which I was required by my program to participate; going to competitions out-of-state; etc. I as a student never encountered first-hand any issues with respect to copyright law in any of the orchestras I was playing in- the schools and orchestras may have had to deal with issues around purchasing sheet music for performances and getting permission to make copies of sheet music to distribute to students, but that cost never touched us kiddoes. And any recordings were purchased by the program and available for check-out in basically an internal library system. Still, I suppose the requirement the students buy the music may happen (I just never saw it myself, luckily enough, then). However, I guess similarly to the kid with the movie, if a music program requires a student to buy music and they can’t, the more important question is what is so effed up with the education system that it has so many hurdles embedded within it that a kid has to give up their instrument? But as it’s in an institutional setting, an educational one, the remedy there should be financial aid of some sort, and that should fall on the school, school district, university, whatever- wherever the money comes from other than the families paying tuition and stuff. The kid should get assistance so they can do it, and ideally the entire system would be universal and free to anybody. But at the same time, the school or whoever should be paying for the rights to use those music materials, since they’re meant for an educative purpose.
Because I still think the music companies making recordings of the music, or the places publishing sheet music, should retain control of their intellectual property and thus get paid for it. And we can get into a debate over whether anybody should have the right to charge for copies of Bach’s Cello Suites very easily, but ultimately my stance is that music publishers and classical recording studios still exist for profit, and they employ people (including the people that record- Yo Yo Ma doesn’t play concerts for free). Insisting they provide their products at no charge would not only cause the loss of jobs, but deplete the overall availability of the music itself as places went under. Recordings don’t pay for themselves, so unless there was a subsidy of the production itself, the companies need to exist in order for the product to be, well, produced.
I guess the difference comes down to a difference in my own personal belief system: I believe education should be a universal right, but at the same time, I don’t think pirating should be legal.
Interesting. I spent a year at a small music school myself, with slightly different experiences.
I can definitely tell you that licensing sheet music is a huge cost to the school, which is why piracy of sheet music and photocopying is so rampant. Choice of repertoire, especially in orchestras, is heavily dependent on what the orchestra can afford, or what they can get away with stealing. Any money they do spend on legitimately licensing material is either taken away from other programs they could be funding (like chamber music) or added to the already high fees they charge their students.
I agree that the problem runs deeper than this, and maybe there are other ways to attack poverty and scarcity of funding, but across the board it seems harder for individuals to create enough value in a global economy to support themselves comfortably, and increased adoption of efficient technology only seems to be making the problem worse. I have no idea what the solution is, but I think piracy is only a symptom.
Some of that is really ridiculous. I’m sure Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Handel are just aquiver because their music is being copied and not paid for.
It’s this sort of thing that makes piracy such a bitch. How can anyone honestly say that it’s a ripoff to the content creators when copyright is trampled in cases like this.
DM: Oh yes, I didn’t mean to imply I thought getting permission to use music isn’t a cost the schools have to deal with. While I find it more likely the music program would be the first cut if there are other programs at stake (unless the school is specifically a music one- I’m now thinking of music programs in regular high schools or at colleges or universities not specified toward performing arts), I agree, covering the cost of licensing probably tends to end up in the pockets of parents/families in the tuition/dues/etc. they have to pay- so it’s indirectly being hoisted onto families. And at a music-specific school, yes, it would probably come out of some of the specific programs within, such as chamber music, like you said. But again, as I see this as a problem stemming from outside the realm of copyright law, the solutions I’d prefer to see aren’t about changing the fact that those licensing fees exist, but rather about government prioritizing education and particularly the arts. I’d say one solution to help make it affordable (or at least not any less affordable) is for the music purchases on the part of the school to be subsidized or covered by the government in some way. Be it they’re given a large enough amount in a grant/award/etc. to go specifically for music purchases, or perhaps a tax ride-off that makes them end up basically paying for themselves, something. I’m not an expert on that type of policy, so I can’t say what would be the most efficient, but that could be a starting point. Schools could afford to buy the music without cutting within, families wouldn’t be charged, and the companies making the music would still get paid.
But again, overall, I’ll reiterate I think the education system in the U.S. needs fixing, so while music program costs are a barrier for potential musicians, other things are barriers for students, too- sports can be costly (uniforms, equipment, travel), as are visual art (supplies), theater (maybe costumes and the cost of the plays themselves), etc. But that’s a different discussion. Suffice to say that for educative purposes, government should be paying for that intellectual property, in my opinion, and the kid not being able to afford whatever intellectual property needs purchasing should be handled by the education system itself, not copyright law.
One issue with your view public knowledge being available on the internet: these supposed companies that have allowed this knowledge to be viewed on YouTube, were they sustaining careers from this knowledge being for sale/taught beforehand? Or are these sorts of things just byproducts of what the company sells? Or were they non-profit entities who did it out of the goodness of their heart?
In contrast to that, creatives live off of money generated directly from the sale of that culture. All those movie studio people working on the Avengers, who’s going to sign their paychecks when people stop going to the theater? Who’s going to invest in another $200M movie?
Authors (such as Doctorow himself) should have the CHOICE to sell their work or give it away. There’s no blanket answer to this whole thing, as artists thrive in both scenarios. I think we should stop talking in absolutes before attempting to put forth a solution.
Hmmm. I don’t think that kickstarter has proved anything much, more than a handful of people win the lottery each year. It certainly isn’t a sustainable model for any one to base a career on.
I also think you are completely wrong about “people with the ambition can teach themselves and become desirable for employment.” You’ll be hard pressed to find some one to give you a job just because you’ve watched a youtube video.
I don’t think the price of entertainment, either in the form of music, films, or books has changed much in the last 30 years. An album used to cost about £4-5 (40 fags) and now you can download from iTunes for £8 (20 fags).
Actually, I would say that the elimination of copyright tells poor people they should have less capacity to engage with other humans. Why? Because if creating art becomes a money-free enterprise with people doing it for the love of it, then only those with enough money and free time will be able to create art – or at least be able to distribute it.
“…if creating art becomes a money-free enterprise with people doing it for the love of it, then only those with enough money and free time will be able to create art — or at least be able to distribute.”
For most people alive today, creating art is already something they don’t have enough time or money to do or distribute. No need to present it as a hypothetical situation. The ancient patronage system is one solution to that problem, and the current patronage-ish system of rich gatekeepers is another way to help a few artists. I guess when we’re talking about monster projects like filming the Avengers or casting massive statues or constructing warped museums in Bilbao, we’ll always have to rely on rich patrons. But it would be nice if everyone had at least enough time to work on art by having some minimum income.
However, up until the last ten years or so if I wanted to invest in self publishing or distribution there would be a chance that I coud make a deent living off it.
The few publishing successes of the digital era are not promising. The two biggest digital publishing sensations were a teen vampire fiction (Amanda Hocking) or teen vampire fanfiction turned erotica (Fifty Shades Of Grey), and in each case the authors eventually went the route of traditional publishing.
Of course a lot of people struggle to get their stuff distributed. However, the post-piracy model seems to be leading towards a more, not less homogenous culture.
Take a look at Deviant Art -the stuff that tends to get noticed and reblogged is the stuff that is derivative of other stuff – steampunk Avengers or Dr. Who anime style.
Kickstarter is such a red herring that I have to groan whenever it’s mentioned.
The people who have succeeded with kickstarter (the Amanda Palmers of this world) are those who are the best at self-promotion. As well, by appealing to what the public wants (or more accurately what they think they want) they ensure that the works that will be funded will be ones that appeal to audiences by sticking to popular tropes (“a steampunk zombie musical Star Wars!”) the fact is that if kickstarter had been the only method of monetizing work in the past we would be less likely to have Star Wars or any other work that truly took audiences by surprise.
Truly innovative art has in the past come from those who managed to persuade one or two savvy editors/producers/publishers to take a chance in them. This is where the long tail comes in – I feel very fortunate to know, for example, that someone is still pressing The Velvet Underground or publishing Moby-Dick in spite of their lack of initial success. While Moby-Dick is long public domain, I think it’s great that Lou Reed, John Cale and Mo Tucker (Sterling Morrison RIP) get something, no matter small, when a teenager discovers “Sister Ray.”
The example I like to give for how Kickstarter is not a good model is Thomas Pynchon. I want to reward Pynchon for his work by buying his books, not expect him to hawk his work on Kickstarter.
Similarly, the Louis CK/Radiohead model gets a lot of noise but ignores the fact that this has only worked for creators who are already established through more conventional media distribution.
There is a video from a 5 years back where Michael Frikas from VIACOM says they don’t really care about mashups, its the direct copies that are the problem.
I have an acquaintance who loves watching movies he has a collection of over a 1000 films, and he’s been unemployed for years, but none of the movies he has are pirated. All bought for a £2 or so from second hand shops, bargain baskets, or boot sales.
In a few hours a relation will be arriving from France for the weekend he does sound engineering for films, groups, TV. A few years ago he had a workforce of over 30 to a dozen.
My company makes CADCAM software that is used by some in the entertainment industry to make props such as the pistol in I, Robot by Mindshift:
or the props created by Weta Workshop:
all of these guys need to make a living, most are just blue collar workers, and they don’t do that because some middle class kid egged on by Doctorow thinks they are sticking it to the man, by pirating the content.
Thanks for this. Doctorow lost me with Little Brother. I see not much has changed.
Thanks for writing this article. I read boingboing, but usually I just scroll past Doctorow’s posts.
You’re article, I think, made me realize that one of the things that bugs me is that he tends to present his argument in such a way that anyone who disagrees, or is unconvinced, ends up siding with the greedy fat cats and politicians (politicans, of course, are bad). Furthermore for someone who is critical of capitalism like me, it is especially difficult to explain how existing market systems make the “pirate everything” ethos unworkable without sounding like i suddenly turned into a neoliberal.
Another thing that bugs me about arguments for totally free content, and that this book seems to do, is equate piracy with political activism. If you truly believe that laws are unjust and punishments are not proportional to the crimes, then you have a political issue that needs to be resolved through political means. Pissing off “big media” isn’t a political strategy, at least not an effective one, anyway. Even if you bankrupt big media, you clearly still have the problem that any industry with enough money can dictate the laws. When viewed with this in mind, what the characters are doing doesn’t only seem possibly harmful to working people ( i assure you the PA’s on Milady De Winter 18 would rather the studios keep making crappy big budget movies) but also incredibly petty and selfish. If you’re living in an unjust political system that is ruining the lives of innocent people, including your family, and you feel you have no voice in said system, you should maybe do something more than hanging out with your friends, watching pirated movies and hoping that that’ll bankrupt “big content?”
My thoughts on piracy often match with what benefits me I am very much aware. I recently claimed (somewhat hyperbolically) that it was not merely morally neutral but morally good to pirate from Fox/News Corp/Sky – to damage Rupert Murdoch whilst enjoying the content that comes from that stable.
(Otherwise, I only tend to pirate cancelled/non-syndicated shows, or shows where I know that I will be buying the Region 2 DVD on release date).
That’s a moral quandary of which I’ve obviously picked one of the wrong answers. But for the example of A Touch of Cloth, which was the most recent example. I will never be able to afford Sky TV. I will never be morally comfortable with money going to NewsCorp. I like Charlie Brooker (and the other writers too). I can’t morally win, save by stopping trying to win the Cold War, and never seeing something that I like that the person I like wants to see.
Realistically, the answer is to campaign for a legal/moral standard for media ownership so that Fox and the like can pass into more ethical hands and then I can consume the product legally and affordably by buying it on DVD. But that’s not as exciting a plot thread for a novel nor a way of watching it anytime in the next ten years.
Oh, and WTF history book was Doctorow consulting with his nonsense about alchemy? One major problem with his theory is that the triumph of the scientific method over alchemy coincides with the time in which copyright was enacted. In fact, the Enlightenment started right around the time of the Statute of Anne.
The alchemy analogy certainly doesn’t originate with Doctorow — people were using it as an analogy for closed-source software 20 years ago. I’d suspect Richard Stallman (emacs, gcc) as the source, but maybe not as I can’t seem to google him actually using the analogy. Certainly the subplot involving pirates losing access to textbooks as draconian punishment from evil corporations derives from Stallman’s parable “The Right to Read”.
Nonetheless, I still think it runs counter to the history of science, as it actually grew around the dawn on Western publishing and copyright.
Oh, agreed, but my point is that I doubt actual history about alchemy or copyright is the source or indeed point of the analogy.
It’s the difference in philosophy between trade secrets and open publication that the relation of alchemy (closed, esoteric) vs science (open, repeatable).
Jonathan is right in that Stallman used this analogy to compare the difference between open and closed source software. Doctorow extends it to the difference between strict control and freely accessible works.
It’s a weak metaphor, because the expression of ideas are not the same as trade secrets.
I hate to pop the lid off the top of this tupperware bowl of worms, but it seems like many of the comments could be made more concise if we agreed on the premise *Given that capitalism is unfair*, what would be the sensible intprop policy after we get rid of capitalism and somehow implement a more fair economic system?
Maybe no one will agree with that, but the point is that a lot of the comments seem to talk about how current intprop laws seem unfair, then proceed into a critique of capitalism more than intprop law.
There’s good reason for that: we are in a capitalist system.
The problem is that people like Doctorow seem determined to get rid of capitalism for creators of IP, and not for anyone else. They subscribe to the idea that Property Is Theft but only for IP.
Since I’m definitely one of the commenters you mention, i’ll try to explain myself a little.
As D mentions below, these characters seem to only want to get rid of part of the capitalist system. It’s the small, limited and, in my opinion, ineffective focus that frustrates me. People like Doctorow could be powerful allies in the quest to push for a different kind of economic system. When I see him voicing, through his characters, a call for the downfll of “big content,” I see him inadvertantly giving ammunition to my intellectual opponents in the name of what seems like a less pressing cause. To use mangled, mixed metaphor, I see doctorow attacking the tail of the neoliberal dog while the rest of us are trying to not get bitten. On the other hand, if Doctorow says he believes in a capitalist system, then his arguments seem somewhat philosophically inconsistent.
I don’t know if you could describe Doctorow and various other “copyfighters” as either pro- or anti-capitalists, so much as tribalists.
They basically seem to see the world as an in-group — in the case of Doctorow and other copyfighters, this is mostly people in the tech, computer and internet-related industries — for whom basic rules apply, and an out-group — everyone else — who are just a resource to be used.
In the book, Trent is portrayed as obsessed with making movies and this is regarded as a good thing. However, the notion that the films he downloads to make his mash-ups are also the product of other people like him who also like to make movies and who work hard at it is never really addressed. That he and they may actually have a lot in common — certainly more than Trent and those who just download to consume without wanting to make anything new out of it. Instead, all the films Trent downloads are just treated as some natural resource that just happens to exist out there and big content is regarded as just trying to extract rent from everyone else by artificially controlling access to this resource.
If Doctorow is pro-capitalist, he seems to be pro-capitalist only as regards the members of his preferred tribe. If he’s anti-capitalist, again whatever system he prefers would only apply to the members of his preferred tribe. Everyone else is just a resource, to be used as necessary with the cost of extraction to be kept as low as possible, with the ideal being a cost of zero.
I suppose you could call it a kind of neo-feudalism, with a new tech-noblity and everyone else as serfs.
Wow, I hadn’t thought about it that way. You just kinda blew my mind a little. Perhaps I let my leftist leanings color my analysis a bit too much. Though in my own defense, it’s hard not to when the subject is so entwined in the issues of money, labor and remuneration.
But your comment also points me to another possible reason for my distrust of Doctorow’s arguments: as someone who works in a “non-creative” job in the TV industry, I am exactly one of those people his character seems to be using as a “natural resource.”
Expanding fair use to make non-commercial copying legal is not exactly a uncommon belief anymore. I’m curious what your stance on copyright is?
Me? My stance is that it’s really complicated. I think that copyright should exist, but it shouldn’t go on forever – things should pass into the public domain. I think non-commercial derivative works should be allowed, and I think “fair use” should be expanded and clarified to make this explicit. Sort of a remixers bill of rights. As for COMMERCIAL works, people should have to pay something. You can’t just take a Red Hot Chili Peppers bassline and use it on your album without paying them.
As for piracy, there are no great solutions. Maybe something like the three strikes law Doctorow hates… but the penalty is just throttling of your network connection. Nobody loses access to email and important work stuff, but you lose your ability to download 20 gigs a day. That seems fair, but it also may not be a big enough deterrent. Hollywood wants to get people thrown in jail to put the fear of God in everyone else, which is a solid strategy, albeit kind of unfair to the scapegoats.
The music industry has survived with piracy because their business model is increasingly centered around live performances. For movies, there ARE no live performances. It’s not a coincidence that we’re seeing a lot of 3D movies and IMAX experiences. Studios really want us to feel that seeing big movies in the theater is the only way to go. I think that in the future, studios might make a LOT less money from DVD sales because of piracy, but they might continue to have big box office opening weekends because watch The Avengers 3 on your TV at home just isn’t the same.
I also think that eventually, the cost of recorded movies will come down to compete with piracy. The fact is, there’s no reason a blu-ray needs to cost $30, except that the studios have felt that’s the optimal price point for them. The cost of producing the content is mostly (or completely) paid for by the film’s theatrical release, so selling them at a loss isn’t an issue (these aren’t computers or a product that actually costs a lot per unit to manufacture). I suspect as piracy becomes a more tempting option, DVDs will drop in price.
I think it’s an interesting problem and I don’t have strong ideas about the right way to fix it, actually. I just feel like the idea that people don’t have the right to get paid for their work is wrong.
The bandwidth throttling you’re talking about is coming relatively soon, and I think that the companies are going to find it’s a far more effective deterrent than the threat of lawsuits or even prison.
A naive view of punishment would suggest that people weigh the risk of being punished in roughly this way:
Probability of being caught * Costs of being caught = Costs of doing the act
If that were true, and people respond to those costs, we would expect that a change in likelihood in getting caught would have the same effect as a proportional change in the punishment (i.e. you get the same deterrence by doubling punishment as you do from doubling the chances of getting caught)
The evidence, though, doesn’t bear that out – people don’t respond particularly well to even extreme changes in punishment, but respond strongly to changes in the likelihood of getting caught. The throttling scheme makes the punishment for getting caught pirating much, much smaller than the prior scheme of lawsuits, but the likelihood of being caught is much, much higher – and I think they will find it’s more effective.
In orde to “catch piracy” ISPs/governments would have to keep track of what people personally are doing online. Is the wide surveillance of citizen’s private communications something acceptable in order to protect copyright?
Do you use gmail? Or any commercial email service? Than your private communications are already monitored and the contents shared with advertisers (anonymously, of course (we hope)).
The same people who don’t have a problem with this go nuts at the idea of an automatic system designed to find people pirating The Sopranos. What’s the difference?
So where is the mass protest led by Doctorow against google?
Google doesn’t try to invade your privacy on a personal level. There is also a question of intent, Google wants to provide more relevant advertisements and services, while the copyright’s intent is entirely malicious to the user they are monitoring (“find evidence of wrongdoing”).
Also, copyright enforcers want to inspect all possible communication mediums, while Google and tech companies can only inspect their own communications with users.
Private communications are inherently hostile to copyright enforcers, because they are likely avenues of infringement (the infringes naturally want to communicate though the most private avenues). Private communications in Google’s business model is merely inconvenient, they have no desire to go into great lengths to invade your privacy if you don’t want them to.
So, yes, just a few “minor” differences.
I think the difference in interpretation of the intention of copyright laws speaks volumes. You’d call them “malicious,” seeing them as a subversive and deliberate mechanism for home invasion; others would see them as “protectionist,” a defense to preserve a person’s or company’s property from theft.
But protectionism also has negative connotations.
In orde to “catch piracy” ISPs/governments would have to keep track of what people personally are doing online.
Given that pirate sites make money by selling advertising space next to the download link, I don’t think it’s valid to describe what they do as “private communication”. Big companies don’t buy advertising space in private settings (not enough people pass by to see the ad), they prefer big, public spots where they can get the maximum exposure.
If it involves publicly posted downloads, widely promoted through links on a variety of forums and supported not only by advertising but also by selling premium access so people can download things faster, then it’s obviously a commercial transaction and calling it “private communication” is just bullshit.
Yup… you’re opinions are not much different than mine. If piracy was easy to stop it would have been stopped. Both the movie and music industries are very politically connected, and they had many chances to convince the government to stop piracy.
A lot of people think there is some kind of easy solution but the matter of fact is there isn’t. We can wipe our ass with the Bill of Rights, revoke all our freedoms. That WILL help curtail piracy (this is true in general, it’s a lot easier to stop crimes when you don’t have to get warrants or use due process), but nobody short of a few extremists want that.
I’m generally more apathetic on copyright then you though. If SOPA/PIPA/CCI+Hadopi thought us anything, it is that eventually copyright enforcement will lead us to a world where everyone is monitored and due process is a memory. As long as copyright exists, there will always be pressure to piss on the concepts of liberty. Because the only way to properly enforce copyright is to involve yourself in the private business of others.
Random idea I just got. And keep in mind, I have a pretty huge penalty on my Knowledge: Technology checks. But…
What if download size was monitored the way bank transactions are? As in once you’ve downloaded a certain size of… stuff… you get flagged. Like how if you withdraw or transfer over a certain amount of money, you get red flagged and it gets looked into? I mean, I imagine that a threshold like that would be just as easily avoided as the one for money, but also credit card companies and banks flag suspicious transactions (like someone trying to use your debit card at a gas station and a pawn shop in New York, and you’ve never even been there) (true story), so what if they were able to track lots of itty-bitty downloads from suspicious places, too? And by “places,” I mean websites. And what if sites selling content had some sort of verification cookie or code they could embed in the transaction process so that legal transactions didn’t alert anybody?
To try and reword: What I’m picturing is a system where a person’s IP address only pops up as a potential pirate if they either download a crapton or if they do a lot of successive small downloads, then the site they’re downloading from is taken into account. And ideally, there’s a legitimizing cookie or something a host site could attach to the transactions from their site so that legitimate purchases won’t even start getting looked into.
Alas, I don’t really understand enough of the logistics behind IP addresses and torrents to know how feasible, practical, etc. that is. But still, if technology is so good, there has got to be a way to catch the people doing illegal things without nosing into the private business of people not doing illegal things.
No good. The size of data transfer says nothing about the legality. Netflix and YouTube also transmit a ton of data.
Actually the data itself says nothing about it’s legality either (ie. the same file could be legal if you bought it from iTunes, but illegal if it is on your friend’s iPod instead of yours) even though they are bit-for-bit identical. Copyright is not a characteristic of data. But that’s a different story.
Copyright isn’t a characteristic of paper and ink either, and yet the law has no problems policing copywritten books.
I think you’re right in saying that there are tons of practical problems with policing copyright. But I think you’re being unnecessarily alarmist in thinking that you need to be figuratively urinated on in order to not have easy unlimited access to free movies.
There used to be practical problems with enforcing private property laws on the open range, but development and technology caught up with that problem too, eventually.
Well I already addressed the size issue, and it should go without saying that downloads from legitimate sources should go unpunished or investigated, another thing I already addressed.
So there isn’t a way of encrypting the files? Slapping a line of one-time-use code on them for the download? Your mention of iTunes actually makes me wonder, if Apple and software companies can set up authorization codes and verification, why can’t that become more prevalent?
“So there isn’t a way of encrypting the files?”
DRM? I think we know how effective that is.
Really, if people want to do something they’ll do it. The law is 99% based on voluntary acceptance, 1% on enforcement. I think have to make it in people’s best interests to respect copyright, and not by threatening them or punishing them for violating it, but by making copyright naturally make sense to the population’s interests in a way that makes it against their inherit interests to not violate te the law. The best way I think is to private services that offer similar benefits to piracy (unlimited access to all the world’s books, music, movies, software, etc. etc.)
Copyright isn’t a characteristic of paper and ink either, and yet the law has no problems policing copywritten books.
Agreed. This is an copyright in the age of the printing press.
Actually, one of the most interesting treatises on modern copyright I’ve read explains why copyright worked so well for books, but is not working well for digital media.
“The printing press has an economy of scale: it takes a lot of work to set the type, but then you can make many copies very fast. Also, the printing press and the type were expensive equipment that most people didn’t own; and the ability to use them, most literate people didn’t know. Using a press was a different skill from writing. The result was a centralized manner of producing copies: the copies of any given book would be made in a few places, and then they would be transported to wherever someone wanted to buy copies.”
I also want to mention to Gab that DRM (the use of technical countermeasures to enforce copyright) quite a deep and colorful topic in its own right.
I just want to summerize the two major problems that have mostly doomed every attempt to design a effective DRM (and I must mention that designing/selling DRM solutions itself is a very big business, perhaps billions of dollars in its own right). It’s been tried.
The music industry pretty much gave up on DRM. Movies still have DRM, and very good and very expensive DRM in the case of Blu-ray. But it also has been broken, and anyone with an interest in sharing a DVD or Blu-ray can do so.
Why is this so? There is two FATAL problems with DRM.
1) The fact that in order to view something, you must decrypt it. This is quite simple: if someone sends you a scrambled message you can not read it until you scramble it. It follows that you must have the process or algorithm to unscramble it.
—- It follows from DRM that the process for removing DRM is always provided to the end user somehow. Try as they might to hide it, it is always there.
Almost all DRM systems today fail on this fatal flaw. In the case that the DRM vendor somehow manages to confound the reverse engineers, or nobody is interested in breaking the DRM, there is #2:
2) The dreaded “analog hole”, or “Nature doesn’t respect DRM”. At some point, the electrical signals you consider your exclusive property must be transmitted in the plain, because the human eyes and ears don’t have support for DRM. These DRM-free signals can be recaptured into digital media and copied at will. Even the best design DRM will have the analog hole.
So there you have it.
I had similar reservations about Doctorow’s earlier “Little Brother”: which had a school snitch/bully named Charles who is there solely to make the protagonist look good. The author falls into the trap of trying to imagine a cool-kids clique with righteousness on their side, surrounded by hypocrites and bullies, rather than characters with realistically nuanced positions.
In “Pirate Cinema”, Doctorow is conflating two related but separate issues: property rights versus use rights. I can buy a book, and own that copy, but I don’t own the book itself. I have the right to do a variety of things with it, such as read it, loan it to a friend, resell it, burn it, and quote from it in another work, such as a critique or parody. Trent’s right to quote from “Milady de Winter 18” as critique or parody is not the same as his alleged right to get a copy of it for free, or to give away copies of it as, what, social critique? Doctorow seems to think that property rights and use rights are in a zero-sum game, and that use rights should be as possible and override property rights.
Right now I’m blogging through the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy, chapter by chapter, with extensive quotations. I do this not because I love it, but because I hate it, and because I think this highly profitable and popular work needs to be critiqued for what it says about gender and sexuality, and for presenting misleading and prejudicial information about consensual sadomasochism. I consider my blog series to be a derivative work of critique. I am, in a sense, fighting back against a culture that is doing something I don’t think it should do.
My reference is a pirated epub I got off Tumblr. I don’t think the book is worth paying for, and I also don’t think EL James (the author) or the publisher deserve the millions they’re getting for this work. “Fifty Shades”, incidentally, began as a “Twilight” fanfiction, which complicates the claim that this is an original work that the author has property rights over.
Trent & Co distributing pirated copies isn’t going to change people’s opinions of the “Milady de Winter” franchise (which plenty of people must like if there are that many sequels). Instead it’s an attack on the business model that produced it, though ultimately it is an attempt to control culture and make people do what they want. They’ve gone over the line from critique to censorship. There’s an ultimately anti-democratic, bohemian-elitism thinking driving it, that only the socially marginal have any true understanding of art and any other cultural expression is just debased commercialism.
That’s my problem: IMHO, millions of people shouldn’t like “Fifty Shades of Grey”, and I’m frothing at the mouth trying to convince them of that. Do I feel strongly enough about that that I would seriously damage the commercial apparatus that produced it?
This is an excellently timed article, if for no other reason than the very recent copyright amendments up here in Canada. Not sure if this is a true “well, actually” moment, but I’ve copied the relevant Canadian legislation here:
“Copyright Modernization Act”:
29.21 (1) It is not an infringement of copyright for an individual to use an existing work or other subject-matter or copy of one, which has been published or otherwise made available to the public, in the creation of a new work or other subject-matter in which copyright subsists and for the individual — or, with the individual’s authorization, a member of their household — to use the new work or other subject-matter or to authorize an intermediary to disseminate it, if
(a) the use of, or the authorization to disseminate, the new work or other subject-matter is done solely for non-commercial purposes;
(b) the source — and, if given in the source, the name of the author, performer, maker or broadcaster — of the existing work or other subject-matter or copy of it are mentioned, if it is reasonable in the circumstances to do so;
(c) the individual had reasonable grounds to believe that the existing work or other subject-matter or copy of it, as the case may be, was not infringing copyright; and
(d) the use of, or the authorization to disseminate, the new work or other subject-matter does not have a substantial adverse effect, financial or otherwise, on the exploitation or potential exploitation of the existing work or other subject-matter — or copy of it — or on an existing or potential market for it, including that the new work or other subject-matter is not a substitute for the existing one.
TL/DR – Basically, if your use is non-commercial, and does not negatively impact the monetization of the original work (ie. just a copy that people will use instead of the original), you’re in the clear. So most of the “art” described in this post (not having read the book myself), like mashups and remixes, would probably not be copyright infringement in Canada, as long as they credited the sources in their work. Of course, handing out copies of a movie in front of a movie theater would clearly not satisfy this exception, so they wouldn’t all get off for free.
I’ll leave the debate as to whether this is actually a *good* exception or not to the more serious Overthinkers.
Of course, standard “this is not legal advice, get your own lawyer” disclaimers apply, just in case any of you were planning anything.