The Peasants are revolting, Sire! On Piracy and Fans.

21 January, 2012 at 6:48 pm 2 comments

Good things first: SOPA / PIPA have been shelved for now. So I guess Blackout Day did what it was supposed to do: rising awareness. Just because you and I know what SOPA is doesn’t mean your average US senator does. We all know that bill will be repainted and then put in a glitzy box to be hawked out again, but we’ll cross that bridge once we’re there. And I promise that I’ll try to keep this here as short as possible (which will still be very long…)

Disclaimer
s

I haven’t downloaded a blockbuster movie or a computergame in my life. I usually pay for what I use, and I agree that just taking what you want is not ok. Is it always morally wrong, though? More about that later. Also, I’m not a lawyer and haven’t studied international copyright agreements. I’m just your average internet user. As an author, I’ve been a victim of piracy several times, and I’d still like to kick the backsides of those twits who illegally downloaded “I Do”, the anthology in support of marriage equality that I’ve contributed to of which all proceedings went to charity.

Megaupload very likely did things that even we as netizens would consider criminal. I’m definitely not a fan Kim Dotcom. Lifting Megaupload to the status of an internet martyr for freedom of speech is counterproductive and doesn’t represent the facts. But just because Kim Dotcom isn’t Robin Hood, we don’t have to smooch up with the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Anonymous has shown in the past that they are capable of being amazing as well as awful. They are a bit like radioactivity, really. The fact that so many people are now cheering them on should make the alarm bells of authorities around the globe ring – the peasants are revolting, Sire! While I don’t agree with all of Anonymous’ activities and modus operandi, I think they are an important force. The internet is a new battlefield, and maybe this is the kind of warriors we need.

1. Is every movie download a loss for the movie industry?

Let’s take “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” as an example. Please meet Annie Fandom:

 

A friend sent her a link to an illegal download site, and now she’s leeching PotC: OST. According to the movie industry, Annie is now actively threatening jobs in the USA and damaging the economy. But is that true? Let’s have a look at the possibilities:

Annie downloads the movie…

a) but she can’t watch it in 3D on her laptop, and the special effects are not as effective on a small screen, so she’ll later go with her friend to the cinema to watch the real thing. No loss.

b) has seen the previous POC movies, and isn’t certain yet whether she’ll like that one. So she “samples” the movie, decides that it’s rubbish and won’t go to the cinema. Loss.

c) has seen the previous POC movies, and isn’t certain yet whether she’ll like that one. So she “samples” the movie, decides that it’s great and will watch it at the cinema. No loss.

d) would love to go to the cinema, but tickets just don’t fit into her budget. No loss.

e) isn’t that much into POC and just wants to know what the buzz is all about. She might have bought a ticket for the cinema, she might haven’t. No Loss.

f) burns the movie on dvds and sells them. Loss.

Conclusion: 1 download does not equal 1 lost sale. Common sense will tell you that legal action only makes sense in case of f).

2. Does sharing TV shows ruin televison?

Annie lives in the UK. There’s a new TV series on the BBC, let’s say “Sherlock”, “Garrow’s Law” or “Being Human”. Annie loves the show and takes to the internet to tell everybody how fantastic it is. She’d love to chat about the latest episode with her friends in the global community, but unfortunately

a) those outside of the UK can’t watch the show on the BBC’s iPlayer

b) the folks in the USA will only get to see the first series a year later

c) some people live in countries where the show will never be aired at all

So Annie decides to upload the episodes to a place like, well, Megaupload, and her friends download and watch it. Now, the industry will tell you that they’ll lose millions and millions because of the Annies of this world, but in reality, Annie Fandom

a) does effective, targeted promotion with the core audience of the show – and all that worldwide and for free

b) will very likely still buy the dvd set of the show once it’s finished if she really likes it, and encourage others to buy the dvd as well

c) helps creating an established fanbase in a foreign country which will be there on the first airing of the show a year from now

d) keeps interest alive in-between long breaks between the individual series

e) gives somebody in the US the material they need to burn an illegal dvd and sell it

Conclusion: as serious as case e) is – the benefits of sharing the episodes of TV with fellow friends by far surpass the losses.

The ways and speed at which people consume entertainment today have changed, and it’s up to the producers to catch up with it. In the age of the internet, it’s absolutely idiotic to air shows in different countries years apart. That’s not working anymore. People want to discuss shows the moment they are on the smalls creen. If licence law or agreements are in the way of speedier action, then the procedures must be revised and replaced by a more effective and consumer-friendly process. Example: allowing us friggin’ foreigners to watch shows on BBC iPlayer for a reasonable charge. We’d pay for it – no, really, we would!

3. Is all copyright infringement a thing of the devil?

Annie Fandom is a customer. She buys dvds, merchandise, she participates in fandom, she supports her favourite movies, shows and stars. Yet she’s also a heinous criminal in the books of the entertainment industry, because she commits copyright and trademark infringement all the time by

a) creating icons without the permission of the copyright holders

b) posting pictures without paying licence fees

c) running a fansite with content she hasn’t asked permission or paid licence fees for

c) scanning and uploading interviews

d) writing fanfic and making fanvids (note: I’m aware of the transformative-work-discussion and that you could argue that fanfic and fanvids are not a copyright infringement)

e) sharing episodes

f) offering screencaps for download

g) linking to illegal sites

h) not using ® when she mentions a brandname

i) talking about “photoshopping” rather than telling people that “the image was enhanced using Adobe® Photoshop® software” (I wish I was joking – the reason why I don’t use Photoshop, by the way. See – that’s how to piss off potential customers!)

The question is – should Annie be fined or locked up for her crimes?

Conclusion: media companies and law makers will have to decide sooner or later if these activities, from my point of view crimes without victims and damages, which are in fact promoting the work of the copyright holders, can and should be governed by anti-piracy laws. There are worlds of difference between posting a picture on LJ and selling pirated dvds. Anybody in charge who can’t see that difference is not fit for the job.

4. Is it still piracy if nothing was stolen?

Annie Fandom is a history geek. She’s very interested in the 18th century, the Royal Navy and men looking dashing in breeches. Now there’s a documentary on TV about the art of painting chamber pots in the 18th century. Neat!

Unfortunately, the documentary will never be released on dvd, as it covers a niche interest and there would never be enough people to warrant the production of a dvd. Also, Annie’s friends across the pond or those who had already been in bed the night the programme was aired (as such programmes are usually aired at 1am) have no way of getting to see the documentary legally. So, should Annie be fined if she shares a copy of “When Chambers Went Potty?”

Conclusion: I’m of the firm opinion that it shouldn’t be possible to fine somebody for the theft of a non-existing product. The production company of “When Chambers Went Potty” doesn’t lose any money through Annie’s actions, on the contrary: Annie’s praise of the programme might increase interest and this might lead to a repeat showing of the programme.

Again, this problem could be solved by offering either paid streaming or paid downloading, not only for “big” shows but also for niche productions.

5. Is illegal downloading always morally wrong?

Honestly? I can’t answer that. I’m in the privileged position that I have the means to pay for my entertainment. And the entertainment I can’t afford? I can live without it. But I definitely won’t sit here and say “hey you, kid over there, you’ll have to do without any movies and games and music because you’re poor. Hey you, person in a developing country, bad luck if you can’t afford the entertainment industry’s ridiculous prices!” Yeah, it’s illegal for an unemployed person to download music from the internet. But is there a monetary loss, considering that said person couldn’t afford to buy the stuff? And is it morally wrong?

Conclusion: in my country, you have a certain amount of money available which social services will pay you for things like sending your kids to music or sports lessons or paying for school trips etc. I think that’s a very good thing, and maybe “entertainment” could be added to the list. If you’re poor, you still have the right to live, not just exist.

6. What to do now?

Piracy is a problem, a big one. No doubt about it. And the whole “stealsies from rich people is ok” concept doesn’t fly with me. But I feel that the organised sale of counterfeited dvds is a much bigger problem than Annie Fandom sharing the last episode of “Sherlock” online. And when it comes to piracy of movies, I really have to ask: where do all those movies leak? Who does the leaking? Somehow I doubt that the blurry filmed-off-screen copy of a blockbuster is as much a threat to economy as the HD copy available online. And that HD copy online in stellar quality can only come from somebody within the industry. Maybe it’s time to have a look at your security, MPAA?

And under no circumstances may laws which (rightly) try to curb serious piracy affect freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the free exchange on the internet. Those laws may not, under any circumstances, be abused to meddle with the laws of other countries. We might agree that Kim Dotcom is a slimy git, but the fact is that he is not an US citizen, that he lived in New Zealand, that his company was located in Hong Kong and that only two servers of Megaupload’s huge server park were located in the USA. Why not let Hong Kong deal with it? Or New Zealand? The Netherlands? That, and the “fuck you internet, we do what we want, anyway” timing right after Blackout Day are more than the actual disappearance of Megaupload what worries me.

And if you think we have no reason to worry: just look at the case of Richard O’Dwyer, the guy who used to run tvshack.

TVShack’s student founder can be extradited to US, court rules

Please let this sink in: the guy might be extradited to the USA for providing a website linking to illegal content. Linking. Not providing on his server, just linking to it! Something which is completely legal in the country he’s a citizen off! An UK court rules that it’s ok to extradite a citizens of the UK to the USA for a crime which isn’t a crime in the UK? What’s next? Can you imagine the implications for all of us if this goes through?

Petition to protest the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer

German authorities were involved with the blow up of Megaupload. Which is interesting as Mrs. Merkel, after her government bought a dvd with data stolen in Switzerland declared that this was not theft, but copying. D’oh!

We must be alert, and we can’t afford the blasé “oh, it’s not of any concern to me” attitude. And now I hope somebody will convince Roman Polanski to start a file sharing service – who knows, maybe then there would be justice.

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Entry filed under: 18th century, art, books, community, garrow's law, meta, movies, news, resource, tv. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. mswyrr  |  21 January, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    This is an excellent, excellent piece on the topic! Recommending it on my blog. Thank you for writing!

    Reply
  • 2. Rachel  |  23 January, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    You are amazing!! All your points are so well taken. I’m going to share this. Thank you!

    Reply

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