Monday, April 17, 2006

Thoughts on Copyright

I know the internet is already chock full of articles about copyright. So here is one more. Hey, it's my blog and I'll post what I want to....

Since I installed Limewire, the question I have been asking myself is why would I ever buy another CD or DVD when I can just steal them off the internet? And with every episode of every series on the internet, who needs cable? Yea, yea; stealing is wrong and all that. So I don't get it off Limewire. Libraries are a great source of free stuff. Check out a book, read it, take it back. Not only didn't you buy it, you don't have to store it or drag it around with you when you move. Libraries also carry CD's and DVD's which you can listen to/view for free and rip yourself a copy while you have it checked out. And if you think about it, is it really stealing in the traditional sense of that word? Lets work through it step by step:

1. Go to my local public library and check out a CD or DVD. Perfectly legal and moral.
2. Listen to/watch said CD/DVD repeatedly. Perfectly legal and moral.
3. Decide I like the CD/DVD and rip it to my PC's hard drive. Perfectly legal and moral.
4. Return CD to the library for the next guy to use. Perfectly legal and moral.
5. Listen to/watch said CD/DVD repeatedly from my PC's hard drive. Perfectly legal and moral.

(The same also applies to hard-copy books, but the cost in paper and toner to Xerox an entire book exceeds the cost of just buying a copy. More on this in a moment.)

Now the MPAA and RIAA would disagree with point 3. Unfortunately for them, the Supreme Court does not; no matter how many lawsuits and FBI warnings these assholes shove at us, the bottom line is that the Supreme Court of the United States has already looked at this issue and decided I can make all the copies of copyrighted material I wish to make as long as I don't try to sell them. Period. Full stop. No exceptions for "digital media," and no limits on who I can give those copies to.

So how can, say, a musician make a living if he only sells one copy of each album to every public library system in the country and everyone just copies it from there? Allow me to answer that question with a question of my own: how did musicians make a living prior to the invention of sound recordings? By performing. Imagine that: a musician making money by playing music in front of an audience. I understand that this would be a career-ender for some "musicians" who only manage to sound good with a lot of, um, well, I'll call them post-production interventions. And yes, this would be a serious shake-up in the music industry. But why should one of the most-expendable parts of our economy not be subject to the same paradigm shifts, disruptive technological innovations, and creative destruction that everyone else faces?

But all that aside, my question is why does music, movies, and e-books cost so damn much? E-books especially: I have no idea what the publishers are thinking when they charge the same price for an e-book, which costs nothing to produce and distribute, as Borders does for the hard-cover edition. The price of an e-book should be the writer's royalty plus profit for the publisher, or less than $2 total. The entire cost of a music CD, including all production, distribution, advertising, royalties to the musicians, is, depending on who's numbers you use, $2-$3 per CD (again, downloaded music costs the publisher nothing). So why should CD's cost more than about $5? Here's a simple game you can play. Go to Meijers or Wal-Mart or Target and find the price of whatever the hot new release is, then walk the store making a list of everything else that retails for that price. Think about what goes into making and distributing those goods. Then ask yourself if any music CD could ever logically be worth $25 or more.

The argument for movies is that they cost a lot of money to make. But why? What is so much more difficult about making a movie than, say, building a new wing on the hospital I work in? I can't see any reason why the number of people, the logistics, and the coordination of numerous contractors and sub-contractors over the several years necessary to build the building going up outside my window, is any less daunting a task than making a movie. Yet the completed building will cost around twenty percent of what Peter Jackson blew making King Kong.

So instead of arguing about whether I can or can't make copies of music, movies, and e-books, maybe we should be focusing on the motivation to copy music, movies, and e-books: their insanely high cost. How many book publishers are on the news whining about how the Xerox machine is putting them out of business, or proposing a subsidy to the publishing industry funded by a tax on blank paper? There is a reason for that: the time and materials consumed in photocopying a book is higher than the retail price of the book. Books still get photocopied, but it isn't considered a threat to the foundations of the publishing business. The music and movie industries need to wake up and get the message being sent by the millions of people willing to spend time and effort to acquire their products outside of normal distribution channels: Your shit costs too much!!

I'm doing everything I can to send them that message; how about you?


Post a Comment

<< Home