21 December 2007

Whatever happened to... copyrights?

David Pogue over at NYT has some worries about copyright! (h/t PJM) Yes, he does, and thinks that it is disappearing. Now when he goes out and gives talks at universities or to various other audiences, he tries to find out how people feel about the illegality of copying material under copyright:

Then I try another tack:

"I record a movie off of HBO using my DVD burner. Who thinks that's wrong?" (No hands go up. Of course not; time-shifting is not only morally O.K., it's actually legal.)

"I *meant* to record an HBO movie, but my recorder malfunctioned. But my buddy recorded it. Can I copy his DVD?" (A few hands.)

"I meant to record an HBO movie, but my recorder malfunctioned and I don't have a buddy who recorded it. So I rent the movie from Blockbuster and copy that." (More hands.)

And so on.

The exercise is intended, of course, to illustrate how many shades of wrongness there are, and how many different opinions. Almost always, there's a lot of murmuring, raised eyebrows and chuckling.

Recently, however, I spoke at a college. It was the first time I'd ever addressed an audience of 100 percent young people. And the demonstration bombed.

In an auditorium of 500, no matter how far my questions went down that garden path, maybe two hands went up. I just could not find a spot on the spectrum that would trigger these kids' morality alarm. They listened to each example, looking at me like I was nuts.

Finally, with mock exasperation, I said, "O.K., let's try one that's a little less complicated: You want a movie or an album. You don't want to pay for it. So you download it."

There it was: the bald-faced, worst-case example, without any nuance or mitigating factors whatsoever.

"Who thinks that might be wrong?"

Two hands out of 500.
He then goes on to worry about what happens when that becomes the majority of the Nation in a couple of decades. Now I will make a wild guess and say that Mr. Pogue is relying upon material under copyright for part of his income! Yes, there is, indeed, a copyright and it is, indeed, being broken all over the place in film, tv, and printed pages.

But there is a problem with the law as it stands, and let me tell you why. Here is what Congress gets to do with the copyright. This from Article I, Section 8, US Constitution:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
Yes securing exclusive right for 'limited Times' so that authors and inventors can make money from their works.

Now lets try the other experiment, ok?

One could go to an audience, present that, and then ask something along the lines of the following:

1) Do you agree with that statement? My guess is you will get very few who will say no, as it is in the Constitution.

2) Do you think 1 year is too long as a 'limited time' for the purposes of exclusive rights? My guess is it will be pretty steady in the hand showing department.

3) Do you think 3 years is too long as a 'limited time'? About the same, I guess, with a few dropouts.

4) Do you think 5 years is too long as a 'limited time'?

You get the drift?

Now lets try this time span on for size: 14 years, with the right of renewal for another 14 years.

Is that too long?

Why ask that time frame? Well, it was the first copyright law passed in the US in 1790. You could get 14 years to make your money and then sign up for another 14 after that.

Now lets try this timespan: life of the author, plus 70 years.

Is that too long?

Why ask that time frame? It is the law of the land as it stands today. The so-called 'Disney Law' so that all the works of Walt Disney Inc. can continue to be protected for some time yet and that corporation to continue with sole ownership of those icons long after the creator is dead.

The framers of the Constitution had some real limits in mind in their 'limited Times' concept, and 14 + 14 hit it pretty square on the mark, I would say. Quite a few authors grew up with 16 + 16 and think that is fine. They are both limited and require actual WORK by LIVING PERSON to get the extra years.

By corporations perverting 'limited time' to be near endless as each extension comes down the line, we are not getting 'limited Times'. Nearly an entire generation has seen only one version of the Disney characters: the Disney version. And works of much lesser importance now covered under this new copyright cannot pass into public domain... and no copyright holder can be found as often the author and the printing company are long since gone.

There is a *reason* copyright is being abused: it is no longer meant for mere humans but corporations. And society suffers from that by not having the works of those long deceased open to the creativity of the public venue.

If Mr. Pogue is so worried about the copyright, he might try supporting a concept that is inhuman as it outlives the creator. That was something never envisioned by the framers or the Constitution and I find it disgusting that the SCOTUS actually believes that life + 70 is in any way 'limited'. One billion years is 'limited' and JUST as useful to society.

Don't ask for a lifetime to control everything you make. Very, very few works are worth that and only the most successful is driving this view where people matter less than money.

I purchase works I like. And I have the bookshelves full of books to prove it. There are a handful of works that I cannot get at reasonable price under the public domain, although some good folks have scanned them in. I would, really, like to have a paper version of them because my screen is hard to read and it is damned hard to take notes with a computer. Plus I don't need batteries with a book.

But I am old fashioned, not too interested in music, have limited taste in films and even more limited one for television viewing. And for those very few works I *do* like I pay for so that a little bit of money, usually pennies per sale, gets back to the original creators.

Now, Mr. Pogue might be interested in the *other* way to look at free material that *is* under copyright and yet does *not* infringe on the holder. What is that, praytell?

Over there on my sidebar, hidden amongst the detritus, is a link to Baen Books, a seller of SF and Fantasy titles. They have this very weird idea that if you make the text available for FREE a year or two after publishing the hard and softcover runs, that you will get 'residual sales'. People will download the FREE material and like it so much they will BUY the book. I know, very old fashioned of them and such to think that actually giving free text away will spur people on to buying it. And I do know that books are not movies or tv episodes or music tracks, but the general principle applies, if in different ways, in those media. You see, these folks have found that the residual per year sales are much higher than under the idea of 'publish and forget it': go through the initial print runs and then, if you are lucky, see another one or two in the next decade. Even at minimal 10,000 impression print runs, that means a significant increase in royalties, per year, per book. And a large number of those books do, actually, do just that and have created a category of slow, continual demand SF and Fantasy that is much *higher* than just letting the material sit sequestered away.

Similar could be done with movies, tv and music, although the idea of 'downsampling' the original music or video to a smaller format might be the idea: reduce size and download time and then see if individuals would want the full-sample DVD or per song cost like at iTunes. And there is one area that actually does something similar: touring bands and orchestras.

These are ensembles that do this thing known as: play live music before an audience.

For many rock bands it is a full gala light show with a couple of bands per venue. These bands have something known as a 'following' that buys not only music, but t-shirts, mugs, and other goods with various band imprints on them. Many smaller bands will do something even stranger for local audiences: they will sell the music at the show! Heaven forbid, they actually sell music that they have just PLAYED after the show, sometimes done in a studio and sometimes it is the actual live feeds being burned and duped right there johnny-on-the-spot. Instant keepsake!

Orchestras that put on a real performance before and audience have a visual impact and social event feeling to them that cannot be duplicated by listening to the music at home. Some social groups make an entire evening long outing with music, repast and social gathering at a place of their choice. Orchestras will, like local bands, sell goods, shirts, music and such there and have those available online, too.

There is only one real losing venue in this concept, where bands and orchstras don't mind overmuch if their work is stolen because they offer something as a social venue that you just don't get from the music alone, and that venue is: studio bands.

You know, the ones that never tour and have to be so heavily remixed as to make something of them? The ones that make 'popular rock' music that lasts about 35 nanoseconds in popularity until the next 'hit' comes along? The bands that have to live by anything they can sell, by glitzy music videos that point out just how poor their music is, and that are ephemeral enough so that if you can remember them in a year it is as a trivia answer.

As for tv and movies... I assume folks watch those... really! I know they still exist and think I actually saw a movie last year in a theater. For those shows you really, really have to do something different to get attention, which is why the non-fiction side of things is going great guns in small channels. For every 'American Idol' there is a 'Dogfight!' or 'Dirty Jobs' or similar on the non-fiction side that actually gives you real people not out to become 'a star' but out to give us a good look at their lives and their times, often in actual, real life or death situations. Not this 'Survivor' concept but men who have been in some of the fiercest wars, nastiest combat, and men and women who risk their lives not for stardom but for doing mundane things like gathering scientific data.

Movies are a class of their own and being driven into the ground by the studios just as the capability to get a full CGI studio set-up passes the $30,000 mark heading downwards. The movie studios may be in their last 3-5 year iteration of actual, money making films if they can actuall make any of those any more as 'studios': meaning huge conglomerate productions companies. They are going to be hit by the next wave of movie makers right where they cannot compete: downloaded material for donations. Fan driven material and original visions for stories are now moving out of the realm of Industrial Light and Magic and to your garage in your copious spare time.

George Lucas tried to stop those that were re-cutting, re-mastering and cheaply editing his films... wanted that *stopped*. But he faces a problem: fans who have a little bit of cash now have much more savvy, more capability and more interest to do these things and for NOTHING because they so liked the films they want them to be *perfect* in their own vision. Some did ask for money, usually the cost of the DVD or VHS tape and shipping. I bought one of those for Episode 1 of the SW saga and found it to be of lower visual quality but a much faster paced and much smoother film than that which Lucas gave us. And I did *see* both, but the Lucas original in a theater so he got his money from me.

Copyright is coming to a serious and hard problem: it needs to stay relevant to mankind so that original authors and creators can get just recompense for their works without sequestering those works away forever. As it is 'intellectual property theft' is a great and going concern and helping to fund organized crime and terrorism around the globe cheaply. That is because NO ONE respects Life + 70 and see *that* as no better than organized crime or terrorism.

Perhaps that can be brought up by Mr. Pogue as part of the social utility of the copyright in an era where corporations want to own anything made *forever* and lock out the common man and society from the good of having that in the public domain after limited time.

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