Thursday, 20 March 2008


The attempts of the film and music industry trade cartels to treat all those who copy works that those bodies perceive as their own as criminals is somewhat laughable, as seen in the recent documentary Fake Trade. It is based upon five dubious premises:

Firstly that those who copy at home or fileshare for no gain are just as criminal as international counterfeiting gangs making millions of dollars. Home copying does not launder money, it does not survive by forcing people into near slavery, its only impacts are on the increased dissemination of materials which would otherwise be restricted by the ability to pay and on the failing market in those forms of intellectual property distribution.

Secondly, that such copying is somehow the same as counterfeiting safety critical items like pharmaceuticals or car tyres or items with both a tangible and intangible value such as designer watches or clothing. A computer copy of film or music track neither safety critical nor does it have a tangible value, it cannot be worn, it does not tell the time, it is entirely ephemeral, it performs no function other than stimulating the emotions or intellect.

Thirdly, that the current system meets the needs of the market. There is an abundance of supply; more people wish to make music and films than the purchasing power of the market can sustain yet consumers do not see the benefits that this would normally entail. The normal reasons for this kind of breakdown are failures in the market infrastructure such as physical transport problems external factors such as general economic failure or the operation of cartels and monopolies that restrict supply to raise prices above the level the market would otherwise reach.

Fourthly, that they have an immutable right to make money the way they always have done. In this way they resemble such economic dinosaurs as are to be found in the tobacco industry; they must either evolve their way out of that economic niche or die.

Finally, and most economically erroneously that the market exists for the benefit neither of the producer or the customer but that of the intermediary. Such systems have often been promoted throughout history and have always foundered without considerable state intervention to prop up what become moribund monopolies. Eventually the state tires of subsidising the profits of these private cartels and legislates a new regulatory framework.

It is up to those of us who recognise these facts to lobby our representatives to hasten the end of the old order and replace it with something befitting the 21st century rather than one that was suited to the needs of the 18th century.

Clearly we are in a period of transition between the old copyright based business model and what ever will replace it. It is less than three hundred years since the Statute of Anne brought the modern concept of copyright into law. This itself had only been introduced following fifty years of upheaval in which the old system of licensed printing had been brought to its knees by the increasing efficiency of the printing industry.

The RIAA, MPAA et al are in the position of a Town Criers' Guild objecting to literacy and printing because they promote the reading of newspapers. Now Pandora's box has been opened there is no way to cram digital copying and downloading back into it.

It may well be that the consequence of the developing technologies of today will be to change recorded media into a promotional tool for live events. Alternatively, media groups may only be able to sell recorded work if there is sufficient added value, creating a listening or viewing experience that cannot be obtained by the mere playback of a digital file.

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