Copyright is a Complex Issue

Updated Monday January 11, 2010 – fixed spelling error.

Copyright is a complex issue. At present I’ve spent more time than I had ever expected to in researching and learning about copyright. In fact my original interest in the issues surrounding copyright was accidental. An acquaintance had some problems with her recording studio/publisher – they claimed that they owned the copyrights to all her songs. She had to sue to retain control of her own songs. This was close to twenty years ago, and since I haven’t talked to her about this article I am not mentioning her name, or the name of her recording studio/publisher. I know that the experience left her very bitter for a time.

Even trying to define the issues is difficult. There are several groups of stakeholders involved (note – I may not have identified all of them, feel free to comment):

Consumers – The consumer is the driving force of the industry. Without consumers, there is no industry. A consumer is anyone who has a use for copyrighted material. The consumer could be an individual, a corporation, a church group – anyone person or group of people who ‘consume’ copyrighted material.

Artists – The artist is the driving force of the industry. Without artists, there is no industry. An artist is anyone who creates copyrighted material. The artist could be a writer, performer, musician, film maker, actors – anyone person or group of people who ‘create’ copyrighted material.

Producers – The producer is the driving force of the industry. Without producers, there is no industry. A producer is anyone who produces copyrighted material. The producer could be a printer, recorder, CD/DVD replication house – anyone person or group of people who ‘produce’ copyrighted material.

Distributors – The distributor acts as a conduit to deliver the copyrighted material from the artist/producer to the consumer. For years the distributor was a necessity. It is possible that the distributor is still a necessity, however this depends on how you define distributor. For an example if we consider the music industry, for many years the only was to distribute music was on Phonograph Cylinders. These were replaced by Phonograph Records, which were replaced by Compact Discs. All were physical media which required a physical distribution chain, and physical stores to get them to the consumer. With the advent of digital distribution the physical stores and physical distribution chain is of less importance. Apple’s ITunes store has revolutionized the distribution of copyrighted materials, and Apple could by one definition be considered a distributor, however Apple is really a hardware manufacturer. ITunes is a sideline to Apple, where as the physical chain was of primary importance to companies like EMI. Google could also be considered a distributor from one point of view. If you want to find music by Tom Smith for example, a Google search on his name will show his website as the first choice. Does this make Google a distributor? By one definition it would.

Part of the current conflict about copyright is the loss of their position of power by the physical distributors in the music industry, and the concern by the video industry that they will be next. Some people have compared the physical distributors to the buggy whip manufacturing industry, which died with the adoption of the automobile. Part of the current conflict about copyright appears to be based on a misunderstanding of what copyright really is, which is partially fuelled by differing laws to cover different national concerns. Part of the current conflict about copyright is based on the ease with which new artists can take part in the production of copyright material, through the development of new technologies, such as notebook computers, hand held video cameras, recording studio components which are small enough to fit into a knapsack, and other technologies which have enabled artists to ‘cut out the middleman’ by doing their own recording, production, and publication.

Another issue that has caused a lot of problems is the philosophy of Free Software. Free Software (conceived by Richard Matthew Stallman) isn’t Free as in Beer, instead it’s Free as in Speech. Free Software uses what the distributors view as a perversion of Copyright to maintain the Freedom to modify and share software. The Copyleft is however legally proven in a court of law, having never lost in a case as yet.

Software, other than using copyright to define ownership, had little in common with music, until digital production and distribution became common. The problem is that Free Software is often Free as in Beer as well, giving the distributors the feeling that everyone wants free. And they are right. Free as in beer always sells well. Thus, Open Office is on pace to replace Microsoft Office for percentage of the ‘Office Suite’ market sometime in the year 2020 based on current trends.

But Free Softwares insistence on ethics may be a greatest hurdle. Free Software ethics are terrifying to the distributors, and thus we get a series of complaints that no one wants to pay for anything, and that they want to destroy copyright. This isn’t true. The Destruction of copyright, would also be the destruction of Free Software. However the distributors seem unable to understand this.

Consider the following statements, And rebuttals:

“I’m a guy who doesn’t see anything good having come from the Internet,” said Sony Pictures Entertainment chief executive officer Michael Lynton. “Period.”

At a breakfast cohosted by the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and The New Yorker Thursday, Lynton wasn’t just trying for a laugh: He complained the Internet has “created this notion that anyone can have whatever they want at any given time. It’s as if the stores on Madison Avenue were open 24 hours a day. They feel entitled. They say, ‘Give it to me now,’ and if you don’t give it to them for free, they’ll steal it.”

OK Michael. How about the fine web based TV series Raising Kayn by the sexy and talented Taunya Gren. Taunya used the best of the Internet in this production, with all the video shots taking place in Utah, the music mixing taking place in England, and called on bits of assistance from other places as needed. This series could have been done without the net, that is true, but it was done with the net, and was damned good.

Or how about Star Wreck? Samuli’s parents gave him a computer for Christmas. Bad move folks. Now they can’t get him to work a 9-5 job, instead he’s working a 8-8 job, running around, meeting sexy women, shooting videos of fights, designing special effects shots, and producing videos that can match anything that Hollywood produces, at a budget price. Oh, and he’s selling T-Shirts, Coffee Mugs, and DVDs from their web store, and with the interest as his distribution channel, well, he’s a peculiarly Finnish success story, and may be more famous than Linus Torvalds now. Folks, we gotta watch them. At this rate the Finns will take over the Earth!

Well Michael, what did you think of these? Oh wait, you didn’t like them, they are in competition with you! How terrible. And people paid to see them rather than you. Oh the humanity!

Co-panelist Nora Ephron, who started her career in print, said the Internet has had a greater effect on “our beloved print than it’s had on the movie business.” But, she conceded, “We’re in the last days of copyright, if you want to be grim about it….Stop it. I dare you.”

OK, so Nora Ephron thinks we are in the last days of copyright. Why does she think this, and what proof is she willing to offer?

The problem is that we have a large number of people, who are crying because they can see that their business is broken. Why is it broken? Does it have anything to do with a the product you offer, or the way you offer it, or the price you charged for it? Or has someone come along who is doing a better job, for less money?

And are things as bad as you think? In 2009 theatre sales were at their highest ever, even in the United States, which was suffering a depression. And Hollywood has produced some damned good stuff. And delivered in in upgraded, more comfortable theatres, with better seating. So why the complaints? Your sales are better than ever, and you still whine? Really? Hell, I was planning on going to see Alice in Wonderland (Tim Burton is one of my fav directors), just to get 2010 off to a good start for you (because of the nerve damage, and the pain, I don’t normally go to theatres. I’ll put up with it to see Alice.

The one think I notice is that Nora and Michael once again don’t link us to those terrible freedom people who want to destroy copyright.

I wonder why.

Wayne Borean

Monday January 11, 2010

PS: Please feel free to comment if you think I’ve missed or misinterpreted something. I promise I won’t bite, nor will my two research assistants, Mark, the Husky/German Shepherd/Wolf cross breed, or Sam, the pure breed Beagle. I’ll get pictures of them helping me work and post them her 🙂


3 thoughts on “Copyright is a Complex Issue

  1. In Your history of recording media, I believe you left out a very important piece. Wire and tape recording. Likewise you left out duplicating machines. However you are far less likely to run a book through a duplicator than record a song broadcast over open radio.

    It was when the consumer could make his or her personal copy of a thing, outside the previously established that the expectation arose that they could have whatever they want at any given time.

    Sony is in no position to complain. I have a very nice Sony Reel to Reel tape deck. I paid good money for the deck, and Sony profited from my purchase. My first portable tape recorder is a Sony monaural tube machine. Further a lot of the audio tape I have was manufactured by Sony.

    I recorded music from various broadcast radio stations so I could “have it now” at “any given time.” I think there was a charge all tape manufacturers pay the recording industry to reimburse artists for lost royalties, regardless of whether you are using the tape to record a radio broadcast or your own personal work. Further, the radio stations pay for the privilege of broadcasting music, though arguably it is only for the immediate consumption by a person listening to a radio.

    It was not the consumer’s decision to switch to the digital media, but the decision of the manufacturers to produce the machines and market them. It was not the decision of the consumers to switch to digital media on compact disks, but the decision of the distributors to produce it. The reason they did this is because it cost less to produce and burn a five inch plastic disk than to cut a master and press vinyl records.

    The internet is nothing more than a variation on broadcast music and broadcast video. There is nothing conceptually in the internet that did not exist twenty years ago.

    The RIAA and MPAA argue that the digital media provides a better quality than analogue media, and makes it easier to make illegal copies of copyrighted material, and so they have to use encryption to protect it.

    That is an issue of degree, it does not address the issue of the performance being copied using analogue methods.

    “In 2009 theatre sales were at their highest ever,”

    And I know from personal experience that movie sales fuel DVD sales. However, since I can not depend on a CD playing on any device because of DRM versions, I’ve not bought a CD for myself in years. Nor do I download music.

    The theater business goes strong because it provides something you can’t get on a DVD. That is a viewing of the movie for under ten dollars. And I have to admit, Avatar, with 3D glasses is something they will have a lot of trouble duplicating on a DVD. It will be a few years yet before adequate duplication of that experience will be available for the home market. It is worth seeing in the theater at least once. Sorry about the plug, but I was impressed.

    As far as the demise of the publishing industry is concerned, that is a foregone conclusion. It is not because of the internet, but because making paper is an energy intensive process. It takes a lot of steam to dry paper. Then there is the material costs.

    The reality of resource cost, when a less expensive alternative is available, is the simple free market force that is bankrupting the print industry. It is a sad thing, I admit, to see the passing of an industry, and there will be niche publishers that will survive, just as there are niche vinyl record producers that survive, and there are niche buggy whip manufacturers that survive.

    A final note. I miss the preview option you had on your old blog.

  2. Greg,

    I deliberately ignored some technologies, because they were not heavily adopted at the consumer level, with Reel to Reel being a good example. It was used for certain applications, for example one of my uncles was into Eastern religions, and had a lot of lectures on Reel to Reel. But the average household never bought a Reel to Reel system, and music was never widely available on Reel to Reel. On the other hand I have a collection of 78RPM records here that I can’t play, because my equipment died of old age.

    As to theaters, I generally avoid them. I used to enjoy going, but chronic pain tends to destroy the experience. They do offer a value above what you can get with a home theatre, just as a concert does (something else I avoid these days). I’m not totally housebound, but I’m very careful about where I go. I have a choice – be so stoned that I don’t know what’s going on, or stay home. Since I actually like being able to think, I stay home a lot.

    Blogger – you don’t know how much I hated having to use it towards the end. It’s flakey, and from a writer’s viewpoint a nightmare to use. I ended up having to use a word processor to do the editing, and then using cut and paste to put the post up. And they having to fight with it for up to an hour on the longer posts to get things to display correctly. I looked at Geeklog, but I’d seen to many problems with it at Groklaw. I’d liked what I had seen of Work Press, and from a writing viewpoint it’s great.

    As to your other comments – I’m working on a post tomorrow that will cover them. I think.


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