Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Nonsensical Anti-Piracy Laws

We've all seen the standard FBI Warning when we first pop in a DVD. It's a legal disclaimer about how it's against federal law to copy and distribute that material. Here it is just in case you've lived under a rock for the past 30 or so years:

Now, here's where things get a little fuzzy. Under federal law, it is unlawful to copy and distribute copyrighted work. Right, we all get that. No problem. However, the government, the RIAA, and the MPAA say it's not infringement for a person to purchase a DVD and allow anyone to borrow that DVD for an indetermined period of time. I know what you're thinking, "Well, duh. They're only borrowing it, not copying it." This is true, but here's the rub: Isn't uploading a DVD to the internet and allowing anyone to either download it or stream it, without monetary gain, the exact same thing as letting them borrow it?

Here's my reasoning. You can allow that person to come over to your house anytime they like and watch that movie, or allow them to borrow it for an indefinite period of time. You can also watch it with them at the same time. When someone downloads a video or DVD, the only factor that changed was the multiplication of the product. I guess what I'm asking is, why is merely copying a disc an infringement of the law?

It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Even in today's law, using the VHS cassette to record a television broadcast is illegal, yet we have TiVo that allows you to do the same thing and it is legal as long as you don't put it on your computer. Copying material off the airwaves is legal with one device, but illegal if using two different devices, e.g. VHS or computers.

These industries have been touting their reasoning as, "losing profits," but the exact opposite has been evident. It's an argument that has been processed and refined for over a century. In 1906, John Phillip Sousa wrote an article titled "The Menace of Mechanical Music". He was concerned that people would stop going to see his live performances in favor of records. Yet, they didn't. They kept going to live performances because of the enjoyment of going out.

Then we had cassette tapes that we could use to record our favorite songs off the radio. Cassette tapes were also, "Going to destroy the music industry." Quite the opposite was true, however. The advent of the cassette tape increased sales of music, and part of that was because people recorded off the radio. People would hear a new song or artist on the radio, record the song, and play it over again until finally, they would give in and buy the entire album.

A more recent entrepreneur got in to this way of thinking, as well. In 1976, a young Bill Gates wrote an open letter to hobbyists using copied software that he had exclusive rights to. Bill's tone has changed over the past few decades. In fact, he was quoted in 1998 as saying, "As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours."

This new way of thinking is slowly beginning to sink in to some in the entertainment industries. Piracy, in this case copyright infringement, is an invaluable tool for market insight. It's basically free market research and advertising. Producers can see what is being downloaded the most and create groups that would appeal to the masses. Advertisers save money since "piracy" is the same, if not better than word of mouth advertising.

So, why then are these organizations so adamant on prosecuting sites like The Pirate Bay if they ultimately help the industries? It's simple, actually. The music, television, movie, and to a lesser extent these days, the software industries rely on an outdated and wasteful business model. Remember those records, 8-tracks, audio cassettes, and VHS cassettes? What about CDs? How lame was it to have to purchase the entire disc to get the one or two good songs you wanted?

Losing the antiquated distribution of these items means an increase in profits, yet the industries refuse to go along with it. They're holding on to old ideas that don't work well anymore. You have to wonder, even just a little, why would they do this?

I hope I made a tad bit of sense in this article, or at the very least sparked a curiosity in someone that might be able to change and challenge laws that negatively impact citizens that share files.