In the midst of all the controversy surrounding file-sharing, cracked HD-DVD encryption keys, restrictive digital rights management software (DRM), and the bullying tactics of the MPAA and RIAA, you have to wonder if there isn’t a better way to create, distribute, and consume content. Every time the RIAA and MPAA manage to shut down a file sharing service, 10 more seem to pop up in its place.
As more and more people get broadband internet service, file sharing will continue to escalate indefinitely. To make matters worse for these industries, those in charge stubbornly refuse to adapt to the winds of change, instead imposing ever increasing protections and restrictions on their content in a futile attempt to keep their customers honest. These measures often prevent consumers from enjoying the content they purchase the way that they want to, in some cases forcing them to purchase multiple copies of the same piece of content in order to view or listen to it on an array of different devices (See Sony’s PSP UMD discs).
Having grown up right along with the internet, my generation and I have a unique perspective on the matter. My brother, just four years older than me, seems to be the last of a dying breed, and adheres to the seemingly moral standpoint that one must purchase the content one consumes in order for the system to work. He has a formidable DVD and CD collection, whereas I can count the number of DVDs and CDs I own on two hands. I didn’t consider it stealing when I borrowed one of his CDs to listen to, even though I hadn’t technically paid for the right.
I like to consider myself a moral person. I understand the economics and value of creativity. People need to get paid to be creative. After all, a starving artist isn’t going to produce much if he or she starves to death. Heck, really good artists probably deserve to be wealthy. Isn’t that what capitalism is all about; the spoils go to the most talented, creative, intelligent, and hard working of us all? So what happens when people stop purchasing content altogether. How on earth will these artists get paid, let alone the media companies that represent them? The bad news is, they won’t. The good news is, however, that that doesn’t mean we’ll soon be overrun by starving artists.
There was a time when art was free, and you couldn’t copyright it. When you take a couple steps back and think hard about the concept of copyrighting, it seems a bit ridiculous. How on earth can you steal something that only exists in our minds? If you steal a cd, then yes, you’ve stolen something tangible. If you steal an mp3, you haven’t actually pilfered any amount of physical resources. You have perhaps destroyed the chance for the copyright owner to “allow” you to enjoy their content, but they haven’t actually lost anything – they’ve only not gained something.
At the current rate of copyright protection activities, it will soon be illegal to remember a song. Imagine lawsuits aimed at people who have a copyrighted tune stuck in their head: “I didn’t even like the stupid song!” the accused will plea. As ridiculous as it sounds, the RIAA and MPAA are inching closer to this brink of insanity. These desperate measures are the swan song of a dying business model. Hollywood and the record companies have been printing money for years, and now that the internet has hit it big the party is over and the execs are making a desperate grab at all extra Cheetos and beer. If you think about it, the media companies have gotten away with more highway robbery than almost industry out there. They make money off a product that doesn’t take any natural resources to create, they have their pick from millions of aspiring artists dying to give up their rights and freedoms for a bit of the action, and there’s no risk that the public will curb its lust for new and interesting media.
But if there wasn’t significant compensation for creativity, all the good art would disappear, right? Sure, tell this to the open source software community. However, for the sake of argument, let us for a moment entertain the RIAA and MPAA’s assertion that file-sharing will mean the end of art and artists. What happens when the streams run dry? Well, the media companies will of course, run out of money, which means the artists who work for them won’t get paid. Millions of people will lose their jobs and all the good art, movies, tv shows, and books will disappear, right? But how can all of this disappear when the people who create it still exist? If Sony Records declares bankruptcy will Emo kids everywhere stop wanting to hear Good Charlotte?
Now this is where I present the solution to this problem, so listen up. When the copyright model dissolves, people will still want content. Moreover, people will be more than willing to pay for content if not doing so means they cannot obtain it. Follow me? Let that sink in for a second as I provide an example.
Say I love the Battlestar Galactica TV series (you could even go ahead and assume this is true). Well, if all of my fellow Battlestar Galactica fans and I don’t buy the DVDs or watch the television shows (with commercials in their entirety), there will not be any money to produce the shows. But how much does it cost to produce these shows? If there are a million people who watch Battlestar Galactica, and they gave one dollar per episode the to folks who produce it, they would have a million dollars to play around with for each episode that airs. Let us even say they would not work on the episode until the fans boned up the cash.
I know for a fact I would donate a buck an episode to keep the series going. Hell, I may even buy the DVD if it were free of copyright protection and full of extra goodies. I would even go so far as to watch a 15 second commercial at the beginning, if I knew it would support the series and was targeted directly at my demographic (so I am thinking tech product spots). When flipping through the hundreds of tv channels available to us today, most people will find maybe 3 worth watching, and perhaps none they would actually pay a buck an episode for. This does not mean there is no good content out there. The problem is, when you pay for a cable television service or a music download subscription service, you are essentially paying for the 2% of the content you actually end up liking and consuming.
Let us take the average Comcast cable tv bill; $40 per month. If my geeky brethren and I were able to concentrate this monthly amount on the content we actually care about, there would be more than enough money to cover the costs of production (and we would still be enjoying new episodes of Futurama and Arrested Development). And just because the media moguls will collapse does not mean advertising and merchandising will. There will still be a market for Shrek dolls, Dixie Chicks concerts, Metallica T-shirts, and blatant product placement. Only, in the new age of media, these revenues will stream directly into the content creators’ pockets.
It is always funny to see how hypocritical the artists actually in favor of copyright protection can be, like Lars from Metallica going in front of congress to attack the very sharing that made his band a success in the first place. The consumers are aware of this hypocrisy and there are very few people who feel guilty about downloading music “illegally” and providing the artists with free mind share. (By the way, I
stole copied that image off Metallica’s website.)
So why not start the revolution now? If someone has a great idea for a TV show, and perhaps has even created a pilot that is receiving some serious buzz, why not provide a means for that artist to collect cash in advance to create more of the same. You could even think of it as a stock market – people like content, they invest in the creator, and they reap the rewards in the form of more content. Perhaps you could take it one step further and actually split after market revenues with the fan base that helped provide the seed money. That way you would have the shareholders (the fans) keeping the artists (the company) honest, eliminating the gross excesses that the most successful artists indulge in.
This model has worked well for the business world at large so why not for individual artists? Instead of having to endure commercials aimed at old men with bladder problems, we would instead be informed about products we actually care about. Every bit of content would be free of DRM and copyright protection, and we could enjoy this content in any way we see fit. After all, when you stop to listen to a street performer play the violin, you aren’t stealing their music from them. You are simply becoming more aware of their talent. Perhaps you will even throw a few quarters into their violin case if it means they will come back tomorrow.
The fact of the matter is, people really do like owning DVDs and CDs. I bought the Futurama DVD sets despite having all the episodes in digital form already for the sole purpose of supporting the show and owning a physical piece of it. These things are tangible. You can hold them in your hands and if someone steals them you have actually lost something. Nobody really wants to be a thief, and nobody really wants to rip artists off. But the most important thing you have to remember when you are infringing on copyrights is that you are hurting the artists 95% less (probably a conservative estimate) than the companies who represent them.
So my advice to you is this: if you like a particular piece of content – be it a TV show, a piece of software, an internet service, a song, or a movie – steal it and send a buck or two to the people who actually had an active hand in the creative process behind it. It will eliminate any guilt you had from
stealing copying it, and you will be supporting directly the people who actually made it. The music and hollywood execs will always be able to find work elsewhere. After all, they are experts in the field of money making-making, not art-making, and the last time I checked making money was a booming business.
This article was found @ http://www.nuttersmark.com/articles/2007/05/23/the-solution-to-filesharing