Monday, May 30, 2011

Pirates: More establishment than they think they are...

It's funny how so many of those who challenge piracy legislation see themselves as the enemies of The Man and not as his vanguard. Further to my last post about Copyright, here's Cory Doctorow on how each wave of innovation = piracy - and that it's benign.

It's a reasonable point, but the examples he gave need a bit more qualification. When radio stations started playing records, they reached a deal whereby the record labels got a performance fee - sourced from the ad revenue that the radio stations gathered. That the record companies started seeing radio as a means of selling the records only sharpened the negotiation around that final fee.

Doctorow is focusing on one side of the argument at the expense of the other one here: Yes - the new technologies that make it easier to create, distribute and share content are adding value to humanity. I totally understand his argument about the absurdity of the Hollywood major studios vetoing the development of YouTube.

But there are winners from all of this. Twenty years ago, we bought one TV set a decade on average and maybe a VCR every five years (OK - there's no research behind that, but you know what I mean....).

Today, a huge amount of hardware sales are driven by the fact that it's possible to freely or cheaply appropriate content in ways that weren't foreseen when the original licence was drafted. My Humax PVR allows me to record a whole series, in HD and fast-forward though the adverts. I'm getting a great deal more utility out of TV programmes now - and avoiding some of the payment mechanisms (ad-dodging) because someone has marketed a new box. New formats allow us to watch old content in better ways and as a result, more TVs, PVRs, DVD, BlueRay, iPad, PCs and games consoles are bought.

Hardware manufacturers are making hundreds of $billions out of our ability to 'pirate' existing content.

Many consumers are also paying Virgin or BSkyB to deliver that content to them as well using their proprietary hardware. iPods and iPhones are sold with three-figure price-tags because we can use them to watch content - on terms not foreseen by the original licences.

And the response of cyber-evangelists? Renegotiate those contracts perhaps? No. Just break them unilaterally.

And here's where the last post here - about 'incumbents' comes in. The Hargreaves Report on copyright has made lots of the kind of points that regulars here will be familiar with - the distortion of public policy by powerful pressure groups. But the real incumbents in public policy around copyright aren't the rightsholders. It's the rightsholders who also have a large stake in the hardware markets.

Hardware levies are not discussable in the UK because BSkyB have a veto over what is discussed. There is no clearer illustration of Hargreaves' point about the way this issue is discussed, though you wouldn't believe it from the way that this point has been widely interpreted.

I've never been given the first inkling as to why people moaning about the rigidity of piracy legislation aren't jumping up and down about the need for a small hardware levy. It would set everything right between themselves and existing rightsholders - and it could easily be paid for in full from a fraction of the hardware profits that are being made at the moment.

1 comment:

CS Clark said...

I've never been given the first inkling as to why people moaning about the rigidity of piracy legislation aren't jumping up and down about the need for a small hardware levy.

There's good arguments against - that it won't go to the creators themselves, that it's rentier behaviour, that it's a tax on innovation - and in places like Canada where they had tape levies the evidence doesn't point to much of a difference. But I wouldn't rule out old-fashioned Californian-brand libertarianism* that can't see a government solution ever working. Indeed, isn't it the case that often pirates seem more incensed by copyright being a government-mandated monopoly?

*As in, based on 60s counterculture, mistrust of government, technology will free us libertarianism, as opposed to the 'Is there some philosophy that will allow me to justify my acting like a complete tosser' strand.