Copyfighter an issue of copyright law
There has been a scary trend since the birth of the internet for those companies in the position to protect their copyright trying to force that protection in fairly draconian ways to every day common people. The lawsuits and battles are highlighted biggest by the RIAA and MPAA, though there are other entities with similar goals. The RIAA protects the rights of the big 4 record labels for music, and the MPAA represents the major movie studios. Their basic argument is that when someone shares content, that these companies have created, the company looses a sale and therefore looses money. On the surface this could appear to be true. If I copy a CD and hand it to you it leaves you very little incentive to actually purchase that CD. But there are a variety of reasons why this logic is false. The biggest reason being two fold. One is that obscurity is worse than a potential lost sale. In other words if you are a band struggling to make it and no one knows you exist than you are loosing far more money than if someone downloaded your CD off of Limewire. Chances are that if I give you a free copy of the CD and you like it that you will purchase their music in the future and if you like it enough you might buy a t-shirt or attend a concert (which makes the band far more money). The other part of the argument is that the cost of ownership is too high to purchase blindly. How many times have you purchased an album to find out that you only liked the one radio song anyway. With CD’s costing $15 or $17 and downloads being far more expensive than they should be you would rather listen to it a few times through before buying it (the try it before you buy it method). Which means that the download isn’t a lost sale; it was either never going to be a sale or it actually leads to a sale. In my opinion what the industry calls piracy is actually better sated as free advertising. The more the album is downloaded or listened to the more potential there is for fans. And all of this happens for free on both ends, the music or movie industry pays nothing for the people to generate the copies, host the content, and advertise it to all of their friends and the friends pay nothing to listen to a new band they may not have known about. Why this trend is so scary is because it criminalizes legitimate activity that we all do unconsciously and worse, since the battle cannot be won, is forcing draconian, invasive and freedom threatening laws, treaties, and enforcement schemes into our very private lives. Ultimately these entities (RIAA, MPAA) need to recognize that piracy is more of a market issue rather than a criminal one. People want their content at a particular price and in a particular way. The major short coming of these companies is their failure to respond to market trends and consumer demand. Instead they insisted on their obsolete business model and are now seeking for the government to legislate their obsolete business model. That is scary precedent if you ask me.
Cory Doctorow wrote a very interesting essay where he pinpoints a different side to the piracy argument and one that I think is particularly valid (he calls himself a copyfighter). He argues that content is culture.
There’s a word for all the stuff we do with creative works — all the conversing, retelling, singing, acting out, drawing, and thinking: we call it culture.
Culture’s old. It’s older than copyright.
The existence of culture is why copyright is valuable. The fact that we have a bottomless appetite for songs to sing together, for stories to share, for art to see and add to our visual vocabulary is the reason that people will pay money for these things.
Essentially we love to share content because it makes us who we are gives meaning to our culture. I remember back in the tape days making mix tapes for my friends. I would get excited about hearing the different music. There isn’t much different between that and Limewire. He goes on to say:
Content isn’t king: culture is. The reason we go to the movies is to have something to talk about. If I sent you to a desert island and told you to choose between your records and your friends, you’d be a sociopath if you chose the music.
Since content is part of culture that is why we share it. Sharing a good recorded song isn’t much different from telling a funny joke you heard from someone. That doesn’t mean that I advocate downloading music unauthorized, but what I am saying is there is more to the argument than what the record industry wants us to hear.