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RIAA and MPAA gone wild with copyrights.

6/25/08
We're going to be talking about copyright in the digital age in my class this afternoon, and I've been doing more reading on that topic than I usually do in order to prepare for class. What I've found is that the crazy is accelerating faster than I could have believed.

MPAA doesn't think they should be required to have evidence in order to prosecute (persecute) people they believe to have pirated movies. They want to sue for $150,000 per supposed offense without presenting any evidence.

RIAA (and a bunch of other people) think that they should get royalties from Broadcast Radio. They want $7 billion a year. That's almost half of the $16 billion that the NAB is reported to make.

John Barlow wrote a prophetic piece for Wired in 1994 that has been dead on with regard to the future of copyright. He followed it with another great piece in 2000. (The first gets a little lyrical, but they're both amazing.)

Barlow writes that the real problem is that the property that these groups think they have is illusiory. Ideas can't be kept in bottles or widgets, and they are worthless when they are. Information and ideas need to be free in order to be useful or great. Information doesn't behave like widgets in the market because it isn't physical. As Barlow says, if I steal your horse you have to walk, but I can take all of the information that you have and then we BOTH have it without either of us being impoverished.

The switch from selling widgets in the marketplace to selling information in the digital world has left people with the mistaken impression that they should be paid for every instance of that information in all cases because if they aren't then they are losing something. That's just not the way that information works, and the public has noticed. If you put your songs out there for free and people like them then they will buy your albums and go to your shows and buy your merch. As Barlow puts it, ethics is replacing law. Law is built to be static, but ethical requirements may shift in response to changes in society. What is happening is a shift from the law smashing you with a hammer when you don't pay for music that you enjoy to a sort of horizontal public disapprobation. There is personal presure applied from your peers to support acts and artists that you enjoy watching. Radiohead and NIN have figured this out and integrated a pay-as-you-like scheme. The Offspring figured it out long ago when they would digitally post their music for free. The Greatful Dead encouraged fans to tape their shows and give it to their friends. They did quite well for themselves by producing a product that their fans loved and by being good to their fans.

Another interesting tidbit is that artists are like waiters in the US. I can name several people who have done quite well just by making something neat on the WWW and then selling related merchendise. The comics from Penny Arcade, Questionable Content, Dr. McNinja have become a viable source of income for these guys without requiring their fans to pay to see their work online. Revision 3 is a company that produces really excellent web-based shows for free. Ze Frank had one of the greatest web-casts ever for a year. At the end he let people donate and seems to have done well on that deal. They aren't starving either, but they don't charge for their content. If you do a good job entertaining people and you forge a connection with your audience you will profit from it. People will work to support you in your endeavour. They'll do that with cash-money.
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