Friday, December 21, 2007

kids these days

Others blogging on copyright are way ahead of me, and have already linked to this David Pogue piece in the New York Times. I think I'm slow off the mark on this because of my advanced age.

Anyway, Pogue writes -- for filthy money, protected by copyright -- that he has identified something called a "generational divide" on the question of music file-sharing and movie copying. I'm assuming he didn't write the word "gap" to avoid any kind of American-style trademark litigation.

Pogue poses a bunch of ethical questions re: file-sharing to a room of 500 young college students, trying to find their ethical tolerance line on file-sharing. He's shocked to find there is not really a line.

Relevant quote:

Finally, with mock exasperation, I said, "O.K., let's try one that's a little less complicated: You want a movie or an album. You don't want to pay for it. So you download it."

There it was: the bald-faced, worst-case example, without any nuance or mitigating factors whatsoever.

"Who thinks that might be wrong?"

Two hands out of 500.

I know, I know, culture should not be owned, but who can read Pogue's article and not come to some understanding about why cultural professionals might worry a bit over eroding copyright? Who, I ask.

Well, not copyfighter Russell McOrmond -- the Bugs Bunny to my Daffy Duck in our own classic "rabbit season! duck season!" bit -- who writes rather eloquently (bolding is mine):

I see no reason why well paid professional creators cannot exist in a world where every citizen has personal control over the tools used to participate in culture. Yes, some people will abuse these tools to infringe copyright just like people jaywalk today without any technological help. If everyone jaywalked, our transportation system would come to a standstill and many people would be physically harmed. There will always be reasonable legal and business means to deal with these types of problems.

498 out of 500 is, admittedly, not everyone, but we can probably agree that's a significant percentage of jaywalkers on the superhighway.

Here's Dr. Laura Murray, a proponent of "fair" copyright with whom I have also disagreed in cartoon-like fashion on many points:

Myself, I think that culture is worth paying for. How, is the question...

My point is that if we want to support cultural innovation, we have to look at copyright as one tool among a wide range of tools, which include grants, stipends, cheap tuition, tax breaks, support for museums and galleries and other arts institutions, and a government commitment to give Canadians free digital access to their cultural heritage.

This all reminds me of a stunning conversation I had a couple years back. I'm in my early forties, and I was telling someone in her late twenties about my buddy's CD collection, which is enormous, and must have cost him thousands of dollars which he happily paid (though he is also a fantastic bargain hunter). He owns even more books, by the way -- fantastic consumer of culture. Anyway, as I'm waxing devotional about my older friend and his collections, my younger friend interrupted me and said "I don't know anyone who owns a CD collection. Everyone I know just shares their music -- no one buys it."

And people wonder why the book industry is a bit worried about unlocked e-books?

I've said it before (see the link above):

I think the mass of consumers can be trusted to respect copyright and the need for compensation that encourages continued creativity in a market-based economy, eventually.

Key words:

Trust -- publishers and creators need to learn to trust consumers to do the right thing with unlocked content.

Respect -- consumers, young and old, must respect copyright.

One won't work without the other.

Hobby horse point -- who might teach that respect? Universities -- they certainly have the captive audience.


Anonymous said...

First of all, I agree that this is a big concern.

I don't think anyone knows of a "fix", though. One of the things I'd encourage a study of copyright to look at is where these attitudes come from.

Several things are clear (well, to me) :
- copyright law has been steadily giving more rights to rightsholders, and yet these attitudes have arisen anyway.
- it's just as prevalent in the US, post-DMCA, as here.
- there are a growing number of artists who wouldn't be bothered by this, because their business model doesn't depend on selling copies of works.
- today's Copyright Act is clearly very much out-of-step with what these young people believe is moral.
- laws are much easier to change than attitudes, and should reflect the values of the society.
- sometimes, old businesses do just disappear. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (except, of course, for the people who insist that it's the only way they can survive). Personally, I'm glad that the governments of the time didn't try to preserve the buggy whip industry. I do think it's possible that "pay me for a single copy of this work" may be a business model that won't be viable in the future. Economics tells us that the price you can charge for something tends towards the marginal cost, and the marginal cost of a single copy is getting lower all the time.

I don't know that I've got much of a conclusion, except that passing a DMCA-style law isn't going to fix this problem. If I had to implement a "fix" right now, I'd explicitly move the "what's legal" line closer to the "what's moral" line do decrease the mismatch i.e. I'd broaden our "Fair Dealing" to allow copies for personal use. I think that would encourage people to have more respect for copyright law.

As a father with young kids, I do find it interesting that right now I'm teaching them "it's good to share your toys" and in a few years, I'll be expected to teach them "it's bad to share your culture".

John said...

Please, enough with the buggy whip manufacturers. They are all making millions in the S/M industry now, so the analogy collapses. Besides a buggy whip is not a business, it's a product.

"Professional writing" is a business, and I don't think it will disappear -- as long as extreme copyright minimalism (ECMin) does not take hold as the next sexy protest trend, complete with funky hats. There are all sorts of false assumptions that, while maybe not intending to, unfortunately feed ECMin.

Here's one such false assumption (certainly about my position in all this:

As a father with young kids, I do find it interesting that right now I'm teaching them "it's good to share your toys" and in a few years, I'll be expected to teach them "it's bad to share your culture".

I also have young kids, and I also teach them the joys and goodness of sharing their toys. On the other hand, when one of my kids takes the other's toy without asking, I then modify my teaching to a lesson about respect for other people's things.

Anonymous said...

I also have young kids, and I also teach them the joys and goodness of sharing their toys. On the other hand, when one of my kids takes the other's toy without asking, I then modify my teaching to a lesson about respect for other people's things.

Me, too, but I don't see the connection. Are you saying "it's not their culture, it's mine ?"

John said...

I am saying that there's a difference between encouraged sharing, and forced sharing. You made the connection between toys and culture. Don't be pretending it confuses you now.

but while we're still talking -- your assertion that "laws are much easier to change than attitudes, and should reflect the values of the society" conflates values with attitudes. Our values tell us that "sharing" is good. A common attitude these days is that not having to pay for a cultural product that someone invested in is "sharing." I can disagree with the attitude while celebrating the value.

Anonymous said...

I'm not pretending anything, honest !

Sure, there's a difference between encouraging and forced sharing, but how is that relevant ? I didn't say anything about forcing anyone to do anything !

Please, explain to me the connection between "it's bad to share your culture" and "it's bad to take somebody else's toys away without permission".

You'd best use small, simple words, because it seems I'm missing something that's obvious to you, but it isn't to me :-)

Unknown said...

When consumers speak, business needs to listen. The problem is that the music industry has refused to listen. They are stuck in an old business model that doesn't work. Consumers (or perhaps only young ones) have said that they are demanding easily accessible, digital music that can be played on any device they own. Even older consumers are accustomed to buying CDs that work just fine in their CD player at home, in the car, and in a portable discman. No need to buy 3 CDs because one will suffice. Now, if someone told you that you needed to buy multiple CDs for every player you own, or multiple copies of the same book for every room you planned to read in, you might resist, too. Imagine that: one book per room and it's against the law to move that book to a different room! No matter if you move sometime down the road: just buy a new copy of the book!

In many instances, the only way to get DRM-free music is to download it illegally. That won't change until the music industry changes. Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies has said it's their job to monetize the preferences of consumers, and he's right. He has also said it's short-sighted to say "see you in court" one day and "see you at Massey Hall" the next. Lawsuits are not the answer. Figuring out a way to monetize file-sharing might be. The Canadian Songwriter's Association has recommended an internet levy, along with granular tracking of what would be legal file-sharing to award money to artists, composers, and the like. While it may not be perfect, I would argue it is better than the alternative and would finally match a business model with consumer preference.

Anonymous said...

I could probably debate with you night and day about many issues regarding copyright, but lets talk about Article 11 of the WIPO treaties and the implementation of it. Let me propose this question to you.

You have product A from a store. It only allows me to play it on my computer or a specific brand of mp3 player. I am not able to use it with any other competitive mp3 players on the market.

You have product B: It can be used with any brand of mp3 player and any computer.

Why would anyone ever buy product A? Thats not even adding that Product A costs money and product B is free.

Before you say "Thats why we need the WIPO ratification" let me point out the ratification of the treaties is only going to make product A worse and make product B look better by comparison. It wont push product B out of the market because they are ahead of the game with Secure p2p.

My question to you how will the makers of product A be helped with the ratification of Article 11 in the WIPO treaties?

Anonymous said...

Yes, trust has to be at the root of things. The problem is that the internet has opened up a delivery medium for music and movies (and I guess books, though I'd be damned if I try to read a large book on a screen for the forseeable future) that has been so far mostly ignored by the industry.

My entertainment does come via the Internet, Podcasts, Radio Streams, TV Shows.... It is convinient, it has replaced a lot of different devices. I don't remember when I turned into the radio the last time, it is cumbersome, problematic. Likewise TV, it forces me to watch when someone else decides I want to watch something.

If the content distribution industry wants to win they have to adopt it and see it as a new way to sell their wares, that means in a quality that is just as good as what I can get for free. Why does iTunes not offer Lossless Audio? Why can't I go to the Sony website and buy "Damages" in a PS3 friendly format for download? The answer is that they are afraid of the net and the people that are filling in the void are the ones who understand the technology, and mostly those are people who aren't even asking for money in exchange.

The real problem will become clear in another 10 years, when the now college students have their own families and own houses and will continue to use the technology they had access to when they were in college and had no money.