A comment to Drew Wilson's response to Denis McGrath on the State of the Copyright Debate

Drew Wilson wrote a response to Denis McGrath's blog article he titled The State of the Copyright Debate. While I commented on Denis's blog, the following is a mildly edit version of what I contributed to Drew's blog.


It was unfortunate that Denis McGrath closed comments on that article. It was starting to get interesting, even if Denis seemed to suggest people who were disagreeing with him were wrong.

Technology giveth, and technology taketh away. New technologies are not threatening the ability of creators to get paid, they are only inevitably challenging legacy business models. The Internet is nowhere near as disruptive to the music industry as "talking machines" and "player pianos" were. When these things were clearly legalised it created the neighbouring-rights of performers and "makers" of sound recording. This is true in all areas of copyright where the Internet has an impact, and not just for music.

We need to get past this "sky is falling" and "you don't understand how things are" when it really doesn't matter how things were in the past, only where we go in the future. That is true today, just as it was 100+ years ago.

What got me into copyright are things that have little to do with copyright. Trying to use technological means to make social changes will never work as expected, and will cause more unintended harmful consequences than the theoretical good. This is true of all the libertarian techno-determinists, whether IIPA members (major label recording, major studios, proprietary software vendors) or the (surprisingly similar minded) Pirate Bay folks. Both of these sets of extremists want to wipe out the social contract of Copyright and replace it with technology.

When you look at the technology behind DRM, you find that most of the discussions are based on science fiction and not science. Non-owner locks on content are far closer to a form of theft than copyright infringement is, meaning that even if we go with the emotional "theft is theft" rhetoric we do not all agree on who the thieves are. Anti-interoperability locks on content can not increase sales, any more than deliberately scratching records during production would increase sales. All it does is reduce the value of the content to the customer, and thus reduces potential sales.

There are many people who believe that creators should get paid better for their valuable contributions to our society. It is so frustrating that in the copyright debate that people who share this as their ultimate goal end up arguing with each other far more than they argue with those who do not agree with those goals.

The reference to Cory is interesting. He openly licenses his works, and I buy multiple copies in multiple formats (audio book and paper versions). Cory makes accessing and paying for his works extremely easy.

On the other hand, I don't have those options for the works that Denis McGrath contributed to. I would love to drop cable television and put 2/3'rds of this to paying directly for the shows I want (the other 1/3 to the additional bandwidth for multimedia). The problem? They simply aren't for sale -- between geographic locks (No Hulu in Canada) and anti-interoperability technology brand locks (I won't buy content with deliberate media defects, AKA DRM) I don't have that option.

I still plan on dropping cable TV in the near future. If Mr. McGrath's revenue goes down as more people do the same, he needs to look at the structure of his industry and not infringers as the root of the problem. While not adequately studied, I believe that "not for sale" has a far greater impact on creator revenues than infringement does.