Audiences want to pay for content: their money still rudely refused

I follow a number of people on twitter that are engaged in the copyright revision debate. There is currently a discussion about an article by respected technology journalist Jesse Brown titled: Honour among thieves: the only way to get the best selection of television shows and movies is to steal them.

While the headline is sensationalist (and likely written by an editor and not Jesse), the summary is very familiar: Jesse wants to pay for content, but many copyright holders and their distributors are refusing to sell under reasonable terms and at a reasonable price.

I had a similar conversation on Twitter with Margaret Atwood after her controversial repeat last Thursday of the same ideas she expressed in 1996 about the copyright bill tabled at that time, coincidentally also Bill C-32. While not the topic of this article, I invite people to listen to what she said on Thursday and read what she said in 1996. I consider Ms. Atwood to be a very intelligent person when it comes to her writing and other issues she is involved in. I disagree with her strongly when it comes to her views on copyright, which I consider to be harmful to authors.

The more authors take the tone that Ms. Atwood did in her testimonies, the more disconnected average citizens will feel from fellow creators, and the more socially acceptable copyright infringement will become. This is not in anyone’s best interests.

This is the scenario I find myself in: While I read non-fiction on paper with traditional books, I prefer to listen to fiction in the form of audio books. I am a regular 2-credit subscriber to eMusic, and after hearing a great interview with Ms. Atwood decided to acquire The Year of the Flood. After listening to and really enjoying that story, I was told that the book Oryx and Crake is based on the same universe, so I went to eMusic to download.

I quickly found out that while Oryx and Crake is available in the USA, it is not available to Canadians. Both are by the same author and released by Random House Audio, and both are narrated by readers who have books available to Canadians. So why the problem here?

When people come up against this type of problem they are left with a few options.

  1. Not buy
  2. Acquire in a less convenient form, such as as a paper book or a DRM infected file (where I would have to circumvent the technical measure to make it interoperable with the technology I own)
  3. Circumvent the technical measure (IE: I could use a US proxy or account, and get around the regional restriction)
  4. Download from an unauthorized source

In my case with the Oryx and Crake audio book I decided to wait, and am still waiting.

When I described my scenario on Twitter, Ms. Atwood graciously offered to send me a free copy of the book. That doesn't solve the underlying problem. The problem is that while fans like myself want to pay for content, there are more and more artificial barriers being put up to discourage us from doing so.

Ms. Atwood said she has already mentioned this to her publisher, but it is taking a very long time to solve a simple problem that is costing Ms. Atwood money (likely more money than the thing she was upset about at committee).

In the case of Jesse Brown's article, when it came to television programming he opted for the last option: to obtain programming from an unauthorized source.

I also plan to "cut the cord" in the future, and drop cable TV (and not replace it with an equally disgusting BDU such as those offering satellite service). As discussed in comments to a TV, eh? podcast, I have opted for the second option, which is to acquire in a less convenient form: in this case waiting possibly 2+ years after a show has aired to purchase the DVD.

This is not to say that I'm claiming I don't infringe copyright. I likely infringe copyright less than the average Canadian, but being involved in this debate I am aware that (for instance) time shifting programming with a VCR (for those of us that still own one) is infringement in Canada. I am aware of the many times a week (a day?) that I do things currently inappropriately regulated by Copyright, when most Canadians would not be.

There are examples that more people would agree are infringement. I have opted for the 4'th option above when content is simply not been made legally available in North America. This has come up a few times for European movies only released in DVD region 2.

Depending on the circumstances I have opted for all 4 of the above options, and have always favoured paying for content in ways that involve infringement over not paying for content.

In the case of music, I simply don't bother with the major labels that refuse to make their music available to me via eMusic. I have enough great music in my life that I simply don't care that I show up in the major labels statistics as if I were an infringer.

In the case of software I am not an infringer, which is easy given that with only a tiny number of exceptions I only use (and contribute to commercially and as a volunteer) Free/Libre and Open Source Software.

I believe Jesse Brown did a great service to the copyright revision debate for being willing to say out loud something that I suspect a vast majority of Canadians feel, but aren't willing to say it in a newspaper. This "not available for sale" problem must be exposed as a far greater problem than non-commercial copyright infringement by citizens ever could be. We won't be able to solve this problem, and enable creators to get paid for their valuable contributions to society, if everyone is afraid to speak about the issue.

On Twitter there is an astroturf campaign against Jesse Brown from the anonymous person behind the @CopyrightCanada. Speculation has been that the person behind this is someone from the major label recording industry, possibly it's president Graham Henderson. If so, the anonymity makes sense given the members of his association were found guilty of one of the largest copyright infringement cases in history (The "pending lists" case: Estate of Chet Baker vs Sony, EMI, Warner, et al.).

The hypocrisy of CRIA's president or representatives of the major labels pointing fingers at lesser infringers would make their arguments seem silly. It is unfortunate that our culture still considers anonymous speech to be legitimate political speech, as it allows less than honest persons or organizations to game the political process. Only people whose own history as transparent and accountable citizens should be able to engage in these debates: a variation of “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.”

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Graham Henderson

Agreed. The person behind that account is someone from the Canadian Recording Industry Association. I don't know if it's Graham Henderson (in fact I suspect it is Amy Terrill since it sounds more like her).

But the point that Jesse made is sound - what do you do, if you can't buy what you want?

This is why my book, which should be out next month, is being self published. So that it will be available everywhere. No region restrictions, no artificial limits. Just available.

Laurel Russwurm is doing the same thing. I suspect Margaret Atwood will have to as well, mostly because her publisher probably won't exist in another couple of years. It makes more sense for writer's to go direct, than to deal with a publisher.

Oh, and the brick and mortar book stores? They will follow the record stores into oblivion within five years.