Rob Reid destroys the movie industry piracy claims

By Phil Plait | March 19, 2012 2:30 pm

I had the pleasure of meeting author Rob Reid at a party at SXSW last weekend. We immediately hit it off; he writes science fiction and is really smart, funny, and clever. While we were chatting, my friends came up to me in amazement — they had seen his talk at SXSW that day and were raving about it.

I missed Rob’s talk, but he told me he did a short TED talk about copyright math and piracy that was coming out soon… and lo! Here it is!

[Note: you might have to refresh the page to see the embedded video.]

I cracked up watching this. I do understand that piracy is a problem, but I also think — based on copious evidence — that the movie and music industry are full of it when it comes to the impact of it. And given that this was the brain trust behind SOPA and PIPA, you can imagine how I feel. Perhaps at some point I’ll write more about all this, but you can also get a decent grip on my opinion by checking out this infographic on the topic, as well as The Oatmeal’s Matt Inman’s now-famous web comic about it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, Humor, Piece of mind, Politics

Comments (57)

  1. [MR]Fat
  2. MaDeR

    Most of people do what it takes to get their entertaiment in most easy way.

    Not cheapest. Easiest.

    Sure, there will be always some that will pirate no matter what, but now it just happens that pirated version is not only easiest way to get movie/game/music/whatever, but also without annoying ads, computer-crashing “antipiracy security”, Sony-like-rootkits etc.

  3. Lars

    From (the blank) side B of the In God We Trust, Inc. EP (1981 cassette) by Dead Kennedys:

    “Home taping is killing record industry profits! We left this side blank so you can help.”

    Even if the industry were telling the truth (and they’re not), I wouldn’t care. They have evolved into parasites. Good riddance.

  4. Derek

    Not to support the numbers ridiculed by Rob ($150,000 per pirated song, per copy?), but…

    I work for a major publisher in the software field, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that Internet piracy costs billions of dollars in that field. It’s just mostly not in the United States, which actually has rather tame rates of piracy compared to most of the world.

    http://chartsbin.com/view/1186
    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_sof_pir_rat-crime-software-piracy-rate

    Software piracy is so rampant in major markets like South America, Russia, and Asia that, in many countries in those areas, there are 3-4 times more copies of pirated software than there are legitimate copies. China, for example, has a piracy rate above 75%, and has been that way for many years now. So, how much in sales did chinese consumers spend on the (vastly smaller amount of) product they actually purchased, in say, 2007?

    580 billion yuan (~ 91 billion dollars)
    http://www.chinaknowledge.com/Business/CBGdetails.aspx?subchap=4&content=23

    Would saying that the software industry has “lost” $58 billion dollars due to piracy seem so ridiculous, once put in that perspective? I’ll be the first to agree that 1 pirate != 1 paying consumer, but any reasonable person has to admit that it’s bad for business when 75% of consumers are getting your product without paying for it.

  5. MadScientist

    I’m so sick of hearing RIAA/MPAA executives whine about “pirates” (I wish they’d encounter *real* pirates) that I wish we’d remind them that ‘copyright’ is in fact a privilege – let’s get our legislators to revoke copyright on all film and audio recordings. I rarely ever buy music or DVDs these days thanks to the recording mafia treating all customers like criminals (besides I have better things to do than to watch or listen to the junk they produce these days). I just wish everyone else on the planet would simply give up buying new music and DVDs for a year or two just to pull these cartels back into line.

  6. As a writer, I despise people who commit theft by illegally acquiring copyrighted material. (I wish people would simply say “steal” instead of “pirate”. It’s not a kid’s game, it’s a crime.)

    But, SOPA and PIPA are not in any way solutions to that problem; even if somehow they were, they’d be a bigger problem themselves. And both the music industry and movie industry have been ripping off artists for decades, they’ve just been doing it legally.

    So, I’ve got no sympathy for the MPAA or the RIAA; they’re both in the wrong and stupid. They’re getting left in the dust. But, please — if you like an artist’s work enough to want to read it, watch it, or listen to it … pay her.

  7. @3 MadScientist Says: “I wish we’d remind them that ‘copyright’ is in fact a privilege'”.

    Ah, no, it’s not. It’s a legal right, which you do not have a right to violate.

  8. Monkey

    What a wonderful 5 minutes that was! I almost didnt click because I am late…but I saw 5 min on the screen and decided that it would be my coffee entertainment.

    As for the paying bit, I wonder about Youtube and grooveshark – I listen all day to random tunes from bands I like/new bands for free. Because I haven’t put them directly on my computer, its ok. The moment I download, its not. But I still listen to the same music for the same cost.

    That said – I have ended up purchasing more music due to listening to new songs/bands on Grooveshark than I ever did without.

    …just thinking aloud. I agree with the “pay for content” side obviously, but I think there is a huge grey area.

  9. Thanny

    Zucchi, copyright infringement is not theft, neither legally nor conceptually.

    The idea of intellectual property is something grudgingly allowed in the US Constitution to promote innovation in society. The existing copyright laws have corrupted that purpose.

    While most people who infringe copyright do so to avoid paying for access to the material in question, there is no shortage of those who technically infringe for morally upright or neutral reasons.

    So your equation of copyright infringement with theft is not only factually wrong in all cases, it is also slanderous in some.

  10. Daniel Schealler

    In all fairness, his final example was skewed.

    The claim is that one song being pirated harms the bottom line of the music industry $150,000 per song that is pirated.

    This doesn’t mean $150,000 per pirated song that is copied, which is what the examples were illustrating.

    That doesn’t mean that the $150,000 is suddenly reasonable. Some quick math: Assuming $5 would have been charged for the release of a single, that would work out to 30,000 singles not being sold as a result of the song being pirated.

    Alternatively, assume 15 songs per album and $25 per album. If the whole album is pirated, that’s a claim to $2,250,000 of harm to the publisher. This in turn assumes lost sales of 90,000 albums due to the piracy of one album.

    My assumptions here are obviously wonky, but I’m going for back-of-the-envelope stuff here.

    The question becomes:

    Is the harm to the industry due to piracy actually this amount?

    I have no idea… But given the presence of online stores like iTunes I’d expect that many of the lost ‘albums’ or ‘singles’ have probably migrated across to online stores which sell the music at lower cost than a full album would otherwise be, mainly due to lower inventory/shipping costs.

    How much of the impact is down to piracy itself would be tricky to determine.

    There’s also stuff like this to consider: Gaiman on Copyright Piracy and the Web

  11. I can’t get the video to load, no matter what I try. Can someone post a link, please?

  12. Dan I

    Here’s the thing the MPAA and RIAA, as well as video game companies, don’t get. The Pirates are NEVER going to buy your product. You are NOT losing nearly as many “sales” to piracy as you think you are.

    The Pirates are doing it not cause they want to see the new Harry Potter movie they’re doing it because they want to PIRATE something. If you make it impossible to do they’ll just work harder to find a new way to crack it.

    The ONLY people you hurt with draconian DRM and anti-piracy schemes are your legitimate customers who get so frustrated having to jump through 900 hoops just to watch a movie that they just go “screw it” and do something else.

  13. HvP

    Don’t forget that copyright was invented to allow publishers a monopoly on content, NOT authors but the publishers. At the time it was taken for granted that authors wouldn’t have the resources or connections to self-publish and that the right to distribute copies would largely benefit the publishing industry, and this was true. The absurdly small compensations that most content creators are given for the reproduction of their work tends to support this fact.

    But, we are lead to believe that the purpose of copyright law is to insure that the authors of a work are able to earn a living from the profits of their work. If that were the case, then why have copyrights been extended to last for seventy years after the death of the author? The answer is, of course, that it was never intended to compensate the authors directly, but as a tool of the publishing industry to exert control over profits and the authors under contract.

    We are also led to believe that copyright laws provide a motive for content creators and associated industries to continue to produce content due to the incentives of profit. Nothing wrong with that, but as it currently exists the public domain is being eradicated. A valid argument can be made that allowing works to fall into the public domain also provides our society with the tools to produce equally valuable derivative works that might never be produced under the burdens of having to purchase licensing rights.

    How can we be sure that a lengthy copyright period does enhance the drive for creativity?

  14. Murff

    I think the movie industry makes up for the pirated movie losses with popcorn profits…

  15. Cathy

    I don’t watch movies in theaters not because I want to pirate them, but because the sound systems in most theaters are so jacked up that I’ll end up with a pounding headache thirty minutes into the film. So I usually wait until they’re out on DVD and Redbox them for a buck, because then I can listen to it at a reasonable volume. Sorry, movie industry. Blame the theaters for this one.

  16. Derek

    If there’s one thing I dislike about the moderation system in place on this site, it’s that posts that cite actual evidentiary support get stuck in moderation for long periods of time. :(

  17. Kassandra

    @Daniel Schealler,

    You might not have heard of Jammie Thomas, of Capital vs Thomas fame. Essentially 3 trials, first trial was thrown out due to some other recent rulings and judge orders. The jury rewarded a (sane) amount of $9250/song (she downloaded/’made available’ 24 songs).

    The second trial, the jury awarded the record labels at $80,000/song (yes, 80k). The judge ended up reducing the amount down to $2250 / song from the 80k. The record labels balked at this, demanding a new damages trial.

    So onto the third trial, this time the jury only awarded $62,500/song, which the judge then reduced to the 2250/song again. Also guess who is up in arms over this reduced amount, again.

    If you want to read more on it, goto http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capitol_v._Thomas

    the 150k is on the books, in 17 USC 92 § 504(c)(2), for statutory damages.

    Anyone sane would look at the 150k and realise that it is stupidly big. If she managed to even to cause 0.1% of that in ‘damages’ (which could be fought over until the cows come home, whether there was even any lost sales) i would be surprised (per song that is).

    That is the copyright math. 24 songs downloaded should each be worth $150k in damages.

  18. Ponteaus

    “I do understand that piracy is a problem.”

    I find this sentiment to be very annoying. It seems everyone defaults to the copyright-infringement-is-a-problem position without ever questioning whether it’s actually true or not. Every scientific analysis I’ve seen of copyright economics and piracy suggests that if somehow we could magically make copyright infringement go away, authors would see very little if any additional revenue. Why? Because people’s budgets are already maxed out. They’ve spent all they can afford to spend; whatever gap is left between the content they can afford and the total amount of content they have time to consume is filled by piracy. If they couldn’t pirate, their lives would just be less entertaining, and they’d be sadder people.

    @Derek: “any reasonable person has to admit that it’s bad for business when 75% of consumers are getting your product without paying for it.” You should look into how Microsoft won the OS wars back in the late 80s/early 90s. A majority of their customers being pirates worked out exceptionally well for them.

  19. Nigel Depledge

    Derek (4) said:

    I work for a major publisher in the software field, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that Internet piracy costs billions of dollars in that field. It’s just mostly not in the United States, which actually has rather tame rates of piracy compared to most of the world.

    This is utterly wrong, and it is the biggest fallacy that the movie and recording industries would have the public (and Congress) believe.

    Internet piracy of software / music / movies / whatever costs the copyright owner nothing. What it does do is deprive them of potential sales.

    However, the total amount of piracy does not equal the total amount of lost sales, because most of the people that use or view pirated material wouldn’t have paid for it in the first place. But, in order to inflate the figures and make the problem look larger than it truly is, industry organisations deliberately conflate the amount of piracy with the amount of lost revenue.

    Despite what the recording and music industries have repeatedly claimed over the years, they are still here. In the 1980s it was “Home taping is killing music”. It didn’t.

    What some proportion of “piracy” (and I have no idea if it is 20% or 80% or wherever) is, though, is free advertising. Yet the movie and recording industries go to some lengths to quash this idea, while at the same time benefitting from it. If they admit that they derive any benefit whatsoever from piracy, they undermine their argument that they should have control of the internet (and that’s what SOPA and PIPA are – an attempt to gain a measure of control of the internet).

  20. Nigel Depledge

    Zucchi (7) said:

    @3 MadScientist Says: “I wish we’d remind them that ‘copyright’ is in fact a privilege’”.

    Ah, no, it’s not. It’s a legal right, which you do not have a right to violate.

    Actually, a right is a privilege encoded in law. So you’re both right, kind of.

    To draw an analogy, there is no such thing as a right to bear arms. In most civilised countries, certain people may obtain the privilege to bear arms. Only in the USA (to the best of my knowledge) is this privilege encoded in law and therefore described as a right. Copyright is the same sort of thing, as are such things as access to healthcare (oh, but that’s not a right in the USA if you don’t have the means to pay for it), drinking water, Habeas corpus and so on.

  21. Nigel Depledge

    Zucchi (6) said:

    But, please — if you like an artist’s work enough to want to read it, watch it, or listen to it … pay her.

    Aye, and there’s the rub.

    Only a tiny proportion of the money I pay to see a movie, buy a book, buy a CD or buy a DVD goes to the artist or artists who conceived the work.

    A further small proportion of it goes to supporting the infrastructure (I’m pretty sure that the people who work in bookstores or cinemas do not get paid serious bucks!).

    We read about the enormous salaries paid to the top movie actors, but in reality that’s peanuts compared to the studio’s profits.

    SOPA and PIPA (and the DMCA) are just tools for maximising profit. They do not exist to protect the livelihood of artists (even if they happen to do it coincidentally, it is not their raison d’être).

    You raise a further interesting point. If I am going to pay through the nose for a CD, or to see a movie, I want to know it’s going to be good. If it isn’t, well, I have no recourse apart from telling people I know that it was rubbish. Thus, if it turns out to be rubbish, I feel like I have been robbed. If the fee requested were more modest, I would feel easier about taking a risk on something I may or may not enjoy. It seems to me that a lot of people feel this way.

    Therefore, if the opportunity arises to sample something without paying for it, I think most people will take it. However, most of the people who enjoyed it are then likely to go ahead and pay for the product (e.g. if it’s a pirated movie that they saw on their computer in a little weeny video window, they are more likely to splash out on the Blu-ray disc if they think it’s a good movie than would be the case had they not seen the pirated version first). I have no idea to what extent this mechanism operates, and neither do the RIAA or MPAA. But it must operate to some significant extent, otherwise the predictions of doom made by the RIAA and the MPAA would have come true.

  22. Dan_Veteran

    My parents taught me that taking something from someone else without paying for it is STEALING. My daughter pirated a couple songs and I made her go onto I-Tunes to buy legitimate copies. She used the excuse that the artist was not getting much of the money and that all the money was going to the record companies. I told her she should be alright with stealing bread, because the farmer makes very little per loaf of bread. I am surprised how many people will STEAL songs, movies, etc but would never consider stealing a loaf of bread. What is the difference?

  23. Svlad Cjelli

    ^ The “from” is the difference, Dan_Veteran. “Pirating” generally creates a copy of the item.

  24. ACow

    @Dan_Veteran It’s quite simple, really. Let me explain.

    When you steal a loaf of bread from a farmer, he suffers an actual physical loss. He can no longer eat or sell the loaf of bread as it is no longer in his possession.

    Now, COPYING (not stealing, that’s a different thing) is kind of like cloning, only much quicker, as you don’t even need to grow the song from scratch. When you copy a song, what happens is that two songs appear in place of what was previously only one song. You can of course argue that if one didn’t copy the song, he’d pay for it. That isn’t always the case. Your kid is lucky enough to have the money to visit the iTunes store (not to mention that iTunes is not available in all countries) and pay for a bunch of songs; most kids in the world don’t.

    I hope you’ll tell your daughter you were wrong and do a better job explaining copyright infringement to her next time, no one likes to be lied to. You’re welcome.

  25. uudale

    @Nigel:

    “…access to healthcare (oh, but that’s not a right in the USA if you don’t have the means to pay for it)”

    Uh, what?

    Plenty of folks here in the states walk into health care facilities with no means to pay, NOT get turned away because of their inability to pay, and get treated.

    I believe this is what in large part has contributed to the govt.-sponsored health care debate here in the first place.

    Sorry, not to get off-topic.

  26. khms

    I remember an old SF story (or rather sequence of stories) where someone invented a machine that could copy ordinary matter … and the economy promptly collapsed.

    Because our concepts of property are based on the fact that it cannot be copied.

    Thus, trying to use the “property” concept for this so-called “intellectual property” is about as appropriate as using hours to measure distance. Sure, it works in some specific circumstances – but it breaks down fast once those circumstances no longer apply.

    And no, I don’t have better concepts in my pocket. But I don’t need to be able to tell what the square root of 454656 is, to be able to tell that it’s most certainly not -7.

    In any case, to avoid links and moderation, there’s a nice rant on the book variant of this fight you can easily find by googling for “Prime Palaver”. (I can’t look up more details just now, as it seems the server just went down.)

  27. Yacko

    This is a best fit type economics problem. On the one hand you could have total restriction, perpetual copyright and (for arguments sake) uncrackable DRM. On the other, everything is free and any payment is a donation. Which earns the maximum return? Likely neither. In the grand bell curve of cost, ease and control, there is likely some compromise point which earns maximum income.

    Is it possible to earn every dollar you are owed? The real world entails a certain amount of slippage and entropy, that guarantees it is not possible. The problem is, there are content creators among us, so anal retentive and controlling, they cannot see that their idealized extreme does not yield the maximum compensation. Economic modeling is standard for large corporations involved in selling items to consumers. Unfortunately artists, music, visual or otherwise, do not avail themselves of this kind of economic advice.

    It’s just easier for a creator to figure if they have forced you to give them “x” dollars, then they have gleaned every dollar that is possible to be gleaned. It would be helpful if those versed in microeconomics would chime in on this controversy and bring some rational discourse. I am all for content creators being paid. It may not be intuitive, but there is likely some compromise involving length and terms of copyright, ease of obtaining items (either current or out of print) and cost per unit, that gives said creator a fair and optimized level of compensation.

  28. Dan_Veteran

    @ Svlad Cjelli: “Pirating” generally creates a copy of the item.

    Using that mentality, I can walk into Barnes and Noble with a camera and take a picture of each page of a book. It’s not stealing because the original is still in place, and to think I’ve been paying for books all these years.

  29. Nigel Depledge

    Derek (16) said:

    If there’s one thing I dislike about the moderation system in place on this site, it’s that posts that cite actual evidentiary support get stuck in moderation for long periods of time

    Not really. Any post with linkys in it goes through moderation. If you live in the same time zone as the BA, then you might get a comment moderated pretty quickly, but moderation is pretty slow for those of us who are many time zones away.

    Thus, I and others have found ways of citing evidence without pasting a link (e.g. if you miss off the “http : / /” at the beginning of the link, it is not detected as a link – I think).

  30. khms

    Plenty of folks here in the states walk into health care facilities with no means to pay, NOT get turned away because of their inability to pay, and get treated.

    How about walking into a pharmacy? Do they get their meds without being able to pay?

    How about those that can pay for food and a roof over their head or health care, but not both?

    How about those folks with insurance, who get told that their illness has just become too expensive, so the insurance will no longer pay? (And isn’t that exactly what an insurance is for, paying when it gets too expensive?)

    There’s a reason the same illness typically creates more deaths per head in the US than in other first world nations, and it’s not that the medical professions in the US aren’t able to treat them.

  31. Nigel Depledge

    Dan Veteran (21) said:

    I am surprised how many people will STEAL songs, movies, etc but would never consider stealing a loaf of bread. What is the difference?

    I’m surprised you cannot see it.

    A farmer can only ever sell a loaf of bread once. To make more money, he then has to make and sell more bread (heh!).

    A Hollywood studio expects to sell a movie over and over and over again. Likewise a music publisher expects to sell the same music millions of times over.

    Metallica’s Lars Ulrich (one of Napster’s arch-nemeses) made the same error when he suggested that if a plumber or a mechanic downloaded his (Metallica’s) music for free, then he should get his plumbing or car fixed for free by the same token. The situations are not analogous. Metallica have sold millions of copies of the same recording session, but a plumber or a mechanic can only ever sell a piece of work once.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have copyright at all, but the draconian measures that the RIAA / MPAA are trying to introduce, and the lengths to which they go to maximise profit are hugely out of proportion with the crime of breach of copyright.

  32. Nigel Depledge

    @ uudale (23) –
    OK, I stand corrected.

  33. Nigel Depledge

    Dan Veteran (26) said:

    Using that mentality, I can walk into Barnes and Noble with a camera and take a picture of each page of a book. It’s not stealing because the original is still in place, and to think I’ve been paying for books all these years.

    Well, in principle it is not stealing. Instead it is breach of copyright. But you’d end up spending so much of your time doing the photographing that it is almost certainly more worthwhile for you to buy the book.

    Also, pragmatically, because you would make the book look used, the staff would almost certainly insist that you pay for it.

  34. Hevach

    @28: Your questions, in order:

    1. They do not.
    2. They get one or the other.
    3. They get the same treatment those people with no ability to pay get. Which is limited to what they’re required to give by law: stabilizing treatment and care to an unborn fetus.

    Those people with no ability to pay don’t get long term care, new kidneys, or even quality care. They get their heart rate stabilized and are tossed out on the street.

  35. Greg

    @29 Nigel –
    And the irony of Lars and the boys attacking Napster was that Metallica made it as a band by people copying and passing around copies of their music and shows back in the early 80’s cassette tape days, aka piracy.

    I think the reason the publishing industry is attacking this so hard now is that they see their business model is an obsolete relic destined to collapse. Their model depends on creating physical copies to sell in local stores. Content creators simply don’t need vast publishing companies and multi-million dollar marketing campaigns anymore. Louis CK proved this fact recently by selling one of his standup shows directly on his own website for a reasonable price with zero DRM. A band can go into a local studio, record their own songs, publish and sell digital copies inexpensively on their own website keeping all the profit instead of giving 95% or more (sometimes over 100%) to the industry, and advertise on their own through social media and the like. Sooner or late, content creators are going to start realizing this, and the publishing industries will fade away. In limited numbers they already are, a college friend of mine even wrote and is selling his own book on amazon for kindles. That’s what they’re really afraid of, piracy is just the red herring scare tactic to get favorable legislation written to squash the technology and obfuscate the issue to save their own tails for a few extra years and squeeze every last dime they can out of the public and the artists. The industry has stolen far more from content creators than piracy could even dream of.

  36. This remains one of my favourite piracy-related infographics, short and to the point: http://imm.io/jzuB

  37. The Oatmeal comic sums up my approach well. I do make a good faith effort to obtain content legally, but I don’t have cable and I get all of my content via streaming. If an intellectual property owner insists on using a 20th century distribution model for their content, then I have to choose between a) not getting it, or b) stealing it. Obviously (a) is the more ethical choice, but I can’t claim to be perfectly ethical all the time.

    As a rule of thumb: If I can get the content streamed to me at a fair price and without undue hassle, that’s what I do. But if a company wants to throw up roadblocks in the way of me PAYING THEM, well… message received, buddy.

  38. I do want to say I think there is somewhat of a difference between content piracy and software piracy. Nobody is going to pirate Photoshop and then decide they like it so much that they need to go out and buy the collector’s edition box set so they can display it on their wall, or purchase a $100+ ticket to go see Photoshop live in concert. Nor is Adobe already making revenue from subtle product placement, like the Coke logo appearing in one of Photoshop’s pulldown menus for no apparent reason. Once someone has pirated Photoshop, they have the product and don’t need to get it again; there is no opportunity to get them hooked and then hope they will watch the next season of Photoshop legally.

    I want to make it clear once again that I am not trying to stage an ethical defense of piracy.

  39. Nigel Depledge

    Greag (33) said:

    And the irony of Lars and the boys attacking Napster was that Metallica made it as a band by people copying and passing around copies of their music and shows back in the early 80′s cassette tape days, aka piracy.

    Hah, I had forgotten this. It is ironic indeed.

    Bootlegs, we called ‘em then . . .

    . . . The industry has stolen far more from content creators than piracy could even dream of.

    Sad But True.

    Did you see what I did there?

    I vaguely recall an interview with Paul McCartney who, after the Beatles spilt up, found himself with no money and no income, despite having written or co-written some of the world’s best-selling popular songs to date. Apparently, it took him a couple of years of fighting to get some of his royalties from the various management and recording companies.

  40. Nigel Depledge

    James Sweet (35) said:

    I do want to say I think there is somewhat of a difference between content piracy and software piracy. Nobody is going to pirate Photoshop and then decide they like it so much that they need to go out and buy the collector’s edition box set so they can display it on their wall, or purchase a $100+ ticket to go see Photoshop live in concert. Nor is Adobe already making revenue from subtle product placement, like the Coke logo appearing in one of Photoshop’s pulldown menus for no apparent reason. Once someone has pirated Photoshop, they have the product and don’t need to get it again; there is no opportunity to get them hooked and then hope they will watch the next season of Photoshop legally.

    This is a fair point. Software piracy tends a bit less to serve as advertising. However, it still happens to some extent. I was given a pirated copy of a PC game back when I was a student, and when I saw that game available about 10 years later as a multipack with two of its successors, I bought it.

    However, software does something that music doesn’t (for the most part) do – it goes obsolete.

    I have records that I bought in my teens that will still play on my turntable that still works with my amplifier and speakers, despite the fact that the amplifier and speakers are not the original amplifier and speakers that I owned when I bought those LPs.

    However, I had several games that ran on my old Windows98 PC that, when that ground to a halt and needed replacing, would not run on my (then-new) PC running Windows XP. Now, since then I have gathered that XP has a “compatability” mode hidden away somewhere, but as far as I could tell at the time, the new PC would not run those older games. And there was no assistance available to make them work together.

    Add to this the fact that, generally, software feels like very poor value for money even compared with CDs, books, and DVDs, and you set up a market for pirated copies of software. Then again, I’m old enough to remember the days when people would give software away by publishing their code in magazines. But being asked to pay the equivalent of $200 or $300 for a piece of software that is only going to last me 4 or 5 years does not dispose me to be sympathetic to software companies.

  41. Buzz Parsec

    BA, to reinforce the campaign to make you stick to Astronomy posts, I hereby drag this post back on topic by pointing out that Rob Reid ends by noting the huge problem of alien copyright infringement. Carl Sagan is responsible. “Send more Chuck Berry”

    (unnecessary :-))

  42. jaimehlers

    How many people have ever visited a public library or a school library and read books for free there? While I don’t know the exact numbers, it’s easily in the millions, perhaps tens of millions. Each copy of that book was purchased from the publisher, but it is, at a conservative estimate, read by hundreds of people on average, most of whom do not go out and purchase their own copy of the book. Yet the book publisher is not harmed by this practice. They do not lose sales (and therefore, money) by libraries purchasing copies for other people to read.

    In fact, they gain sales (and therefore, money) by this practice, because people who would otherwise not have encountered the book or not been willing to pay up front for a book they may or may not like have the chance to read the book and determine if they like it without having to pay in advance. Furthermore, if they liked the book, they will probably buy a copy of their own (which is at least one sale the publisher wouldn’t have gotten), plus they will remember the author and be more willing to read other books by them in the future – and more importantly, will tend to buy those books without reading them first (meaning, more sales in the future). If they didn’t like the book, all they lost was the time it took to read it, so it would not leave a particularly bad impression on them.

    Now, that is a situation where we’re talking about a book which cannot be easily reproduced. But let’s take an e-book instead, which can be. The situation is a little different, but it’s enough the same that you can still apply a similar example. Let’s say that the publisher takes an older book (with the author’s permission) and makes it available to download for free. The result is that people will read it, since they don’t have to pay for it. If they read it and like it, even if they do not buy a copy of the book itself, they will remember the author and the publisher and be more willing to buy other things from them. If they don’t like it, then they will have again lost nothing but the time involved, and they will still have a better opinion of the publisher as a result (people like getting free samples, even if they don’t end up liking the samples themselves).

    Same thing happens if the publisher makes sample chapters available for newer books – people who read them and like them will be much more likely to buy the book outright; people who don’t like them will avoid wasting money on something they don’t like. And it costs the publisher very little, especially compared to the benefits they receive. How many dollars is the good opinion of a customer worth, for example?

    Both of these things have already been done, by some publishing companies (notably, Baen Publishing). They have a free e-book library of older titles which can be read for free; they make sample chapters available for every book they sell. Not only that, but they periodically release CDs with the purchase of hardbound books with a large number of books from the same author on them; said CDs are “free to redistribute and copy”, even online. They’ve been doing this sort of thing for over a decade. The model works.

    So, what’s the difference between e-books and other electronic media? Nothing, except the particular content involved. Yet the music recording industry and the motion picture industry rant about lost sales, sales they wouldn’t have gotten anyway for the most part, and scream about declining profits, which has much more to do with the mediocre content they tend to release and expect people to pay through the nose for than any amount of copyright infringement.

    If there were a music recording company or a motion picture company which used the same general model as Baen – make older stuff available for free, let people watch reasonable-length trailers (and not this five minute copy-paste stuff, I mean like making the first 15-20 minutes of the movie available), even leaving aside the periodic “free to reproduce” giveaways, they would do so much better than the rest of the industry that there would be no comparison (though, I grant that it would take a while). Those other companies would eventually have to adopt that model, or fade into obscurity.

    And as a side benefit, it would pretty much do away with most of the existing “copyright infringement” problems in the USA. Because those are an artificial problem to begin with, due to the toxic business practices of the MPAA and RIAA.

  43. Derek

    @19, Nigel – You know how I know you didn’t actually read my post? Yeah.

    @Phil – you can say that the recording / music industry are going too far, that the punishment in these cases doesn’t fit the crime, and that legislation like SOPA and PIPA are too broad to be fairly enacted. And all of those are reasonable positions to take.

    But if you’re not coming out just as strongly against the pirates themselves, then you cannot claim the moral high ground in this debate. I’d love to see you shut down the blog for a day to protest internet piracy, or dedicate a blog post to the idea that, regardless of your view on the industry response, getting a service without paying for it is *stealing.* And in the industries in question, it is a an endemic problem that is rampant, harmful, and immoral. But unfortunately, I doubt you have the courage (or the moral integrity) to publically take either of those actions. Few people do these days.

    People want to believe that they’re not harming anyone when they engage in piracy, but every reasonable person who gets involved in this discussion eventually has to admit that such is not the case. I’ve had this conversation enough times to know, and there’s a reason why the court cases end the way they do. The plain facts were laid out pretty clearly in my first post, and aren’t going to change, no matter how much raging and gnashing of teeth goes in this thread.

  44. SkyGazer

    What I hate is that EVERY SINGLE DVD starts with a rant against me. That I´m kinda criminal of sorts. While I bought the damn thing… retail, full price etc.
    And you can´t skip it. No I have to pay and then have to sit through a rant first. Every f*cking movie costs at least 5 minutes of my life. So that´s a cost they put on the paying CUSTOMER! And when you want to see the movie again they rant again. So every movie start with annoying me and making me angry. “Entertainment” my ass.
    So my heartfelt wish for those “entertainment” dudes who kill a lot of entertaintment is to STFU.
    I bought it so a nice (skipable) “thank you very much” is more in place.
    It´s like going to a restaurant and before I can even order I have to sit throught a lecture on they way pigs are held or chickens.

  45. HvP

    There is a very simple solution.

    I stopped collecting music about eight years ago, and this year decided that I am content with my film collection as is. I don’t subscribe to cable or satellite television and am quite content to DVR free broadcast television only, which I can then watch on my own terms whenever I like.

    I rediscovered my local library and have had a lot of fun checking out books and movies from there for free with the knowledge that I don’t have to stick it on my shelf to enjoy them again later. The very existence of libraries is tacit admission that the free availability of a culture’s media is in the culture’s best interests.

    I simply made the obvious realization that films and television shows are unnecessary luxuries that I don’t have to consume. My garden is looking a lot better for it too.

  46. Gary Ansorge

    If you ever have a conversation with these types of people(in the movie/music industry) crying how they’re all going bankrupt, just remember to ask them how those fraking DeadHeads managed to stay afloat and buy so much property in Northern Calif by giving away the right to record their live concerts and freely distribute them to friends,,,over a 30 year career, the Dead made billions and most of it came from their concerts, not their records,,,

    I have little sympathy for producers and record execs. They keep promoting movies, books and music that are essentially crap and when they stumble over a really GOOD story(like George Martins Fire and Ice series), they won’t make it available on the ‘net, so the only way to stay current with viewing is to, well, you know,,,

    Gary 7

  47. Nigel Depledge

    Derek (43) said:

    @19, Nigel – You know how I know you didn’t actually read my post? Yeah.

    Hey, Derek, you know how what you wrote in #4 was just plain old wrong? And that I disagreed with it? Or maybe you didn’t actually say what you thought you were saying. Either way, I did read your comment, and it is still wrong.

    The individual stats might be correct, but the point you were making is wrong – there is absolutely no way to equate amount of piracy to lost sales. It is not even justifiable to assume that a small proportion of pirated copies represent lost sales – there is simply no way to confirm or support such an assumption. I agree that some proportion of piracy does cause a loss of sales, it is impossible to know if this is 100%, 10%, 1% or 0.1%. Therefore, any assumption about the amount of lost sales caused by piracy is intrinsically wrong.

    And therefore, any argument based on a projection of lost sales caused by piracy is wrong.

  48. Nigel Depledge

    Derek (43) said:

    But if you’re not coming out just as strongly against the pirates themselves, then you cannot claim the moral high ground in this debate.

    Wrong.

    Breach of copyright is – in most instances – a pretty trivial offence. Someone who downloads a thousand movies for nothing is indeed a criminal and should be treated as such, but to say that someone who has – for instance – downloaded 3 movies for nothing should be treated as a thief is simply unrealistic. Sure, technically they are committing a crime, but it is such a trivial one as to be not worth pursuing.

    OTOH, SOPA and PIPA would treat everyone as criminals, and would hand over some pretty basic freedoms to the control of big corporations motivated by profit.

    That’s a huge deal.

    I’d love to see you shut down the blog for a day to protest internet piracy, or dedicate a blog post to the idea that, regardless of your view on the industry response, getting a service without paying for it is *stealing.*

    You haven’t read many of the comments, have you?

    Or maybe you just have not understood them.

    And in the industries in question, it is a an endemic problem that is rampant, harmful, and immoral. But unfortunately, I doubt you have the courage (or the moral integrity) to publically take either of those actions. Few people do these days.

    Actually, no-one has demonstrated that piracy is harmful as is claimed.

    And many people have pointed out that pirated music, movies and so on act as free advertising for other products from the same source.

    And, as has been pointed out several times (in this thread and preceding ones on the same topic), if it is easy and reasonable to get the product legitimately (as in, for example, the many sites that offer music downloads at perhaps a handful of cents per track), then most people will do so. Piracy only has a big market when the “legitimate” source is poor value for money.

    People want to believe that they’re not harming anyone when they engage in piracy, but every reasonable person who gets involved in this discussion eventually has to admit that such is not the case.

    Rubbish!

    It’s up to those who claim that harm ensues to demonstrate that this is truly the case. You have tried, and failed because your argument assumes that pirated copies represent lost sales, and this is an unjustifiable assumption.

    As has been pointed out several times.

    I’ve had this conversation enough times to know, and there’s a reason why the court cases end the way they do.

    Yes.

    Ironically, Metallica said it best, in . . . And Justice for All:
    Halls of Justice painted green / Money talking,

    The plain facts were laid out pretty clearly in my first post, and aren’t going to change, no matter how much raging and gnashing of teeth goes in this thread.

    And the argument you made in your first post isn’t going to become any less wrong for you reiterating any of it.

    You can never justify the claim that x million pirated copies of something equates to y million dollars of lost sales. Because some significant but unknowable proportion of pirated copies would never have been paid for if a pirated copy was not available, your figures could be off by several orders of magnitude and you have no way of finding out.

  49. MaDeR

    “it is a an endemic problem that is rampant, harmful, and immoral.”
    Oh really. Newflash for you: law is as strong as people and morality is from people first, for people second. No one like being victim of robbery or getting murdered – including robbers and murderers themself. So these laws are to stay.
    With piracy, or rather some forms of it situation is different. Not only people download, but upload (for example, torrents). Many content creators does same thing, releasing for free what they created.

    I basically am in position of depenalising piracy, provided you do not make money on it. It would be in practice confirmation of current state of affair anyway. Rampant indeed.

    Meanwhile, media industry instead of wenting bankrupt decades ago with quintilion $ losses (shame, it would be good riddance), make higher and higher profits each year. Damn pirates, so harmful!

  50. SVRwrks

    I’m a writer and you’d think I’d be in favor of anything that supports copyright, but copyright laws as they are do not foster creative work that benefits either its creators or its consumers or our culture. It suffocates it.

    It frustrates the people who are more than willing to pay for what I produce. It doesn’t stop the people who would have stolen it anyway and most of the money involved doesn’t support me or my labor, but the distributor. It limits the creative options of my fellow authors who might be inspired by my work to create something of their own.

    Just think of all the fiction and film (some good, some bad) created from using Shakespeare’s plays, fairy tales, or Dracula. It exists because those characters and works are public domain. And why the frak should my heirs get to profit from my labor seventy five years after I’m dead instead of doing their own damn work.

    DRM is doomed to failure. Highspeed internet allows a consumer to illegally download a show in less time than it takes to watch a single round of commercials, and they can get it without ads, and for free. When there is a legal avenue available in which they can do the same thing as fast, easy and without restriction, there is a portion of the population more than happy to pay for it. There’s a portion who will keep downloading illegally because they aren’t willing to pay and never intended to do so.

    If something is good I pay for it, because it’s of value to me and because it’s how I can show my support for a creative person’s work. I believe most of the things distributors are releasing are over valued, that is that I’m paying too much for them because it goes to support their ever increasing infrastructure. I’d be willing to pay more for the same product if more of that money went to its creator. Crowd funding is making that option an attractive one for a lot of content creators and consumers.

    Copyright was supposed to be a way to ensure an economy of ideas, that creators could reap the benefits of their labor. Media conglomerates are the ones raking in record profits, not the creators. Copyright is broken.

    I believe in the economy of ideas. If my ideas are valuable, someone will pay me for them. Others will try to steal them. But you can’t steal something in the public domain. When it’s out there for others to make their own it becomes a part of the culture. It might not be a good way to get rich, but it’s a great way to make sure an idea is never forgotten.

  51. Nigel Depledge

    @ SVRWorks (50) –
    Well said.

  52. Nigel Depledge

    It has just occurred to me that there is an additional argument that has not yet been aired here, perhaps because it is tangential to the main point. But I still think it has relevance in the broader debate.

    When a work has a huge cultural influence, should its creator’s descendents be permitted to retain rights to its distribution?

    There are some works of fiction – Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, War of the Worlds, 1984, The Lord of the Rings, King Kong and dozens more – whose influence on our collective culture is so deep that these stories and the images they evoke or portray have become cornerstones of that culture. Should not these all be in the public domain (in terms of freedom to, for example, use them as templates for derivative works)?

    Why should a single person or a faceless corporation be permitted to retain control of the rights to works of such deep-seated influence?

  53. @Nigel:

    The reason is Mickey Mouse.

    Every couple years, Disney petitions congress to extend the copyright term.

  54. People who are against copyright protection apparently want to go back to the bad old days when the only way someone could afford to create works was to be rich or be employed by someone who was rich. Copyright allowed for the democratization of art.

  55. HvP

    Phillip Helbig didn’t notice that most people on here haven’t said that they are against any form of copyright protection.

    Most people are arguing that the current system STILL doesn’t benefit single artists of limited means but instead greatly benefits those who are – surprise surprise – already rich or employed by someone (or some corporation) who is already rich. Also, as it currently stands it allows the already rich corporations to control works of art long after the original artist has been dead for decades.

    None of that helps to “democratize art” as you put it.

  56. Matt B.

    @13 HvP,

    So wrong. the Constitution, Art. II, Sec. 8, says “authors and inventors”.

  57. khms said: “I remember an old SF story (or rather sequence of stories) where someone invented a machine that could copy ordinary matter … and the economy promptly collapsed.”
    I believe you might be talking about ‘Printcrime’, which was actually only published six years ago and was written by Cory Doctorow. You can buy a print copy from various physical bookstores, or download a free digital copy from manybooks. net, gutenberg. org, or craphound. com.

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