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Wednesday, 30 March 2005
Thievery
I understand why movie and music producers are so upset about copyright infringement and the spread of the peer-to-peer (P2P) networks that "share" their materials online. It would be frustrating to know that the artworks you spent so much money and talent on were being traded freely by Internet users all over the world ---and with no compensation to you.

This issue has now gone before the Supreme Court, and I would predict an unfavorable outcome for the whole P2P phenomenon. One reason is the weak argument that Hollywood once shunned the VCR, but now loves it. As USA Today observes:

In the past two decades, Hollywood has come to love the VCR. This little box, and its modern cousin, the DVD player, account for about half of the revenues of an average film.

But it is a romance born in conflict. Between 1976 and 1984, Hollywood warred with consumer electronics giant Sony Corp., arguing that it and other makers of VCRs should be held liable when people tape movies and television shows. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Sony's favor by a single vote after Justice Sandra Day O'Connor switched sides. TV viewers have taped at will ever since.
But P2Ps are not like the VCR for the simple reason that the Internet is vastly more efficient at propagating pirated copies of music and movies. There's never been anything like this scale of making perfect copies of copyrighted entertainment (and digital copies at that, not progressively degraded analog ones) and doing so by the thousands. With very little effort and, so long as it's online, basically cost free.

The argument can be made that file-swapping is a catalyst to increased interest in otherwise obscure media. That may be artistically satisfying to the artist, but not financially. But I would guess that the great majority of Internet piracy involves what's hot and popular. And the way to rationalize thieving from who's hot and popular is to shrug and say "To hell with 'em. So we're taking food out of the mouths of their accountants' butlers' families. They've already got it made, so who cares?"

That may be. It's not like downloading a song from M.C. Hammer would be stealing anything that he himself didn't steal.


Posted by Toby Petzold at 11:41 AM CST | Post Comment | Permalink

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