Sunday, October 30, 2005

Read this and I'll SUE! (Not really)

I need to begin today with a short history lesson.

Back in the 80’s a group of clever boffins invented the home VCR. There was much rejoicing.

However, the Entertainment Industry, and this is a technical term, shit a gold brick. According to them, home video was going to ruin the TV and Movie industry.

Their reasoning was simple. The TV folks said that people would stop watching TV in real time, and use the devil VCR to edit out advertisements. Less eyes on the ads meant less money, which meant no more TV shows.

The Movie people reasoned that once the power to copy movies was in the hands of the general public, no one would buy movies any more. They’d copy them.

This is a standard reaction. You see, when new ideas come along, the established people in that area crap themselves. It’s the two rules of having a lot of money. 1) You want more money, and 2) You want to hang on to the money you have.

Luckily, at this time, the movie studios and TV people were unable to do anything about it. The most that could be done was to make sure that everyone knew that copying copyrighted material was a crime. They didn’t have the power or influence to bury Video Tape.

However, an amazing thing happened. Rather than having the movie industry crumble around their ears, the Studios began to make truck loads of money. They were so short sighted that they didn’t realize that home video opened up a whole new market. Rather than spend a few dollars to see a movie, and that be the start and end of it, people could see a movie, and if they liked it, buy their own copy.

Yes, money was lost to piracy, but the money from Video sales more than covered it. Like losing a penny and finding a dollar. Think about this, look at your movie collection. Tally up what it’s worth. Multiply that by the population of your country, and you have a rough idea of how much extra cash the Entertainment Industry had raked in since VCR and DVD was released.

The same thing happened with DVD. DVD was delayed enormously (almost meatnormously), by the movie studios. Their reasoning was thus: Copied video tapes tended to be very poor quality. A fourth or fifth generation copy was almost unwatchable. Rather than give, say $5, to the shady guy on the street corner for a pirate copy of ET, people where willing to spend $10 on an original, professional and legal copy. DVD would change that.

The movie studios pointed out that a digital copy is identical to the original. Where analogue video tape copies get worse and worse the more you copy it, a 1000th generation digital DVD copy would be indistinguishable from the original.

The movie studios came up with a different tactic this time. If DVD recorders, capable of recording and copying just like a VCR, were released, they’d simply refuse to support them.

Basically, if no retail movies were released on DVD, very few people would buy DVD recorders, leading to the death of the format. After all, why would anyone spend up to $2000 on a DVD recorder, when their $40 VCR could do the same thing, albeit at lower quality, and you could buy movies for it?

This is the main reason why for the first few years of DVD, you could only buy DVD Players, and not DVD Recorders. This is also why dual layer DVD’s (that hold over 8gb), cost almost the same amount as a retail DVD movie. Basically, why go to the trouble of copying a DVD, when you’ll pay almost the same amount for the blank recordable DVD as you would for the original?

Basically, the Entertainment Industry said: “DVD Players, that can only play OUR movies are great. If they can do anything else, we’ll act like they don’t exist.”

However, DVD recorders were, in the end, released to the general public. The basic idea was that you can’t ban legal hardware, for what some people might choose to do with it. It would be like banning cars because they can be used for getaways, or banning phones because they can be used to plan crimes.

The responsibility was left with the Movie studios. If they didn’t want their movies copied, it was up to them to protect their discs.

However, this is happening again with the advent of High Definition DVD players and Blue Ray DVD players.

In essence, the movie studios are demanding control over the hardware that their property is being played on. Like a music group demanding that their music only be played on a certain type of CD player.

This time, they have a lot more control. You see, whereas up to now, this problem has come up with new technology, HD and Blue Ray is, in essence, a variant of existing technology.

Killing a superior format is nothing new. For example, the battle between VHS and Betamax video tape showed this. Betamax was, quite simply, the superior format, as it allowed over 8 hours of quality recording on BOTH sides of a tape. VHS is single-sided, and manages roughly 3 hours per tape.

A Betamax tape was better quality, and could hold over five times more than a VHS tape. This didn’t stop it from getting killed off, when certain media producers refused to support it.

The sad truth is this. You can come up with the most efficient, user friendly, cheap and high quality media player in the world. The Entertainment industry has the final say on whether it’s a success or not.

It’s a sad fact today that the Movie Studios have so much control, because it can only hurt us, the consumer. They have almost unprecedented control over the hardware we can have in our homes. Not only that, but they also have control over what we can and can’t do with the hardware we own.

You see, I own my DVD player. I own my computer. It belongs to ME. However, despite this, the Entertainment Industry has a huge say in what I can and can’t do with it. Just because a certain functionality CAN be used for illegal purposes, doesn’t mean it WILL, and should be removed because of it..

You see, it’s a common misunderstanding that when you buy music or a movie that you actually own the copy. (This is why you hear people complain that a DVD only costs about 30 cents to reproduce, but we get charged over $20). What you actually BUY is the license to view the movie. The actual copy is secondary.

For example, if I buy a movie, under the law, I can make as many copies as I like. It’s called ‘fair use’.

I’ve bought the license to view it, it doesn‘t matter if I view it on the original physical media I bought it on. It only becomes illegal if I sell or distribute the copies I make.

The Entertainment Industry’s stance is this: “Why would anyone copy a CD or DVD they already own? What’s the point? If people are copying our stuff, they’re pirating it, plain and simple.”

This, however, is bullshit. Legal copies can be made for numerous reasons. Making a backup in case the original vets destroyed. Making an extra copy of a CD to listen to in the car. Ripping all your DVD’s to a Hard-drive of a computer that’s hooked up to a full-size TV for convenience. Why hunt through your collection when a double click will put it on your screen?

However, the Studios are attempting to make this impossible to do. They’re trying to give us the idea that copying media is illegal, which it quite simply isn’t. Distribution of copyrighted material is illegal. Making a copy isn’t.

I take exception to this. I’m not saying ‘I want to copy copyrighted material, I want free stuff, so it should be legal‘, but these laws should be relaxed a little.

Over-zealous copy protection is hurting the medium. We lost a far superior form of VCR in the 80’s, and it’s highly likely that we’ll miss out on superior forms of DVD, because the studios decide that the new format is too easy to copy. Freedoms we’ve had for decades are being taken away. What happens when the Entertainment Industry decides we can’t tape stuff off the TV to watch later, unless we use a particular type of recorder that won’t make additional copies?

The saddest thing is that even freely distributable game demos are now turning up with copy protection. Some computers are refusing to play perfectly legal discs because the copy protection is so tight that computers are thinking that media is pirated, even when it isn’t.

The simplest way to state this case is that the Entertainment Industry does not have the legal right to enforce half of the things it does, but it gets away with it anyway, because it’s the biggest bully in the schoolyard. They have no legal right to stop you from making legal copies, but they do anyway. It’s play football by their rules, that make sure they always win, because they’re the ones who own the football.

The most unfortunate this is that this isn’t just for home DVD and CD players. Peer to Peer networks are also suffering. Napster, Kazaa, Bittorrent are suffering over it, due to the scramble to shut them down, or severely limit their functionality.

Bittorrent is an excellent tool. It allows bands and movie makers to distribute their own legal content very easily and cheaply. A great example of this is Pod casting (Internet Radio), and Internet ‘TV’ like Systm.

Rather than having to pay huge bandwidth and hosting charges, people can use their own audience to distribute their media. Right now, on my computer, I’m ‘seeding’ the entire run of ‘This Week in Tech’, and about half of the ‘Systm’ episodes. Both are legal, and I’m helping these shows that I like reach a larger audience, with no costs to the creators.

Basically, using Bittorrent to distribute files is like me printing a hardcopy of each of my blog posts, giving a copy to my friends, and telling them if they like it, to make a photocopy and give it to their friends. I’d get an exponential growth in my audience, and it wouldn’t cost me anything other that what it cost to produce the original.

This is another thing that the major mainstream studios don’t like, as it frees future movie, TV and Radio producers form the studio system. If I wanted to start a radio show or TV show, why should I be forced to go through a studio, give them a huge cut of any money I might make, while having to bring in advertising, which would in effect censor my show, when I can make it myself and distribute it for free?

Again, like DVD and VCR, Peer to Peer networks are being shut down because they can be used for illegal purposes. You don’t ban VCR’s because they can play copied tapes, or DVD players because they can show copied DVD’s.

Why close down a legal Peer to Peer network, because it can be used to distribute copyrighted files?

In the end, Movie studios and media producers don’t actually OWN your DVD player, VCR or computer, so why should they have so much control over what you can and can’t do with it?

It’s infringing on our own legal rights. By law, I can back up my own Movies and Music. I own the license to do so.

Let me reiterate this. If I buy a CD, I’m buying the license to listen to it. The actual CD, the media that the album is on, is secondary. If I’m legally allowed to buy a CD, then make a copy of it to put in my car, why is the entertainment industry allowed to put obstacles in my path to stop me from doing so?

Audio tape, the standard for decades had no copy protection, and it didn’t hurt the music industry. Why have things changed because the same music is now on a CD?

The absolute saddest thing is that this is a typical knee-jerk reaction. When Napster first hit the scene, it allowed many non-signed bands to develop an audience. During that time, CD sales actually ROSE, they didn’t fall.

This was because with Napster, you’d look for your favorite artists. You’d find another user, who also enjoyed the same type of music that you did, but they would also have MP3s from bands you’d never heard of, that you’d discover through Napster. If you liked them enough, you’d go out and buy the CD.

There’s the stone cold truth of it. Since Peer to Peer networks and the introduction of DVD, sales of movies and music have steadily increased.

However, facts and figures can be twisted. This summer saw a fall in DVD sales and Movie Box Office receipts. The Entertainment Industry is blaming this on piracy. I see it another way, this summer saw some of the worst movies in recorded history. This summer, few people went to the movie theatres or bought DVD’s, not because they had pirate copies, but because there was nothing worth watching.

Copyright laws are simply too extreme. For example, just by me writing this post and publishing it, it automatically becomes copyright for my lifetime, plus 70 years. I don’t even have the legal right to tell you that you’re free to download, copy, distribute or alter this post in any way. Even if I, the creator of this post, give you permission to do so, you’re still technically breaking copyright law if you copy this.

I’m going to end today with an open question to the Entertainment Industry:

Why are you doing this? You’re making it harder and harder for people to enjoy your products, and demanding that things that users like, that boost your business, be shut down and banned. Napster, before it became the pay-per-track system it is now, resulted in over a billion dollars in extra sales. Why do you think this is a bad thing?

In short, why do you enjoy pissing your consumers off, and why, with every new technology, must you be dragged kicking and screaming to the money tree?


MC Etcher said...

You didn't mention cassette tapes!

I remember a time when I had 200 cassettes copied from friends and only 50 store-bought ones. Most people were the same way, and somehow the music industry stayed afloat.

I think the real problem is not copies, but online-shared copies. At least with cassettes, copies are limited to your group of friends - online, thousands of people share.

In a world where labor is done increasingly by machines, all we'll have is art - and if art can't pay the bills, then what?

Especially since people don't need corporate record labels or book publishers any longer, with online distribution - you can't live off a contract, you'll have to live off of royalties.

All forms of creative media need to look ahead, think ahead, and design their products to benefit from online sharing, not resist it - because there's no way for them to fight it.

This might mean advertising is embedded in the content, or product placement. I'm fine with that.

Paulius said...

I don't really agree with your point about online shared copies.

You see, I'm not really a music 'buyer', I actually own only one or two CD's. The music industry isn't going to get my money, whether 'free' online downloads are available or not.

I know that sounds terrible. "I'm not going to buy it anyway, so I might as well get it for free." But here's my main point.

The few CD's I own, I own because I found a few good tracks on Napster, and liked them so much I bought the CD's.

Plus, I think people would be more willing to pay for online music if the price was more reasonable. A dollar a song is outrageous, when you consider that they're not having to spend any money to produce an actual CD.

Ten cents a song is much more reasonable, and the increase in the volume of sales would probably result in their profits going up, not down.

MC Etcher said...

.99 per download doesn't seem that extreme to me - and while they are not selling us a physical item, that does not mean they didn't have to pay for transportation, studio time, the producer, editing software, the band, electricity, the marketing, on and on.

jim said...

The big one, one that will cause major problems in the not too distant future, is not the fact that apple or napster charge 99 cents (in the uk it's more than double that btw, so 99 cents to us is a steal)but that so little goes to the artist, in fact ringtones generate more money and again the artist is paid peanuts for their hard work.

The record companies may well have been slow off the blocks to see the advantages of digital distribution, but they sure have made up for it now, and for so long they complained that downloads was killing music.

It is record companies greed thats killing music, record companies shortsightedness in always going for the safe option with "new" artists thats killing music and record companies who try to kill the sharing community and that same law breaking community spend MORE of their hard earned than someone using the legit download sites, thats whats killing music.

i must now go and have a lie down


Paulius said...

Yup, the other big point is that they're not actually selling you anything tangible.

Record companies will soon only have to pay for the recording costs, then put an MP3 on Napster.

About $4 for a CD single, which usually has a B side track, is fairly reasonable.

A dollar a song, which costs them nothing to reproduce? That's robbery, plain and simple.

My prediction is soon, they'll distribute songs over P2P network, using a tough DRM, meaning they won't even have to pay for hosting costs.