Skip to comments.Digital Communism
Posted on 05/06/2003 12:28:28 PM PDT by traditionalist
Internet file-trading tools, a California court handed a major victory to communism. The Internet allows the well-wired to take copyrighted material freely. Left unchecked, rampant copyright theft may soon destroy the for-profit production of movies, music and books and may usher in an age of digital communism.
Technology will soon increase the ease of copyright theft because as broadband access proliferates, more people will be able to download pirated movies and music quickly. Currently, authors are safe from Internet piracy because most book readers still prefer printed words to electronic text. We may soon, however, see electronic paper that is as easy to read as printed pulp. How much money would Tom Clancy be able to make when readers can download all his books freely in under a second? Can you imagine college students paying $75 for a textbook they could download for free?
The best hope to stop copyright piracy lies in stopping the distribution of peer-to-peer networks that facilitate such theft. By holding that these networks have no liability for inappropriate use of their tools the California court has reduced the value of digital property rights.
Some have claimed that Internet piracy simply represents another form of competition and all copyright holders need do to compete successfully is to lower prices. But a central tenant of economics holds that if multiple firms sell identical products, consumers will patronize the lowest price provider. If pirates give away their product for free, content providers can compete only by also charging nothing.
The ability to exclude is the essence of property rights. If I "own" land but anyone can trespass I don't really have any property rights. Similarly, if I own a movie, but anyone can freely watch it, my rights have disappeared.
Is it necessarily bad if piracy destroys intellectual property rights? After all, when everything is free we can live out Karl Marx's dream and have everyone take according to his needs.
The twentieth century witnessed a brutal competition between communism and capitalism. Communists believe that people can be motivated to work for the common good, while capitalists believe that profit provides the best catalyst for economic production. Capitalism, of course, triumphed mainly because of its superior economic performance. By decimating profits for content producers, peer-to-peer piracy may give us a communist system of intellectual-property production.
I imagine that few would invest in a factory in the Congo. Because of political strife, property rights in the Congo aren't respected, so it would be nearly impossible to profit from building a factory in the Congo since once it was built, armed men would come and steal the equipment. Businesspeople only make investments they can profit from.
Copyright holders were able to sue Napster into submission, but Napster had a centralized database that was easy to locate and destroy. New forms of Internet piracy, however, rely upon peer-to-peer networks where users download material directly from each other's hard drives. Since it would be impractical for content providers to sue millions of Internet users, to protect digital-capitalism copyright holders must be able to stop the proliferation of piracy tools.
Some might argue that copyright holders should fend for themselves in the marketplace. Imagine, however, the fate of stores if there were no effective laws against shoplifting: Theft would drive them to bankruptcy. True, copyright holders can somewhat protect themselves by imbedding copy protection technology in their products. A movie, for example, could contain a code allowing it to be played only on your hardware. Imbedded copy-protection technology is foiled, however, if even one user creates and disseminates a clean and playable copy. Furthermore, imbedded copy protection can never protect e-books since you can create a copyable e-book merely by scanning the text of a physical book.
Of course, copyright holders could still find a few ways to profit in a world of rampant piracy. Movies could be financed by the sale of action figures and musicians could profit from concerts. It's difficult to see how authors could profit, however, except, perhaps, by begging for tips.
No, what copyright "theft" will do is make mass-marketing of books, music, and movies unprofitable, and that's a good thing. Mass-marketed culture of any sort is usually junk. Remove the profitablity of mass culture, and the production of books, music, and movies will again be dominated by those motivated by their love of the art, not profit. Pursuit of profit never motivated any of the great art, music, drama, or literature produced in the West.
True culture is seldom profitable.
Essentially, musicians, filmmakers and writers are asking for the government to create artificial barriers in order to ensure their profit margins.
Historically, musicians and actors got paid for live performance. Writers were paid for readings and recitals, or for teaching.
For a short period of time, they devised a way to sell discrete copies of their work for profit - essentially allowing them to perform by proxy.
They were able to do this because it was impossible to make copies without large capital investments.
Now capitalism has taken its inevitable course: the process of making copies of musical performances and books has been made vastly more efficient.
The arbitrage these performers enjoyed for the past few decades will no longer be available.
The question is: how much time and money are going to be wasted in the futile effort to turn back the hands of time?
While I am sympathetic to copyright holders, I shudder at this line of reasoning because it is the exact same argument that organizations like HCI (sorry, Brady Campaign) use in current litigation against gun makers.
Dante didn't write The Divine Comedy for the royalties.
Shakespeare didn't write his plays for residuals: he wrote them for performances.
There is not one valuable, enduring piece of art or literature out there which was made or written for material profit.
Even those like Bach and Michelangelo, who worked on commission, never expected wealth from their chosen professions - their patrons basically supplied them with enough money to buy them equipment and materials and to feed them and their families while they worked.
This is just history repeating itself, this time at a hyper-speed, hyper-global methodology. No matter what happens it will benefit mankind by the free exchange of information until the folks learn to have proprietary encryption ware designed specifically for each product, changing from one invoice to the next, tailored specifically for their company....that is the answer, but hey life is to short to worry about people who can't see around corners.
Today Hollywood, having bought out the rights of artists for a pittance, demands that the term of copyright be extended unto the heat death of the universe, and that the RIAA be allowed to have people flogged for humming. How else to generate the cash that keeps the Democratic Party going, after all? Small wonder that consumers have revolted and are going to considerable lengths to set up clandestine file-trading systems.
Not even close.
Nonsense. Total nonsense. Many great books, plays, dramas and musical pieces have been made by people trying to sell them. More than can be counted.
Total nonsense. Your opinion is just that, your opinion. The idea that there have been no good books written for profit is beyond absurd.
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