Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hollywood Helps Terrorism

In case you've missed it, an MPAA backed study has released findings that claim film piracy helps organized crime and even terrorism. This is released at the same time as the Rand Corporation (the folks who performed the study) and the MPAA and other media cartels have been trying their best to increase what is constituted as piracy, and forge stricter and harsher civil laws in relation to that. The MPAA and RIAA have long been irked at the concept of moving IP from one media to another (I'm talking about things like ripping songs from a cd to play on a digital device).

The following quote appears to be the few sentences most often qouted from the report, and I can see why. They distinctly tell you what the report writers are going for, in just a few words of mumbo-jumbo.
Moreover, three of the documented cases provide clear evidence that terrorist groups have used the proceeds of film piracy to finance their activities. While caution must be exercised in drawing broad conclusions from limited evidence, further investigation is a timely imperative. These cases, combined with established evidence for the broader category of counterfeiting-terrorism connections, are highly suggestive that intellectual-property theft — a low-risk, high-profit enterprise — is attractive not only to organized crime, but also to terrorists, particularly opportunistic members of local terrorist cells.
And they're right. IP theft as it is currently describe is low-risk. It's easy to rip a DVD.

But, I'm not so certain how "high-profit" I'd describe it.

Sure, there's a lot of potential profit to be made utilizing real-world media. The pirates down at the local flea-market who are selling pirated copies of the latest blockbusters for $10 the week after said movie's release, or a 5$ copy of the latest mass-produced, boy-band CD.

But that's not who the MPAA and the RIAA have been after when they say "piracy."

All to often, they have been after those individuals who have the temerity to share music or movies. Or worse, the poor old lady down the street who just happens to run an open wireless network which someone is routing through.

So, it's obvious tht one form of piracy is easily leading to the other. How to bypass it though? How to stop having Hollywood fund terrorism? Because let's face it, it's the simple fact that the media is controlled--and coupled with arcane, and evil DRM--which produces piracy.

Think, one can't pirate Moby Dick.

Sadly, the media-mafia has a plan, and it works along these lines:
  • Implement all the draconian measures of the PRO-IP Act (PL 110-403)
  • Utilize the Baucus-Hatch legislative improvements to the USTR's Special 301 process to meddle in the affairs of other sovergn nations
  • A Media/mafia friendly and consumer antagonistic Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)
  • Attach IP protections to global trade agreements
  • Use the G8 as a club to enforce IP concepts
  • Make a large, IP-centric organization, dedicated to suing IP users for copyright infringement--a global version of the MPAA or RIAA in other words
  • Force other sovering nations (focus on China, India and Russia) into generating additional laws to create more hurdles for the legal customers of IP
As can be evidenced by my take on those "enhancements" I think it's utter and pure tripe. It's hogwash. Poppycock.

Why?

Let's look at our own history for an example: The Prohibition.

What happened during this time? During the Prohibition, alcohol manufacturers in coutnries surrounding the United States flourished, as that alcohol flowed easily and often into the nation. The mafia quickly stepped into place, and soon there was a thriving black-market for the stuff, allowing the crime syndicates (including notorious gangster Al Capone) to flourish.

Here's a little secret, for years, my dad has hoped that the government would fully outlaw cigarettes. As then the mob would bring them in, and sell them for less than the current price of the things.

So, what's the secret here? Where's the point where these two concepts hook up? It's simple, the more something is regulated and structured and used to attack the consumers, the more the consumers will turn to illegal means to access it.

Another example is the computer game Spore. I, and thousands of other gamers, looked forward to this game for years upon years. Yet, when it was released, it had the most draconian version of DRM I had ever seen (I belive there's still a class-action lawsuit concerning it and a rootkit it installed over in California). So, what happened? Well, thousands of folks bought it, but it was still the most "pirated" game ever.

After all, the pirated version lacked the DRM measures. So a lot of people would buy the game, and then download the cracked version of the software so they didn't have to deal with the DRM.

Now, if we really want to stop Hollywood from helping terrorism, then we need to rip apart the current copyright scheme and put a better one into place. These would be my suggestions:
  1. Put any movie/book/song/etc that has not been physically distributed in the last 25-35 years (for corporate copyright holders) or the life-span of the author, artist (for copyrights owned by a person) into the public domain -- leaving things in perpetual copyright is BAD for culture as a whole, and public domaining these older works allows them to be used more easily in transformative works--which is a good thing
  2. Allow CHARACTERS to be copyrighted. For example, Mickey Mouse would be protected under Trademark laws, and Disney would retain the rights to him (as long as he was being used in their distribution channels), but the earliest animations featuring him (such as "Steamboat Willie") would enter the public domain
  3. Enforce DRM-free digital & physical distribution. Digital distribution begs to be free (I'm talking DRM-free, not necessariliy cost free). People want to use their copies in any way that they choose. Let them.
  4. Remove the "Making Available" clause of copyright enforcement. Just because something is up on BitTorrent does not mean that it came from it. Additionally, just because it's a torrent does not mean that it was distributed
That's for the government side. For the media-cartel sides, I suggest producing free, or cheap, electronic copies.

Consider, an ebook is $10 at Amazon, a bit under half the price of a Hard-Backed version of the book, AND a few dollars more than a mass-market paperback.

Yet, there is barely any distrubution costs, and even less production costs (we're talking just editing, formatting, and maybe a "cover" for a digital book)--that makes this a nearly a pure profit sink, and there is literally no reason that it needs to be that expensive.

They should, at most, be $5 for a new release from a recognizable author. Personally, I think a per-word pricing structure would work out ideally. Say old books (published 5+ years ago), go for a $0.02 per 1k words, new mid-tier or lower books, and top-tier (authors like Stephen King who gets a major premium and have good name recogintion) novels that have been out for 2-4 years go for $0.03 per 1k words, while new, top-tier books under 2 years old, go for $0.05 per 1k words.

But in the end it's simple, the MPAA by enforcing this draconian DRM schemes, and crazed copyright/licensing pyramids is producing the situation which makes what this report states to be true. Their actions are what allows piracy to flourish and be a high-profit sink.

So, yes, let's fix it. The first thing we can do is outlaw organizations like the MPAA.

One can read the full report here.

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