Wednesday, January 25, 2012

SOPA, PIPA, and "Breaking" Hollywood

I need to get something off my chest RE the SOPA/PIPA wrap up discussions.

Speaking as someone who works primarily in the entertainment industry, but also makes part of my living in the tech world, I need to ask a small favor of those crusading.

Can we stop using a two-faced argument to justify stealing? Please?

See, I just read the Pirate Bay’s pithy response to SOPA and the Wiki blackouts, and in the following days of discussion I’ve noticed two arguments rising to the top of most conversations.
1. Consumers want to consume media in the way THEY see fit, with no interference from the people who created it.
I completely agree. I think copyright and IP laws in this country are broken. I think Hollywood has done a horrible job of building customer relationships in an economy where consumers can create a lot of their own content. I think they’ve also done a tremendous disservice to their own industry by persecuting successful businesses which convert non-paying customers into paying customers (Netflix, Hulu, etc).

However, point one is often (and sometimes immediately) followed up with this next argument.
2. And the content Hollywood/Music Industry/Mega-Game Publishers produce isn’t something I’d pay for anyway.
Ok guys and gals. Ya’ll need to stop THAT crap right now. We (in the tech community) can’t keep having it both ways. From now on we have to admit to ourselves that if it was worth looking up a torrent, waiting for the download, and transferring to a device to consume, then it was worth some exchange of funds. This is the way business works.

If it doesn’t look like something you would spend money on, then don’t consume it. There’s so much terrific content available, why would you spend any time, this precious commodity, wasting it on dredge, stuff that you’re going to pan or trash.

Interesting then that we often hear that second argument, but if I scout some of the more popular torrent sites, I don’t see garbage, I see really good, well made, popular media being shared. It smells a little like hypocrisy...

It’s not a victimless crime. Now I think it’d be great if parts of the current media system could be broken and rebuilt, but along the way consumers stand to be just as victimized from their own behavior as the companies they’re trying to disrupt.

The consumer's pain will be two fold.
First, expect to see even more (and more subtle) tech legislation being pushed and supported by people who should absolutely not be the gate keepers of tech innovation. It’s coming. We’ve already forgotten that a bill similar in scope to PIPA was presented last year. It’ll come again next year. Count on it.

Sadly, the second consumer hit will be atrophy. If media becomes a less sound investment, less media will be produced, or will be produced at a lower quality. Don’t believe me? We’ve already seen an extreme example of this scenario play out in the anime world, most recently watching Bandai shutter production. Who will replace them? Who will fill that void? I don’t see anyone rushing in to service that market, and there’s no grass roots or fan-made animation capable of recreating that experience. That entire production infrastructure is gone. Done.

There’s been a lot of chest-thumping and soap-boxing about how to break Hollywood. Neat. What replaces it?

If you want to reform Hollywood, you have to vote with your wallet. No way around it. Continue to consume their product without paying for it, and you’ll embolden them, convince them they need to work harder at halting innovation. If you don't put a buck (or four) in from time to time, then you have no actual voice in this fight.
Supporting services which disprove media company assertions (that media streaming, rentals, internet radio, et al aren’t profitable) is probably our strongest positive counter argument to the broken DVD and decaying theatrical markets. They’re easier than free, and more fair.

[Quick Tangent: And stop that “Netflix doesn’t have anything good” BS. Seriously. If you really can’t find anything good on Netflix, then you aren’t looking, like, at all. And STOP that “it’s hard to find stuff” BS too. What? Will I need to come to your home and chew your food for you? Learn how to use a search bar, and explore some films beyond those you just saw the poster for in a multi-plex. Waaahhh...]

I applaud those of you who contacted your elected officials over this issue.
I really feel SOPA/PIPA would’ve been destructive not only to the tech industry, but also to the same media industry it was designed to protect. I say keep the pressure on for future fights. Keep writing emails and letters, making phone calls, but let’s widen the net. Let’s start including company CEO’s, producers, directors. Let’s start contacting directors of photography and supervising sound editors. As it stands, I can't tell you the number of performers, producers, and directors I've spoken with who have been in the infuriating position of receiving fan mail from people who proudly state they acquired their work for free.

What if every time you watched a movie or listened to an album you really liked, you sent an email telling the people behind it that not only did you enjoy their work, but you also enjoyed the experience of consuming it legally, the way YOU wanted to listen to it. The way YOU wanted to watch it. What if all those people also got a message from you when the experience of purchasing was bad?

Grass roots can work both ways people.
I really don’t want to live in a world where all media is free. What would I watch?


  1. Can we stop using a two-faced argument to justify stealing? Please?
    Sure, as soon as you use the proper terms. It isn't stealing. Check your dictionary. Stealing removes the enjoyment of the original goods from the owner, and that is codified in the laws of Canada (which I know since I am Canadian) and I suspect the United States.

    And the content Hollywood/Music Industry/Mega-Game Publishers produce isn’t something I’d pay for anyway.
    Right. I don't pay for it, and I don't watch it. The last movie I went to see at the theater was Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.

    I don't watch much television. I'll watch Doctor Who, and I own all of the new Who on DVD (along with Torchwood). The rest of it isn't worth wasting my time on.

    What little that I do watch is Canadian or British produced. Hollywood has ruined itself.

    All the music I buy is from independent artists. If the artists don't believe in themselves, then why should I believe in them.

    All the books I buy are self published. If the writers don't believe in themselves, why should I believe in them?

    So what if Hollywood doesn't have the money to produce movies. Other people will come up with ways to produce stuff, and it will probably be better. From what I've seen there's little chance that it could be worse.


  2. Nope. Sorry Wayne. It is stealing. No way around it. I don't care what has been codified into law. I don't base my morality off of lawmakers. We can't keep using this argument that because I didn't take a physical object off a shelf it's not stealing. You USE a disc for the experience that was produced. You aren't paying for a piece of circular plastic, or wood pulp mashed into pages, you're paying for what's on that disc, what's in that book. I could not care less what is actually written into law, I would consider sneaking into a movie theater theft to the same degree. There's a price set for that experience, and if you feel entitled enough to circumvent it for your own benefit, then I have little respect for your arguments.
    It's why I try to avoid blanket discussions of piracy, as I still consider piracy an act for which someone takes IP then tries to financially profit from it's illegal distribution. Theft (or stealing) is the closest term I can find to deescribe the act of taking something, not paying for it, and using it for personal enjoyment, but not to profit from it.

    As to your last point of watching Hollywood burn, if it does, I hope you're right, but recreating the skilled labor and infrastructure of this town somewhere else isn't something I see as very likely in the near term.

  3. From what I'm seeing, no one is taking the stuff. It isn't worth it. I write articles about copyright on a regular basis. A lot of the "screamers" who claim their work is being "stolen" are dead wrong.

    I did some research on the Video "And Then Came Lola", because the producer has been screaming about how she has lost a fortune due to piracy.

    I went to the torrent sites. I went to the video streaming sites. I traded emails with her. I read the take down notices at chilling effects.

    From what I can tell, the movie wasn't pirated to any extent. The producer apparently wasted a ton of time chasing a Chimera. I haven't seen the movie, so I have no way to judge its quality, but it appears that the movie just wasn't popular.

    Shit happens. Sometimes no matter how hard you work, you just don't connect to the audience. Sometimes you do when you don't expect to. A friend of mine wrote what he thought was a total throw away song on a cross country flight. It became the most popular song he ever wrote.

    Hollywood's problem is that it expects the audience to watch whatever it produces, and it doesn't realize that there's more competition (video games, 120 TV channels, YouTube, independent producers, ebook readers, more people playing music than every) for people's leisure time. With all that competition, the number of people sitting down to watch movies is likely to drop, unless the movies are damned good.

    Problem is that 99.99% of what Hollywood produces is garbage.


  4. Wayne. The question of quality is irrelevant. It doesn't matter. Go to a bad concert, you probably wont be able to refund your ticket price.

    For every case where someone cries "piracy" and AREN'T actually affected by it, there's a case like Bandai where the industry is destroyed by it.

    None of what you're discussing (alternate forms of entertainment, single cases of torrenting not actually hurting a property, subjectively stating that everything this BILLIONS of dollars a year industry produces is garbage) in any way justifies taking the experience for free. Nothing.

    The competition arguments are just as in danger of theft as HWood is. Everything you've mentioned (games, books, tv) can be damaged by people acquiring it without paying for it. We've created an entitled mentality, that just because they can take something for free, they will.

    Here's what I don't get. You preach having legally consumed indie material, acquiring content how you want from who you want, and paying for it. So why are you trying to justify behavior which is less moral than what you actually do when you pay for entertainment?

  5. This "entitled mentality," as you put it, is a problem not only in the entertainment industry, but a growing one in our society as a whole. It's not that people are necessarily lazy, but increasing convenience is tempting indeed, and too many just don't see the need to avert it in order to choose a more inconvenient path.

    Now I won't skirt the issue and pretend that I haven't done my fair share of illegal downloading, primarily in music and anime. It was easy and could be done at the click of a button, so I did it.

    That having been said however, I've also shelves full of my own personal CD collection and dozens upon dozens of anime - all of which came out of my own wallet - to attest to my devotion as a fan to the industry, something which I take a renewed sense of pride in in these trying times.

    Having driven on both sides of the proverbial lane however, I believe I understand both sides of the issue here.

    When all is said and done however, I don't support piracy. And difficult though it would be, as I'm an admittedly selfish human being through and through, to accept the increasing hammer on online piracy, I believe it's in the best interest of an industry I care so very much about and don't wish to see suffer because of people who only seem to care about themselves.

    Now while I don't agree with the current forms of SOPA and PIPA, two forms of legislation that came from a government so obvious lacking in their understanding of the internet, more does need to be done to crack down on piracy; but it can't come from government alone.

    Real fans need to do more to speak out so that companies like Bandai don't suffer the same fate. If we don't, those hard-working people that brought so many of us fond memories and awesome releases won't be the only victims of this oncoming storm.

  6. Bandai? When I read the financial filings they seem to be doing fairly well, showing a 4.1% sales increase for the year ending March 2011. Their six months statement (Novemember) showed them likely to make another 4% gain (Christmas in North America and Europe) even with the Japanese Tsunami.

    If you want to simplified version, try Bloomberg.

    I'd love to see you come up with examples of how the "industry was destroyed by piracy" because every third party study I've seen has shown no net loss to that sort of piracy. The sort where someone burns off 10,000 copies of discs, yes. The sort where a major multinational rips off artists, yes (I suggest you read my Corporate Copyright Scofflaws Series for some details).

    I did some reading on Bandai. The general agreement seems to be that Bandai was providing junk, and it cost them as more than one writer has covered.

    I've never gone to a bad concert, but then I'm picky about concerts. I only go to ones with bands I like. I suspect that most people do the same.

    As to the competition, Paulo Coelho offers his books as free downloads from his website. He says it increases his sales. Baen Books has their and includes compact discs with all of their books with the hardcovers for some writers. I have half a dozen David Weber CDs here, with his books in pdf, lit, epub, txt, lrf, and other formats. The only restriction that comes with the cd is that you can't sell it. They are perfectly happy if you put it on the Pirate Bay.

    Director Hanna Skold released her movie Nasty Old People on The Pirate Bay. Hanna considers the experiment a success, she's made a decent profit.

    Nina Paley released her movie Sita Sings the Blues under a Creative Commons Share Alike license. Nina has also made a profit.

    The beautiful and talented Taunya Gren wrote, directed, and produced Raising Kayn. You can buy DVDs from her, or watch it on YouTube.

    These people aren't worried about the damage, because there isn't any. What they are getting is free advertising, which is bringing in more paying customers. This is simple stuff that any first year MBA student can understand.

    They'd be fools not to take advantage of the fantastic leverage that the net gives them. This is what the large companies (RIAA/MPAA/IFPI/SOCAN/CRIA) are terrified of. The internet has leveled the playing field. You no longer need millions of dollars worth of advertising to gain a following, you just need talent, hard work, and a half decent personality.

    As to Ryan,

    It's the large Media companies that have the entitlement mentality. They are like the railroads, who tried to have intercity truck lines banned, so that they wouldn't have to compete with them. After all, why compete when you can legislate?

    As to the "increasing hammer of online piracy", did you know that music piracy dropped in Sweden when an online streaming service became available? Makes you wonder why the record companies haven't developed one in North America.

    Piracy (which term for unauthorized copying btw was invented over a hundred years before Copyright was invented, I kid you not) is simply an indication of an unmet need.


  7. Allow me to see if I understand this. You're saying that piracy is merely the result of the masses' needs being unsatisfied?

    You can justify it anyway you like, but the fact that piracy in and of itself exists is the result of a wanted product being taken without appropriate compensation.

    That having been said however, whether by unfortunate circumstance or their own lack of vision, some fault may indeed lie with the industry for not having gotten their game up to par in time. However, personal responsibility still lies with consumers who sought to take what they wanted and gave little to no consideration to focusing that desire and using it to help advance the industry - an action that would not only satisfy them, but so many of their fellow fans as well.

    And let's be clear, both the masses and the large media companies can be said to be guilty of an entitlement mentality.

    Consumers feel the unquenchable need to feel soul satisfying entertainment from the industry to the point of piracy, and the industry in turns feel entitled to be rewarded for their hard work with their consumers' acknowledgement, and by extension their devotion and money.

    Neither is exclusive of this, but a failure on both their parts can be said to have created this proverbial rift in trust that now threatens us.

  8. Diane Duanne, the fantasy and science fiction writer holds the rights to her books outside of North America. She decided to re-issue a bunch of them, complete with brand new edits.

    So she spent time editing the books, fixing errors (the originals had been done on typewriter), and making them as perfect as she could.

    The re-issue went wonderfully outside of North America. Her North American publisher refused to even consider using the new edits, and only changed course when a prolonged fan campaign made it clear that her fans wanted the new. Tell me what sort of idiots would turn down free work?


    Terry Pratchett's latest book, Snuff, was delivered to the publisher in electronic format. The ebook was so filled with errors that a lot of people believe that it was made from a scan of the physical book.


    Everyone who gives stuff away makes more money. How is that a failure?


    How is copying a CD to your iPod taking something that isn't yours. You've already paid for it. How is copying a DVD to your computer taking something that isn't yours. You've already paid for it. The compensation has already been paid.


    Every third party study that has been done has shown no correlation between file sharing and lost sales. Several have shown correlations between file sharing and increased sales.

    So you are trying to tell me you would like to see sales decrease?


  9. Allow me to be perfectly frank with you, Wayne. I haven't for a moment thought that you weren't an intelligent guy, but you have continually skirted the issue and tried to justify piracy however you could.

    Well, that's what you have done up 'till now. Now you're just trying to change the focus of our entire argument, and it's not gonna happen.

    Yes, writers and many others, voice actors included, utilize free product as an effective and even profitable marketing strategy. As an aspiring VA myself and as one who has been to my fair share of marketing seminars, I can say with certainty it's a strategy that I'll use myself someday.

    Yet, what point does that have with respect to the larger issue of piracy?

    ...And this whole issue of file sharing? ...Seriously, guy? Did you honestly expect me to look over that "copying a CD to your iPod" nonsense and take it seriously for even a minute?

    Allow me to be clear. I won't entertain even the suggestion that fans who spend their hard-earned money to buy what they want as being in the same class as one who only takes it. I'm honestly surprised you would even attempt to bring such a thing up.

    You're pulling the same nonsense that you did with SAG, only now you're dragging in issues that have little to nothing to do with piracy anyway. That you've done this proves to me you've nothing left that would prove a formidable argument, and so this discussion is over.

    Nothing justifies the act of piracy and merely taking what one wants without any compensation in return. Absolutely nothing.