MPAA crackdown

If you were in college when Napster reigned supreme (like I was), then you’ve been right in the middle of one of the hottest debates in recent history: copyright protection.

I think we’re going to see major changes in US copyright law in the next decade. It started on college campuses, where almost every dorm room comes equipped with high-speed internet acces. Now that DSL and cable internet service is getting cheaper and becoming more prevalent, the debate is spreading to the world.

Our main problem is that the current law has not kept up with the times. Content-creator’s ideas about copyright (record labels and movie studios) don’t gel with current societal attitudes.

I’m not talking about the attitudes that downloading copyrighted music or movies you haven’t paid for is wrong. It is. Plain and simple, and I have yet to hear a convincing argument otherwise. I’m talking about what happens to movies or music AFTER you pay for it.

Movies and music don’t *exist*, per say, like a clock or a book you might buy in the store. They’re basically a form of stored information. When you buy the 12-disc set of Titanic, you’re not buying the rights to that movie. That belongs to James Cameron and his crew. You are buying the right to watch that video as many times as you want in the comfort of your own home. A copy of the movie is included for free to allow you to do that.

At least, that’s the way I see it. But the studios don’t see it that way. Many are claiming that the actual, physical disk is what you are paying for. That means that, if your disc shatters in the DVD player or your kid takes his crayons to the data side, then your only recourse is to buy another disc. They say you shouldn’t be allowed to make a backup of your that disc you own. It’s hard to tell if they really believe fair-use copies should be illegal or if they are just afraid that fair-use copies will get distributed for free (or sold) if they allow you to make them at all.

This is where I disagree. In a perfect world, we would pay $19.99 for a DVD that cost about $1.00 to make. The other $18.99 goes to pay the producers, actors, marketers and distributors, and rightfully so. Then, if your disc goes bad, you can either use your backup copy, or you can pay $2.00 plus shipping to get a fresh copy of the DVD you already bought. I mean, if your DVD gets trashed, who wants to use a silver-blue disc with “Titanic” written on it with magic marker for the rest of their life? Don’t you think this system makes sense?

It’s basically the whole MP3 argument all over again. Should I have to pay for multiple formats? If I want a CD to play in my CD player, a cassette tape for my old car, and an MP3 for my iPod when I’m jogging, should I have to buy the same music *three times* just to get it in different formats? The studios say you should, and they’re taking pains to make it difficult to rip CDs you already paid good money for. Personally, I think it’s unreasonable, especially considering that inexpensive consumer equipment can do it for free.

Let’s go one step further: If I don’t have the equipment to rip my Britney Spears CD, couldn’t I just download those same songs from someone else who owns the CD? I already paid for the music. It’s the same information, just in a different format. The original MP3.COM website had a unique answer to this. They had a program that asked you to insert a CD you already owned. Once they verified that you did, indeed, own a store-bought copy of Britney Spears, they made all the music from that album available to you for free from their website. So, instead of having to cart your CDs around everywhere, you could listen to your music from your computer at work, the internet cafe, school, or home.

You might be interested in this “website”:http://www.lokitorrent.com. “Bittorent”:http://bittorrent.com/ is the new Napster, with a twist. Without getting into too many technical details, LokiTorrent and other websites (like Suprnova.com, also now dead) had basically been providing links to movies you could download from other computers in peer-to-peer (P2P) fashion. After the MPAA shut them down, they put up this ominous piece of propaganda which sums up their opinion in a nutshell. Check it out.

And, to be honest, it tells the truth. I really believe most people who are sharing movies and music files on P2P systems have not paid for them. They should be stopped. But it raises the interesting question: Where do you legally draw the line with a technology that has many *legitimate* uses as well?

Don’t forget these same companies championed against the VCR decades ago and lost. Now, it’s introduced a whole new revenue stream. Movie studios now count on the money they make in rentals and sales to make up for poor theatrical performance. “iTunes”:http://www.itunes.com is showing that real money can be made from legal music downloads. As the laws evolve to reflect reality, the movie industry must learn to embrace this technology the same way they eventually embraced VCRs. The challenge is to find a business model that both brings in the dollars and gives the consumers what they are obviously crying for. Then they’ll be one step closer to that truly perfect world.

Of course, in a truly perfect world, all DVDs would be $4.99 apiece…

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