Linux and Free/Open Source software are entirely dependent on
copyrights, and some FOSS fans get pretty righteous on the subject,
especially for GPL violations. And yet when it comes to music,
movies, and books some think the same respect for copyrights
doesn't apply, and it's OK to collect copies of works without
paying for them. We can hardly criticize the RIAA, MPAA, ASCAP,
Sony BMG, and all the other hostile, clueless over-reaching forces
of darkness without having clean hands ourselves.
Some of the excuses for stealing copyrighted materials are:
1. It's not really stealing, it's multiplying.
2. It's free publicity and leads to more sales.
3. They're all rich evil jerks who deserve the worst.
I long ago gave up trying to understand the finer points of
copyright law because it's a corrupt mess, and the RIAA et all
don't pay attention to it anyway, but rely on bullying,
intimidation, and abuse of the courts to achieve their ends. What
are their goals? It's hard to say; to me it looks like a
combination of lawyers justifying their salaries, and executives
getting off on being evil. I'm convinced it has nothing to do with
sound business decisions, I think it's just plain fun for them. Woa
look at me, big man in a suit beating up children, dead people, and
anyone who ever dared to hum in the shower without giving me money!
It's moronic and self-defeating, and yet the less effective their
bullying is the harder they try. Makes me wonder if there is a Darl
Courtney Love Does the Math, Frank Zappa Sees the Future
Love gave a great talk on piracy way back in 2000 to the
Digital Hollywood online entertainment conference. She sets the
tone of her talk right at the start:
"Today I want to talk about piracy and music. What is
piracy? Piracy is the act of stealing an artist's work without any
intention of paying for it. I'm not talking about Napster-type
It is worth reading the whole speech. Ms. Love was ahead of her
time in grasping the core issues.
I'm talking about major label recording contracts."
So was Frank Zappa, who way back in
1983 proposed online music distribution:
"MUSIC CONSUMERS LIKE TO CONSUME MUSIC . . . NOT PIECES
OF VINYL WRAPPED IN PIECES OF CARDBOARD.
"...The consumer has the option of subscribing to one or more
Interest Categories, charged at a monthly rate, without regard for
the quantity of music he or she decides to tape.
"Providing material in such quantity at a reduced cost could
actually diminish the desire to duplicate and store it, since it
would be available any time day or night."
No duh! We old people from the vinyl LP era had a habit of
playing our LPs only once-- to copy them to a high-quality cassette
tape. LPs are prone to damage and not very portable, and
cheaped-down to the minimum thickness. Commercially-recorded
cassettes were garbage. Compare an LP from the 1970s to one from
the 1950s-- the older one is thicker and heavier.
We also liked to make custom mix tapes and swap them with
friends because commercial radio was garbage. If you didn't have
access to a good college or independent radio station, lots of luck
discovering interesting new artists. Home-made custom mix cassette
tapes are credited with spreading Western pop and rock music in
Eastern bloc countries back in the day.
So why am I now being all righteous and calling copying
Before Disney and Sonny Bono, copyright law was reasonable. Rights
holders were granted a limited monopoly of 7
years, plus 7 14 years, plus 14 more if they chose to renew,
and then their works passed into the public domain. This had many
advantages: Creators had a chance at making a living from their
works. It gave an escape hatch to creators who signed bad
contracts. It prevented orphaned works. It enriched the common
culture. Now we have this crazy complex retroactive
system of virtually-forever copyrights, perpetrated by
corporate interests to protect what they ripped off in the first
I don't see anything wrong with liberal personal use, like
making multiple copies for different personal devices and in
different formats, or making mashups for fun, or other
non-commercial adaptations. One of the big problems with the
current copyright enforcement insanity is it tramples personal use
and invades our homes.
Just like back in the days of sharing mix tapes, modern
file-sharing can be an effective form of promotion. I think that
any kind of sharing that leads to more income for artists is
somewhat justifiable, though this is an over-used excuse for
copying and never paying. You and I both know freeloaders who have
gigabytes of music, movies, and books they never paid a cent
Staying focused on one simple principle clears away any confusion:
creative artists have a right to be paid. If we enjoy a piece of
recorded music, a book, drawing, photo, movie, and the condition of
owning a copy of that work is paying for it, then not paying for it
is stealing. Legally it is copyright infringement, but I call it
stealing, just like shoplifting or any petty theft. Because the
person with the free copy is getting the benefit of it but the
artist gets nothing. I know that the entertainment and publishing
industries have a long and dirty history of ripping off artists--
two wrongs don't make a right. We are not entitled to enjoy the
fruits of other people's labors and talents simply because it is so
very easy to copy and distribute it for free; that's theft, it's
freeloading, and it's morally repugnant.
One of more repugnant entitlement attitudes that keeps getting
parroted is "Give away your recordings and make money doing live
performances." That is selfish and utterly clueless. First of all,
a music CD or download is an incredible bargain for both the
customer and the artist. We buy a recording for a few dollars, and
then we get to enjoy the talent and hard work of our favorite
performers whenever and wherever we want. We don't have to wait for
them to come give a live show, and then pay a lot more money for a
lot more hassle, and sometimes less enjoyment. They get to create a
good, pleasing recording under controlled conditions and then share
it with as many fans as want it.
Giving live performances is expensive and exhausting, and it
limits the audience to whoever can physically attend and fit into
the venue. I just can't fathom the mentality that sees something as
wonderful as a music recording as something they have a right to
possess for free. I suppose authors should give away books and then
charge to give live readings, and I don't know what moviemakers
should do-- stage plays? Photographers-- slide shows? Get real.
This attitude of entitlement at the expense of creators and artists
is exactly what fuels the abuses of the entertainment industry. The
ability of any rights holder to make a little money from recordings
or books is already very limited-- they only get a cut of the first
sale. Subsequent re-sales in the used market don't make them a
cent. (The second-hand market has long been a useful promotional
venue and alternative for people who can't afford new works.)
We've been spoiled by decades of advertiser-subsidized
entertainment. We're not really getting TV and radio for free, we
pay every day in torrents of shlock crowding out works of genuine
artistry, creativity, and value. The advertiser-supported model is
by its nature corrupting, and it taints whatever it touches. Isn't
it crystal-clear by now that this is the path to destruction? We
get what they want to serve, which is only tools to sell crud, and
boy howdy what crud it is. 95% of it could vanish tomorrow, with
two immediate consequences: fewer yard sales, and garages with
enough room to park cars in.
Internet distribution makes it possible, finally, for us to
directly support our favorite artists and creators, to cut out the
vast herds of parasites that come between us and creative artists,
and to easily discover all kinds of great new stuff. Courtney Love
"Maybe each fan will spend less money, but maybe each
artist will have a better chance of making a living. Maybe our
culture will get more interesting than the one currently owned by
For gosh sakes, isn't this wonderful enough all by itself? Why
wreck it with freeloading?