Reuters Media Columnist Explains That SOPA/PIPA Are A 'Cure Worse Than The Disease'

from the of-course-they-are dept

In the continuing mainstream news realization that SOPA and PIPA are dreadful bills that won't stop infringement, but will have massive negative consequences for the internet, we've got Reuters' (formerly Slate's) celebrated media columnist, Jack Shafer, explaining how "Hollywood's pirate cure is worse than the disease." If you've been following Techdirt for a while, there's nothing really new here, but it is a nice summary. I especially like the part where he responds to a Fox exec claiming that Hollywood's "mistake" was allowing people to call infringement "piracy" (no, really, Tom Rothman, co-CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment actually said that):
...resorting to this sort of hyperbole is just the Hollywood way of winning an argument. In 1982, Jack Valenti, then head of the movie business’s trade association, told Congress in 1982 that the VCR was “to the American film producer and the American public what the Boston Strangler is to the American woman at home alone.” The happy Hollywood ending to that copyright Armageddon? The VCR made the movie industry ridiculously wealthy by creating a new sales channel.

Pirates and the “intellectual-property defense industry” ([Adrian] Johns’s delightful phrase) have been clashing at least once a century since the end of the Middle Ages. Sometimes cultural changes spur the fight, as in the Enlightenment era when the first modern copyright and patent systems took hold, he writes. But leaps in technology drive the conflict, too, as the histories of inexpensive movable type, the piano roll, the Victrola, the VCR, the personal computer, and the Internet prove. The faster that technology moves, the more vicious the fight. In recent decades, the piracy debate has moved to those new industries that have persuaded the government to expand the IP rights to their plant seeds and genes. (And, yes, the agriculture and pharmaceutical industries have allied themselves with the entertainment complex in this current political battle.)
In the end, Shafer notes that even as he makes his living creating "intellectual property," he can't support such awful bills.
As someone who creates "intellectual property" (I shudder at the phrase) for a living and works for a huge company that owns slews of it, I have a vested interest in this fight. But SOPA or PIP would do excess damage to free speech, free association, free commerce, and innovation in the name of scuttling the Internet’s scurvy pirates. As the character Ramon Miguel “Mike” Vargas says in Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil, “A policeman’s job is only easy in a police state.”


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 8:37am

    How green of you, recycling old trash like this.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 8:48am

    Re:

    Four days is old? How old are you? Four?

     

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  3.  
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    Jeremy2020 (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 8:48am

    Re:

    So angry...afraid that even all the money you've spent won't be enough to censor speech?

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 8:53am

    From Wikipedia:

    "Shafer has written supportively of Libertarianism. He has written that "[t]raditionally, the state censors and marginalizes voices while private businesses tend to remain tolerant."[4] In 2000, he explained his political views as follows: "I agree with the Libertarian Party platform: much smaller government, much lower taxes, an end to income redistribution, repeal of the drug laws, fewer gun laws, a dismantled welfare state, an end to corporate subsidies, First Amendment absolutism, a scaled-back warfare state. (You get the idea.)"[5]"

    Basically, the guy is anti-government, pro-free speech no matter what. I am NOT shocked to see him voice this opinion, any more than I am that the sun comes up in the morning.

     

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  5.  
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    Lord Binky, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:07am

    A pirate by any other name would smell as sweat.

    Really though, it didn't matter what you called internet pirates, you have large group of people that gave a better connotation to what you called them, regardless of the denotation of it. They were going to have fun with whatever you called it whether they could romanticize it or not. It is fun to see how people focus on the most superficial parts of problems.

     

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  6.  
    icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:08am

    Re: The B

    "The bureaucracy is expanding to support the expanding bureaucracy."
    -Oscar Wilde
    I, for one, have trouble understanding how anybody in their right mind could possibly believe that more laws, more government, and more taxes is somehow a good thing.

     

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  7.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:08am

    Re:

    There is a difference between anti-government and anti-big-government.

    I can only assume you're also pro free speech because you commented anonymously.

    So..um.. What's your point again?

     

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  8.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:11am

    Re:

    I'm okay with the term "pirate", what annoys me is calling copyright infringement "theft".

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:11am

    Re: Re:

    The difference would be that I am not "pro-free speech no matter what". I don't think that the 1st amendment is a magic trump card that excuses illegal acts, as some here seem to think.

    His take seems to be "get the government and the laws out of my way", and that they are all just in his way of free speech.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:16am

    Re: Re:

    Call it what you want, there is nothing wrong with it.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:21am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "The difference would be that I am not "pro-free speech no matter what"."

    I don't think anyone is really "pro-free speech no matter what", for instance, yelling fire in a crowded theater when there was no fire would not constitute free speech.

    "I don't think that the 1st amendment is a magic trump card that excuses illegal acts"

    The first amendment is a law that prevents certain acts from becoming illegal, otherwise it can be illegal to simply express your opinion and hence the first amendment won't cover it.

    and no one here thinks that the first amendment excuses illegal acts, if someone murders someone the first amendment won't excuse that illegal act.

    However, I do think that perhaps IP infringement shouldn't be illegal, except perhaps in the case of trademark where one company is trying to fool consumers by impersonating another.

    By starting with the assumption that the law itself is somehow acceptable and claiming that stopping illegal activity is OK no matter the cost you fail to address the arguments being made.

     

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  12.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:25am

    Re: Re: Re:

    ..funny, I didn't see anyone here that claimed they were "free speech no matter what". Maybe you should spend some time discussing reality instead of the fantasy land in your head.

    I, too, want the government to get out of my way, but I don't consider myself anti-government. I am just pro freedom.

    Why do you hate freedom?

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    and laws should be a give and take, the public sacrifices their right to something because it benefits them.

    In the case of anti-murder laws the give is sacrificing your right to murder in return for protection from being murdered.

    In the case of copy protection laws, the give is sacrificing our right to freely copy as we please in return for allegedly having more content in the public domain. But, as the laws stand, we're not getting anything in return. We're sacrificing our rights in return for absolutely nothing because copy protection lengths last way way too long and they keep getting retroactively extended. So I don't blame anyone for breaking these rogue laws, while I don't encourage people to break them (and I even discourage them), I have no contempt for those who do. The government has no business further enforcing rogue laws, instead, they should fix them by substantially repealing them.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:50am

    “It’s really robbery — it’s theft — and that theft is being combined with consumer fraud,” he said. “Consumers are purchasing these goods, they’re sending their credit card information to these anonymous offshore companies, and they’re receiving defective goods.”


    Who is still convincing these execs that people are paying foreign countries(or anyone) for pirated goods and how much does it cost to get them to convince the execs that piracy is good for them and that they should give half their salary to charity?

     

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  15.  
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    Lord Binky, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:54am

    The core problem

    It always feels like the core problem the RIAA/MPAA has is that math does not recognize piracy.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:58am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Are you willing to die for your beliefs?
    I will die before anybody tries to take free speech from me.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    +2 points for the reversal

     

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  18.  
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    btr1701 (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 9:59am

    Re:

    > Basically, the guy is anti-government, pro-free
    > speech no matter what.

    Sounds good to me. Not sure where this idea came from that there's something wrong with you if you don't love the idea of government. Government is nothing but a necessary evil which should be tolerated to barest extent possible.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 10:12am

    Re:

    Here is the thing. Politicians and corporate executives could care less about you and they could care less about crime rates. That's just a bunch of political grandstanding. If politicians cared about crime rates they would require cell phone companies to deactivate stolen phones and if executives cared they would deactivate stolen phones without the government requiring it. Yet "Cell carriers can and do brick jail broken cell phones"

    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/11/12/03/2152210/an-easy-way-to-curb-smart-phone-thieves-in -australia

    "All three of Australia's phone companies began blocking service to stolen phones in 2003. The results have been dramatic.

    The mobile association found that phone thefts have dropped 25 percent since 2004. That's impressive, but especially when you consider that that the number of cell phones has increased from roughly 15 million to over 26 million in the same time period. In other words, there are 10 million more phones but 25 percent fewer thefts."

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/12/03/BAHO1M7J9U.DTL

    These are the sorts of laws I think we should have. but politicians do not care about crime rates in the U.S., the only thing they care about is corporate profits. They pass all these laws under the pretext that they're designed to reduce crime, etc... but it's all a lie. SOPA et al are designed to reduce competition.

     

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  20.  
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    The eejit (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 10:13am

    Re:

    Lawyers? They get paid to talk a lot,so in this area, the more they can convince people a business model issue is actually a legal one, the more money they can squeeze out.

     

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  21.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 10:27am

    Re:

    What are you implying about my hygiene?

     

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  22.  
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    Vidiot (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 10:27am

    That ol' Valenti line

    "In 1982, Jack Valenti, then head of the movie business’s trade association, told Congress in 1982 that the VCR was “to the American film producer and the American public what the Boston Strangler is to the American woman at home alone.”
    Every time I see this trotted out, I keep thinking that the REAL meaning is not that the Strangler (or VCR) poses an actual danger to the woman (film industry), but only gives her (it) a nasty scare. And an unwarranted one.

     

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  23.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 10:30am

    Re: The core problem

    Math recognizes piracy just fine. The problem is that the RIAA/MPAA have failed math.

    Piracy is just an expression used to describe a certain amount of risk. Just like a retail store must factor in a certain amount of shrink into its profit projections, a content creator must factor in a certain amount of piracy.

    The truth in the end that just as a retail store can factor in shrink and still make a profit, so can a content creator.

     

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  24.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 10:33am

    Re: Re: The core problem

    I should also add that in the case of retail, shrink does real and visible harm. When a product is physically stolen, the store no longer has it to sell. Thus it is an actual loss of revenue.

    With piracy, that is not the case.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 11:13am

    Re: Re: Re: The core problem

    in fairness, while there is no 3rd party (store) losing a physical product there is also no money going to the creator, so there is still a loss of revenue. While piracy does not have a lost sale ratio of 1:1 there are certainly some lost sales in there. Its a shame that the other side is always just trying to disprove the **AAs lies instead of being able to honestly evaluate the big questions involved.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 11:14am

    Re: That ol' Valenti line

    the boston cuddler?

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 11:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The core problem

    Not really there could be also a net gain.
    Your perceived loss could be no loss at all.

     

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  28.  
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    The eejit (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 11:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I would go on a homicidal rampage before I let my rights go to shit.

     

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  29.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 11:53am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The core problem

    While piracy does not have a lost sale ratio of 1:1 there are certainly some lost sales in there.

    I won't argue that, because you are right.

    But the inverse is also true. Piracy drives sales. While it is again not a 1:1 ratio, there are some gained sales there. It is a shame that the *AA side is so busy claiming otherwise that they can't see it.

     

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  30.  
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    The eejit (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 11:53am

    Re: Re:

    You run a tight ship with no clean water and wet fish as SOPA?

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 12:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "In the case of copy protection laws, the give is sacrificing our right to freely copy as we please in return for allegedly having more content in the public domain."

    No, that isn't the trade. That is the misrepresentation.

    The trade is "you give up the right to copy, and in return the people who make the content can afford to keep doing it and give you a constant stream of new movies, music, tv shows, and books". Oh yes, one day they will fall into the public domain - which is packed with a few thousand years worth of content going back in man's history.

    If you think it is a pure "don't copy, and we will put it in the public domain" then you failed the basic understanding of the deal.

     

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  32.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 12:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I think you missed the point, copyright is not welfare.

     

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  33.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 2:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    That is only one side of the original deal. The other side was the furtherance of education.

    "The trade is 'you give up the right to copy, and in return the people who make the content can afford to keep doing it and give you a constant stream of new movies, music, tv shows, and books'." But that being the case just how did people like Shakespeare, Bacon, Milton and host of others make money from their works in the pre-copyright days after the inexpensive movable type press spread in Europe. And most of them didn't have patrons. People created before and after the introduction of laws like copyright and patents laws. And humans, being human will continue to create should either disappear tomorrow.

    I happen to support the concept of copyright, though not for corporate welfare as very little that copyright protects goes back to the creator unless the creator is already a superstar retains their own copyright for book publishing. Hell, until the death of Micheal Jackson Paul McCartney and John Lennon's estate couldn't get their hands on Northern Songs copyright on their music, the stuff they wrote which, among other things meant that when MJ needed money he licensed Beatle's songs out for advertising until the advertiser suddenly discovered they weren't selling more by using it they were in fact selling less because of enraged Boomers and other Beatle's fans.

    And you totally ignore that book publishers, and members of the RIAA and MPAA move heaven and earth and more to AVOID paying the creative parts of their industries with near or completely fraudulent accounting and a host of other "charges" to the creative part so they get to keep the profits themselves. None of this is new but you "for the artists" bleaters keep ignoring that well known fact.

    And as the time things remain in copyright is, as noted, retroactively extended from time to time due the "we're broke" fibs from the above it seems that it may never end.

    "one day they will fall into the public domain - which is packed with a few thousand years worth of content going back in man's history." Maybe, but not if Hollywood can find new and more inventive ways of retelling those stories in the public domain with minor changers, perhaps sanitizing the ending thereby removing any lesson told to keep it happy and then, as Disney has been known to do threaten to sue anyone coming up with an adaptation of a story they've already adapted because "Disney owns the copyright now on Snow White, dammit!!" Or some record company records a minor variation on Messiah or some well known Opera and attempts to say not only do they own the variation they recorded but the title itself as Disney does.

    People will create because that's what people, and our species, does. Talented people will create by the shipload and find a way to get paid and supported for it as they did before copyright existed. Inventors will still invent as they did before patent law whose reason was to end things like trade secrets in exchange for a short monopoly on a thing not a lifetime pension for, say, the pharmaceutical industry or the creation of patent trolls a genus know as patent trolls who appear to have evolved in East Texas.

    Note the use of the word SHORT. Not lifetime, not forever, not perpetual but SHORT.

    It's hard to support either when the basic understanding of the idea has become so corrupted that the understanding is either no longer in place or one side has decided to ignore it's side of the deal.

    As in most law. more often in common law than criminal law, the citizenry also has the right to say that "we've had enough of this crap and corruption so here and now we withdraw our support for this law as both the purpose and understanding when we agreed to copyright and patent are no longer observed unilaterally by those who sold us on the purpose and understanding. So SHOVE IT!."

    I strongly suggest that that's what's happening now. Hollywood has overplayed its hand this time around and what was already there when Valente went on his Tour of Lies in the early day of VCRs has now become a chorus and that chorus of dissent and withdrawal on permission by the other side of the contract has become louder.

    Oh, and indeed part of the original contract with copyright as with patents is that after a SHORT time, the works would move into the public domain as otherwise copyright would fail in it's prime goal of encouraging education. Points made in the preamble to the Statute of Queen Anne and the debates in Westminster as recorded in Hansard. That is the law that formed the genesis of American copyright law. So even then it was NOT intended as welfare for creators or those who feed on them such as publishers, recording companies and the motion picture industry.

    You fail, AC. And really really badly.

     

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  34.  
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    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 4:07pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    The difference would be that I am not "pro-free speech no matter what".

    So you want "partially free speech" then?

    Who gets to decide what is acceptable and what isn't?

     

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  35.  
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    JMT (profile), Dec 20th, 2011 @ 6:17pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The core problem

    "in fairness, while there is no 3rd party (store) losing a physical product there is also no money going to the creator, so there is still a loss of revenue."

    What if I pirate an album or movie that I don't want enough to pay money for? If my valuation of a product brings me to a decision to either get it for free or not have it at all, where is the loss of revenue? This is one of the big questions, and it has been thoroughly evaluated. I believe this situation is far, far more prevalent than genuine lost sales, but content providers would ever admit this because they overvalue their product.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 20th, 2011 @ 6:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    ""you give up the right to copy, and in return the people who make the content can afford to keep doing it and give you a constant stream of new movies, music, tv shows, and books"."

    No, that's not a deal, that's a one sided decision. I am giving up my right to copy in return for nothing. As someone stated, that's welfare for IP holders. I'm not being given anything in return, I'm being sold something at monopoly prices in return for nothing. I'm giving away my rights for free in return for being sold something at monopoly prices, that's not a deal, that's a one sided, anti-consumer, decision.

    Copy protection laws didn't initially last so long in the U.S. because things were intended to fall into the public domain within a more reasonable period of time so that the public can benefit from the fruits of its state granted monopoly.

    and your argument is a false dilemma, it falsely assumes that the only way content creators can make money is through IP laws. That's untrue. Content will be created without IP laws.

    If this is the one sided 'deal' that we are to have then I say abolish IP laws. I can do without whatever content IP allegedly produces in return for my rightful right to freely copy as I please, my right to freely copy is more important to me than whatever content allegedly results from your insanely long monopoly privileges that keep getting extended.

    Adding a (monopoly) price to something necessarily reduces the number of people who (can afford to) buy it. Those who don't buy it have sacrificed their right to freely copy something in return for nothing. Abolish these laws.

     

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  37.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Dec 21st, 2011 @ 6:32am

    Re: That ol' Valenti line

    "In 1982, Jack Valenti, then head of the movie business’s trade association, told Congress in 1982 that the VCR was “to the American film producer and the American public what the Boston Strangler is to the American woman at home alone.”

    From Wikipedia:


    In 2003, Valenti found himself at the center of the so-called screener debate, as the MPAA barred studios and many independent producers from sending screener copies of their films to critics and voters in various awards shows. Under mounting industry pressure and a court injunction Antidote Int'l Films Inc. et al. v MPAA (November 2003), Valenti backed down in 2004, narrowly avoiding a massive and embarrassing antitrust lawsuit against the MPAA.

    At least he was consistent in losing.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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