The Battle To Change The Betamax Precedent

from the welcome-to-shortsighted-business-practices-101 dept

Fortune Magazine is running a long piece looking at the well-known RIAA case against Grokster and Morpheus, pointing out that the industry doesn’t just want to ban file sharing networks, it wants to overturn the Betamax ruling entirely. The Betamax ruling, of course, is what most of these cases rely on. Nearly 20 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that video tape machines were legal, so long as there were “substantial non-infringing uses” of the devices. Fortune, of course, is owned by AOL Time Warner, a member of the RIAA – though, that disclaimer is never mentioned in the article. If you read through it, the author clearly takes the side of the entertainment industry, accepting their views as fact throughout, even comparing file sharers to car thieves and the various P2P networks to drug dealers. He also tosses aside the argument made by many that if you look at the Betamax precedent, after that case was decided, it was videotapes that saved the movie industry. The reporter insists that wasn’t true, and that some other compulsory licensing scheme would have been developed, and the industry would have been saved anyway. That’s arguing a different point, of course. The industry argued against the Betamax claiming that if it were allowed, the industry would die overnight. That didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite happened. Now the industry is making the same claims about file sharing. The historical perspective of the two cases makes this article an interesting read, but the bias in something that is supposed to be a news article, and not an opinion piece, (while lacking the ownership disclaimer) is unfortunate. The author of the article, Roger Parloff, also has a history of writing pro-DMCA articles (check Google). I have no problem with opinion pieces, where people can argue on the basis of those opinions. I have a lot more trouble with something being presented as fact, which is clearly opinion, instead.

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Comments on “The Battle To Change The Betamax Precedent”

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Tony Lawrence (user link) says:

I shouldn't have zero interest

I was just thinking “I have no interest in this” because I don’t download music or even buy music cd’s, but you know, that’s short-sighted: there are larger issues here, and that I am uninterested in the particular expression of the problem is not what’s really important.

I wonder if that’s part of the problem. Music people, like many sports fans, assume that everyone has the same interest, though perhaps to a lesser degree. In fact, there are many of us with very little or no interest at all in either,
and perhaps that causes us to sometimes ignore things we shouldn’t be ignoring. Maybe people who are close to this need to spend more time pointing out the larger issues?

Now how to write to my congress-folk explaining that I’m concerned about this even though I don’t care one bit about it.. 🙂

Roji Oommen says:

Re: Losing the Betamax decision could be a disaste

I think it highly unlikely and extremely self-destructive for that to occur. Blank media, whether digital or analog, are far too prevalent (and useful) for the government to brand illegal.

A far more likely scenario is some kind of copyright surcharge tacked onto things like broadband connections, CD/DVD-R, etc.

In the end, artists should get compensated for what they create, and while the record industry business model is flawed and antiquated, they have the right to whatever recompense the market will bear.

The underlying issue is that the price the market will bear has dropped considerably over the past several years. The largest cost component for a record company in producing an album is marketing expense. RIAA would be far better served in finding a way to reduce that cost component, bringing the cost of music more inline with what people are willing to pay.

George Madison says:

This isn't surprising...

The big media companies want to do away with the whole concept of “Fair Use” as well, or at least seriously alter it from the way we know it now.
Is it just me, or does the whole concept of copyright need to be revisited? I support creators of art being paid for their efforts; what upsets me greatly are huge corporations using copyright as an excuse to deny people material that they want and are willing to pay for! Look at all the music and movies and books that are out of print. It’s just as illegal to copy those as it is something brand new and in the stores — yet you cannot BUY a new, legal copy of them.
Here’s an idea (and as a generality, I know there are rough edges in it): if an album or movie or book is unavailable to the public for more than (say) two years, the copyright holder must either make it available, or see *ALL* rights revert to the creator. If the creator is a corporation, the work goes public domain. If the creator is a human being, they get another year to return the work to availability before it goes public domain.
There would have to be a phase-in, but what I see happening is the growth of companies that would specialize in on-demand production; the major copyright holders would license them to produce their material, so if you want a DVD of an obscure movie — or TV show — or whatever, you can pay for it (probably more expensive than the mass-produced current product, but not unreasonably so) and get a CD-R of the music, DVD-R of the movie/TV show, or a version of the book in a format amenable to on-demand production. The copyright owner gets paid, and the public gets the material they want.
Of course, this would put an end to companies like Disney saying “buy it now, or you won’t get another chance at it” to drum up sales for a particular movie. Sounds good to me.

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