Is There A Middle Ground When It Comes To File Sharing?

from the ask-that-question-first... dept

In a bizarre opinion piece at, a guy from a so-called “Think Tank” that has filed a brief in support of the MPAA/RIAA in the Grokster case (suggesting he’s not exactly an impartial commentator), pushes what appears to be a very one-sided attack on a different “think tank” that supports the other side. The attack basically consists of two things: first claiming that supporting the idea of free content is an “extreme” position, outside the norm, and secondly, “guilt by association,” by naming people associated with that other organization, as if they’re some sort of evil influencers. All of this, he claims, is because he wants a “middle ground” solution to the file sharing issue. The fact that he filed a brief in favor of the the MPAA/RIAA suggests he’s anything but middle ground, of course. However, the “middle ground” argument has come up before, and it’s a very disingenuous argument. It suggests that there are two extremes, and neither is right. It’s the same sort of thing that we’ve seen in some parts of the press lately that focus on “balance” in displaying two sides of an issue when “balance” may mean giving one side much more airtime than their statements deserve. Besides, there is no “middle ground” when it comes to innovating or keeping an existing business model. No one wanted to work out a “middle ground” between the monk scribes and the printing press. No one wanted to work out a “middle ground” between buggy makers and automobile makers. No one wanted to work out a “middle ground” between dialup and broadband. No one wanted to work out a “middle ground” between analog mobile phones and 3G wireless broadband. Middle ground, as used here, is simply a code word for protecting a business model that’s being threatened, because those who benefit from that business model are unwilling or unable to adjust to the changing market.

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Comments on “Is There A Middle Ground When It Comes To File Sharing?”

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jeff says:

No Subject Given

Here’s a sobering thought one must consider after reading one of your well-written and on-the-money blurbs: There is not likely to be ANY big record exec that is reading Do we honestly think there are execsa out there that read this and then say, “wow you’re right. We really do represent the horse and buggy! Maybe I will change my business model after all. Thanks techdirt!” No, the more likely picture is that all us normal middle-of the-bell curve people are reading this and agreeing with it, but alas, you are basicaly preaching to the converted.

Tim (user link) says:


Your talk about searching for middle-ground between:

monk scribes and printing presses,
dialup and broadband,
analogue phones and 3G,
buggy and automobile manufacturers

is unfortunately inapplicable. The first three of the above are natural evolution within a species, as it were – a move from a crap thing to a better thing. The playing-field with which we’re dealing with the RIAA and MPAA (may their cats die) is not temporal: it’s not as though there’s any move over time to eradicate copyright on a product *at source*, ie to say “everything coming out of Hollywood must be free” and to expect it to become so in a few years’ time.

The buggy and car manufacturer case has another big flaw: as vehicular conveyances go, they are apples and oranges, populated by minors and adults, and both co-exist just happily because they’re fundamentally different markets.

Now, there may be some “middle ground” position between “all movies should be devoid of copyright restrictions” and “screw ’em for everything we can make ’em pay”. But if there is, I suggest it’s phrased something like “people respect each others’ IP-rights and wishes”, which has the one down-side that it puts the RIAA&MPAA out of business.

Jason Coyne (user link) says:

Re: Fallacies

The falacy is worse than you described.

The big difference is, Buggy makers indeed wanted to stick around forever, car manufacturers want to replace them. Consumers wanted cars. Cars win.

In music, RIAA wants proprietary, Consumers want free, who is the replacement? The same model works, but nobody is there providing free music. If the free music was available, and the people want it, the RIAA would fail on its own.

The problem is that consumers want to change the rules for the RIAA. RIAA can play by whatever rules they want (but we are free to not play with them)

If people really want free music : make free music, give money to people who make music for free, stop buying RIAA music.

In this way, the evolution from buggies to cars will be the same as music to music.

nonuser says:

Day 1. A historic Supreme Court decision

overturns traditional notions of copyright and intellectual property as it applies to on-line content, including music, video, text, software binaries, source code, and data. Basically, all file sharing is legalized, whether P2P or via centralized servers.

Day 2. Bloggers, college students, twentysomethings, and progressive thinkers around the world rejoice.

Day 3…. hmm, this is where it gets tough. Funding starts to dry up for lots of interesting projects driven by creative talent. Everybody wants to be the mega site that distributes other people’s stuff. But, of course there are tens of thousands of “artists” who provide free downloads of the excellent creations they’ve made on nights and weekends.

Steve Mueller (user link) says:

No Middle Ground?

However, the “middle ground” argument has come up before, and it’s a very disingenuous argument. It suggests that there are two extremes, and neither is right.

But I think that’s exactly correct, and I agree pretty much with Tim that there can be a middle ground and that the analogies were bad. There are two extremes ? the “control everything about creative works with infinite copyrights and no fair use” side and the “all content should be free regardless of whether it hurts the creator” side ? and I don’t believe either of those is correct.

Do you really see this as a black-and-white issue, Mike?

I think a fair middle ground is to have limited copyrights and a reasonable Fair Use doctrine (including allowing consumers to copy anything from one media type to another without restrictions).

One place that I disagree with Tim is that the RIAA and MPAA would go away if piracy vanished. They still provide other services, I believe, like the MPAA’s movie ratings and the RIAA’s gold/platinum/etc. record sales certification. They can also serve as a group to set standards for things like broadcast and performance royalties.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: No Middle Ground?

Do you really see this as a black-and-white issue, Mike?

I don’t see it as “black or white,” and, in fact, I dont’ see it as the two “extremes” you paint either. I see it as reality.

The market *is* heading in this direction, no matter what the laws or lawsuits say. So, why not embrace where people want to go? It’s going to happen sooner or later anyway, and embracing it is likely to open up tremendous opportunities for those who do.

Instead, in trying to enforce old business models that users don’t like, the existing industry is simply opening themselves up to competition from upstarts and providers overseas. It’s simply a bad decision all around. Everyone suffers.

Steve Mueller (user link) says:

Laws vs. Reality

I don’t see it as “black or white,” and, in fact, I dont’ see it as the two “extremes” you paint either. I see it as reality.

In case I wasn’t clear, I don’t view things as those two extremes; I was merely pointing out what I think the two extremes are.

However, laws exists because of reality in many cases, not in spite of it. People murdered people, so people passed laws against murder, yet people are still murdered. People pirate others’ work without paying, so we have laws against piracy, but piracy still goes on.

I know you seem to support making music less about the music itself and more about promoting the band, but do you really propose to give the music away? And why should every band agree with that? After all, their primary accomplishment is their music. Yes, people might buy T-shirts and other goods featuring the band, but that’s not usually why people follow a band. It’s about the music.

And what about other creative works, like books or software? Are you going to have Tom Clancy T-shirts? Would you buy a Steve Ballmer poster?

Given that, I think reasonable copyright laws are necessary and should be enforced. Congress should definitely stop extending copyright durations (and even roll them back, possibly subject to grandfathering in works created during the extended period), but they should still exist.

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