Entertainment Industry Lawyer Predicts The Demise Of Free Culture

from the logical-inconsistencies dept

Music industry lawyer Chris Castle is at it again. You may recall him from his poorly thought out attack on evil free culture types that was easily debunked. Unfortunately, it looks like others are willing to let him spew nonsense. This time, it's Arts+Labs, yet another "anti-piracy" lobbying group that was formed last year. When it was formed, it was positioned as a more "reasonable" group, because rather than just being made up of entertainment industry reps, it also had a few "tech industry" folks -- though, those tech companies were ones looking to sell DRM or filtering technologies. So, as a supposedly more reasonable "balanced" approach, you would hope that perhaps Arts+Labs wouldn't publish a ridiculous rant from an entertainment industry lawyer, bashing all "free culturists" and predicting the imminent demise of free culture.

But, indeed, that appears to be what Castle is saying, predicting the demise of free culture based on some incredibly weak logic that doesn't pass the basic laugh test. I read the whole thing a few times and the logic was so twisted that I finally had to try to work backwards to figure out what he was claiming, and eventually realized that his position on copyright seems to coincide with Douglas Adam's old saying:
1) everything that's already in the world when you're born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you're thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it's been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.
So how does this apply to Castle's logic? Well, as far as I can tell, Castle's logical thought train runs as follows:
  1. Free culture is an economic fallacy, and is close to its demise.
  2. Pop culture is important in winning over the "hearts and minds" of people who hate us
  3. The only reason pop culture exists is because people earn money from it
  4. Free culture fanatics don't get any of this and think that there's a battle going on between Silicon Valley (innovation) and Hollywood
  5. These clueless free culture idiots are demanding government-mandated licenses and government-mandated prices
  6. They claim this is needed because of market failure.
  7. But there is no market if we don't respect "basic economic rights" (i.e., "copyright")
  8. If we don't respect those "basic economic rights" then the internet gets polluted with junk
  9. Then pop culture creators are lost forever, because they can't make money
  10. So, the government must protect these "fundamental economic liberties" (i.e., "copyright"), but not do anything else, because then we might not win over the hearts and minds of our enemies.
  11. Because of that, we're witnessing the end of people believing in this bogus idea of free culture.
You can read over the piece yourself, but I think I'm being quite fair to the reasoning. But, of course, this doesn't make any sense at all, unless you consider the Douglas Adams quote. Castle seems to think that "copyright" (a government-granted right) is somehow "natural" or a "basic economic right" or a "fundamental economic liberty." It's not and never has been. It's a government granted monopoly for the sole purpose of promoting the progress of the sciences and the useful arts. Thomas Jefferson's famous discussion of intellectual property "rights" makes it quite clear that there is nothing at all "natural" about copyright. But, since it's been around since he was born, to Castle, it's fundamental. And anything new is just downright evil.

And, of course, there are tons of other logical fallacies in this piece. Even if we grant that points 2 and 3 are true, he seems to be jumping back to that old lie that support of "free culture" means that artists don't earn money. It's a fallacy that runs throughout the piece, and of course is totally bogus. We've spent about a decade chronicling ways that content creators are embracing "free culture" and making more money because of that. It's getting ridiculous how many times it needs to be repeated but: giving away ONE THING for FREE, does NOT MEAN that you don't make money. Once you recognize that, Castle's entire argument falls apart (as does the entire reason that Arts+Labs exists... but that's another issue).

The other characterizations that Castle makes about "free culture" supporters are total strawmen. While there may have been some who set up a "battle" between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, I actually don't see that very much at all. I live in Silicon Valley and am pretty involved in talking about these issues with plenty of people, and it's rarely framed that way at all. Most folks are simply looking at ways to help enable the market to be more efficient, knowing that doing so benefits everyone. There's no "against" anyone -- other than those who want to somehow block this efficiency because they prefer to rest on their laurels and old gov't granted monopolies. The innovators in Silicon Valley aren't trying to stick it to Hollywood. They're trying to provide better tools to enable content creators of all kinds to create, share, promote, distribute and experience content.

Also, I'm curious which "free culture" academics "beat the drum for a government-mandated compulsory license and government-mandated pricing for all content." I've yet to see any. Yes, there are some who have suggested voluntary licensing, but I'm not aware of any who are pushing for government mandated pricing of all content. I, for one, am vehemently against such things.

Finally, after bashing these "free culturists" for not understanding "basic economics" and insisting that free culture has no economic basis, Castle flunks his economics final by stating: "Absent these rights there is no market, and therefore there can be no market failure." I may have to break out the red grading marker on this one to explain the F grade. Mr. Castle, I'm afraid you've incorrectly defined your market. It's a rookie mistake. "Free" doesn't mean there's no market. Down there in sunny Los Angeles, television has been quite a successful business... which gives its content away for free. And it works, because they put in place a business model that leverages the free content to make money. How hard is it for Castle to realize that there are other business models for the music industry as well? How many examples must we show before he realizes that free doesn't mean you don't get paid? And, finally, why is Arts+Labs allowing such ridiculously illogical thinking to appear on its website as commentary?

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    PaulT (profile), 13 Feb 2009 @ 11:27am

    OK, let's revisit a few of these point for the clueless...

    First of all "free culture" != "piracy". There is a huge amount of culture released in the public domain, under a CC licence or just simply given away by its creators that does not equal an act of piracy.

    Then, we get to the idea that "pop culture" is necessary and required to "win over hearts and minds". For every person that loves hearing about, say, Paris Hilton, there is another who despises her (myself included). Was the fact that "The Hottie And The Nottie" a part of "pop culture" the reason for its ridiculous failure? I think so, at least its failure wasn't down to "piracy". People recognise art, and while they are give access to a wider range of art via, say, the internet, then they are more likely to choose higher quality items.

    Then we get the piece de resistance... The article seems to assume that free content is equal to communism and therefore a political power. Whatever you believe, entertainment is simply that. It's not a necessity nor a right. In these times of financial and idealistic confusion, the right to get paid $15 for a DVD or a CD is very low on the priorities of most people. Anyone serious about their desire to explore ways to create art will be looking at other ways than the traditional - such as free content. Those who stick to outdated business methods will fail. This has not relationship to the quality of art - Van Gogh only sold 2 paintings in his lifetime, remember - but rather the outlook of the times.

    I've said this many times myself. I avoid RIAA outlets and only buy through AmieStreet, eMusic, etc. for music. I refuse to "upgrade" to Blu-Ray because I don't have the necessary equipment nor any desire to buy it. I'm also openly refuse the chance to do so due to the fact than, for examples, no Netflix analog is available on my XBox nor an Amazon MP3 store that's willing to sell to me.

    Such stupid regionalisation and restrictions are the reason behind failure. People do not want to pay for substandard product, and these companies are more often than not refusing to sell to anyone outside of North America. Take a wild guess as to why they're not successful...

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