Viacom's General Counsel Lecture On Copyright Leaves Out Certain Facts
from the well,-that's-something dept
He discusses copyright vs. free speech -- and insists that there's no "tension" between the two (despite many recent studies suggesting the exact opposite). Of course, he does a bit of a twist there, by saying that copyright is pro-free speech because it creates incentive for speech. The problem with this statement is that while that's the theory, the evidence for it is somewhat lacking. However, there is tremendous evidence of cases where copyright is used to stifle speech -- and of all the massive extensions and changes in copyright laws over the past 200 years, almost all have served to stifle more speech than they have encouraged.
He then trots out the industry's own numbers claiming how much copyright contributes to the economy, even though those numbers are based on a variety of questionable assumptions, including the idea that all content covered by copyright is only created because of copyright. Along those lines, he also credits copyright for things like the iPod and the Kindle, saying that no one's buying those devices just to look at them. This is correct -- but note the trick. He did not say that it was content that drove the iPod and the Kindle, but copyright. He's wrong. It's content. Not copyright.
He notes that some say that "unlicensed IP" might drive this innovation, but he favors "sustainable innovation" (as if anyone doesn't). And then he makes this odd statement:
"A more sustainable innovation is one where, if you make an investment, you have the opportunity to make a return."Now, that's a great (by which we mean, useless) statement, because it's obviously true. Who would ever deny that? But it's a sneaky and disingenuous statement, because it implies something that's simply not true: that without copyright or without restrictive licensing, the investors do not have an opportunity to make a return. As we've shown over and over again, plenty of content creators who "free" their IP have not only made a return, but have made a better return than they did under older models that relied on copyright. But it's a sneaky trick that's often used by folks in this debate. You set up this strawman argument and then knock it down, despite the fact that no one ever made the argument, and you argue that something is fact (that you can't make a return) when it's empirically false. It's frustrating that this argument still gets made and people should really start calling the folks who make it out whenever they state such falsehoods.
Later, he talks about the "losses" from piracy, insisting that the findings come from a "sophisticated" analysis, not just from counting all downloads as lost sales. Of course, these numbers came from the same study process that led to some results that even the MPAA (of which Viacom is a major member) had to later admit were bogus. This is also the same "sophisticated analysis" that includes ripple effects in one direction only, so it's actually double, triple, quadruple, quintuple counting some numbers, while totally ignoring how those numbers actually help the industry in other ways. So, sorry if I don't take those loss numbers seriously, no matter how "sophisticated" he thinks they are. They're not. They're only "sophisticated" in how misleading they are.
He does have a short discussion on RealNetworks' RealDVD offering, which he implies enables piracy -- even as he admits he wants the functionality, where he could move a copy of a legally purchased DVD to his hard drive for backup or other viewing, but says his "concern" is that people would do this with Netflix DVDs. He believes that the problem with this is that RealNetworks had to break the encryption put in place by the studios. Notice, again, what Fricklas conveniently leaves out. First, he leaves out the fact that it is already legal for people to make backup copies of content they legally own -- but, thanks in part to Hollywood lobbying, Hollywood itself can block that right, simply by putting encryption on something and then saying that you can't circumvent it without breaking the law (thank you, DMCA anti-circumvention clause). He also leaves out (conveniently) the fact that RealDVD doesn't actually "break" the encryption and that the resulting copy still includes DRM that prevents copies. The fact that he's "concerned" about the Netflix model is of no consequence whatsoever. McDonalds is "concerned" about Burger King, but that doesn't give them a legal right to block them from being in business.
Then he pulls out the ever popular "$200 million movie" myth, which I thought was a favorite of NBC Universal, but I guess Viacom is going with it now as well. It's not a myth that there are movies that cost $200 million. The myth is that people want movies that cost that much. No one watching a movie cares how much it costs. They want good movies, no matter how much they cost. I'm sure people would like some $1 billion or $100 billion movies as well, but that doesn't mean we need to grant Viacom extra special legal privileges to make sure it can make a $1 billion or $100 billion movie profitably. People like good movies. Viacom wants to make profitable movies. We agree. But the $200 million number is meaningless. There are ways to make good movies for both less and more than $200 million and there are ways to make profitable movies even in the face of piracy. The claim that piracy undermines the $200 million movie, which is some sort of "necessity," is simply not supported.
On top of that, he tosses out the debunked claim that if something is "free" it means it's devalued. That's simply not true, no matter how many times people repeat it. If it were true, and the content had no value, no one would want it. Value and price are two separate things.
Then, he discusses the "Kanye West" MTV Video Awards "Imma let you finish..." example, by talking about how Viacom used various filtering tools to pull that clip off of various "unlicensed" user uploaded video sites. But he also talks about how they drove people to use the official Viacom clip, which allowed them to "participate in the benefit" of the video. Now, that's interesting, and it's great that they put their own clips up and made them embeddable. But, again, it's important to note what he left out. In forcing everyone to view the content through Viacom directly, it also increased Viacom's own cost in terms of bandwidth. The advantage of letting others help host and distribute the content is that it actually eases that cost.
His discussion on kicking people off the internet via a "three strikes" mechanism is getting much of the attention on other sites, because he mentions, totally in passing, that suing users "feels like bullying." This may sound like a big deal -- and certainly some other sites (and industry lawyers) are making it out like a big revelation, but it's not. The movie industry has never sued individuals for such things -- only the recording industry has. And even way back in the Jack Valenti days, he talked about why he didn't like the idea of suing individuals. So, this isn't a shift in positioning at all. Rather, it's a repeat of the new silly strategy of some in the industry to try to pretend that kicking people off the internet is "consumer relief." Not quite. Shooting someone in the leg instead of the head is certainly "better," but I doubt that the person shot in the leg considers it "relief."
Oh yes, he also fails to explain how any of that will make more people buy.
Towards the end of that discussion, though, he makes another interesting statement, saying that: "there's no way to deal with this problem other than to move viewing into licensed contexts." Except, that's not true. There are other ways. It's called setting up a business model where people actually do have a reason to buy things, whether they view the content in a licensed or unlicensed manner. I recognize he's on the legal side, rather than the business side, but the idea that the "only" way to deal with piracy is to attack it, rather than embrace it, is a position that the industry long ago should have learned was a mistake.
His final point is discussing how DRM "enables new business models," and he more or less dismisses criticism of DRM as really just being criticism of "bad" DRM (of which there is plenty). However, what struck me, was how none of the "new business models" he described actually required DRM at all. You could do them all in some way entirely without DRM. All the DRM does is add restrictions. Of course, rather than adding restrictions, why doesn't the industry focus on employing new business models that give users more and make them want to buy, rather than trying to enforce artificial limitations?
On the whole, it is an interesting video, and well worth watching, but it conveniently misstates or leaves out important facts throughout. Unfortunately, the Q&A session that follows the presentation wasn't included, so I have no idea if any of the students challenged some of his assertions or pointed out some of the points that he left out. Anyway, maybe we can hope that Fricklas is, in fact, an occasional reader here and can stop by to address those questions and omissions.