CoC's 'Victims Of Internet Piracy' Look More Like 'Victims Of Propagandist Exploitation'
from the your-violins-are-out-of-tune dept
"The idea that I have to accept as a filmmaker that a certain percentage of the people who see my stuff are never going to pay me for it... in film school, I never thought I'd have to live with that. What other business would it be okay to lose 50% of your product and not receive income for it?"The thing is, most folks who go to film school end up with almost no one ever paying to see a film that they make. If you're actually getting people who want to see your films, then you're doing something right -- and then the challenge is for you to put in place a business model that works. And it does work. We've seen plenty of filmmakers who have embraced having most people see their works for free and they still make good money by connecting with fans and giving real reasons to buy beyond that. And, no, you haven't "lost" 50% of your product. Your product is still there. What you failed to do is to build a good business model.
And even if we really were talking about 50% of your "product" not selling, plenty of businesses end up in that position... and their job, as business people, is to figure out ways to make money. Just because you invest in something and make a product, it doesn't mean people have to buy. No one turns 100% of their "effort" into revenue. Complaining about people not buying is not a legal issue, it's a business model one.
It seems kind of ironic that the Chamber of Commerce of all operations seems to not want to help this filmmaker create a business model, but instead wants to exploit his situation to pass a bad law that won't help him at all.
Oh, and we should mention that the filmmaker in question appears to be Dano Johnson, and he's most well known for the movie Flatland. Flatland, you say? Isn't that the old book? Why, yes, yes it is. And in this little interview clip with Dano Johnson and his producer partner Seth Caplan, they brag about the fact that the book is in the public domain so they didn't have to pay for it.
Dano then goes away for a bit and we get an author:
"Used to be where they would give you a two, three, four book contract. That's not the case any more. Now we have to do well with the first book or there won't be a second book."First of all, while there are some multi-book contracts, they were never quite as popular as some people think, and getting away from them has happened mainly because they were bad deals for everyone (including the author in many cases), which has nothing whatsoever to do with "piracy." This woman, "Tracy Deebs" seems to just assume that "piracy" is why such contracts have gone away. She offers no evidence.
"Internet piracy affects this greatly because the numbers get skewed. People are downloading stuff for free."Or they could go to the library and get the book for free. Ban libraries, because Tracy Deebs says they're killing her ability to make money!
Perhaps Ms. Deebs should check in on the writings of JA Konrath who found no evidence that file sharing hurts sales. He's also found that he's much better off without one of those "two, three or four book contracts," because he makes a lot more money self-publishing ebooks at much cheaper prices. And this is especially true in the "young adult" space, which is what Deebs writes for these days, where Amanda Hockling figured out how to self-publish and sell over 100,000 books a month.
Oops. Just like with Dano Johnson, it looks like the problem here is the failure to put in place a good business model, rather than anything having to do with file sharing. Perhaps she should be looking to the Chamber of Commerce for help with that, rather than letting them get her to support a law with massive unintended consequences that won't help her one bit.
Johnson then returns:
"As an independent animator, we decided to make this film. We didn't really have any investors, so we were all putting in our time for free, with the hope to sell the film, and once it's successful pay ourselves back... While we've been successful, we can also see that we've lost a significant amount of revenue."Surely, as a one-time film school student, he knows that most films don't ever become "successful." Just the fact that he has been successful is an accomplishment -- in part thanks to his ability to build on the public domain (and then lock up the resulting work). And how does he know that his success is not due to the film being more widely available and more people knowing about it? If you look at the website for the Flatland movie, you can see that the film is available to buy and it appears that plenty of people are buying it. Furthermore, according to IMDB and Wikipedia, it looks like Johnson has helped make a 3D-IMAX version of the film which will be released this fall. That seems like a smart move. Johnson is figuring out that he can do things to compete with the free versions by making an experience that can't easily be copied. Given the subject matter, I would expect that schools will be a prime target to take classrooms full of kids to see Flatland in IMAX 3D. So where is his proof of "lost revenue"? How does he know that he hasn't gained sales from people finding out about the films online?
Then we move on to a musician, Guy Forsyth.
"There's a hole in the system, and it's where the artists aren't getting paid for the work that they're doing."Interesting. I was curious about Guy Forsyth and so I discovered that his main claim to fame as a musician was as a part of The Asylum Street Spankers:
Founded by Christina Marrs, Wammo and Guy Forsyth after a legendary party at the famous Dabbs Hotel along the Llano River in Texas, the band began by busking on the streets of Austin and playing for tips in bars. In their earliest days, the Spankers' repertoire consisted almost entirely of country, blues, jazz, swing and Tin Pan Alley songs dating from the 1890s to the 1950s with a particular emphasis on the 1920s and 1930s.Now that's pretty cool, and I'd be interested in seeing Forsyth play, but I'm curious if, when they were out busking, he was paying the rightsholders from those songs that were still under copyright. In fact, the Wikipedia entry notes that it was only after Forsyth left the band that they started playing more original songs. So, once again, we have someone who builds off the culture of others, but now supports laws that would make that harder, if not impossible, for others to do the same. For shame.
On top of that, his claim that there's a "hole" and that musicians aren't getting paid any more has been debunked over and over again. While plenty of studies have shown that record labels haven't been earning as much, they've also showed that actual musicians are making noticeably more money these days. And they're doing it by putting in place innovative business models -- the kind of thing you'd think the US Chamber of Commerce would be helping with, rather than ignoring.
Then the video bounces back to both Deebs and Johnson, complaining about "free," and making assumptions about how each download is a lost sale. That's the same theme pushed by the next person, "actress" Krista Betts:
"As an actress, I'm used to those residual checks coming in and I open the mailbox, and I'm getting all excited... 'Oh! Screen Actors Guild!' And I open it up and the check is for... oh, about eight dollars. And I just stopped for a moment and thought 'I wonder, how much the check would have been had everyone purchased the DVD."Well, if "everyone" had purchased the DVD you'd have the best selling movie of all time. I'm guessing she means had everyone who downloaded it purchased it, which is ridiculous. Most of the people downloading would never have purchased it in the first place. Anyway, I was curious what DVD this might be, and according to IMDB Krista Betts appeared in one movie... in 2002 called "Lone Star State of Mind," It does not appear to have much of a wide release, and the only five reviewers who reviewed the movie on Rotten Tomatoes all hated the movie. For example, check out this review:
While watching, this tended to remind me of "Raising Arizona", with only one exception: Raising Arizona is good, and this is bad, really bad. There's a movie that you can watch that is so bad that it makes you feel like tearing your eyebrows off one by one just to numb the pain. The cliches are so thick in this film that it inevitably tears down the film with no chance of recovery. There's practically every known cliche and stereotype in this film applying to Texan people.So, Krista, I'm not sure, but the fact that you're still getting even $8 for a film you did a decade ago, which barely moved the needle and apparently had reviewers wanting to tear their eyebrows out... perhaps that's not something to complain about. No one pays me for the work I did a decade ago, and I don't think it drove anyone to tear out any eyebrows.
Then there are a bunch of quotes comparing file sharing to theft. First from Johnson:
"For me, you buy a ticket. You buy a digital download."But you don't buy the rights to a story. That's too expensive. Obviously, there are exceptions -- such as the one at the end of the interview video above with Johnson, where he plugs the free showing of Flatland. Sometimes, apparently, you don't have to buy a ticket, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Back to Forsyth:
"You go out to your car and the window is busted and you look inside, and you're like 'oh, they grabbed my wallet, they grabbed the stereo out of the dash.' It's that same feeling that someone has reached in and taken something away from you. Something that you worked hard to earn."Except it's not like that at all and anyone who's being intellectually honest in this debate knows that. Nothing has been "taken" from him. No one has smashed a window. He's not missing a wallet. He's not missing a stereo. Plenty of musicians have done amazingly well by embracing what their fans want, embracing free, recognizing the value of promotion. That Forsyth apparently hasn't done so isn't a reason to change the law. It's a reason to point Forsyth to some of the many case studies of musicians who are doing it right.
On to Deebs:
"If internet piracy caused me to lose my contracts because I didn't sell enough books, then I would have a really hard time picking up another publisher. And this is my job. This is how I make my income. This is how I support my family."Actually Deebs, whose real name appears to be Tracy Wolff, admits in various online bios that her "job" is teaching writing at a local college. But, more to the point, just because you make your living one way, does NOT mean that Congress automatically has to pass laws to make sure you always make your living that way. Even more important is that the real problem isn't "internet piracy." Nowhere does she show that "internet piracy" actually harms her sales, and nearly all of the evidence we've seen for books shows no harm to sales from downloadable books. Again, Konrath's writings and empirical studies on this are compelling. The real problem, as she sneaks into the latter half of the sentence is that she didn't sell enough books. That's a business model problem. Since tons of authors are selling more and more books than ever before (and many are doing it through self-publishing), I'm not sure I see the real "problem" here.
It's also probably worth mentioning that for all this talk about how evil it is not to pay the "creators" of various things, the Chamber of Commerce is relying on Drupal to manage the astroturf "Fight Online Theft" site that this content comes from. How much do you think the Chamber of Commerce donated to the Drupal Association? And, of course, they're getting free bandwidth, hosting and high quality video playback software from YouTube (rogue site!). For all this hand-waving about how evil it is not to pay creators, it seems that the US Chamber of Commerce is plenty happy to save money by using free things. Either the folks there recognize the cost advantage of not having to worry about licensing all the time, or they seem to implicitly recognize the "quality" of software and services that (according to them) never should have been created since they're available for "free." Either way, the US Chamber of Commerce appears to be completely inconsistent in what it says and what it does... just like many of the folks in the video.
I have to admit that I'm pretty shocked that this was the "best" that the US Chamber of Commerce could come up with. None of the stories is remotely compelling. You have two folks who relied on the works of others, but now want to block that off for others, and then a woman who is complaining that she's not getting enough money from residuals from a decade old movie that no one liked. And, finally, an author who appears to not be familiar with the new opportunities enabled through publishing today thanks to the internet.
And for this they want us to change the laws in such a way that will break the fundamental architecture of the internet, hinder innovation, tie up companies in needless litigation, apply additional liability to all sorts of companies, encourage blatant censorship of websites without trials and do absolutely nothing to help artists make more money? Sorry, but no thanks.