Dear MPAA: Stomp Your Feet And Repeat It As Many Times As You Want, But Infringement Is Not Theft

from the must-we-do-this-again dept

Ah, gotta love the MPAA and their gleeful sophistry. We wrote about how MPAA comms person and former Congressional staffer (note the revolving door...) Alex Swartsel went way, way overboard in attacking GigaOm's Janko Roettger for noting, accurately, that the entertainment industry's anti-consumer behavior, combined with a potentially worsening economy, could mean that more people switch away from authorized options for watching movies to unauthorized options. This is a pretty reasonable analysis, and it's hard to see how you could disagree with it. However, in the minds of Swartsel and the MPAA, anyone who even dares to acknowledge that unauthorized file sharing exists must be condoning the practice, and Swartsel wrote one of the more intellectually dishonest pieces we've seen in a long time, going after Roettger, pretending he was telling people that it was fine to infringe on copyrights.

We responded on a bunch of points, including Ms. Swartsel's repeated incorrect use of the words "steal" and "theft" to describe infringement. Swartsel has now responded, with a post so full of sophistry, you have to wonder if the MPAA might not be better off sending her back to remedial talking points training. It seems clear that Swartsel is jumping into a debate for which she is woefully unprepared -- though, of course that explains why the MPAA, yet again, has turned off comments on its blog. The main point of the blog post appears to be to simply repeat the words "steal" and "theft" so many times that readers are driven into submission. Of course, most people aren't stupid, though the MPAA seems to presume that's the case.

By my count, the post uses a form of "steal" six times and a form of "theft" another six times. That's a dozen incorrect uses of those two words in a mere seven paragraphs. Impressive.

Even worse, nowhere does Swartsel admit that she totally and completely overreacted and irresponsibly attacked Roettger for accurately reporting what's going on in the world. Instead, she doubles down on the this claim that merely stating what's happening means we all think that it's okay:
In other words: movie and TV theft is inevitable. Why? Because it’s easy to steal something that, in physical form, exists only as data, and easy to justify stealing it as a result? Because information wants to be free, no matter the cost it took to produce or its creators’ judgments about how best to disseminate it? Because anything is fair game once it’s on the Internet? Because if I rip a movie file off of a DVD or camcord a showing at a theater, I have created that movie with my own labor and can do whatever I want with the file, including posting it online and making money from ad sales or subscription fees? Because by stealing films and TV, or watching stolen films and TV, I’m just exercising my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech? All those are arguments we’ve heard before.
Oh gosh. Where to start? Notice how she intermixes the fact that making a copy and sharing is easy with the idea that people need to "justify" it. Poor Ms. Swartsel. No one ever shared a DVD with you? No one ever invited you over to their house to watch a TV show together? Sometimes "sharing" is just that. It's not stealing.

And, no, no one -- not me, not Roettger, not Torrentfreak -- ever attempted to "justify" the actions that are infringement. None of us said that it is "fair game." None of us said that "information wants to be free." None of us said that it's a First Amendment issue. It seems that, rather than respond to the actual points all of us raised, Swartsel and the MPAA are simply throwing out a ton of strawmen -- every false caricature she can come up with -- to describe the "scary" people who argue that maybe, just maybe, the MPAA is going about this the wrong way.
Mike Masnick wrote that we need to “adapt and deal with reality,” and actually, I think he’s right – depending on which reality we’re talking about. Is it the reality that the Internet and the explosion of mobile technology have opened up vast new ways for us to communicate with one another and for film and TV-makers to offer their work to people who want to watch it? Because as Julia blogged last month, there are “more options than ever before to get movies and TV shows online safely and legitimately” – we have a list on here, and the creative minds in our industry are working on even more as we speak.
And yet... and yet, as folks like Wil Wheaton recently pointed out, those efforts are still at about the 1997 level of fan friendliness. They still treat most people as if they were criminals who need to be limited and contained. For the most part, they do not offer the same level of convenience and user-friendliness of other options that are out there, even if they are illegal. Historical evidence has shown time and time again that what Swartsel thinks of as "theft" is not in any way similar to "theft," but is merely her industry's best customers expressing how they would like to be offered content.

And sometimes, indeed, the industry does get it right -- but it's usually with a lot of kicking and screaming as they're dragged there by a much more innovative tech company. Netflix, of course, is a great example. Yet, every other online movie offering is horribly limited. Things like only being able to watch a movie within a 24 hours period, forcing people to watch previews (and the silly FBI warning for something they paid for) isn't fan friendly at all. It just drives more people to unauthorized means.

And, as for Netflix, which actually does seem to be about as consumer friendly as they come (and has done quite well because of it), well, then along comes the MPAA and the Hollywood studios with plans to kill the golden goose, by doing everything possible to strangle it. They're ratcheting up the prices, they're limiting the selection (drastically). They're trying to demand further restrictions.

Honestly, it's quite easy to show that the MPAA and its member studios have done much more to drive people to infringement than any mere reporter who simply points out the reality of the market.
Is it the reality that some people do steal content online? Unfortunately, it’s clear that’s true – otherwise we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. But do “many, many people” really intend to engage in theft just to watch a movie or TV show cheaply or for free? We doubt it, particularly if legitimate, better alternatives are available; if they know it’s wrong; and if they understand it’s not a victimless crime.
Ah, my favorite bit of sophistry, which really shows that Swartsel is somewhat new to this particular debate. Look, the industry has been screaming about "education" and "victimless crimes" for decades ("home taping is killing music!"). And it's totally bogus and everyone knows it. Even bringing it up is an admission that you have no real argument. Both significant research and basic history show that this is not an "education" issue. Telling them "file sharing is bad," doesn't change anyone's mind. And these people are more than willing to pay, as is seen time and time again by study after study after study after study.

While Swartsel and the MPAA sit back and claim "but we are offering legal options!" they're totally missing the point (again). They're not offering the legal options that people want. In some cases they are, but every time they get close, they try to make those good services worse, and drive more people to alternatives. The people are willing to pay if given a reasonable option that doesn't treat them like a criminal and put ridiculous restrictions on them.

That's not "theft," that's frustration that the industry is so clueless that it can't offer a good service after all these years.
But if what Masnick means is that we need to throw up our hands and look the other way while people who had nothing to do with making a movie or a TV show steal and profit from it, that is a reality to which we do not care to adapt, period.
In what world does "learning to adapt" mean looking the other way? Seriously, if you're going to make ridiculously false statements about my position, at least make them appear logically consistent. I'm not saying throw up your hands. I'm saying stop being stupid and start offering services that don't treat people like criminals and which actually compete on value with the services that people want. It's not that hard, but if you're going to go around calling your biggest fans criminals a dozen times in the course of seven short paragraphs, I guess it's little surprise that you wouldn't be able to comprehend such basic things.

Filed Under: alex swartsel, business models, mpaa, sharing, stealing, theft
Companies: mpaa

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  1. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 18 Aug 2011 @ 1:46am

    Re: Will truth ever actually prevail?

    Masnick still talks about this for a few reasons:

    He believes in it, and believes that constant discussion and debate can move things forward. Sadly, you can't say the right thing once, and be done with it. The impact fades away. New people show up, and need to hear you say it again. You have to say it over, and over, and over. The "I have a dream" speech wasn't MLK's first. If you're gonna effect change, you can't let up.

    It's fair to say that he derives some income from the discussion.

    And he gets some amount of satisfaction. After a decade or more of banging his head against a wall...the wall is slowly giving way. I don't have his patience, but I imagine it feels good to see some amount of progress.

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