We have become so used to being exposed to US copyright laws that we begin to take certain ideas as “givens” (i.e., that they are truths), even though they may be inaccurate. Does a movie studio, for example, “lose money” if someone pirates a DVD? By the strictest definition of “losing money,” studios only lose money if their accountants misplace bags full of it. What the studios mean is that they do not make AS MUCH in sales as they used to, expected to, or wanted to. Movie (or music) production works on a fairly simple model: if cost of production exceeds sales, studios show a negative net. Every movie is a gamble; the studio anticipates a future return in comparison to production costs. Some are huge winners and some are huge losers.
If piracy were rampant (e.g., if 50% of movie watchers only watch pirated films—a proportion that I am sure far exceeds the current situation), studios would stand to lose half of their projected return. That, in turn, would make movie and music production less profitable. Cutting production costs, including actor salaries, would minimize the impact on profitability. Regardless, the final result would be that, overall, entertainment produced by the major movie and music studios would be less profitable. Simultaneously, “cottage industry” entertainment (garage bands, independent film makers, etc.) would be able to compete more favorably, as they often produce content at very low cost (either because they just love what they do or because they hope to “make it big” some day). In fact, the total expenditures on entertainment may well exceed historical levels, but those expenditures would be distributed to a much wider group than a select few.
While copyright law may define copying as stealing, as digital copying takes nothing that currently exists (whether tangible or intangible) from anyone, it is not “stealing” in the “historical” sense of the word (and with the historical very negative connotation). The creator still has the original. At most, copying may take something that might exist in the future, i.e., the potential to make a profit from the sale of an item, or, legally, the “licensing” of an item. (The “may,” “might,” “future,” and “potential” are all important--there is nothing definite about them!)
Thus, copying is all about potential profit—specifically, big studio profit. It is not about “loss.” It is not about what is right or wrong. (Does it really seem “right” that the Hollywood moguls and big name stars have obscenely high salaries, especially in light of their well-publicized grossly immoral behavior?) In today’s “digital age,” the technology has overtaken the law. We have all seen that the primary attempt to hinder copying is to make laws more and more intrusive and draconian. Proposed (and even existent) laws addressing copyright, downloading, and even accessing the Internet threaten even the most fundamental rights clearly identified in the US Constitution (the writers of which originally considered those rights to be self-evident and God-given, rather than “granted”).
The solution to the “copyright problem”? Allow technology to advance, allow the media industry to reconfigure (even to go through a “shake out,” if necessary), reject laws that favor a select group, and refuse to yield on fundamental rights (freedom of speech and press, the right to due process and to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and no cruel or unusual punishment—such as categorizing copying as a felony).
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