« Cenzic - Top 10 Vulnerabilities Q4 2007 | Main | Software show and tell »

March 28, 2008

How copyright produces crap

My recent columns on BitTorrent have offended at least one reader, "hello", who's accusing yours truly of being irresponsible in bringing people's attention to various sites that could allow them to download copyrighted material, while not alerting them to the possibility of unpleasant consequences. You can see the exchange here.

His latest contribution to the debate spurs me to explore my position further, particularly his remarks on my example of the lengths to which viewers might have gone in order to watch the end of the BBC series Lark Rise to Candleford. According to "hello", these people would have been acting "just to satisfy one's pure greed and need to have everything now instead of waiting for the DVD to be available" ... or for the ABC to pick up the series.

It's interesting the way these exchanges expose underlying prejudices. That use of the word "greed", for instance indicates that "hello" has a very strong moral position on this issue, and that he regards breach of copyright as, what, the eighth deadly sin?

I don't believe that the scheduling of local TV networks, including the ABC, represents some divine will that God-fearing folk must follow at the risk of losing their immortal souls. Frankly, I think this position is quaint, but it's hard to imagine that it doesn't also inform the views of our legislators.

Unlike them, I can't separate the issue of copyright control of this material from the declining standards of television "entertainment", culminating in the ubiquity of those nasty, spiteful, voyeuristic "reality" shows that in my view are the inevitable consequences of the current system: : a non-critical audience consuming cheap stuff that makes all those commercials seem positively irresistible by comparison.

The issues of copyright extend far beyond the question of what the viewer/listener/reader pays or doesn't pay for information and entertainment; when and where they consume this material; and the rights of politicians, bureaucrats and the commercial establishment to police and exploit them.

More than 30 years ago, when I was The Australian's television critic, every commercial network banned me from their previews because I continually criticised their programs. Sam Chisholm, that paragon of virtue, called in the lawyers when I wrote that the executives of commercial TV in this country were "criminally irresponsible" for the constant diet of violence and anti-social behaviour that they were churning out in pursuit of profit.

While I am now much more judicious about applying the label "criminal" to this conduct, three decades later, while we agonise over binge drinking and public violence on our streets - and fail to agonise, as we should, over the replacement of our distinctly Australian language and culture by the language and culture of the US - the results of their policies are increasingly obvious.

The institution of Hollywood, the so-called free-to-air television system,and the conversion of the mass media at every level into a massive international celebrity engine discourages genuine creativity and fosters the widespread breakdown of social values. There's too little worthwhile entertainment available, and far too much base materialism and shallow values wrapped around it. Meanwhile, our legislators continue to prop up, and indeed extend, the copyright system.

I'd like to see some innovative solutions to the problems of adequate rewarding of content creators, in the same way the Grameen Bank has tackled Third World poverty.

We've already solved the questions of production, distribution and consumption of this material. We ought to be on the side of those who are tackling the other issues.

Digital technology and the Internet have provided us with the means to abandon the old, exploitative models.

For the record, my personal position is that I do not participate in the downloading of DVD movies. Nor do I pirate music tracks. But I don't judge those who do. I think the music and movie industries in particular have behaved abominably and - given the opportunity they might have exploited had THEY not been greedy - rather stupidly. They therefore deserve all they get, in my view.

It's long past time copyright holders made their programs available universally at reasonable prices, rather than using their money and influence to persuade governments to allow them routinely to exploit the public. If "hello" had read those links I posted, he'd have a better understanding of the real purpose of copyright, and - who knows? - be less eager to make holier-than-thou comments.

Posted by cw at March 28, 2008 10:59 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


No I am not the hello man. Fascinating that you take those comments so personally. You say "hello" regards a breach of copyright as possibly the eight deadly sin. Hmm . . I am not religious but I believe that Christians in their faith have something about not stealing, so perhaps "Hello" has a point.
If you made a short film or documentary and licensed it for broadcast in Australia, and it became a "hit" so you could finance your next project. Tell me how you would feel if you went to the USA or the UK hoping to repeat your success only to find that no one wanted to broadcast it or release it on DVD because the market had been spoilt by the distribution of unauthorised copies over the internet. Is it your fault you could not make a deal fast enough?
Bad programming decisions by TV broadcasters are really nothing to do with film/documentary producers and also nothing to do with copyright. While I understand the public's desire to have everything now, that does not justify the theft (in this example) of your intellectual property. Downloading an unauthorised copy of a file of a film,song, program or game may not be a criminal offence, where it is not done for profit, but it does infringe the creators/owner's copyright and it is still stealing. I cannot see how that is justified regardless of how local TV broadcasters choose to arrange their program schedules.

Posted by: TracKtorman No 28 at March 28, 2008 10:13 PM

What's fascinating, Tracktorman, is that you don't seem to be aware of the concept of projection. I'd suggest it's not me who is taking the matter personally. Furthermore, I'd suggest, your comments indicate that you have a vested interest in this matter.

It suits you to apply the label "stealing" to the private viewing of something that has been broadcast publicly. I wonder if you'd be quite so keen to apply it just as narrowly to the so-called original material that you and others produce. ALL creative content - I can't think of any exceptions - borrows from the work of others. Is that stealing too?

And the remark that "bad programming decisions by TV broadcasters are really nothing to do with film/documentary producers" is simply laughable.

You're completely ignoring my point: it is possible with today's technology to develop new ways of rewarding creators without allowing the copyright kings to exploit the public.

Creative people should be supporting those moves with all their imagination and energy. Some are. Others either don't care, or don't want to upset the apple cart. It's a matter, I suspect, of "Pull up the ladder, Jack."

Posted by: cw at March 29, 2008 10:42 AM

I was just musing over whether the intent of copyright should be -
(1)To provide authors/creators with a reasonable
period of time to materially gain from their
original work before it enters the public
To assist non-creative men/women in suits to
make vast profits by indefinitely locking away
original work.
(2)To deter infringement on a commercial scale.
To frighten the living daylights out of the
average punter with the threat of punitive
measures if they,say,download so much as a
music file.
Just musing......

Posted by: Extulit at March 29, 2008 01:30 PM

It's a great pity copyright has become a commodity that is tradible into eternity. And the main beneficiaries are often not the creators.

I'd like to see a patent system with an expiry date to allow the creators to be recompensed fairly over a reasonable period and then for the work to become available on the open market.It's when people feel ripped off that they look to other means of getting hold of the work, product etc.

Posted by: Zy at April 1, 2008 02:36 PM

Oh cw for pete's sake ... just do us all a favor and actually read the comments I posted instead ranting about what you think I said.

My comments were about a few key points:
- people DLing copyrighted material from the sites you recommended risk facing lawsuits and getting kicked out by their ISP. Like it or not, that's a fact, and using a column in The Age to advocate "piracy" (as it is so defined by the people who sue downloaders and convince your ISP to cut your internet access, that's not my judgment) but failing to warn readers on the risks is just bad journalism. I notice that you gloss over that again. Search threads on whirlpool and you'll find a bucket load of "I received a copyright breach notice, what do I do now" threads.

- I did specify that I didn't give a rat's ass about what people were downloading, and didn't like the methods of copyright holders any more than you do

- as you have no knowledge of my religious persuasion, "greed" is just description of the behavior of people who download stuff just because it's there and want instant gratification, which 99% of the BT users do. Projection? Yeah, looks like you do that a bit ...

- and I pointed out that your answers to my comments didn't seem to have any clear position on what you actually want the system to look like. I welcome this update as you try and expand on your actual views, thanks for that.

As an ironic aside, by specifically using examples of TV shows from the BBC, you lead to actions that would detriment one of the two quality broadcasters in australia (abc and sbs). ABC would likely broadcast those BBC shows. Now if people have seen them already thanks to channel BT, they won't watch them on ABC, will they? Hence the ABC's rating drop. Hence funding is cut even more than it has been.

If you want a change in commercial models, then advocate that, use your column to highlight artist's initiatives (Radiohead, NIN, bands like pearl jam selling live shows direct to customer, the Sanctuary TV show from Amanda Tapping, ABC's own online initiatives (that you've done, thanks), etc), propose pricing for downloadable movies/shows, fight for higher broadband speed and increased quota to actually allow people to download what they could pay for. If you want to reduce the period covered by copyright (continually extended by Disney it seems), then propose reductions and justifications for it, provide MP contact details, etc.

But just saying "go to mininova and see what you find and I wash my hands of what you download" is a pretty weak start, in my opinion.

Posted by: hello at April 2, 2008 11:28 PM

Talk about reading what people actually write, hello ... this is just absolute nonsense. Do any of those cease and desist notices you mention involve the downloading of current TV shows from Britain?

To my knowledge they involve seeding of current release DVDs and music CDs from US publishers. If you do that sort of thing, you're asking for trouble. How does that apply to my article?

The idea that people shouldn't watch British shows because they could cut the ratings of the ABC and SBS is too ridiculous for words. Wouldn't it be better if they actually made some GOOD Australian shows?

And where did I write "Go to mininova and see what you find and I wash my hands of what you download"? You just made it up.

What I wrote was a factual report of what some people actually did, and I even indicated that Mininova wasn't an ideal solution: "Viewers who were by then captivated by the story and characters, were forced to scavenge around to collect the remaining six shows. Mininova.org is a good source for tracking down torrents, but none were as fast as those on UKNova. A single torrent which might have taken an hour or so to download from UKNova, instead trickled down over a couple of days to download."

If you can't give an honest representation of an opposing argument, you're better off not entering it. Whoever you are.

Posted by: cw at April 3, 2008 12:05 AM

The hypocrisy is astounding, pointing anybody to mininova leads them to a page showing all kinds of copyrighted material available for download. Bit late to wash your hands off it after that. A bit of acknowledgment of your actions, please.

"forced to scavenge": who exactly is forcing people to download a show on BT? How about just wait for the show to come out on DVD or be shown here? Have you even asked the ABC or SBS if they are planning to show it here, or even the BBC when they expect to release the DVDs, before you rushed to download them? I'll take a wild guess and will say you haven't. Am I right?

"factual report of what some people actually did": bit more than that, you specifically identify places where people can go to find copyrighted (like it or not) content. There is a difference between saying "people DL shows off the internet" and "to DL shows go there, there or there and you'll find them" - which is what you did.

"Do any of those cease and desist notices you mention involve the downloading of current TV shows from Britain?": so you mean that as long as you don't get sued it's OK to download things for free and not acknowledge the copyrights of the artists? I know, evil media providers/controllers blah blah, but the artists do get a cut - not much, admittedly, but better than the nothing they get when people download without permission. Not to mention that I thought you reserved your anti-TV rant to the likes of 7, 9 and 10, not BBC/ABC.

"The idea that people shouldn't watch British shows": I didn't say they shouldn't, just that there might be perverse side-effects. Think about it, you think people DL the shows because they don't want to wait for them to be shown here. But why would ABC pay to get the shows in a couple of months if people have seen them already? Talk about vicious circle.

You have very valid arguments with regards to copyright and length of time covered (as I mentioned some special interests in the US keep extending the period), the need for a better commercial model to allow people across the world access to the same content quickly and at reasonable cost. But arguing that people should download all they want just because of that seems to me to be juvenile in a "I DL stuff and I stick it to the man, LOLZ11!!11!" way.

Furthermore, your example of BBC shows defeats the essence of your argument that copyright produces crap and hence it's OK to download. The reason you wanted these shows is because they're good, no? I suppose that you have the means to afford to buy DVDs or at least have a TV to watch ABC. But you choose to download the shows, thereby not acknowledging the quality of the work in any way, be it financially by buying the DVDs or in terms of viewer ratings supporting the existence of the very quality shows you like to watch.

Posted by: hello at April 3, 2008 10:47 PM

It was all top secret, of course. Nobody had ever heard of it. Except you, and me, and anybody who hasn't been canoeing up the Amazon for the past few years. And they'd never have been able to find it without my help. You've constructed an interesting world for yourself, but watching you spin it to suit yourself is getting boring. Please go elsewhere.

Posted by: cw at April 4, 2008 12:20 AM

I guess I don't have a choice but go elsewhere, as you consistently refuse to address most of the points I am trying to make.

I guess this last response of yours is fully consistent with the juvenile quality of your shifting stance on downloading as a tool to take some kind of revenge on records and TV companies.

Back to your original post, you were downloading the series, the BBC said they'd issue it on DVD, UKNova removed them. Did you pre-order the DVDs of this quality show? Nope, you downloaded it, knowing full well that the supposed reason for downloading them originally (they were not available anywhere besides on air in UK) had been removed and you would be able to enjoy them on DVD if you so wished.
And you have the gall to claim the moral high ground in your posts? Do us a favor and spare us the moral lessons next time, you have clearly demonstrated in your own actions that you have no place giving them.

Posted by: hello at April 4, 2008 07:15 PM

I have read a lot of nonsense on this thread, but I agree with hello. Please explain how you would set up a business in the digital world if what you produced to sell was being circulated for free?
As for projection . .get a grip. I produce videos of my ski holidays as a hobby. When I use an artist's music without permission, on a video I give to my friends for free, I know the artist deserves a payment for it. Do you? Do you even understand basic copyright principles? I mean have you actually bothered to inform yourself of what the law says and the international treaties that underpin the business models that currently provide you with content? Just because technology facilitates the acquisition of other peoples property does not actually make stealing it OK. Or perhaps you think its what creators deserve just because someone on the ABC or SBS as not been fast enough at securing the broadcast rights to your favourite TV show. Time for you to pause and reflect.

Posted by: TraKtorman at April 4, 2008 10:25 PM

Yes, there has been a lot of nonsense on this thread.

How dare someone suggest that we need new models for the delivery of copyright material. Like, for instance, this. "Income methods will include selling digital music downloads buyers can freely copy, along with ring tones for mobile telephones, concert tickets and band merchandise."

Posted by: cw at April 4, 2008 10:42 PM

I have addressed your arguments, hello - those that are not totally incoherent, at any rate.

I've tried to explain my position, and I've referred you to the arguments of others on the topic. Unfortunately, you seem to be one of those people who might be inclined to settle an argument with a solid stake, a length of rope, some kindling and matches.

But, with any luck, it's goodbye, hello.

Posted by: cw at April 5, 2008 08:12 AM

You've addressed bugger all ... I'll post the basic questions again, in case you do feel like finally answering them:

- how do you justify downloading good quality shows when you know they are/will be available on DVD?

- how do you justify not compensating the artists involved in what you yourself describe as great shows?

- why do you think are people "forced to scavenge" to download shows when they are available on DVDs?

- how do you justify advising people to download copyrighted material without warning them of the potential consequences (eg. loss of ISP, lawsuit)? Your answer saying that the BBC hasn't sued anybody is just a weak cop out that fails to your journalistic duty to report on all sides of an issue, not just the one that you like.

- how do you think you have a moral high-ground when your own actions (downloading copyrighted material available on DVD and hence depriving the artists from revenue) show that you don't have a leg to stand on in that regard?

Posted by: hello at April 5, 2008 09:45 AM

Sigh. Here we go again. You are a rigid little so and so, hello, apparently incapable of connecting the threads of an argument. If you bothered reading my posts, you'd see that I have answered your points. But let me take your current list of demands and spell it out for you:

I don't have to justify anything. It's a matter for each individual to decide for himself.

I don't download anything that's available on DVD.

How do you know the artist isn't compensated? I would suggest the artist IS compensated. Indeed, I'd suggest their value in the marketplace rises immensely because of the additional attention.

I didn't say people were forced to scavenge for shows. I said people who were captivated by the stories and characters were forced to, because the episodes were NOT available on DVD. When the shows are available on DVD, I actually do buy them.

Have you not realised yet that even when people have watched something on television, they frequently go out and buy the DVD when it becomes available - for themselves, and as gifts for others. How would they know what's worth buying unless they'd seen it? They do the same thing with movies.

I'm sure my article will guarantee a lot more sales of DVDs of From Lark Rise to Candleford etc. I'm sure it will help create bigger audiences, if and when the ABC or SBS runs the show. Quite frequently, however, the ABC or SBS don't run the shows. I don't think it's reasonable to expect people to wait a couple of years before the ABC/SBS indicates its decision. I am still waiting for a reply from SBS on one overseas show, 18 months after I asked if they'd run it. And it's still not available on DVD.

I didn't advise people to download copyrighted material. I said it was gratifying to be able to do so. But I pointed out that it took more effort than one might expect.

I don't claim to have the moral high ground. I simply don't agree that you have it. As I've explained, I don't view it as a moral issue. You do.

On economic grounds, however, I'd contend that I've contributed considerably to the assets of the owners of the copyright material. You've contributed, and will contribute, nothing.

This issue is not nearly as black and white as you'd like to think.

Posted by: cw at April 5, 2008 11:00 AM

"I don't have to justify anything": at least you're consistent in thinking that using a full page in the green guide to advise people to use BT to download shows and copyrighted material does not require a modicum of intellectual honesty. Pontius Pilate would be proud.

"I don't download anything that's available on DVD": my bad then, your column only strongly hints at that behavior, it doesn't actually say you did it, I guess you just were not one of those "Viewers who were by then captivated by the story and characters". My mistake for not realising you thought the shows were not worth downloading, sorry about that. You stopped downloading when the DVD announcement was made, didn't you?

"How do you know the artist isn't compensated?": Are you serious? No, I mean, really? You think they get paid every time a show they made/appear in is downloaded? Or you think they'll get paid more next time because thousands of people downloaded their shows instead of buying the DVDs? Yeah, I can see that, "we sold bugger all DVDs, but thousands downloaded the shows, so pay me more, even though we earned way less than we would have if people had bought the DVDs instead of downloading" ... yeah, that'll work ...
That's got to be the most inane comment and lamest attempt at justifying the download of copyrighted material I've ever seen.

"I would suggest the artist IS compensated": do you happen to have anything to back this up?

"because the episodes were NOT available on DVD": well, your reason to point to mininova was that UKNova removed them because their DVD release was announced. Any reason people can't just wait 3 months for the DVDs? And to think you picked on my use of the word "greed" ...

"I didn't advise people to download copyrighted material": oh, so a full page on how to use BT and listing which websites to go to is not "advice"? Pontius syndrom again, eh? You honestly don't believe that, do you?
Let me quote from your comments following my original comments: "In my view, it's my duty to make people aware of opportunities these technologies present". If that's not advising, I don't know what it is, especially given that the only example you gave of the p2p technology was to download copyrighted material. There are so many legit uses of the technology you could have used (WoW updates, used by millions of gamers, setting up your own BT server to share home movies, etc), but no, you wanted to stick it to the big bad copyright holders?

"I don't claim to have the moral high ground":
in your comments in the initial post, you said:
"I'm glad we agree that the actions of copyright holders are morally indefensible"
The statement suggests that you think using technology to download copyrighted material is more morally defensible that the actions of the copyright holders. You then spend this column's space to justify downloading copyrighted material (the "They therefore deserve all they get" comment for ex.).
At least we agree on something, you don't have the moral high ground

"I simply don't agree that you have it": where did I say I had it? There you go again making things up.

"I don't view it as a moral issue. You do"
I just see your columns and post on the issue as rank hypocrisy.
You use the fact that FTA produces crap content to justify downloading shows ("They therefore deserve all they get")?
You advise people to download copyrighted shows but you don't warn them of the risks?
You advocate downloading copyrighted material that is/will be available on DVD without compensating the artists? I note you didn't address Traktorman's comments on the issue either.
You use the fact that you don't actually say the words "download this" to excuse yourself from any responsibility after explaining to people exactly how they could go about downloading copyrighted material?

Spare us your indignation when people like myself and Traktorman point out the holes in your arguments, please.

Posted by: hello at April 5, 2008 11:55 AM

OK. You've had your say. Bye now.

Posted by: cw at April 5, 2008 03:47 PM