On SOPA and copyright

Ugh.  I didn’t want to write a blog post about this, mostly because I intend to stay away from political issues on this blog.  I hate politics and I really hate that send enough money to the Federal government to buy a new car each year so they can spend it on things that get their names on it.  I would much rather write about software and music, which is where my passions lie.  I dislike the administrative state but begrudgingly accept that some freedoms must be curtailed to ensure a civil society.  If you disagree with this you are either a totalitarian or an anarchist.  Since you are probably not one the only question is where on the slide do you lie concerning liberty and control.  I tend to be more on the liberty side.  And while I don’t want to write about things that have political ties, if I don’t write this post I’ll be trying to keep myself from writing it for the rest of the day.

Concerning SOPA and PIPA, I am against both.  I am against them primarily because I don’t think that the government should be enlisting private enterprise, large or small, to be its eyes and ears.  If you have evidence, bring it to court.  Don’t force private organizations to do your dirty work.

But the main reason I’m writing this is not because of SOPA but because of a blog post I read about why the author is a pirate.  He claimed that the laws were written to get people like him, which it probably is.

A little background, first.  I hold a few copyrights.  I’ve written a book on PHP on the IBM i and a book on crazy things to do with PHP.  I’ve also release an album and am working on a second, when I have the free time.  In other words, I have some skin in the game.  Not much, but a little skin.

That blog post pisses me off.  Why?  He does what a lot of people do nowadays.  He dislikes the rules and, with a wave of his hand, declares that they are stupid and that he won’t follow stupid rules.  He gives several reasons for this.

  1. Copyright law is broken
  2. He wants to be free to enjoy content however he likes
  3. They’re too expensive
  4. The original artists don’t get enough of the revenue
  5. Pirates actually spend more money on music

I will address each one indiviually

1. Copyright law is broken

Answer: Do you have the right to copy?

2. He wants to be free to enjoy content however he likes

Answer: Do you have the right to copy?

3. They’re too expensive

Answer: Do you have the right to copy?

4. The original artists don’t get enough of the revenue

Answer: Do you have the right to copy?

5. Pirates actually spend more money on music

Answer: Do you have the right to copy?

Notice something?  I am quite confident that each of his assertions are completely irrelevant.  Quite simply, if you do not own the copyright you do not have the right to copy.  He also demonstrates a misunderstanding of what copyright is.  I quote (which I am doing legally as quoting like this is what fair use actually is)

Let me give you an example of how copyright is meant to work. If I produce a painting and hang it in a gallery, copyright ensures that no one takes a photo and sells or prints copies. If I produce official copies of my painting and sell them, you are completely free to do whatever you like with your copy. If you want to deface it, you can. If you want to give it to someone as a gift, you can. This is what your money is meant to buy you.

Actually, he misses it completely.  With any form of copyright you can do whatever you like to your copy.  But what you cannot do is make copies of your copy.  This is because, unless the copyright holder has given you permission, you don’t have the right to copy.  Regardless of the medium, it is illegal to copy it.  When you buy an album, or a movie or a book, you do not own it.  You either own the copy or you are being granted a license.  You may hate that very little of the money goes back to the artist, but you know what?  The artist SOLD their copyright to the label in exchange for the label to spend more money on them than they were worth to promote  their crappy band.  The label also spent gobs of money to record them in a freaking expensive (and freaking cool) recording studio.  Is the label a money grubbing, exploitive enterprise that is looking for a quick buck?  Probably.  But who owns the copyright?  The money grubbing, exploitive enterprise.  In other words, NOT YOU!

But isn’t copyright law broken and unable to handle the 21st century?  Yes, on the first, no on the second.  ALL law is to some extent broken.  Capital crimes, tax law, copyright, they are all flawed.  But that does not mean they are optional or that they are irrelevant because some new circumstance has come about.  Would I like to “own” the music I listen to?  Sure.  But I don’t really care.  I have a music subscription that I pay $10 a month for and I can listen to butt-loads of music as much as I like.  OOooooo, I don’t get a physical disk.  Who cares?  I want to listen to music and I don’t give a crap about some shiny disk.  If artists don’t get paid, they won’t write great music unless they have a full-time job and write music in their spare time at 5:00 in the morning like I do.

What it comes down to is that piracy (software, music, movies, whatever) is a problem not so much because it costs money but because people have no problem copying other people’s work without paying (stealing, in the layman’s terms).  There is only one question that pirate needs to answer.  “Do I own the rights to copying X”.  If the answer is “no”, no other justification is legitimate.  Should they have the rights to copy as they see fit?  Maybe, maybe not.  But the only question that matters is “do they?”

To quote the article,

That is why I pirate: When I buy something, I want to be free to enjoy it however I like. I don’t want to be forced into “borrowing indefinitely” or only being allowed to play a movie through iTunes, on a computer.

To which I respond, “Unless you own the rights to the work it doesn’t matter what you want.”

In other words, suck it up.  I gave up piracy 15 years ago when I asked myself these simple questions and my answers came up lacking.  And you know what?  I survived!!

And heck, most media these days sucks and isn’t worth copying.

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