Friday, July 22, 2005

Piracy Czar

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush has created a new senior-level position to fight global intellectual-property piracy and counterfeiting that cost American companies billions of dollars each year, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said Friday.

Calling "piracy" lost sales is really misleading because you count "pirates" as potential customers. First, the language "Pirate" is inaccurate. "Hobo" would be a more accurate analogy. A Hobo might bum a ride but never buy a ticket. This makes a Hobo a non-customer. A Pirate on the other hand, steals the actual potential for something to make a sale. Does a Hobo? No... A Hobo takes up unsold space on a train. In other words, while there is an unfair product distribution, this does not impede the rightful owner from selling more product. An IP Hobo in some ways encourages other potential sales. Most artistic tastes rub off by group contact, so for every Hobo'd copy has a good chance of selling a real copy and widening an audience that otherwise would not have known about a product. Video rental stores and Libraries purchase at least one official copy of an IP product. IP Hobos are free to borrow these copies and absorb their content. There isn't much of a difference between this type of distribution, and P2P methods. There are the added benefits that a single copy can be passed seamlessly along to the next reader/viewer/listener without the need to wait for the first person to finish (which is ideal for an archive of information). In a Library model, the person returns the media borrowed, but in this case is it even important? Most of these people aren't reading the media over and over again, the work simply exists as a part of the library.

What's the difference between a song you remember, and a song on your computer? A computer might have a somewhat better copy, but I think the crucial difference comes down to means of access. You can hum the song, its not quite the same as hitting play, however it is a means of access and distribution of a copy-written work. You hum the song, before you know it, your friend is humming the song, and his friends, and their friends and so on. Are these people thieves? Or is the fact that "Humming" is a degraded copy make a difference? Hmm... Lets say one person buys a CD and his friends hear the content while in this persons car... Did they purchase the rights to hear this music? Did this person have the right to expose this material? Should these things come with memory erase pills, so that no one remembers "content," but instead only remember liking or disliking it so you can buy an official licensed edition? Lets say you hum the contents of an album, and release a torrent file of the humming? Is that any different then releasing a shitty recording of the actual music in a torrent file? Is the shitty recording in any way less of an IP violation then a higher quality release? How much of this can be fairly determined? Wouldn't it be fair to assume to at least some extent, after you publish something it becomes apart of other peoples imagination whether you like it or not? Humming a song, or letting your friends borrow a CD may be a natural reflex of this, and therefore so might P2P file sharing.

The conflict between P2P and the IP business has much to do with general economics. A traditional library system can be more easily measured, and the idea of archival lending of media through this model are tolerated. P2P on the other hand, bashes the scale. P2P, unlike a normal library, alters the value of IP as we have traditionally used it. One copy may spread wildly across a network almost instantaneously. Those in the IP businesses therefore, need to know the real value of selling one individual copy. By the end of the day, you'd want to have the right price to sell enough individual pieces to justify their production and make a profit. Let's say the price is set high to account for every reader/viewer/listener who will get their hands on the media. In that scenario, the actual seeds you'd create might be in less abundance then what the lower price would yield. This might mean less eventual profit. Keeping the price reasonable would likely sell many more seed copies and therefore grow more support for whatever creative work is being sold. As communication and network systems become more sophisticated and efficient a natural by product is the de-valuation of original idea. Every idea will be diluted by the popular imagination naturally, regardless of what laws are in place. The greatest benefit of having a sophisticated and efficient communication system should be the speed at which great ideas may be spread and developed. Laws de-value this effect, while at the same time these laws will not add value to these ideas, and in-fact, will slow the creation of better and more valuable ideas.

An "Anti-piracy czar" seems like a really destructive and stupid position to band-aid the effects of broken laws.
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