Monday, July 21, 2003

Some thoughts on copyright 

Hot button issue these days, copyright. The Recording Industry Artist of America (RIAA), aka the Music Cops, are filing subpoenas in US districts courts to compel ISPs all over the US into opening their records. They want to track down users guilty of trading copyrighted music online. The RIAA is bringing lawsuits against file sharers with damages starting at around a thousand dollars per song. Anecdotal evidence abounds on the internet suggesting that they are going after collections of as few as five or ten songs. The industry themselves say there is no limit to how low they will go.

It's true, of course, that the internet is a the whole seven seas of piracy roiled up into one great big electronic cyclone. Copy is the fundamental nature of the electronic medium. There's a million reasons to put intellectual property in the public domain, I'm sure we can all think of a few. (Check out illegal arts for a whole discourse.) And really, a lot of people thought the question was relatively academic ... the technology was so far ahead of the law, and there are so many of us, what could they do? Well, now we know ... they can track us down and sue us into submission.

A corporate copyright culture has been created in the US. Now we hear that Disney gets their copyright on Mickey extended for another few decades. Combine that with the fact that five companies own every media outlet in the country. Copying is outlawed. Sampling is ruthlessly crushed. Art suffers. The consumer suffers and pays at every turn. The Artists mostly get nothing, but for a few media darlings, who get it all. But because the American consumer has notoriously low standards, and no other outlets, the media companies continue to rake in the bucks.

And what really sucks is that they sold us a bill of goods with the compact disc. What a worthless medium this is. I mean, it doesn’t do me any good to have digitally remastered sound when the first time I slide the thing across the cd tray it gets a scratch big enough to make it skip. The stunningly poor quality of CD is distressing in a purely economic sense: I have hundreds of cds, as many as a third are unplayable and many more have been discarded over time. If they’re so delicate, why isn’t the jewel case some kind of loadable cartridge, like a bigger version of a floppy disk, to protect the oh so delicate plastic platter?

And the music industry sucks for real, I mean, who did the Training Day soundtrack, anyway? Where are all the good songs that were in the movie? Can anyone blame me for downloading a few ‘sample’ songs when I decided the Blue Crush soundtrack might be cool? (It was ok, not worth 16 hours on Lime Wire though ... and yes, I am on cable, thank you for asking.)

But on balance, I look at it all and think, ok, so, no, I can’t download 200 mp3s. Oh well, I can self publish, I can sample a lot of stuff in the name of parody and fair use, I still get to play, and after all, I’m just one tiny blog in a sea of bloggers...

I do wish someone would fix the CDs though. Make ‘em harder or something, damn. Work on it, will ya people?

For more information on copyright, check out the Library of Congess, U.S. Copyright Office FAQ.

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