Our World. Our Minutae.

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

$6 Billion in Revenue

That's Why They Call it Copyright,
Our Right to Copy ...

First, I am a red-blooded capitalist. I believe that everybody should have a right to make as much money as humanly possibly within ethical and legal guidelines - and if you "create" something we want - you should be able to make money from that creation but things are getting a little carried away. There are two main arguments - about the length of the copyright and the scope of a copyright. Let's start with the philosophical and work towards the practical ...

Once again, the Founding Fathers are on the money.

Copyright laws used to last around 20 years and since most people lived to be about 45, that sounded about right - obviously we live longer and there's no reason that a "creator" of something shouldn't be able to pass that along to his/her kids but that should be it. By the time the 1st heirs have moved beyond their physical presence here on Earth, that copyright should pass into public domain. Sure, people always cite the things that are near,dear and emotional to their heart like "Gone with the Wind," or "Bambi." Well, what about "Disco Duck" or "Jackass?" Do they deserve 150 years of protection also? Now, suddenly we're not so sure, right? I think the life of the creator and the life of the heirs (or 75 years if no heirs or if the heirs pass away sooner) is a fair deal. Yes, you created something for us to enjoy BUT only because literally millions of people died so you could have the relative ease to create and enjoy the fruits of your labor? Who built the roads or the electric lines so we, the audience could drive to the theater and watch it? Whose airwaves is it really to deliver the TV signal? Who helped create a monetary exchange and a functioning economy so we could go to the mall to buy the CD? And to stretch it further, did you create the alphabet? The music scale? The technology to deliver your creation? No, because you live in America (and in other industralized nations), you also get a shortcut to making a decent to a great living from bringing us creative pleasure ... how much money would Billy Joel have the opportunity to make if he were born in Afghanistan? Think about that. So, even though I am a "creator" and like to think of myself as a genius, I do realize that I did not build the theater and the roads - I'm just the writer. I deserve to well paid but not from now until the Sun goes supernova. And while medicines and technology patents expire, Disney wants us to believe a rodent and a duck are worth shortchanging us the consumer so they can make a few more bucks. You had the time, you benefited from being in this society, now YOU MUST GIVE SOMETHING BACK.

Michael Eisner and Jack Valenti would have us believe that only the "rightful" owners could be the caretakers of that copyright thing - really? Every copyright holder has always treated their "properties' with respect? No. In fact, a new person/company entering the fray has a greater incentive to create something interesting - they aren't beholden to the way it always was - how many of Disney's shorts have been released on DVD? No many. Perhaps because they don't want to spend the money to digitize and clean something that might only sell 25,000 copies but maybe a tiny company with no overhead and loves Donald Duck should would do it and still make money. Or all of the episodes of "Hello, Larry."

I think there should be the main copyright years (as it stands now) and then a 20-year transition period where people may freely issue or recreate that "copyrighted" thing with a little disclaimer that notes if it's an official license or unofficial license (we sort of have that notation now on unauthorized bio or guides ...). Then after all, it's capitalism at its finest. Those that are willing to expend the time or resources can bring that thing back into vogue or fruition. 

Horrible Caretakers ...

In fact, most of the original copyright holders of creations are horrible caretakers. They threw away old films, they erased TV recordings (no Tonight Show pre-Burbank, CA), they dumped studio sessions and tossed out stuff because they didn't care - now, they suddenly realize that content can always be repurposed and suddenly want a thousand years protection for "Adam-12." Maybe if they had a time limit for exploiting this asset, we would actually get to see it and hear it? Otherwise, they would have 200 years before they released it again, but with a time limit of 95 years or whatever, they better figure out the best way to make the most amount of money off of it, right? And even after it expires, if there were two DVD's of Donald Duck shorts, one for $3.99 but another one with interviews from animators from Disney for $8.99, wouldn't we as consumer be better off with a choice? We can decide if the Disney label and the interviews were worth the $5 difference? Or vice versa, instead of Disney just giving us a generic DVD with some shorts, they would have to put more effort into it - just like a Rhino CD collection versus one you find for $5.99 in a giant bin at K-mart. Same songs but we trust Rhino remastered the songs and there is nice booklet. we already have examples of that working already. If we really start to call it monopoly protection instead copyright protection, we suddenly begin to see it for what it really is.

Digital Technology ... 

The monopoly copyright holders have always feared technology.

They hated records - "People get to take home our voice? No one will ever go to another concert performance!"

Radio? Hated it. - "... but people aren't going to pay to listen to our songs!," they cried - yet, the music industry exploded once again as people from all over the country could hear DIFFERENT songs and go to the record stores to buy them.

Television - hated it "No one will go the movies anymore!"  

Audio cassettes? Hated it - people will just tape stuff or maybe they'll get used to being able to listen to music everywhere and WANT MORE MUSIC!

VCR's? Oh, they really hated it especially the movie studios (even going as far as to sue Sony for inventing it) - last quarter (that's 3 MONTHS!), Warner Bros. Home Video made $1 BILLION dollars!

CD's - questioned the need and feared that once people bought a CD, they would never buy it again unlike records which wore out. CD's only gave the music industry their greatest profits for nearly 20 years.

DVD's - well, they didn't hate DVD's but except for Warner Bros. and Columbia (owned by Sony), they tried to grab control of it through the original Divx (see end of ramble for explanation if you're interested).

MP3's/The Internet - Do you see a pattern? Everytime there is a new radical format, they are against it. Flat out hate it - world is ending - My God, they'll never be entertainment again  ... oh, wait a minute, maybe we can make BILLIONS and BILLIONS from the EXACT SAME CONTENT. It's only happened every 10 years for the past 100 years (minus WWII years).

Yes, everytime there is a new technology, it expands the market place from radio to TV to VCR's to DVD's and now to Mp3's - it's always a good thing in the long run.

Now, the only scary thing is instead of tiny media companies without much political clout, it is 8 major conglomerates who throw their political weight around but they are all old men who are just interested in this quarter's earnings and have no idea what technology is - they're just scared of it because the old rules no longer apply. GO HOME! You've outlived your usefulness - GO HOME!

Music Industry ... 

No surprise, the new Forrester study points out that the downward trend of the music industry is not CD piracy but just a downward trend of the economy and of the the industry that happens to coincide with the rise of digital copying. Let's examine what is wrong with the music industry ...

Here is an industry that releases nearly 30,000 products a year. Their main "promotional" opportunity for potential purchasers of this product is to hear it on the radio. They identify the few hundred tracks a year that are "hits." They pay another company to talk to the radio station to play this record. (We know what happened beforehand when they paid the stations directly - payola - but exactly is the difference?). Somehow, they are trying to preserve this way of doing business - does this make sense to anyone else? AND the economics that they created require an artist to sell 400-500,000 of this item before it breaks even ... who invented this way of doing business? AND, it's even better for them, the PERFORMER pays for the creation of their art. Sure, they give them an advance but if the artist makes money, they have to pay them back. Writers don't have to pay for the printing of their books or directors for their film stock (though in some cases, it might be a good idea) - AND yet, they are so bloated and so elephantine that they cannot make money by selling ONLY 400,000 of a CD. Who do they blame for the world's stupiest way of doing business? Us - for not buying enough CD's at $19.99. They are sounding just like the airlines whining we're not buying anough $4,000 tickets for going coast to coast.

Why don't they just buy radio stations and just play their own songs? When you release 5,000 CD's a year, doesn't that make sense? Sure, they would have to tell us but as long you're upfront with us - remember as Americans we watch 3 home shopping networks (another one in Spanish) and infomercials so we don't care if it's an ad, we just wanna know upfront. Or maybe they just buy blocks of time from stations like infomercials. I don't know the minutae of the record business but maybe they want to think outside of the box instead of trying to play a really large whining violin.

Yep, all them ...

First, they made music a commodity. When we hear "London Calling" by the Clash as background music to sell a $60k Jaguar, let's just say that its perceived value drops.
When you package horrible soundtracks just so only artists from your label are on it, our perceived value drops. When you (and Columbia House is "you" - Sony/WB) sells CD's for essentially $7.50 (including shipping & tax) - we really don't want to spend $18.99 in the stores (not including tax!). When we take it to the used CD store and they offer us $2, we know what it's really worth. When you just drop bands since it's a product, we treat it as Cherry-scented Pledge just like you do. When you charge the same $18.99 for a new artist with one good track as you do for Briuce Springsteen CD? When blank CD's cost $6 each, it made sense that CD's were $14.99 - when blank CD's and a case are essentially $.50, why have CD's actually GONE UP in price? When you could buy a "analog" videocassette of a movie at $24.99, it made sense to pay $14.99 for a digital CD. Now, 15 years later, we can buy a pristine digital DVD of an Oscar winning movie with 6 hours of extra footage and 3 commentary tracks for $17.99 ... a 35-minute CD of Jessica Simpson also costs $18.99 - why? When a DVD can drop in price from $22.99 to $14.99 within 9 months but CD pricing only drops after about 10 years?

In most cases, it's just a different division of the same company! Do you really think we're idiots?

Once records/CD's were essentially the only take home entertainment (well, books - but that requires additional work) but now you have satellite TV, DVD's, video games and the internet to compete (not to mention the schedule of today's teens) with ... why is your pricing going up when everything else is coming down? (well, video games do cost more but I believe most people are willing to concede that a PS2 offers a little more variety than an Atari 2600).

Stealing? Stealing a listen?

Yes, there are thieves among us. There is a small percentage of people who are literally thieves. They will shoplift, rob or pilfer stores and as we're finding out - corporation tills. So, let's ignore that 2% of the population because it's like shoplifting, you can stop 98% of the shoplifting with mirrors and sensors but you would have to do a full body cavity search and scanners to catch the remaining 2% - it wouldn't be worth it but the "copyright" holders thinks we're all the 2%. And keep in mind, that's 2% - the real fanatical professional thieves but  "they' would have us believe that 98% of us are thieves. But they are counting anyone who listens to music without paying them.

Of course, that's really ironic as they are not exactly known as the bunch who's quick to pay royalties to their artists ... how many audits? Gross points versus net points? (Gee, I hope that first Batman movie turns a profit soon). How many blues or R&B artists did they buy publishing rights from for a few hundred dollars? ($500 bucks to buy "Louie, Louie). Oh, and Disney is being sued by the real rights holders of Winnie the Pooh, apparently, to Disney's calculations, since they didn't say videocassettes or video games in the 1961 contract (go figure!), they didn't think they'd have to pay them for using Winnie the Pooh characters - think you could use the reverse strategy on them? BAWHAAHAAA.

Oh, and did you know that when you buy a CD from a record club, most artists (especially new artists) GET NO ROYALTIES because they count that as promotional? Who's stealing from who? What about when you go to those kiosks at Tower to listen to a CD - I'm guessing the artist is not paid for that. Is that stealing? How about all the artists who after selling a couple CD's still owe money because you kept advancing them their own money at a high interest rate?

For Jack Valenti and that shill PR mouthpiece woman for RIAA, instead of throwing words around like "stealing," what was the last CD or movie they paid for? To them, it all seems very inexpensive and easy to obtain because it is for them - they can have all the CD's and DVD's they want FOR FREE. But because we have to pay full freight, we'd like to get a preview of what we're buying. Most Mp3's are recorded at 128kps - okay for listening on tinny PC speakers but if we like the song, we'll go out and buy the CD (I have 5,000 CD's so I'm entitle to vent a little) - same with the movies. It's fun and slightly illegal to download - hence part of the reason we do it but it's all promotional stuff. If we can listen or watch a part of a movie already online, what's the difference when we can download it? Because we can burn a low res (audio or video) to a disc? Is it really that scary? What is really the difference when even a hundred thousand people download a song or a few million people download the Lord of the Rings trailer? It's all promotional - it's all background fluff. And yes, maybe we won't buy the CD but is that any different than hearing the "Who Let the Dogs Out" song a million times on the radio and at every damn sporting event? Is that different than downloading a copy to listen at home? 

Maybe the problems of slowing CD's sales is (besides the cost) is that the only two outlets of showcasing your music are run by robots and MTV (not to say MTV isn't run by robots, my guess is only a human would put on "Jackass" and "Carson Daily" on the same network). Radio stations play the same damn 10 songs over and over again and MTV, well, if you can find a video on it, it's probably a commercial. Maybe if you didn't rely on them, we aging busters and xers would know about all the great music out there ... and there is great music out there - you just have to unearth it on the internet - hello? Wake up and smell the 21st century!

Fixing Music ...

a) Cost. Lower the price. Lower the price. Lower the price.
b) Take a look at your sister divisions - add extras to the CD. Booklet, who cares - tiny artwork - meh ... What about putting a hidden track that you have to interact with something to unlock? What about commentary tracks or alternative tracks? It's like DVD's - someone might bootleg the movie but no one's going to go the trouble to bootleg all the extras ... why not on CD's or an extra one? I can buy a blank for $02, how much does it cost you? Why not fun extras like an interview or something like Bono's introduction for Springsteen's introduction to the R 'n R Hall of Fame? If we can get the 4th AD to ramble on about a dumb Stallone movie, why not for a CD? Too radical? WAKE UP! WAKE UP! SNAP OUT OF IT!
c) Release singles (Universal & Sony are apparently already doing this).

Where Now?

So, that's just a start. But look at videocassettes - even though it's easy to dupe a VHS, how many pirates are still doing it? Why? When you can buy the original movie for $5.99 with its intended artwork in the highest quality - why bother duping? Why try and make copies of a $9.99 DVD? Why download a movie when you can buy a high res version with 10 hours of extras for $17.99? Instead of Sony spending $30 MILLION dollars on protection technology that can be defeated with a $.79 Sharpie, AND will just get people mad, why not make it cheaper so people aren't tempted to shoplift? What are you thinking? And it's not even all that radical, your sister division is doing it right now! And as for digital TV protection ... Why would we bother if we can buy the entire season on DVD for $29.99? We WANT to buy stuff - just make it easier and give us good value - it's only when we perceive the value to be lacking that we look elsewhere. We made you and we can take you down (Beta, Laserdisc, Divx, 8-track, MiniDisc, DCC) so you better watch out!! 

*(Not the new underground format) The original divx discs were like DVD's except you had to buy a special machine and you could play them like 3 times before it stopped working ... it was registered to your machine so you couldn't play it on your friend's machine ... no one was quite sure what would happen if you lost power in the middle of a screening ... there was also a gold one that was always unlocked ... confused, you're not alone AND when DVD's came out cheaper and with extras like commentaries ... Divx made no sense whatsoever.

THOSE ON THE FRONT LINE FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT
Craig's List
Digital Consumer Organization

Dan Gillmor
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Fat Chuck's
UK/Euro Campaign for Digital Rights

FEATURES
Copy Protected are not technically CD's
How to Defeat Copy Protection with Marker or Tape
How to Play "PC CD's" on Macs
Let Universal Music know what you think
Mac Norton Utilities unearths "hidden" Mp3's
Moral Obligation to Watch Commercials?
Sony Copy Protection Defeated with $.99 Sharpie (Free registration required to read)
The Mouse That Ate Public Domain
When the Royalty Issue is on the Other Honeypot




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