February 16, 2005

Freedom to Share

The thing about thought process for me, is that it does not go forward unless there is a IO port attached to it. In other words, if I ever had to think a thread through, I need to either be talking or typing or wriggling toes in the language of the three toed sloth.

So, as it happenned, I knew deep down that I felt quite strongly about music, piracy, sharing etc. However, never got to put down ideas, and never realised how much it affected me.

So, we were walking down home after a particularly indifferent movie, and this topic came up. So the thought process ran. When you are faced with having to justify yourself to a particularly sharp and acid person, your brain wakes up cells that were never used to be awake, cleans up cobwebs and cranks up the storage devices. And the results are particularly consistent. Till, you plan on putting things on paper when you start to choke, under self doubt.

But, this is my blog, so what the hell.

Lets start with a question. When HBO tells you, "Say no to piracy" and be HIP and what not - what exactly are they telling you. Are they telling you to stop buying stuff you think is pirated off the vendor on the corner, or are they telling you to stop downloading stuff from the internet, or are they asking you not to watch a movie with your friend. HBO in its clips seems to say the first thing, MPAA in their lawsuits seem to say the second thing, and companies like Microsoft with their DRM ideas seem to say the third.

On the whole, they are pretty confused about it, but ask any one of them, and they will tell you to respect "Intellectual Rights". Granted, I want to respect intellectual rights - but will that mean they will stop treating me as a thief?

That is the crux of my problem with the entire anti-piracy thing. I have already been labelled a thief. Read the small print written by some lawyer on your CD you bought. You did not buy music, you bought some rights to do something with music - like listen to it. And whenever you do anything with the CD you bought, which has not been explicitly okayed by the small print, you are a thief. You go to a friends party and play it in his player loudly - you are a thief. You rip the CD to play in your HD player, flash player, car-mp3 player and a backup copy - you are a thief. And for a CD you supposedly bought, you dont own anything about the CD, not the songs, not the artwork, only the plastic. And unless proven otherwise you are a thief.

I would still consent to being labelled a thief, if music and movies were priced any cheaper. Technology has driven down the cost of music and movies. Songs can now be recorded and mixed at home on a laptop. You no longer need expensive recoding studios and their costly help in making music. But music is still priced the same. Artist costs and their profits are shrinking, but the end price is still the same. And who is getting an increasing slice of the pie - RIAA, MPAA and the rest of them.

One could have argued a decade ago, that these were very important and worth more than their share of cut in on the music prices. They helped artists get launched, the paid for recording up front, they help advertise, they promoted and most importantly they distributed. But today, it is no longer that crucial. The growth of the Internet has put a critical question mark on the reason for the existence of such associations. Downloading costs next to nothing, the Internet looks after advertising and it does a much better job than the RIAA ever could. The Internet breaks even faster, helps artist make money faster, reaches out to all kinds of audiences, does not differentiate between a super-hit or a hit or a moderate hit or a niche hit. It does not differentiate between rock or pop or hip hop or techno. It does not differentiate based on age, religion, region or sex. And the MPAA/RIAA are not happy.

Not only are they not happy, but they dont want to accept this change. Making costs are dropping, selling costs are dropping, shipping costs are dropping, advertising costs are dropping, reviewing costs are dropping, but the CDs are still priced the same. And all users are thieves.

This is why I dont care for their message against piracy. Of course I respect the artist's rights, of course I want to pay him. But I want to pay only the artist. I want to play a small and reasonable amount. I want to pay for songs I like, not entire albums. I want to share it with friends and when they like it, I want them to fully own the song by paying a similar small and reasonable amount. And most importantly, I dont like people calling me a thief.

Next post - mechanism for such a world.

etc etc long live robin hood
-- ravi

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