Big Tax Vs. Big Brother . . .

I’m sitting here bemused (but not surprised) by the responses I’m getting on the Canadian blank media tax. A lot of them start off well enough, but in most cases, the writers
can’t keep up the facade and the underlying motives come out.

It’s pretty odd reading email after email from people who start off saying they have never, ever made an illegal copy and greatly object to paying for thieves, then turn around and defend theft.

There are many in the Islamic world who essentially say, “Don’t blame us, don’t blame bin Laden, and don’t do anything about it. BTW, while we regret 911, the U.S. kind of deserved it.”

Well, I’m getting the exact same argument about this. Just a couple names have changed.

A Small Outbreak Of Class War?

You see a general denial of the essential legitimacy of intellectual property, that it is something that has worth just as much a screwdriver or a quart of milk, and that people who make it have to be paid for it just as much as Home Depot or Safeway.

There’s a sense of entitlement, a sense that “I deserve this” regardless of ability or inclination to pay.

Usually, there’s another denial that goes along with it, a denial that companies essentially have the right to make money, and especially to make as much money as they can within the confines of the law.

There is a significant class element to these protests. Railing against the rich is a common theme. “They make too much as is” is a common sentiment. People think they’re in a rigged game, and rather than change the rules, this is their way of getting back.

The sad fact is that “making too much” means “makes more than I ever will” to most people.

Payment Optional

Go to a 7-11. Order a hot dog. Tell the guy, “I’ll pay you, but only if I like it and feel like paying you.” How many hot dogs do you think you’re going to get?

Amazingly, this is how many think is the way it should be for digital media, and they think they’re being very generous and open-minded about it.

A variant on this is “I’ll just pay the parts of the bill I feel like.” “I’ll give the artist a dollar for a good song, maybe, but not a cent to the record company” is a pretty good summary of many people’s beliefs.

Ironically, it is just that attitude which protects some of the more dubious practices of the digital media industry and prevents more equitable arrangements.

There’s No Saints On the Other Side, Either

I know full well that in all likelihood, it will take content providers a long time to get their act together once it becomes safe to sell their wares online.

If you look at video tapes, it took content producers many years before they realized they could make more money charging $20 a video than $100.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it took the music industry at least that long, simply because a record, being made of a number of songs, is inherently a more complicated pricing beast in a digital world than a movie.

For instance, people rail about paying $15 or more for an album they feel has only one or two good songs, but at least at the beginning, people are likely to find out to their horror that the latest hit song from Creed or Korn or Britney or whomever will likely cost them $6 or $8 or $10 this week, and maybe $2 two months from now (and if I’m way off on this, it probably is assuming a price drop).

In the long run, prices will drop (though probably by not as much as people think), but market mechanisms can work pretty slowly. We’ll probably see pricing mechanisms barely imaginable (or not at all) today in a digital world.

For instance, twenty years from now, the idea of buying music or a movie may be as quaint as rotary telephones. Today, people buy music or movies essentially to see or hear it whenever they want. In a broadband world, there’s no inherent reason to have to continue doing that.

The same is just as applicable to software. Why buy something like Partition Magic when you only use it once a year? Why not just rent it when you need it? Why charge somebody working in an office in some Third World country the same amount (actually, more) for using Word than someone doing far more remunerative work in the U.S.?

Such things become possible when you can treat software as a service rather than as a product. This is what MS wants with .NET (though I greatly doubt they have altruistic intentions like the ones I just mentioned.)

But none of this is possible so long as the Internet is essentially one big electronic fence for stolen goods.

Thieves Bolster The Dinosaurs

Many of you have pointed out that some of these folks, especially in the software industry, get free rides, too. If you buy a buggy piece of software that doesn’t do what it claims or what you want, it’s tough luck, Charlie.

Far fewer understand that thieves are the best friends the software industry has when it comes to defending shoddy practices. It’s a great bogeyman which excuses just about anything. Theft is the all-purpose, fits-all-sizes excuse thieves hand the software companies for not being accountable for the quality of their products.

Now if software were secure, that excuse for a no-return policy would wear pretty thin after a while, wouldn’t it?

If you had rent-on-demand for software you only occasionally need, that certainly would reduce most people’s software bills, but we can’t have that in a thieves’ den, either, can we?

Sure, content providers come up with inflated claims as to how much money they lose due to piracy, and they certainly don’t mention the money they gain from piracy. In a world safe for software, people would buy what they regularly needed and could afford, and rent-on-demand for the rest. Ironically, in a safe world, all but the 100% thieves would eventually could do so legally for less than it costs legally now. Thieves would pay somewhat more, everyone else would pay less.

Perhaps the record companies really will be dinosaurs in a digital world (though I tend to doubt it). Perhaps eventually artists will be able to market themselves (though I doubt it). But we’ll never find out one way or the other in the current environment.

For sure, pro-consumer items like these would only come after a safe environment for doing this kind of business has been secured, likely quite some time after. A lot of software, movie and music people will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to this new world, and that could take years and years.

The reality is both sides have to bend, but the provider side can only bend (really, be forced by the market and/or government to bend) after they have a safe place in which to do business and market forces get a chance to do their work. So long as the other side’s answer to legitimate problems is “steal,” the answers to those problems are blocked, and the dinosaurs have safe harbor.

The answers cannot come so long as it is an act of idiocy to digitally distribute.

This Punishes the Innocent!

Whether it be taxes or enforcement, measures taken to end the thieves’ den will no doubt cause some harm or inconvenience to those innocent of such wrongdoings. So?

But what I find at the least curious is that the response to being lumped in with a bunch of thieves is a lot of blaming the cops and little blaming of the thieves.

The problem you have is that you live in a bad neighborhood, and you’re paying the price for it, and now. It’s just not so obvious.

If you live in a bad neighborhood, you pay high prices in the neighborhood stores. You’re essentially paying for the thieves.

There’s all sorts of security measures in the stores, both for the innocent and guilty. You’re essentially paying for the thieves.

Should government decide to clean up the place, there will be more police. One way or the other, you pay for that.

Now if you’re Mother Teresa, that’s terribly unfair to you. So? You don’t like it, move out. Or help clean up the neighborhood. Only thieves benefit from theft.

You Can’t Stop Us!

Young men have a very bad habit of not paying much attention to the law or obeying it. Go to any prison to see the results. They fought the law and the law won.

The reality is that this can be stopped, and will eventually be stopped. Not 100%, that isn’t necessary. Driving this sort of thing underground will be good enough.

The reality is all this stealing has become endemic simply because 1) it is easy to do and 2) is virtually risk-free. It’s not because there are millions of crackers out there. Make it harder and riskier to do, and this “resistance” will melt like snow on a hot summer’s day.

The reality is the vast majority of so-called “outlaws” aren’t even really thieves, but just leeches. Make it hard and/or hot for the relative few, or just hard for the average leech to use, and the leeches will drop off and die.

The reality is the vast majority of “thieves” lack the courage of their convictions. For instance, it’s conceivable that a concerted legislative and lobbying effort might get MP3s legalized. It’s inconceivable that such an effort will be made.

Now if you want posturing alternated with whining, you’ll get terabytes of that. But actually do something that involves any real commitment or effort? Please.

Don’t think so? How many of you would pay $50 to something like MP3PAC? Probably about as many as those who showed up to support Napster at a rally a while back, a few dozen.

I’m a lifelong history buff. To me, this is just history repeating itself. When the powers-that-be want to stop something, they organize, inevitably crush any unorganized anarchic underclass and afterwards rewrite the rules to punish the rebellious. More moderate approaches (or serious organized resistance) do much better. I see neither here.

All I’m doing (and have been doing) is applying history. The way things are going, “fair use” will likely be dictated by those for whom the term is an oxymoron. This will happen simply because the opposition won’t budge from “fair use” = “free use” and won’t fight for anything reasonably acceptable to society, in this case a capitalistic society where intellectual property rights are respected and protected.

To give a more current example, watching the content providers and warez/MP3/movie puppies going at it is just like watching the Israelis and Palestinians. Saying that the Israelis are very likely to win doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with what they do or think they hold a monopoly on truth and justice. It does mean I see they have the wherewithall to impose their will and wishes and the Palestinians don’t.

Many Palestinians will not settle for less than all of Palestine back. Many on the Internet want everything free. Neither position is realistic, and not being realistic just leaves you worse off than if you were.

Let me put it this way. Let’s pretend I thought warez and MP3s and whatever were the greatest things in the world, and all those corporate executives should not only be stolen from, but shot.

The last thing in the world I’d be doing now is preening around like a professional wrestler saying, “I can’t lose.” I know I’m facing very formidable opponents, and have to organize those who think like me and raise money from them to have a chance against those quite accustomed to writing the rules.

Anything less is self-delusional, and history has a name for people who delude themselves in a fight. Losers.

Email Ed

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