March 5, 2010

Piracy…It brings to mind thieves, bandits, cut-throats, a lack of morals, a total lack of respect for the law and others’ property…and I’m not talking about the ones that sailed the 7 seas…I’m referring to those who feel that it is their God-given right to download music, movies, software, books, fonts, art work, photographs, even home-work assignments…all for FREE!

Why is that? What changed to give us that percieved right? Was it the internet…which made it oh, so easy to do? Was it the permissive society we live in? Was it a lack of parental supervision? Laziness? Or is it a belief that these downloadable materials are “owned” by huge corporations and conglomerates and 1) they won’t miss it or 2) they’re getting what they deserve.

Piracy bothers me a great deal (if you couldn’t tell). What bothers me even more is that I seem to be completely in the minority when I discuss this with family and friends. I don’t get it. Every single one of them would agree with me that walking into Walmart, shoving a CD in my bag and walking out without paying is a crime punishable by imprisonment. But go to any number of websites and download the same music for free and burn your own CD and no one sees the harm in it. Like I said…I don’t get it.

I have a little bit of knowledge in regards to copyrights and such and I agree that sometimes a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. My experience is with the copyright protection afforded professional photographers, of which my brother is one. He’s been a professional photographer for 15 years or so and has watched his business and profits eroded by the technology that is now available. It’s become far too easy for a customer to make a minimal purchase, bring their professional portrait home to scan or even to one of those Kodak print machines found in almost every supermarket or drug store, scan it, copy it, print it and get additional prints of their professional portrait for pennies on the dollar. It’s illegal! You’re taking money right out of the pockets of the professional photographer you hired. What gives you the right? Walgreens had a class action lawsuit filed against them by a number of professional photographers for allowing customers to use those Kodak machines for precisely this purpose. They lost millions of dollars and now you always find a sign by those machines claiming that copyrighted photos may not be scanned and copied on those machines. But many slip through the cracks and that doesn’t prevent the same customer from taking the portrait home and scanning it on their new $69 photo scanner. So I come to this debate with a very strong opinion in favor of all those artists, photographers, musicians and film-makers out there who work tirelessly to produce a product, expect to be paid for their efforts and sit idly by as their potential profits are scanned, copied and downloaded for free.

Now, at this stage…perhaps you agree with me. Perhaps you feel for the starving artist as much as I do and perhaps you’ll think twice about pirating something in the future. But additional problems arise when we talk about the work of the large company. There’s an anti-bit business sentiment in this country…a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots and piracy, I fear, is thought to be legitimate when big-business is the victim. Again, I ask why?

Someone in class brought up Mickey Mouse and the millions of dollars that the Disney Corporation will spend to protect their rights to their creation. Some claim that no-one owns Mickey anymore because Walt is dead and the corporation has made billions on that little mouse…it’s time to share the wealth. Since when? I thought this was America? You work hard, invent something, reap the rewards and sometimes, suffer the losses. That’s the risk that every artist takes. And when they come up with that big idea, the one that finally clicks, and the money (finally) starts rolling in…God bless them, I say…the earned it. Walt Disney was the poster boy for starving artists. He lost his home before finally making it. He created a brand that is now one of the most recognizable in the world. Why on earth should he give up that brand? Or better yet, why does anyone want to “pirate” Mickey Mouse in the first place? It’s because they want to cash in on Walt’s blood, sweat and tears. Let them create their own brand!

Now…there are times when I think big business takes undue advantage of copyright laws, patents and such. A patent is given to an inventor specifically to give him enough time to produce his product and reap the benefits…but it doesn’t last forever…at some point, the competition is allowed to enter the field…and I think that’s a good thing. It prevents price gauging, monopolies, brings new blood and ideas to the field which can only improve the product and drive prices down. I like that and I object to any company who uses their millions and political clout to maintain advantages that they no longer rightfully own. I would also agree that a company like Disney who does nothing to continue to promote a product…lets it sit on the shelf for a set number of years…should lose their rights to that product. I liken it to a companies brand…Mickey Mouse is a brand that is synonomous with The Disney Corportation, it’s used in countless products, movies, theme parks, everything imaginable. For someone to come along and “pirate” Mickey for their own use should not be allowed and I have no problem with Disney taking steps to prevent it. If Mickey sits on the shelf for a number of years and is no longer used by the Disney folks…I would feel differently.

In class the topic of music companies-artist relationships came up as it pertains to this subject. Firstly, the record label-artist relationship has been a poor one for the artist since records were first made and I don’t like it. It’s not fair to the artist and I would favor anything that would address it in a more equitable way. I also admire those artists who have taken advantage of today’s technologies in regards to creating music and distributing it on the internet. Artists such as Phish allow their fans to download their music for free in an effort to promote their concert tours which generates real profits. But id you download/pirate their music for free, you may be putting a little kink in the record label’s profits but you are most certainly hurting the artist even more. What little pittance they would get from the record label is now gone and what they may have earned on their own via legitimate music download sites is gone as well. So when you think you’re hurting the big corporation and not the artist…think again.

I have another question for those who believe it’s OK to pirate from big companies…when does a starving artist become big enough to steal from? When your favorite, but struggling artist sells his music on the internet and you purchase it…what happens when he becomes a big star and multi-millionairre? Is it OK to steal from him then?

I’m not so naive as to believe that piracy can ever be eliminated…but the internet has made so prevalent, so accessible, so easy and so shameless that something must be done.


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