Well, it was going to happen at some point – it’s now just a matter of dotting the I’s and crossing the P’s and the Voluntary Copyright Alert Programme (Vcap) will set in place a foundation for targeted monitoring and policing of copyright infringement in the UK. The Programme falls well short of what copyright holders were asking to have enshrined in law – the full provisions of The Digital Economy Act, which would have included punitive measures being brought against offenders by ISPs. All very laudable, but i can’t help thinking that the whole concept of intellectual property law is all a bit arse-backwards and falls very much into that morally grey area that resulted in Robin Hood robbing the greedy rich, to give to the needy poor.
That’s not to say that i’m against the protection of anybody’s intellectual property – but i’m massively cynical about how we go about doing it, in particular when it comes to protecting the rights of those who create the stuff, rather than the rights of those who ‘own’ it.
IP law – no matter what the principles behind it – tends to turn almost wholly upon the strength of who happens to have the deepest pockets, and the almost limitless greed that drives the further accumulation of even greater wealth. That’s why Angus McDonald of Edinburgh will never have the right to open a burger joint in his own name, and Harry Ramsden of Harrogate will be stuck with naming his business, ‘Harry’s Chippy’ – true, they could try to go with ‘McDonalds’ or ‘Harry Ramsdens’, but they’d be sued into oblivion by the respective copyright owners, without any chance of making their case.
And therein lies one of the absurdities of IP law: of course businesses should be protected from those who would seek to profit off their efforts with no recompense, and of course the integrity of a product needs a degree of safeguarding from usurpers and shams, but to penalise poor old Harry and Angus when they can’t possibly have any measurable impact on the multi-national corporations that would seek to stamp them out, is just plain greed and infantile behaviour. The fact they can get away with it simply because they have the vast quantities of cash to do so makes a complete ass of the law.
So, let’s consider the merits of digital IP law. At it’s most basic it should surely give the same commonsense level of protection to digital intellectual property, as that which i’ve considered above in relation to physical IP; that is, it should prevent profiting off the backs of others, and it should protect the integrity of the original artists/creators reputation. And that – as far as i can see, and no doubt many will totally disagree with me – is as far as it should go.
Instead, we find ourselves with the ridiculous scenario, where struggling bands, artists and other creative types get paid pennies, whilst their agents, promoters and management reap huge rewards for doing sod all that is creative and then add insult to injury by persecuting and prosecuting those who have the temerity to record shaky footage of concerts, (for which they’ve paid through the nose for a ticket), download the odd album or movie from the .net or make a fan video on YouTube. Who benefits? Not the original artists, that’s for sure – and neither do their fanbase, supporters and people who actually do shell out their readies for the privilege of supporting those whose work they enjoy. Of course we need to stamp out the market traders selling knock-off CDs and videos, but surely it’s a clear case of double-standards when a band, (or should that be their marketing team?), will criticise you for filming their concert and showing how great they are on the internet i.e. free publicity, whilst expecting you to give them free publicity by buying and wearing the tour t-shirt and baseball cap, carried out from the venue in the expensive souvenir carrier bag?
Unless i’m living completely in cloud cuckoo land, it seems to me that when it comes to music and media – and i’m sure this will be a controversial view – the kind of low-level personal piracy that goes on in most households on a day-to-day basis may even have the opposite effect on the industries concerned than its critics would have us believe. Personally speaking, i have shelves full of legit CDs and DVDs that i might never have considered buying, without first ‘trying’. In my opinion, if a movie is going to be a keeper, then i’m going to want it in high quality, with all the special features and on a disk that will play, without problems, on any system i choose… however, i’m not going to shell out my hard-earned cash without first knowing what i’m going to be getting. The same goes for music – many people still do enjoy having a tactile and comprehensive collection of their favourite music and groups, and preferably without labels and inserts produced on a cheap inkjet printer.
As for software… well, any company that can’t see the merits of opensource shareware is probably going to find itself falling into obscurity in the brave new world of the future.
That’s probably enough for now, but tomorrow i’ll be plunging back into the fray of IP rights, but with the focus squarely centred on sl.
‘Cause you start out stealing songs, and then you’re robbing liquor stores
And selling crack and running over school kids with your car
Weird Al Yankovic – Don’t Download This Song