I need some inconsistency

An amalgamation of content: the aim not to politicise, but exercise. I'll think aloud about politics, technology, current news, as well as being a gay boy and what that really entails.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

MEMO: The world is unfairly weighted in your favour, shift the balance back to me

Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine has published an open letter to whoever becomes the next head of the MPAA to be found on Wired's site for this month's issue.

To: The next head of the Motion Picture Association of America (to be opened upon arrival)

You're at risk of alienating your customers like the music industry did. The do-not-record "broadcast flag" that the TV industry just pushed through the FCC will introduce new restrictions on programming, none of which benefit consumers. Proposed legislation that throws anyone caught with a prerelease movie on their hard drive into prison for three years is the sort of disproportionate response that gives the RIAA a bad name. The notorious Digital Millennium Copyright Act is Hollywood's fault. And extending copyright protection year after year so that the film and television archives stay shut isn't just bad law, it's depriving Americans of their cultural history.

The letter carries on discussing the issues further and mentions Napster, iTunes and DVD along the way with some suggestions for how the situation could progress from today, but I think the most interesting section is that which I've quoted. I've read a lot about patents and copyright from various sources (including this superb article by James Gleick (yes, he of Faster: the Acceleration of just about everything and Chaos) which was originally on the New York Times website.) Despite this I've never really been hit by the iidea that patents are actually harming the cultural, ie artisitic, side of a country. The focus is so frequently on bemoaning the fact that technological progress is halted by 'selfish' people or companies who patent reams of technologies in the hope that one or two will come to some commercial use, that this side of the arguement is often neglected. As is so relevant in the Disney vs Slesinger lawsuit currently and perpetually hotting up over the rights and revenues from Winnie the Pooh merchandise, the control of properties so often thought of as collective is highly important. We could assume that songs as culturally important as Happy Birthday are public but it's widely known to be owned by someone though most don't know who that actually is. (Time Warner in case you were wondering: see here).

If we can't play the music we like widely, read the books we want to cheaply or see classic films regularly it's the public who are suffering. Companies often say that because we pay for copyrighted material they can employ people. This is a misleading, as they don't invest in the works any longer - there are no producers in Warner Brothers creating reworkings of Happy Birthday, it's simply a back catalog. Some companies reap huge rewards from such catalogs - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer - MGM being a prime example. They run on their DVD, video and cable TV revenues, rather than living off current and up-coming creative projects. There's no real problem with that as such, but if you want to watch anything of Audrey Hepburn in 2030, you'd hope that it isn't still copyrighted, but open for collective use as and when...
People like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are fighting for rights of users such as those wrongly accused by the RIAA of filesharing, something few are standing up for. The EFF works through its members to mobilise politicians to change laws, creating a long term solution rather than a short term fix. They're an interesting group, support them with either your time through educating yourself, or your money through donations. For either, go to their site.

I didn't mean to mention the EFF or MGM or in fact James Gleick, but they're all a little bit relevant and all interesting aspects in what is becoming a fight between consumers and corporations, something the corporations appear to be winning. I think I've been reading too much George Monbiot to be fair to the corporations, but then again, they can defend themselves.


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