Who is stealing from who? (A guest post by Antonio Garcia under a CC-BY license)
“The Statute of Anne had a much broader social focus and remit than the monopoly granted to the Stationers’ Company. The statute was concerned with the reading public, the continued production of useful literature, and the advancement and spread of education. The central plank of the statute is a social quid pro quo; to encourage “learned men to compose and write useful books” the statute guaranteed the finite right to print and reprint those works. It established a pragmatic bargain involving authors, the booksellers and the public. The Statute of Anne ended the old system whereby only literature that met the censorship standards administered by the booksellers could appear in print. The statute furthermore created a public domain for literature, as previously all literature belonged to the booksellers forever.” (source)
What has become of that social focus, the social quid pro quo?
I do not believe many of us grasp the real situation here. The problem of the editors with the Internet and digital copying is not principally the fact that we copy today’s books, films and music even before they hit the shelves… it is the fact that people only have X hours a week to devote to leisure under the form of reading, watching and listening to artistic production, and besides time at a far second place there is the need for a budget.
While production of books, films and music relied on physical media and they were difficult to copy in good quality, the editors could discontinue production of older creations and make them rare, in such a way opening the market of attention for new creations because the old, even if you wanted them, could not be found easily anymore.
With digital copying as production mechanism and the internet as distribution medium… what they face now is the fact that all those discontinued productions that are in the public domain but did not become available because they ceased to produce them physically (not keeping their part of the bargain -remember, the continued production of useful literature, the quid pro quo? they took the quid, and forgot the quo!-) do now become available to all in enormous quantities. Enormous quantities of top quality works… for free (with only the effort to digitalize once generously donated by a few) become available through the Internet that acts as a worldwide, immediate and very convenient distribution system.
More works… means less of the chunk of the available time per work, and as commercial selling works are now only a fraction of what is available, they get only a tiny fraction of our time. That is bad news for an industry that has been working on the optimization of their production through economies of scale. Say you invest in a printing plant because you can sell 100.000 copies a week, and you take a 40 years mortgage because selling 100.000 copies a week you will earn enough to pay for it… and 10 years into that bargain, the internet and digital copying emerges. That leaves you with 30 years of mortgage you do not know how to pay. Sad but true, I know about newspapers that have had to sell their new printing plants because they could no longer pay the fixed costs of their maintenance, renting part of their production capacity back to continue printing the newspapers.
Another aspect is the budget part… as we are being squeezed into austerity, the first thing people can forfeit is optional culture and leisure, so less and less people have enough to spend to keep the industry in the black numbers, and more and more people find it convenient to pay for a good internet access and fill their leisure time with anything free that can be accessed (for the ethically strict) or anything that can freely be accessed (for the not so ethically strict and those that are so pissed off that they strike back where they can).
There is only one way the industry can really stall its demise: close the Internet to downloading.
Prolonging the terms of copyright protection (like when they avoid Mickey Mouse to enter the public domain) is only short term relief.
Pursuing those that download productions actually under copyright is nothing more than a harassing technique intended to scare people and stall the inevitable.
And they can harass us… because the governments are using their struggle as an excuse to impose measures through which they can censor the Internet without coming out as the ones that really want it… for reasons that have nothing to do with the copyright industry.
[pic: CC-BY-NC-ND, BCLT BerkeleyLaw]