When copyright goons attack

This week, litigious anti-competitive copyright goons* from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the National Association of Music Publishers (NAMP) attacked the “extremist, radical anti-copyright agenda” of Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, and other groups. (We can consider Canadian MP James Moore’s similar use of “radical extremist” as part of this attack, though he’s not a copyright goon, but one of their henchmen.) The talking points being circulated aren’t new (and many are quite tiresome) but the vitriol has been turned up to eleven. Don’t be surprised to see this continue.

NAMP’s president David Israelite ended his screed, “The New Enemy,” with a “top ten” list which he calls “the anti-copyright agenda.” I was gonna fisk it, but Mike Masnick beat me to it, and I doubt I could do any better. Have a look. As he points out, Israelite’s repeated choice of “enemy” is telling, and the evidence for the drastic action being proposed very thin. Gigi Sohn’s response to a similar rant in a fundraising letter from ASCAP also hits it right on the head–why are these groups obsessed with punishing file sharers and infringers? Why not focus on helping artists earn a living?

But despite the clear preference for compensation over punishment, groups that claim to represent artists like ASCAP continue, like their big corporate colleagues, to advocate for the latter, and seem completely bereft of ideas for promoting the former.  Why?  Probably because the old business model suits them just fine: they collect millions of dollars of royalties on behalf of captive musicians and (mostly) pay them.  In a digital world, Do It Yourself is the mantra, with Creative Commons being one of the tools that allows artists to do so.  Where does that leave middlemen like ASCAP?  Nowhere.

That Creative Commons would be objectionable dovetails with the compulsory licensing at the heart of ASCAP’s business model: how dare anyone opt out of our state-sponsored monopoly, or suggest that anyone else do so!

*No, this isn’t my typical argumentative approach. But it fits here. If they are going to characterize Creative Commons, EFF, etc. as “radical extremists”–a millimeter away from saying “anti-American terrorist”–then I get to play, too.

Update 7/14: Larry Lessig responds.

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6 Responses to When copyright goons attack

  1. Rip Random says:

    Why pay?
    Mr. Dilger,

    I’m not sure where you stand on piracy. I’m of the understanding that you are a professor of English and your aim is to guide students toward successful careers. So, I’m going to assume that you are for anti-piracy, yet believe the laws should be limited. But I ask, why pay for virtual materials? I rarely pay to read books, or listen to music, or even watch movies. I’m not suggesting I frequent online torrent (or other) sites. I am, however, suggesting I visit my local library and borrow media from friends. And I’m not alone in this sharing brigade. We are Legion. I need only mention in an email that I have not seen some movie or read some book or listened to some hot new singer and I immediate have it sent to me by any number of my friends.

    We only need one person to purchase a copy of said media, then, BAM!, a thousand people have it. ASCAP and rest are fighting a losing battle at my expense. I, honestly, don’t care about the artist–or even your spectacular students. The people have declared all media free.

    The funny thing is, it does not matter if Hollywood closes tomorrow. Because if Hollywood closes shop, the people will look for media elsewhere. In fact, I’d bet we would see a rise in creative output from the millions of folks of the youtube generation. So my question to you is, why not fight for piracy? Why pay when the rate of students will increase as means to become the next best internet superstar?

  2. cbd says:

    I’m not pro-piracy. I choose to give away my stuff, but I understand that some folks don’t want to do so, and even the most limited interpretation of constitutional copyright (which I’d strongly prefer to today’s effectively unlimited terms) gives them that right. But I’m not anti-piracy, either. As Larry Lessig and others have pointed out, piracy has its place, economically speaking. Any recognition of that is certainly missing from the talking points ASCAP, NAMP, etc. rely on when they are demonizing file sharing, the Internet, the VCR, and anything else not a part of their business model. And I am certainly anti-anti-piracy, given the typical anti-piracy tactics of the copyright goons (misguided lawsuits, bullying, attacks on fair use, etc).

    Have you read Adrian Johns’s recent book Piracy? I haven’t, but I’ve read some of his other stuff, and it sounds like you’d be interested.

    You’re far more optimistic about creative output than me. I don’t care much for Hollywood, but I don’t see their style of movies being cranked out by YouTubers.

  3. Rip Random says:

    Mr. Dilger,

    Yes, I have read Adrian Johns’ ‘Piracy.’ I have an digital copy of it–:)

    Johns view on piracy extends to material knockoffs, as well as, virtual copies. His argument, similar to yours, is neither for or against piracy. He gives a detailed history and explanation on piracy as an economic asset and liability. Johns sits on the fence, respectably, as you and many other scholars do. I doubt Adrian Johns will enlighten or persuade you.

    I understand your view on piracy. I know where you stand and why. I am not blind to peoples rights. If someone wants to attempt to sell their virtual media for profit, I encourage them to do so. But ‘seller beware’ some of us aren’t paying. The second an artifact of virtual media hits the public hand, it will hit a new distribution system and the seller will make very little profit. Some folks claim they might buy the v-media for a cheap price, but I doubt that. The freerider system is running full steam. As I said, a simple email can get me nearly any type of v-media I want. I do not even need to frequent a torrent site. Furthermore, the v-media travels out of the bounds of private email and becomes part of the internet underground (to the public downloaders) just as quick.

    So, why pay? If the next text you chose to teach in your class comes in the form of a full-length “sample” pdf, then why not share it with your entire class. In fact, why not add a few suggested reading full length “samples” on there as well. The student body can just as easily get the text from the library or online. While the local books store gets the shaft, you get all the benefits: students with material to read–no excuses that the library hasn’t ordered the book, books, that if deleted, can easily be replaced or even updated, easy highlight/note taking ability along with note comparison, and a whole slue of benefits I’m not aware of. (I’m not in your shoes.)

    My question to you, take it as you will, is, why pay?

  4. cbd says:

    Actually, I’ve done PDF books in classes before, with stunningly poor results, though I’ve tried it several times, using a variety of methods. Students didn’t read, didn’t print out, didn’t annotate, didn’t have laptops to bring to class, etc.This problem persists with many of the electronic texts I assign (web pages, etc). Students’ computing fluidity is wildly overstated; don’t believe the “digital natives” hype.

    In evaluations, preference for traditional books runs 3:1. A strong reason to pay: without the tangible objects, discussions suck.

  5. Rip Random says:

    I don’t have a problem admitting I am wrong. I was unaware the demand for pdf’s ran so low at the university level. I have the opposite problem. My people have a heavy demand for pdf texts, especially graduate level materials. I’m getting over 2500 hits per text, and triple that number in software. Then again, I’m dealing with a different type of community.

  6. cbd says:

    Absolutely, different communities have very different habits. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the demands were different at other universities. I do know students who are sharers, torrenters, but they are in the minority.

    Certainly, many of my friends and I share like crazy. But we buy as well.

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