Wednesday, October 7, 2009

DRM and the Written Word

Okay, I have been musing over this for some time. (ever since the Amazon-Kindle-Orwell debacle) And as someone who likes to write, (blogs, stories, etc), and has some aspiration of getting paid to write, someday, maybe, if I am lucky. I have a dual perspective. But logic is logic. So here is my thought as I think this through.

1. What is being sold?

If I sell a car or a home, the purchaser receives title to the object being sold. They may resell it, or alter it as they see fit, (there are some laws that restrict some fringe alterations; jet powered car, creating hazardous areas in neighbourhoods, etc) and as the seller and former owner of said object I don't have any say.

I can even learn how a car, or house is built and go build more to sell to others. I can rent it out and make money from it. I can charge for rides and tours. Its mine, all mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.

(Okay, there are patent issues with innovations on the car, but the concept of car and house are not patentable. And I am okay as long as I don't say it is a such and such car/house, but one I made.)

We all agree that when we buy a house and find a chair inside, that the chair now belongs to us. But for some strange reason, the publishing industries of music, movies, and books think that we are buying paper and plastic, but the words/images/sounds that are recorded on them are not being sold.

But is that reasonable?

2. What rights are being granted?

Rights are basically like having conditions on the use of something. Sometimes houses come with these conditions. I had a friend once that owned a home that could not be sold, rented or in any way used by a fraternity/sorority. It was in the deed. That was a limitation on the rights that went along with purchase of the home.

Well books, music, and movies are not like houses and cars. They are more like sandwiches. By that I mean that they are not lived in and used for travel, but are consumed. Upon selling someone a sandwich, you would not expect that they would ever return it. (icky) And you wouldn't really be able to stop them making sandwiches that looked and tasted like it. But you would be able to stop someone from opening a restaurant and selling "Big Macs" if they weren't a McDonalds franchise.

3. In comes the concept of intellectual property.

From time to time I have worked where the employer made me promise not to use the information about their product to compete with them. This injunction always has limitations in time, space and industry. Likewise, if someone creates something like a song, or a movie, or a book. I should not be allowed to create copies and sell them.

Making money off of some one else's work without permission or compensation is wrong. It feels wrong, smells wrong and is just plain wrong. If you do this, you should be stopped. This is common sense.

On the other side, if I buy a book, or a song, or a movie, and invite some friends over and allow them to watch, listen to, and/or read it, I am not making money off of someone else's work. (And if I charge admission to a dance hall and play music, I am still not making money off of their work. Only if I sell it. And I actually wonder about this, but it seems to be okay with everyone.)

It is also permitted for me to resell a book or a movie, if we are talking about the copy purchased. So I can even make money on it if it is a rare item. This again is not considered taking advantage of another's work.

But what about activities that are not sales. Back to my party where I have books, movies and music freely available to my friends. Is this wrong? I don't see how. If we had to turn off my music, TV and hide all my books whenever I had guests, we would all be living very solitary lives.

4. Making copies for free, (a.k.a piracy, Argh!)

Okay, if I buy a Big Mac. And I take it home, and disassemble it and create a recipe that will allow me to make copies of this sandwich, I have not done anything illegal.

And if I were then to have a party where I gave people my reconstructed Big Macs to eat, would that be wrong. Really? For those who think this is LEGAL, am I not harming the McDonald franchise by providing a free substitute for their big seller, and thereby owe them money? For those that think this is ILLEGAL, I am using my own bread, meat, and special sauce. I am not selling them so I am not participating in commerce. These are not the same sandwiches, because they don't come in the logo emblazoned boxes but just on a plate. The whole experience is different, so why is this a problem?

So we mix in these perspectives with a handy dose of greed, guilt and other emotions and the argument breaks down.

5. At last I have a few words to say.

For starters, people who sell other peoples work without permission are pirates/criminals and should be stopped.

Also, if you don't want anyone to edit your movie, or share your song with a friend. Please don't ever record it. That is really the only way to keep it to your self. (this goes for writers and movie makers too.)

And everyone should respect that a good deal of work goes into producing things like books and movies and songs. And a great deal of money is made off of them. We really don't have starving artists because people are downloading their stuff. And we really don't have Digital Pirates that start out copying songs, and move to harder things, like parking in the handicapped spaces. Everyone should step back and look at how to make the system with electronic media equitable and fair to both buyer and seller.

But as you will see, this is mostly an emotional argument. So the only ones who are getting what they want are the lawyers.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agre with all the words you wrote. I love the analogies you used. You are a talented and great at explaining. bravo!