Drunken Speculation

Yohoho, It’s a Pirate’s Life

pirateSigh. I had a really angsty post written up about Internet piracy. Then this douche came along with his article published by a mainstream news outlet and said it all, more succinctly and eloquently than I could have but without the bubbling cauldron of frustration.

So I won’t talk about alternative business models for artists, I won’t talk about the true definition of theft versus piracy and I won’t talk about how the Internet has already decided the future of the media publishing industry (hint: it’s not good).

I thought about formatting this as an imaginary conversation I would have if I met one of my favourite musical artists. Megan Washington was the leading candidate. When I woke up the next morning, I realised this was an insane proposition. Instead, I’m just going to relate a few fun facts I uncovered while researching the topic.

By the way Ms Washington, if you’re ever in the neighbourhood, I’ll probably be at the Archive. I’ll buy you a beer or three to pay you back for the album I downloaded.

Firstly, the moral debate

The debate over whether internet piracy is moral or not is usually had in reference to the law. Far be it from me to suggest that corporations might not act in everyone’s best interest, however, it is a surprising coincidence that the copyright term (which, in the US, is now an astonishing 70 years after the author’s death) is extended when Mickey Mouse is about to enter the public domain. Surely, Disney wouldn’t use its multi-billion dollar bottom line to hire a team of lobbyists to mould the law to suit their shareholders?

Oh wait, they totally did. The law has been tailored for the powerful instead of for the benefit of society. So instead of copyright being an incentive for artists and innovators to create, it is the foremost method for media corporations to rent seek, which, in normal parlance, is to gouge the fuck out of everyone.

Then, the real costs

The first two CDs I bought in 1999 set me back $46 each, adjusting for inflation to 2012 AUD. Those two albums now sell for $10 and $12 on iTunes. The only difference is the medium in which the music is purchased, so unless the CD itself was made of pure gold (it wasn’t and probably cost less than a dollar), that $30-plus difference is music publisher and retailer margin on one album. You’ll forgive me for not having much sympathy for the position of media publishers.

Also, cui bono?

Here’s a question: why does an iPod have 16 gigabytes of memory?

Now it’s possible an iPod’s memory is not devoted entirely to music but let’s say a large portion of it is – 10 GB, for example. 10 GB, at an estimated 4MB/song, is about room to store a touch over 2500 songs. For an average album of eleven tracks at $17/album, that’s room to store nearly $4000 worth of music. Who the fuck has that kind of budget for music? Even if you built that up over the last five years, that’s still $2.16 a day, every day for five years, spent on music. It’s a lot of bucks for something you can get for free at negligible risk.

On the other hand, Apple has done quite well out of iPods, mostly because you can store a shit-ton of music on them which, it turns out, you can fill up easily with torrented albums. If you had to rely on paid downloads, would iPods be so successful? Would Apple have then bothered with iTunes at all?

In summary, the irony

Stepping back, there’s a lot of irony to enjoy. The DRM measures that drive more people away from paying for games. The anti-piracy ad that used music without paying the copyright holderThe smart ass that inserted this gem into a game to get people to pay for it. The whole thing is a joke and the sooner we realise it, scrap copyright and start again, the better we will all be for it.

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