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Friday, February 09, 2007

It's All Your Fault, So There!

I've been reading about Steve Jobs complaints about DRM and the fact that the big, bad music companies are to blame.

Hmm...

I don't like DRM any better than anyone else, but let's face it, without it, the digital revolution would stall.

Jobs makes his money selling iPods, not music. Or video. Or movies. So removing DRM would make it easier for users to swap media for free, leading to more iPod sells.

There's no love loss here for the record industy -- like all good corporations, they're in if for the green. No, I'm worried about the creators.

And I think there's reason to worry.

In an era where it's EASY to e-mail a song, post an entire album on your FTP site/Web site, or burn a copy (old school, I know), there's reason to believe that sales figures are and will continue to be impacted.

My favorite performer by a mile is indie righteous babe Annie DiFranco. On the back of all her self-published (Righteous Babe Records) CDs, in the copyright section, is a passage that says something like: "While copying music is sometimes necessary, it's never as good as the real thing."

If that were only true.

As more and more media gets compromised, the Britneys and Beyonces and the Snoop Dogs will still be able to afford their Benz payments, but the little guys, like Jill Sobule or Andrew Bird or Annie, who are not mainstream mega sellers, will likely cease to exist. That is, if we remove DRM and make it easier to distribute copies.

So are we to blame? I dunno. It's natural to want to share the latest CD by your favorite artist with a friend who you just know will love it. I've done it many times. I'm not sure I've created new fans for the artist, but that was the hope. And strangely, if I were to say "Artist X is the bomb, man, you gotta listen to his new CD. Go out and buy it." Well, that just seems odd when I can simply burn a copy for said friend. And in the end, I don't think that's so bad. Desireable even. It's when I post it to my Web site, for the totality of the Internet to grab, that it becomes a problem. At least in my mind...

So it's our tendency to share that's the culprit. In the old days of inexact replication, the recipient would sometimes then go out and buy the CD...but that was then and this is now and it's time to move on. For now, the solution seems to be DRM. With DRM, if I purchase a collection, I can burn it to CD and then rip it back to the hard drive in minutes, creating a DRM-free version of the collection (CD). I can then burn as many copies as I want (most DRM systems only allow you to burn a set number (3) of CD copies of a collection -- you can burn as many mix collections as you want, but only a set number of copies of the CD title -- i.e., Prince's Purple Rain for instance) and give them away to friends if I want.

I believe the same applies to downloaded movies, but don't quote me on this.

Where DRM doesn't work? eBooks. There's no way to "lend" an eBook to a friend. There's no way to strip out the DRM. There's no way to make it feel like it's "yours" to share or resell when you're through with it. And that, as I see it, is the real sticking point with eBook DRM, a point that has doomed the system to failure. Yeah, I'm an eBook lover, but I worry about my small but growing collection...there are way too many ifs, ands, and buts, when it comes to eBooks.

Of course, there may be a solution to even that conundrum. There's an eBook system that's available to libraries that allows them to lend copies of DRM protected books. If a library buys one copy of the protected book, they only have one copy to lend. When that copy is checked out, the book shows up on the library's site as checked out and no one else can check it out. The book "expires" after 30 days, so the person who checked it out can no longer open it or read it, and the copy on the library's site becomes available to check out again. Nifty, huh? I figure they should be able to replicate that on the consumer eBook side, so that I can "check out" a book to a friend for a limited time...

Let's be honest here -- DRM is necessary to protect the little guy. The creator. Digital media and the Internet has made people more and more likely to expect content to be free. That's all good and dandy, on an advetising supported site, but when the creator of the work is cut out of the loop, well, that's messed up.

Which brings me to my final point. Google. It seems they're going ahead with their project to make the world's libraries free and searchable on their site. Copyrights be damned, they're going full steam ahead and scanning entire university libraries into their reader. Now, I'm not sure how this will all play out -- a number of publishers have brought suit against them -- so maybe right will win out in the end. I think they must be able to sidestep the law, by serving up portions of the work instead of the whole book...you only get the stuff you're interested in, not the entire work. So if you want to find out everything there is to know about Munchkin cats, rather than buying a handfull of books, you can use Google and pull up the sections from those books, print em out and tada, FREE info!

I need to research this more. But that's my understanding of what's going on. If my understanding is correct, and this is what they're doing, then I IMPLORE you to join me in boycotting Google. I swear, I'll never, ever google another topic if they are indeed violating copyrights and stealing author's works. Remember, they're making money off of these searches, it's just the publishers and the authors who are getting stiffed. Microsoft has begun a "me too" version of this service, but they've decided to only copy public domain works. Which is fine. Cool even. As long as they don't stray into copyright territory, it's a decent service.

It may be time to start a intenet campaign: Authors Against Google!

7 comments:

Thomas M. Sipos said...

Hello Cliff,

IMHO, Big Media is stifling free speech, and hurting artists, with too much copyright protection (i.e., extended terms, limited fair use, and trademark encroachment). I wrote about it here: http://www.hollywoodinvestigator.com/2005/pirate.htm

Clifford said...

Arrgh!!! I just wrote a long response and Blogger ate it! Sheesh! Okay, let me summarize:

* Welcome to the site -- good seeing you here buddy!

* I think sequels to other creator's works are really really sad. If you love Dracula for instance (and sure, it's worthy of adoration), you should identify the qualities you like about the work and write your own story, create your own mythology, and make your own magic. You will never equal the original -- so why try? You could create something equally worthy, if you go down your own road.
* I think copyrights should be eternal -- there's no good reason to write a sequel to The Grapes of Wrath. Again, make your own magic.
* I didn't realize there'd been so much tinkering with copyrights/tradmarks over the years. In addition to making copyrights eternal, I think X years after a creator dies, all profits from their work should go to the arts (museums, schools, endowments, etc.) rather than the families or the corporate devils.
* All this being said, for years I tinkered with the idea of writing a sequel to Rod Serling's "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street" -- it never worked, until I finally broke free and wrote my own story, inspired by the energy and intent of his work, but in no way an extension or a revision.

I will be talking to you soon! Via mobile phone, of course (:

Charles Gramlich said...

The days of most creative musicians and creative writers making much money from their creativity would seem to be over. As for what Thomas says, I don't believe the media has the rights of the artist in mind when trying to protect copyrights, but there needs to be a middle ground.

Clifford said...

Charles,

I'm definitely with you and Thomas on corporate intent -- they're protecting their interests. But since most writers and musician's are paid by corporations, guess who gets squeezed out of the profit equation first?

The days of getting paid for your creativity may be numbered as you say, but let's not go down without a lot of kicking and screaming.

Thomas M. Sipos said...

Sure, there a many lame sequels. But after a while, doesn't a story or character become part of our common culture? And shouldn't authors be free to comment on the culture through re-writes and sequels? To reuse old characters in new works with new characters? Say, one of your own characters meeting Sherlock Holmes or Ebenezer Scrooge?

Think of how often A CHRISTMAS CAROL has been re-written and re-imagined. Or Nicholas Meyer's SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION (I didn't much care for his Sherlock Holmes, but it was an interesting take on Holmes's cocaine habit). Ditto DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN. Then there's WICKED, told from THE WIZARD OF OZ's wicked witch's perspective.

Eternal copyrights would not only hinder sequels, they'd also hinder remakes.

Ironically, I see intellectual property becoming both more and less onerous. New copyrights are difficult to enforce (due to new tech), yet extending the terms only benefits Big Media (and not the long-dead artists).

Clifford said...

Thomas,

Reading through your list kinda reaffirmed my beliefs, as none of those sequels and reiaginings was really necessary. Do we really need one more twist on the Scrooge story? Would the world of art be any less full and vibrant if we didn't have The Brides of Dracula? (which I enjoyed, by the way, but it's nothing to write home about) If these creators had worked on their own creations, rather than trying to piggy-back on the works of others (often, for money's sake -- and probably why the corporations green-lighted their projects), would they have more likely to have created something lasting?

I think A Christmas Carol is a great example -- the thousands of remakes, from movies to television sictcom rehases, range from the mediocre to the insipid. If they all disappeared tomorrow, we'd probably be better off.

And I'm all for funneling the profits from an author's work to charity once the copyright expires. Which means a lot of their work will disappear in a commercial sense, but become available in digital format for all to enjoy.

Look at it this way -- I think it would be a shame if the early vampire novels of Anne Rice disappeared, but I can't think of a single Dracula sequel (and there have been a gajillion) that would really be missed. The closest would probably be Bram Stoker's Dracula -- for its artistry -- but that one is fair in my assessment as it's trying to be faithful to Bram Stoker's work and is not a sequel.

I think it's telling that none of the sequels to dead authors work has ever (in my mind) made it to that transcendent space where entertainment becomes art.

The work of others should be the inspiration for your own, no more, no less. Yeah, I know that's pretty extreme attitude, but I totally believe it. It's hard enough for the original author to create a worthy sequel, and nearly impossible for someone else...

Thomas M. Sipos said...

I'll give you this -- I see no point in the 100s upon 100s of STAR TREK and STAR WARS novels.

I once met a guy who was an avid STAR WARS reader. He read several new STAR WARS novels a month, and 100s over the years, and he still couldn't keep up.

I thought, what a colossal waste of reading time! He could have been reading old classics, or new voices, but he instead wasted his precious reading time immersed in the "STAR WARS universe," reading its mind-numbingly epic "history" as though it were Gibbon's FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.

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This is me and one of my two cats. His name is Cougar, and he’s an F1 Chausie. A chausie is a new breed of cat under development. Chausies are the result of a cross between a domestic cat (in Cougar’s case, a Bengal) and a jungle cat (Felis Chaus). Cougar’s mom is 8 pounds and his father is a 30-pound jungle cat. He’s about 16 pounds, super intelligent, spirited, and toilet trained. A writer without a cat (or two) is not to be trusted.