Re: Excellent commentary on DVD 'piracy' issues

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Date: Fri Jan 07 2000 - 13:26:46 PST

In a message dated 1/7/2000 2:35:18 PM, writes:

>I suppose the difference is that a pop song doesn't have depth
>beyond its 3 minutes of audio, whereas a Dead show was much, much,
>more than that. Does having the ability to create "cultural property"
>mean that one doesn't have to stoop to grabbing after incidental bits?

There's a whole bunch of interesting issues here around intelelctual property
protection, price, and scale, and perhaps they can be aired by thinking of
some historical cases.

1. Remember that Hollywood vehemently opposed VCR technology, thinking that
consumers would copy tapes from one another and cannibalize first-run movie
sales and televison sales--and, also, destroy the possiblity of re-releasing
movies in theatres. (Am I the only fart on this list old enough to remember
how "Gone with the Wind" would come back into theatrical release every 5
years or so--thereby doubling the consumption of Kleenex in the household of
my mother-in-law, who started blubbering during the titles?)
In fact, while there IS piracy of videotapes, especially outside the US and
for flicks aimed at younger teenages (bootleg copies -- camcorder made--of
"Scream 2" were on the street almost immediately), the net effect for the
studios has been to create an enormous new business.
HOWEVER, copying videotapes, while easy, is less easy than copying bits. It
either takes a long time--two VCRS, 2 hours/copy--or you have to deliverately
go out and buy high-spped equipment, set yourself up to do it, etc. You're
easier to track, I'd wager. But any of us can copy bits, and fast.
Hollywood's figuring that what might have come true with VCRs WILL come true
with DVD--i.e. they fear that piracy for entertainmetnwill approach the rate
of piracy for software. And THAT is enormous, if the software trade
association is to be believed (which, granted, is a largish if).
And let's remember, legally, they're right. Morally, even, they're right,
though these efforts to keep copyrighted material out of the public domain for
 more than 75 years are nonsense. And legally, the copyright, based on the
Constitution, don't require that copyright holders have to tolerate ANY
piracy. It's mine, all mine, and if you steal it, you're a gonif.

2. But what Dave says about the Dead is getting at something neat. Bear with
me on a longwinded roundabout way to it (or skip to your next e-mail). Time
was, a cultural artifact would go from narrow, high-priced, elite release
toward broad, mass-market, cheap release. E.g. books would start out in
hardcover, go to mail-order book clubs, go to paperback. The high hardcover
price paid to get it out--only those with enough legs would go to the cheaper
rlease. Same thing with drama--from live theatrical release to film and then
to television and/or videotape.
Now we're starting to see something of the reverse. The Lion King starts as a
movie for $7.00 and becomes a Broadway show for $50.00. Bands sell records
at $14.95 but make pots additional, maybe more in aboslute terms (does
anyone know?) on tour with ticket prices double that and more.People write
books that sell for $30.00 and then go off and give speeches and are paid
huge fees to address small audiences. (In fact, so as to give credit where
it's due, I owe this observation to a piece Esther Dyson wrote in The NY
Times Magazine about 3 years ago, maybe somehting that's in her book.)
It's culturally interesting, I think, that we had a model of going from elite
to mass, and now have a much more mixed model, with frequent movement from
mass to elite.

3.It's economically interesting, too. Each of these has its own economics.
You can charge $50 for Lion King tickets on Broadway--but there are only
mabye 2000 seats in the house; whereas the $19.95 video or the $7 (now $8)
movie can get lots more fannies.
It's an old price/scale question--complicated now by issues of piracy. If I'm
a $300/hour divorce or trust and estates lawyer, I have a high price (for
that kind of law) and low scaleability, but almost complete protection of my
intellectual property; my biggest risk is that of being hit by a bus. But if
I decide to take the same expertise and put out a do-it-yourself divorce or
last-wil-and-testament CD, I have access to huge economies of scale--but run
a risk of copyright infringement, piracy etc. Same thing now goes for
writers, filmmakers, etc--same risk/reward calculation-- the question is,
what happens if you make life really, really easy for the pirates? Let's also
bear in mind this: while it's easy to rail against Disney, the fact is that
most producers of copyrighted work don't make pots of money--they write first
novels that sell 5000 copies, they make independent films the cost of which
will haunt their Visa cards for years to come. The law can't shouldn't
graduate copyright protection. So when you wonder <<Does having the ability
to create "cultural property" mean that one doesn't have to stoop to grabbing
after incidental bits?>>--yeah, probably some of these guys can afford to let
some stuff slide--not worth paying all that money to the gumshoes and
mouthpieces to track down the theives--but shouldn't that be their business
judgment, rather than the law's decision?


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