Dear RIAA and MPAA:
I can’t say that I speak for the entire movie-going music-listening public, but I feel relatively certain I represent a fair cross section of them, so take some time to hear me out.
I like movies; in fact I love movies. I love music too. I don’t like to be bored. No one does, it’s just not fun. There is, however, a sizeable difference between what you tell me I should like, and what I do like. Sometimes, you can be right on the money. You said movies like Anchorman and Wedding Crashers were hilarious, and I agreed. You said Batman Begins would be a dark, gritty, and wholy compelling restart to a franchise that, to be honest, you screwed up. And it was. Then again, you also told me that Dukes of Hazzard would be just as good, if not better, than the original series, but I didn’t think so. But you know, it’s ok, because I’m in a position where I don’t have to watch or listen to something I won’t like.
There was a time when, after a little kicking and screaming, you embraced new technologies, and made boatloads of money for yourself and others. After the initial stink over the VCR, you aquiesced (you didn’t really have a choice), and you brought more of your product to more people and made more money. Sure, you lost a few sales-I remember my father would record tapes rented from Blockbuster, unless they were really good, then he bought them. But that soon came to an end (Cliffhanger was the last one). Then you guys said “Hey, check this out! We’ve got these discs, they look like CDs, only they’re not!” And everything was cool. We took pleasure in your 5.1-ilized, director commentated, double disced goodness.
But there was a problem with this. It was called Content Scrambling System, a padlock you threw around your product so we could only do what you wanted us to do. Imagine how people would feel if Honda decided to do something like this with their next Civic? Or if Dell welded their computers shut? As you could imagine, people would be none-too happy. How would mechanics make money if they have to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in Ford tools, and Honda tools, and Dodge tools? What will CompUSA do if Dell cries “We have our rights!” and no longer allows them to repair, upgrade, or sell parts and programs for their computers? And just what am I supposed to do, the loyal consumer, if I’m bereft of the choice I used to have?
That’s an extreme case, but you know you industry-types are doing just that. Your telling me that I can’t consume media that I have legally payed for in manners which I may see fit. You have more platforms than ever before to distribute your content through-but instead your closing them off. It would be swell if I could rip a DVD onto my iPod so for those two hours I have between classes, I have something to do (besides homework, of course). It would be really neat if I could take the best scenes and make a mix-DVD. In fact, my dad keeps asking me to do this with all of his concert DVDs. You know what I tell him? “Well pop, that sounds neat, but it’s illegal. That being said, yes I can do that.”
I’m not an expert in encryption-I’m not even that good at math. I don’t know what sort of crazy algorithms your using to lock me out of my own DVDs, nor do I know how Apple’s FairPlay or Windows PlaysForSure works. I do know that someone, somewhere does know this. In fact, I’d wager that a whole lot of people in a whole lot of places do, and they’re probably on the Internet.
It’s not that people don’t want you to make money, if that were the case your industries would have been long dead by now, because people wouldn’t have paid you in the first place. It’s not that you are necessarily stupid and they are necessarily smart; nor is it that they are moral and just and you are not. There’s a simple fact that you seem to be forgetting: for as long as human beings have had “stuff” other people have wanted to take said “stuff.” As long as human beings have made “stuff” other people have wanted to get their hands on “stuff” without paying for it.
If someone has never paid for a piece of recorded music in their life, no lawsuit in the world will make them start now. It’s like Cory Doctorow said, “Keeping an honest user honest is like trying to keep a tall user tall.” It’s not you, it’s them.
But I’ll share a little secret with you. The people I know who download the most music, who steal the most of your stuff-go to concerts all the time. They’ve got more posters, t-shirts, wristbands, hats, hoodies, and any other form of merchandise than one person should actually own. The people who pirate the most movies are the ones with the largest collections, downloading the films they want to see, that you won’t let them. They’re addicted, and they’re spending more money on their habit than they’re making.
That or they’re studying. Studying to one day be one of you. They’re your apprentices, studying the masterpieces. During the Renaissance, if you were apprenticed to Michelangelo or DaVinci, most of your time was spent copying their stuff, not making your own. And sure, there were people out there who would gladly rip the Mona Lisa right off the wall but you know something, they were going to do it anyway! And if DaVinci decided to start suing people who looked at his paintings, well what kind of Master would he be?
That’s exactly what you’re doing, though. Your little rootkits and CSSes and Macrovisions aren’t stopping the criminals-the people who have the same equipment that you do and are reproducing your products on the same scale that you’re cranking them out. I’m not the bad guy when I download a song from BitTorrent that I wasn’t going to pay for in the first place, but the person pressing (not burning on his computer) 5000 copies of that same song every few days and selling them for profit is.
At this stage you’re probably wondering where the hell I’m going with this. Well, here’s the point. There’s no way that you’ll ever be able to realize your full, 100% potential. It’s the nature of any business. Even if you’ve strong-armed everyone into paying you, you’re still going to have to deal with losses and layoffs and late-starts and all that noise. You can’t litigate and lobby the market into submission, that’s not the way the game works. I need you guys because I hate being bored. And you need me because you’re probably not good at counterfeiting money, or you just don’t want to. But the funny thing now is, I don’t need you as much anymore. All this technology allows you to produce bigger and better and louder stuff, but it also allows a lot more people to produce their own stuff. And it may not be as high quality, it may not have the highest budget, and maybe they can’t get the talk show appearances and fast-food tie-ins that you can, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good at doing what they do. And that doesn’t mean that I’m not taking notice of them. You’re not making any new fans by taking this road. Your laws and lobbies are only making criminals out of innocent people, and if they’re already criminals, why shouldn’t they go all out? You can only put a gun to so many heads and shout “LOVE ME!” before someone points there own at you. And then what? What will you do when the theaters are empty, when the cable and television and radio channels go ignored, when we’re all online laughing and crying and singing along to stuff that we like and that was produced just because someone wanted to produce it? I have an exit strategy, do you?
Fan, Customer, Pirate, Criminal, Friend, Foe