Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Great Copyright Debate

PVRing your show may soon be grounds for you to be charged.

From the article: “Ever taped or PVRed a show so that you can watch it later, otherwise known as time shifting?
Or ripped a CD so you could listen to it on your MP3 player, called format shifting? With changes to Canada's copyright laws expected as early as next month, these mundane 21st century activities could theoretically be open to prosecution - unless the Conservative government steps in with expanded "fair use" or "fair dealing" protections for consumers.”

I could hash over the intricacies of this article, but there’s one thing about it that stands out. “Researchers, reviewers, reporters, non-profit archives and libraries and people with sight or hearing problems are allowed to use copyrighted material without explicit permission.
Making mixed CDs or tapes is also considered OK because there is a levy applied to every blank CD or tape as a sort of royalty.
But there are no levies applied to DVDs, MP3 players, telephones or computer hard-drives where music can also be stored - a major black hole.
And there are no protections for relatively new activities like time shifting, or even old ones like using material in a parody or satire.”

What automatically irks me about the fact that they charge a levy on CDs and tapes is that they presume that you will use them for burning music CDs and making mixed tapes. When I went to the local Medical Examiner’s Office I was talking with a staff member there, who said they had to apply to get the money back because all photographs from all autopsies are stored on CD for records. In order to get the levy back you have to prove that you didn’t use the CDs for burning music. So, here’s one government agency talking to another government agency, who refuses to believe that the ME’s office buys thousands of CDs for any reason other than making music mixes.

The lady at the ME’s office told me she invited them to come on over and take a look for themselves…

I use CDs. I use them to back up the contents of my computer. I use them to maintain records of my manuscripts.

And yes, I pay the levy.

The reality is, for someone like me, it isn’t worth the time and trouble to go after getting that money back.

And none of that even addresses the fairness of the law. We live in the country. Some of the roads out here are a bit rough. I do my bit and go buy my new CDs. I mean, a few years ago, authors were bemoaning the loss of the ‘album’ with the onslaught of MP3s and downloads. But hey, I go to the store and buy the albums, like always.

But I like to make a copy of the CD and keep the good one here so it doesn’t get wrecked in the truck. And I honestly don’t see what’s wrong with that.

The reality is that a lot of CDs cost as much as $25 in store. Sure, if it’s a big-name seller they’re less. But some of us don’t listen to much mass-market stuff.

Now, the idea of charging people for time-shifting programs pisses me off, too. We have one of those things on our satellite. And you know what? We pay $75 per month for the frickin’ satellite. Know how many shows we watch weekly? Kevin watches The Simpsons. The Wire is over for another season.

Which means we pay a whole lot of money for fuck all.

Now, a show like The Wire, broadcast on HBO, there aren’t even commercial concerns. It isn’t like we’re skipping through them. We are paying 100% of the asking price to watch that show. But it’s on so late for us that we can’t stay up and watch it.

But we don’t have a DVD recorder and there’s a limited amount of storage space for shows. Which means you can’t keep them forever.

We buy every season of the show as soon as it comes out on DVD, so the thought of being charged just because we watch it 18 hours after it was originally broadcasted?

Guess what? I’ll cancel the satellite and we’ll wait for the DVDs then. I mean, we buy them anyway, and we can save $900 per year.

But guess what? All the networks we subscribe to will lose a bit of money. So, by coming after us for even more money for time-shifting, in the end they lose. TV isn’t that important to me anymore – I’m not a teenager. I will not let my life be dictated by a television schedule.

So in the end, who wins in that scenario? A lot of people time-shift. A lot. A lot of people do it because they have to work late, they have to go to parent-teacher meetings, they have kids to chauffeur to lessons… It’s a modern convenience that allows them to relax and unwind and gives them something to look forward to.

You know what’s funny to me? You take your books to the used book store and the author doesn’t get a second set of royalties on the sale. There are book exchange groups that allow for swapping…

Nobody cares about that. Not saying I do either. I’m just saying that the laws are hypocritical. It is only because television networks and the music industry have so much clout that they can push for changes that further penalize consumers.

And you know what? I’m not having any of it. I already pay my levy, thank you very much, even when I’m not using CDs to burn music… Which is most of the time, so I pay more than my fare share.

I’m not going to swallow this from the realm of television. May it be the first step in the process of seeing Star Trek be right about one thing from the future – a future with no television. Given the choice between paying more for precious little… well, I can buy a hell of a lot of books for $900, thank you very much.


JamesO said...

I remember when VCRs first became commonplace and the same argument rattled around the UK. Technically, recording anything off the telly was illegal and you could go to jail for it, but nobody was prosecuted and eventually the law caught up with the technology. They tried to put a levy on blank cassettes, but it never came off. I remember one band, Tears for Fears, saying they wouldn't record another album until there was a way to recoup losses from home taping. A shame, really, because they were a good band and shot themselves in the foot on that one.

MP3s and downloading is the new, new technology that the law needs to catch up with, but the smart money out there isn't trying to fight it. Bands like the Arctic Monkeys and Lilly Allen made their name from downloads - free and paid for - and spreading the word through the internet. Apple have managed something like a billion downloads since iTunes came online, and now they're selling episodes of favourite TV shows. Video on demand is the next big thing, and whilst it won't kill the broadcast studios, it will force them to adopt new practices.

About ten years behind all this, the law will catch up.

What gets me, though, is the lengths the dinosaurs in the industry go to in order to fight piracy - which is effectively what copyright law and levies on blank CDs is all about. It doesn't take a genius to work out that if a million people are pirating your product, it's too expensive or unavailable in your market. I'd like to see the new season of Battlestar Galactica, and I can download an illegal copy of each episode within an hour of its first broadcast. But I won't be able to buy a legal copy for another year at least.

I read an article a while back where it was suggested that the film studios release a low-resolution, cheap dvd version of new films at the same time as they appeared in the cinemas. It costs cents to make a dvd, and these cheap versions wouldn't stop people from going to the cinema. It would cut the feet out from under the pirates though.

Of course, there's no liklihood of a major hollywood studio ever doing anything so logical.

I seem to have rambled a little off topic here, but the point is there's always a knee-jerk reaction to the new by the establishment. But in the end, the people who survive and get rich are those who embrace the technology rather than those who rail against it.

John McFetridge said...

Okay I'll give up my TV, but do I get a holodeck?

We've been living without cable or satellite or anything for years. Just over the air networks and renting DVDs. It works.

Anonymous said...

I've got a friend who works on the Open Rights Group who recently fought the case against music copyright extension here in the UK. People like Cliff Richard were claiming that they'll end up penniless without the income from recordings they made 50 years ago, while the flip side is that an extension means more obscure works will remain sealed off from the public domain simply because it doesn't make sense for them to release music recorded that long ago unless it's a major artist. Should Cliff Richard get richer or should the public domain get access to all the old music the industry is keeping locked in its vaults?

Same issue with recording TV shows - what's good for the public isn't in the short-sighted interest of the industry. Short-sighted especially because the conclusion of a recent survey conducted here in the UK showed the demand for on-demand TV could lead to TV schedules becoming obsolete within ten years.

Last weekend was the first UK Top 40 music chart including digital single sales even when no CD exists and an unsigned band called Koopa is expected to break into the Top 30 this weekend on the basis of their internet popularity. Previously, the cost of producing sufficient CD copies would have made this unheard of. The band said they'd listen to offers off the back of their success, but also questioned whether new acts needed to be signed to record labels any more.

Like James says, the industry is fighting tooth and nail to protect the status quo, but it's inevitably a losing battle. The new laws they're trying to force through may hold back change, but they won't stop it. Either they spot the opportunity and do an Apple or they lose relevance along with their market share.

Though I still think it's a crime how proprietary Digital Rights Management means iTunes tracks only play on iPods, Sony bought songs on play on Sony players, Windows Media DRM songs play on miscellaneous players, while a CD bought at a shop will play on every CD player regardless of the manufacturer.

Of course, the way round that is to buy whatever music you want on-line and then burn it onto CD so you can rip it back to MP3 without the copy protection.

Anyway, sorry, rant over.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard anyone use the word "levy" before except Don McClean when he drove his Chevy there.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Julia, LOL! That's what you get for reading a Canadian's blog!

James, my fear is that this article infers Canada is yielding after a lot of pressure from the US. And if we're caving to pressure, there will undoubtedly be some sample cases where people will get charged.

John, oh yeah. I'd love a holodeck! I could have my own personal masseur! And I could dictate manuscripts instead of typing them!

In fact, I could create a whole slave race...

Vincent, I'm with you. I personally think that if you buy the music, you should be able to listen to it wherever. It's like saying that because you bought a video you should only be allowed to show it on your sony vcr and the rca one you have downstairs shouldn't be allowed to be used without paying extra. That's bullshit. I would honestly say that if someone bought my book, but preferred to read loose-leaf pages and set about photocopying the whole thing, why should they pay me? They bought the book. They already paid for the privilege of reading it. If they want to change that format but own the book, who cares? I sure as hell don't.

What's next? You aren't allowed to play your CDs in front of people who don't own them, because they're enjoying music they haven't paid for? Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Julia on the levy thing. And don't forget, the levy was dry.

John D. said...

Maybe this is a sign of my age, but I don't think that movie/recording studio sales losses are attributable to piracy so much as the fact that much of what they're producing these days is just crap.

As far as pirated stuff goes, I'd much rather wait and pay more for a quality, factory-produced DVD than get some crappy knock-off from Fast Freddy on the street corner two days after the movie was released.

I never knew that about Tears for Fears. They sound like serious control freaks. I guess I shouldn't find that surprising coming from the band that recorded "Everybody Wants to Rule the World."

M. G. Tarquini said...

I hate to confess this in a public place, but I will:

1) I don't know what PVRing things means and;

2) I can't work the DVD player on my TV.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Bill, LOL!

John, I agree with you about where the losses are coming from, 100%. If they're going to be outrageous, we'll cancel the television. My husband and I already talked about it today, just in general, realizing how much we pay for how little.

When we were in Bali we experienced instant pirating. It was in 2002 and just when the Silence of the Lambs sequel came out, I believe. It was available for purchase as a DVD next day.

Now, being curious types, my husband decided to buy one pirated DVD - The Sixth Sense, I think it was. He just wanted to see what the quality was like. We came home and he bought the real DVD here, but he put the pirated copy on and you could see people's heads and hear them in the theatre. Not great quality. It's amazing how stingy some people will be to save a couple bucks.

Mindy, LOL! I must admit, I've struggled with the new microwave.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Wow, that's a lot to pay for satellite...I pay half that...but I'm hooked on the Scifi channel, and my dear hubs watches a lot, so it pays for us to have it!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah Bonnie, it's ridiculous, isn't it?!

Anonymous said...

[rant mode on]

In terms of a PVR, unless you know what you're doing and have the right unit, you can't easily transfer recordings from it elsewhere. Given that they have a fixed capacity, you eventually end up replacing previous recordings. So that means your 'backups' are all temporary. I don't see how that translates to ownership.

Australia used to have a levy on blank cassettes to account for this piracy, but they never brought it in on CD/DVD blanks. Instead, they opened up the market to competing imports, which brought the prices down across the board and now I'd say most people are happy to buy the music and movies they truly want to own.

Kind of funny that when you buy a CD these days, all a lot of people do is rip it to their computers and MP3 players, never to actually use the CD again. Still, I think it's good to have that original, full-quality 'backup'.

[rant mode off]