Frodo Lives: Where will online piracy end up?

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A lot of people have been following the whole issue with SOPA/PIPA and online piracy that’s been going on lately, and it seems to have a fair number of internet users in outrage, and while there are people on both sides of the argument, I’m firmly against how the American government have decided to handle copyright infringement over the internet. While I like owning books and movies and music and things like that, I don’t believe the government should be allowed to ban and punish every website that contains copyrighted material that doesn’t belong to them. For one thing, the internet is saturated with this material, it’s hard to say what websites to shut down and what websites to keep. With the takedown of Megaupload, yes, there is a whole chunk of online piracy that has been prevented, and with other media sharing websites changing their policies to prevent further piracy, there is also a chunk of perfectly legitimate users who are now unable to quickly and conveniently share their work with the world. How is it fair to them?

The introduction of SOPA/PIPA is not a sustainable solution to piracy. I have a few theories of plausible solutions that I think would be a drastic improvement over a complete takedown of the internet.

Our culture has gradually shifted towards piracy for what I feel can be put down to a number of key reasons. First is the money. The RIAA and MPAA are rich enough as it is without having to capitalise on royalties every time someone uses copyrighted material with their permission. There are so many musicians who use samples, and I don’t think it’s fair that some pay ridiculous amounts to clear the samples where others sample without permission and run the risk of being sued for copyright infringement.

I watched a movie on the issue of sampling for uni a couple of years ago called RIP! A Remix Manifesto, and it breaks down the issues with copyright infringement, royalties, copyright laws and such. I went to the official channel on YouTube (RemixManifesto) and the first part of the film was blocked in my country for copyright reasons.

That is the problem right there.

Fortunately, there are a few copies of the film up on youtube, and I’d imagine there are more floating around the internet elsewhere. Well, the first part is here:

The 21st century culture is hellbent on mashups and remixes, artists are constantly working with pastiche and bricolage, borrowing bits and pieces from things that don’t belong to them to make something entirely new. It’s creative, it’s entertaining, it’s against the law, apparently.

The first thing I’d like to see change is the laws. Copyright, in its current form, is ridiculous. Of course, it prevents people from taking something they don’t own and making a quick buck off it, but a remix or a still picture from a film or a clip from a larger video used for creative purposes is not a crime. It’s just another way for the RIAA and MPAA to capitalise on a bit more cash.

At this point, I’d like to call America out for its double standards, and I’d like to refer to a particular moment in copyright history that reflects the true nature of what I feel copyright should be about.

Back in the 1950s, a man named J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a book. Well, technically, he wrote three books. They were the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They came out in hardback in the UK, and they were selling for an ample price. Then, in the ’60s, the books were published in America as a trade paperback. They were dirt cheap and ridiculously popular amongst college students and hippie types. The problem with the US publication was that J.R.R. Tolkien and his UK publishers did not approve of this, nor were they receiving any royalties for it. At this point in time, the US copyright law allowed for a publisher to print the book and keep all the profits.

Of course, this is wrong. Surely, Tolkien was entitled to some of that profit. Well, I can’t remember the specifics, but his publishers ended up rushing their plans to print the books in the US, and the books, while still more expensive than the unofficial version, were (as a result of the unofficial books in the market) still cheap.

Since then, laws have changed and you can’t do that sort of shit in America any more. However, over the years they’ve become a bit too power-hungry to be taken seriously. Sure, originality is a good thing, but the punishments for copyright infringement is getting way too ridiculous. Back in the 18th century, if you steal a loaf of bread you face a lengthy jail sentence. The punishment for copyright and cyber crimes is getting to be that way. It’s barbaric.

It’s foolish for the American Government to think they can do what they’re trying to do.

I think they need to do what they did with the Lord of the Rings books. People are downloading everything nowdays because it’s too damn expensive, and buying into their shit ensures the corporations get richer while the consumers stay poor. That economy will not sustain itself. People are getting their hands on illegitimate copies of books, films, music that they are legitimately interested in, and they’re doing it en masse. You can’t just lock everyone up. Cut off the head of a hydra and two more grow. You’ve got to feed it, you’ve got to give it what it wants: affordable media. Why can’t books or movies or music (especially in light of the digital revolution) be two dollars or five dollars as a standard retail price across the board?

There are plenty of ebooks that are dirt cheap, why not all of them? Why do ten dollar albums have to be a discount price on iTunes? Why, when these things are so cheap to reproduce, are we forced to pay ridiculous prices or resort to pirating to obtain these consumer goods?

If the RIAA and MPAA were a little bit smarter and a little less greedy, they’d throw a bone to the consumers that support them, otherwise, they’ll get bit in the ass.

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