Monday, 12 April 2010

Further copyright thoughts

David Farrar is rightly annoyed with the copyright industry's inflexibility in the face of changing technology:
At a dinner on Friday night with the organisers of the Public ACTA conference, one of the organisers mentioned to me she had just purchased Leonard Maltin’s “151 Best Movies You Have Never Seen“.

Now most film goers will know who Leonard Maltin is – the God of reviewers. So I thought that sounds like a really good book.

But that then got me thinking about how one would go about seeing those 151 movies. By their nature, they are not top viewing ones, that you could easily pick up at the video store. There is no website in NZ where you could order them from. If you were really dedicated you could spend hours wading through Amazon locating them and pay $6,000 or so to buy them all individually, and wait a month or so for them to arrive. Oh yeah, would also need a cupboard to store them all in.

But in reality, what many people would do if they have that book, is go to a torrent site and search for a torrent of the films listed. Because that is the easiest and quickest way to do it.

But what if you could buy all 151 movies legally, easily and for an affordable price? Say the books costs you $25, but for an extra $250 you could also buy a 300 GB external hard drive with all 151 moves on it at Whitcoulls or Borders? Hell, I’d buy that as a xmas present for a loved one, and so would many other people I reckon.
Indeed. But, of course, if many of those 151 were sufficiently obscure, they wouldn't yet have been classified by New Zealand's chief censor, in which case they'd have to pay $1000 per disc for classification. An alternate arrangement would let film importers bring with them whatever US, Australian, British or Canadian classification they liked, or to apply to NZ for separate classification if they didn't like the foreign ones. Why we have to reinvent so many wheels in a small country is beyond me.

And, odds are that if the 125 movie hard disk were available at Whitcoulls, you wouldn't be able to move the files onto another hard drive and the format would require some kind of copyright-chipped TV that would verify that you're the registered owner of the drive (and that would wind up failing when you upgraded your TV down the line). There's seems to be a variant of Murphy's Law that whatever digital format is supported by the content industry will wind up being crippled in some important way.

I'm wondering if we're not getting past some tipping point anyway. Copyright has made it sufficiently difficult for sufficiently long to get some movies and TV shows close to American release dates that folks have largely fronted the fixed costs of figuring out how to navigate file sharing services and then just swap huge external hard drives around to trade files. Remember when ...other folks... traded 5.25" Commodore-64 floppies in 1984? Now it's 1.5 TB hard drives. And, even if content were available here for purchase in timely fashion, it still is provided in a strictly inferior format: DVDs requiring a dozen clicks and waits before Ira's "Little Red Tractor" show starts rather than the one click it would take to watch it from DVD. So folks have incentive to front the fixed costs of learning how to rip DVDs into watchable format, further decreasing the relative costs of file sharing.

If it's not too late already, it soon will be. For at least some folks, the choice calculus is still:
[cost of learning how to download files + expected punishment costs + guilt] versus [cost of DVD + costs of having an inferior format + costs either of waiting for mail delivery or of going to the store].
Learning how to rip and share files is the most costly part of the first term; costs of inferior format and of hassles are, to my mind, the worst parts of the latter. Legal purchase dominates if the inferior format and associated hassles are done away with, but possibly not once the fixed learning costs of file sharing are sunk. Those costs are still fixed for me, but too many more times having to flip through the intro sequence on "Little Red Tractor", including the two "Postman Pat" previews....


  1. I find the stupidest thing is when you buy a real dvd and you have to watch that stupid thing at the start, that you can't skip, which tells you not to download movies. I just bought the dvd! I say it encourages downloading movies so you don't have to watch the annoying, unskippable message!

  2. If only one of the movie companies had gotten a patent on doing that, so it could spend all its time suing the other companies who followed....

  3. Speak of the devil?

  4. @Hamish: and you noted the discussion of how it's rather crippled?

  5. Heh, I didn't note the discussion, which makes it slightly disappointing to say the least.

    One step forwards, two steps backwards...