Monday, November 28, 2005

Copyrights and wrongs

Gamasutra has an article by Ernest Adams entitled 'The End of Copyright" which is a good read.

Personally, I think it's got numerous flaws with it. Despite that, it's a good read and makes some good points. Don't take this as a personal stand on the "I'm for copyright" soapbox. I just think the article has some flaws and feel like pointing them out.

On the 'flaws' side of things:

  • The argument that the 'fair use' laws of copyrighted materials eventually leads to demise of copyrights altogether is a slippery slope arguement. Outright copying of copyrighted materials is still not considered fair use.
  • On there being 'no intrinsic reason someone should continue to get paid for something long after it's completion', there are two issues there: (1) Part of the problem today is that people sometimes aren't getting paid for something THE DAY it comes out - or even BEFORE it comes out (as we see with leaked Star Wars movies, for example - or games for that matter). (2) "Hollywood fatcat" arguements aside, the market bears the price it will, and so the economic model factors in the long-term earning potential of the product. To take the argument to the limit: If Half-Life 2 were FREE 3 months after release, they'd either make less money (making such games unfeasible to make?) or have to put a higher premium on being the first to experience it.
  • On "architects not getting paid every time someone steps into one of their buildings", there's a flawed metaphor here. The architect created the design, which is a tool the builder used. Much as Photoshop is a tool used to create things. Adobe doesn't get paid for every image you edit, but they do want to get paid for every copy of the software. The architects *PLANS* are indeed copyrightable materials. The fact that there is a market for resale and re-use of plans is part of what has contributed to more affordable housing in the modern age (cookie-cutter as it might be).
  • The later section of the article talks about a number of different business models enabled by the Internet. Totally feasible, but it's neither here nor there in the discussion about copyright. If you offer software as a service, for example, you still don't want people copying the service itself and allowing the client to connect to another's cloned service. Adams notes that the biz model thing is a separate issue, but the fact that it's in there at all is kind of hinting that they 'fix the problem'.
  • Saying that "Metallica makes too much money" (paraphrased) and that games are different cause they cost a lot is kind of flawed argument as well. 1 game in 5 makes money (big budget console titles - PC's worse), so 1 has to float the costs of the other 4. In music, one album in many (what, maybe a thousand?) makes money and so has to costs the costs -minimal as they might be- of floating that band's album & promotion, etc. While *making* the album may be cheap, *bringing it to market* certainly is not. Getting America to gulp down more Backstreet Boys style pablum costs cold hard cash. Sad fact, but it's a fact.

OK, ranting aside, the article makes some good points:

  • The laws of any given society are a concrete embodiment of that societies values. As values change, so do the laws. As an aside, there's a realted Dilbert comic about this from today, which you can see here. Or I guess I can just link to it (wonder if that's fair use? :-):

  • The current "tolerance" for piracy & other copyright violation among the general public may act as a force to drive down pricing. (As another aside: I saw a very similar concrete version of this type of action-reaction when high cigarette taxes in Quebec reached a point where the mob was involved in cigarette trafficking. It got to a point where biker gangs were blowing one another up over it, and finally the government said "alright already - cheap smokes for everyone!" and that was that).
  • The fact that these alternative business models may allow for different styles of distribution and different levels of rights-restriction may indeed mean that content developers just don't make rock-star style money. I agree whole heartedly. We see a lot of this in casual games space. Keep in mind though, that not everyone wants original indie films, games and music. Power to those that do, but for better or worse, a large number of consumers want rockstar content from Spielberg & Nicholson, Metallica & Britney, EA and well, Rockstar.

One more thought: The fight against copyright abuse may just be a "checks and balances" thing keeping the practice in the hands of the most die-hard, while the bulk of consumers pay for content. And it may just stay that way.

On the other hand, if society really evolves to where they don't beleive in copyright, and that music, games, and movies should be freely copied, then you get a situation like we've seen in China, where major publishers just don't even bother showing up to sell product. And if it happens worldwide, then they don't even bother making it.

Which maybe wouldn't be so bad if it meant no more Backstreet Boys & Britney CD's.

1 comment:

Storm said...

Hey Kim, just finished a post on my blog about the same article an hour ago. I like your version a lot better. Its less personal.

One can't deny the certain amount of self-interest that anyone professing an opinion about copyright laws has. "Oh, where would I get all my music from?" seems to about sum it all.

I guess that it's a good thing that 128 kbps still doesn't reach cd quality, so you'll still want original cds if you want to claim to be a fan.

Cheap broadband, humumgous hard disks and generally a better medium of distribution will find its way. So lets get ready to say hello to mp3s.