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THE MORNING BUZZ: Once Mor(pheus), With Feeling

19 Mar, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

I was going to leave the whole copy protection and file sharing (a la Grokster, Music City and Morpheus) debate for a while, but the last round got so many responses I just had to make a couple more points (and make sure both of my fans have the chance to chime in).

First of all NO, I don't approve of copyright infringement. As a matter of fact, I'm continually astonished at the number of people who come out hard against it, but look the other way when their kids and spouses burn discs for them. I have no such files on my computer or storage media, but clearly a lot of parents are not instilling their children with the notion that file swapping copyrighted material is a crime; they let their kids see the benefits without risks or penalties.

Even so, it's still hard for me to stomach movie executives pleading to a Senate committee to protect them from that dreaded scourge, the consumer. When the government wants to regulate a business for the public good, business wants to be left alone. When the business wants to be rescued from the public, it runs to the government for a regulation.

Studios are complaining their movies get pirated before they get into theaters. Hmmm ... let's see. I send my product to Southeast Asia (aka the knockoff capitol of the known universe) to be copied, then complain to the committee that American jobs are threatened because – Holy (Cash) Cow! – someone made copies.

If drug companies were as cavalier about their heavily invested secret formulae, we would all have died of anthrax in the water supply 20 years ago, when there was still a cold war. Why should the movie industry, whose products have nowhere near the potential to unleash a public threat, get greater protection?

Maybe copyright laws should only extend protection to products made in the good old U.S. of A. Studios could send their replication jobs overseas at their own peril and stop expecting Americans (a lot of whom are still jobless) to pay for security breaches elsewhere.

There are other, free-market approaches to protecting business interests. Like:

1) Crime is a risk-benefit proposition. A criminal weighs the risk against the reward (thankfully for us law-abiding citizens they aren't all good at it). Check out the discussion boards on tech sites. Most of the traders say if they could buy the DVD for $5 or $10, it would no longer be worth their time to file-swap. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Invisible Hand and the Law of Diminishing Returns. Maybe that's not a practical price for new releases, but it demonstrates there may be middle ground between file sharing and today's prices.

2) Make it more profitable for the programmers to work for studios than to rip them off. See Thomas K. Arnold's story on Sen. Orrin Hatch's comments at NARM for more on that approach.

3) Get insurance companies to open a new line of business for digital piracy. They already insure studios against production events that might cause the loss of an investment.

4) Scary as it is, I can buy software for $99 that will track keystrokes on my company's computers. The courts are upholding companies' right to fire people for spending too much work time getting Internet lap dances. I'm sure they would let the Mouse House chase out its rats in the same way, either for the piracy itself or for misuse of company equipment.

Take me to task or make your own suggestions about piracy prevention and copyright enforcement here. Bring it on!

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