Bradley Hall of the US Pirate Party answers student questions

Bradley Hall at US Pirate Party:

Over the past few months, I have been interviewed by students and major news outlets regarding the USPP’s views on different things. While I cannot comment on the major news outlet’s questions as yet, I can, however, speak about things on the student level. Below are the questions student interviewers have asked, and my replies. I totally hope these students received A’s on their reports. If nothing else, putting these on the main page will show their teachers they did not make these things up. – Brad Hall

1. Do you personally acquire digital media through file sharing?: Downloading copyrighted material breaks several laws, and it is not the Pirate Party’s goal to break the law, simply to bring the law’s perspective into the digital information age.

2. How would content producers profit, if their media is being provided free of charge?: The easiest way would be advertising. The people who make the songs that are the most listened to and the most downloaded or whatever, would of course, receive the larger share of the revenue pie.

Of course, as a friend pointed out to me a few days ago, “Okay, advertising. Where does that money come from? As they say, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. You’re funded with advertising, someone else loses that advertising dollar.”

There are several models that have worked well for several company/people.

Anime Network and Crunchyroll both have a system in place where you can watch some anime for free. Then you can watch more and other anime for a price. The price ranges from $7 per month to a yearly pass of $70 per year. I have no idea how many subscribers they get at any price. They also host a few advertisements. No idea how many or how much money those generate. Presumably it’s enough to keep them in business.

Kodansha’s idea of making iPod/iPhone apps is a great idea, though there is that one major hurdle to cross: Apple itself.

Have you ever heard of Megatokyo (www.megatokyo.com)? It’s an American comic done in a “manga style.” Usually every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, one page is uploaded to the main site. The comic has a pile of followers. The way the writer monetizes this thing is by selling a “low bandwidth version” and shirts and other things that pop up in the comic.

Though, the only way that’d work with manga is if you get a smattering of fans together and make them wait a day or so between each page of the manga you’re wanting them to read and eventually pay money for.

The difference between Megatokyo and any other manga is Megatokyo was made from the beginning to be a webcomic. If you read today’s page and get frustrated and want to read the next page, or the next chapter, tough. You have to wait for the next day along with everyone else. You can’t go to some website and download the entirety of the series.

While flipping through my only manga series I own, Loveless, I can find no t-shirts that Soubi or Ritsuko wear that make me say “Oooh! I want that shirt!” though, some weirdo fangirls might go for the cat ears or something. Maybe a messenger bag. Every series has a messenger bag. Or maybe make a tie-in MMO.

In Loveless, the “villains” meet up in Wisdom Resurrection, an FFXI-looking MMORPG. That’s where they hold some of their meetings. Maybe they could make a free-to-play MMO based on that. Maybe take a cue from Turbine and make it fully free, but make money via micro-transactions.

The third idea is to create a Hulu-like site where everything is free and available from all the major manufacturers. Force people to watch an ad or read an ad or whatever for x number of pages viewed.

The other problem with manga is this: “What’s good?” I walk into a Barnes & Nobel any day of the week I’ll find a pile of manga. Manga isn’t like a “funny book” where you can pick up any issue and know what’s going on. There’s a story. If I picked up Loveless volume 6 and read it without having read the previous five volumes, I’d have no idea what was going on.

“Thanks grandma… Full Metal Alchemist volume 73… thanks… yes grandma, this is one of them ‘Japanese manga comics’.” Never mind the fact I hadn’t read volume 1-72.

With a manga, you have to read about 2 or 3 volumes to figure out what the story is, or what it starts off being. That’s a cost of $30 and who knows how many weeks/months/years of waiting for new volumes to come out. And even then? Who knows. With 8 volumes of Loveless, I have spent $80, if each volume cost $10.

For $80, I could buy every Stephen King book I’ve not read yet. It’d take me longer to read one of those books than it would take me to read all 8 volumes of Loveless.

I was happy when they released Shonen Jump in the US. I bought a sub and had it active for a few years. I started to care less and less about it once Sandland concluded. Then I let it lapse. I have no idea what’s in it now.

Like I said, they don’t make it easy for people to find a new manga to get into. Why spend money on a series you might hate when you can pop onto a website and read a few chapters of it, heck, why not read the whole thing?

Sure, one of the manga sites that’s under attack by the coalition is a Google Top 1000 website with pageviews that hover in the billions, but the questions are:

A. How much manga on that site is available in the US? A student I talked to at school told me that he enjoyed a certain manga, only nine volumes of it were released in the US, out of 20 volumes altogether. Then, for whatever reason, it was canceled. There are still 11 volumes unreleased in English. The student went on to tell me he now read the series online as it was the only place that he could read the entire series.

That’s just an example of something we used to have, but don’t have any more. What about the series that never came out here at all?

B. Would the people who read the manga online have bought it? This goes for the ones not released here as well as the ones that are. It’s the old question about downloading MP3s. Is it really “theft” if no physical item was removed? Of course, there is the corollary that there were some people paying subscriptions to the websites in question, “How could it be stealing if I was paying a subscription?”

http://intellectualeconomy.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/coalition-of-manga-publishers/

3. Why do you think piracy is illegal?: The idea that sharing anything online is piracy is absurd on its face. Actual piracy requires forceful and aggressive acts, committed against those who would keep a cargo safe from harm. The cargo in this case is the freedom to act. We would take it from those who jealously guard it for themselves and divide it amongst everyone in the country.

The Pirate Party wants to “raid” the law and “carry away” (repeal) laws which do not serve those on our metaphorical boat. The trick of it is: we’re all in the same boat. It is in service to those on our boat (the United States) that we aim to help.

We are not willing to accept that file sharing should be banned (and will take steps–once we have party members in office–to ensure that any laws in this regard are adamantly opposed, since technology isn’t the problem, but rather education about what its proper use is). On the other hand, we do agree that there is a significant amount of wrong being done to our rights in the name of protecting those whose sole aim for over 50 years has been the control and manipulation of human minds. Brainwashing our population is against our national interest in maintaining a democracy.

4. Should file sharers be punished? Should file sharers who sell the content for a profit be punished?: Back in the day, before the Internet. People would create “mix tapes” these were audio tapes that someone had painstakingly recorded a few songs from several vinyl records or other tapes to. Typically these were given to friends, not “friend” in the Internet sense, but friend in the local sense. You could really only physically hand these mix tapes to people you knew in person. These tapes were generally given as a kind of sampler, like a “this is the kind of music I’m in to, and I think you might dig it as well” kind of thing.

These tapes were given freely to people, and usually didn’t contain more than one or two songs by a particular artist. To the purveyors of mix tapes, these were not only seen as somewhat free advertising for artists, they were believed to be fair use (which is a tricky thing to actually prove), and then there’s the Audio Home Recording Act, which made the companies that created and sold audio tapes and tape deck recorders pay royalties to music writers and music publishers, whether or not the tapes were used to copy music. So right there, that was almost like the government saying it was legal to make mix tapes. (However, that does not make the old Napster or burning CDs on your computer legal).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audio_Home_Recording_Act

Of course, I think you’re referring to file sharers as those who share music and such online with thousands of their closest friends, right? Yes, that is wrong and should be punished.

But, the second part of your question has to do with the selling of such content for profit. That is undeniably wrong. Back in November, I wrote a USPP newsletter item (I’ve attached three newsletters as a Word document, including the one I’m mentioning right now) about a trip I made to the flea market. On this particular trip, I found a man selling obviously bootlegged DVDs on recordable media with the names of the films written on them with a Sharpie. That guy was breaking the law.

He should be punished, as should other people who try to sell other people’s content for money. He is just as guilty as someone who would rent out the use of your car without you knowing, and without you receiving any of the proceeds thereof.

Okay, that’s probably a bad analogy, but it’s still not good.

As a counterpoint, I will say this: I have read that the only group who can use file sharing without problem is radio broadcasters as they do have to catalog each song and artist they play and pay royalties to the appropriate music writers and publishers organizations, so even if they download a song to play on the air, they’re still paying the original writer and publisher of the music.

A side note, notice I said nothing about the person who actually sings the song. Back when the royalty rates were first organized for these things, it was decreed that the song writer receive a portion and the song publisher receive a portion as the song itself was seen as an advertisement for the singer (and their band)’s albums. Of course, there are some songs that were written by the singer, so in that case the singer does get a royalty.

5. Do you think we can come up with a compromise to current file sharing laws?: Before you can come up with a compromise to current file sharing laws, you first have to figure out the why. Why do people share files? There are a pile of reasons. One is money, we’re in a financial crisis. People are losing jobs left and right, the amount of disposable income people have is decreasing left and right, yet the price of content is increasing rapidly.

A number of people believe that content should be free and easily accessible. One way for that to happen is through an advertising supported model. Several years ago, one such service, called Ruckus existed for several years. It was only open to people who could sign up with a .edu email address, ostensibly, college students. You could download songs, for free, new ones, old ones, and more added all the time. It was great! I loved it.

There was a few problems though: while you could download songs to your computer and play them offline, you could not remove them from your computer or burn to a CD or transfer to your iPod or other music playing device. They were locked to your computer, and so were you if you wanted to play your music.

The song files also only had a life of 30 days, you had to log back into the Ruckus website and Ruckus Media Player in order to renew the license on the songs.

That was a few problems I could live with. But, then one day in 2009, the party ended. Officially, Ruckus said the problem was “overcrowded” – clearly the demand was there for a free music service.

There is another free music service, Spotify. But it’s available in almost everywhere in the world, except the United States. There’s a similar service, Pandora, but I have not had enough time using that service to pass judgment on it.

6. Do you think the laws should adapt to evolving technology?: Yes. The problem with the current laws of the United States is that the vast majority of them were written in the 1700s or had lobbyists and corporate interests in mind, and not the average citizen. The original term of copyright was 14 years, renewable to a further 14 years for a maximum of 28 years. Copyright now is “70 years after the death of author. If a work of corporate authorship, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation, whichever expires first” that’s not exactly a “limited time” while technically, it is, but for the vast majority of the people alive today, we will all be dead in 120 years, so to us, that’s not a limited time, that’s a lifetime, plus several years. The Pirate Party wishes to return copyright to its original 14-year term.

http://copyright.cornell.edu/resources/publicdomain.cfm

7. If you were an artist, would you support free distribution of your content?: Yes, to an extent. While I wouldn’t want people to share my stuff willy-nilly, there’s always a good reason to share.

Several years ago, Prince released his latest album, not in stores, but in the newspaper. Anyone who bought a copy of “The Mail on Sunday” received a free copy of his latest album, Planet Earth. Also, he had concert dates for 21 days in London that were completely sold out, most likely due to his free CD advertising.

8. Do you believe piracy is stealing?: I believe I mentioned it previously, but on its face, everyone who pirates an album, would they have bought that album had the pirated version not been available to them? I think not, at least not in every sense.

Downloading an album is different than walking into Best Buy or where ever and walking out of a store without paying for it.

When you download an album, you’re just making a digital copy of it. Nothing has been removed. The original copy of that digital file is still on whatever computer it originally came from.

But when you go into a store and walk out without paying for the CD hidden in your jacket pocket, that is stealing. The retail industry has a word for it, “shrink” as in “shrinking profits” – it might take a while before the store realizes the CD has been stolen. As long as their computers say they still have one copy of an album on the shelves, they will not order more as they believe they still have one in stock. In this way, stealing one album could in turn lead to further lost sales than just one CD.

9. Who benefits the most from piracy?: In the long run, no one benefits from piracy. Let’s say you like Band X, you download all of their albums, you give your friends copies of those copies, and those copies propagate exponentially. On one hand, Band X now has a pile of fans, every band wants a pile of fans, right? But, on the other hand, now that you and a pile of friends you’ve never met have copies of Band X’s albums (for free, mind you), Band X is showing that they haven’t sold many albums because you and your “friends” have downloaded them. Why would Band X make more music when they don’t make any money from it? What record label would allow a band that doesn’t make money to release more albums? In the end, Band X breaks up.

10. Do you agree with Google’s censorship of terms related to filesharing (torrent, utorrent, bittorrent, rapidshare, megaupload) in the autofill and instant features?: What Google is trying to do is move the blame away from themselves in this matter. By having “torrent” pop up in an auto complete window would almost be like Google suggesting someone to download something using torrent. But, Google’s results themselves have no qualms about filling the results pages full of rapidshare and megaupload links. So basically, Google is trying to cover its rear in that it would “suggest” those words to you, but won’t stop you from clicking on links from those sites. If it did stop users, then that would raise several murky issues that Google does not want to contend with, such as controlling where users go online.

11. Do you agree with the claims that piracy is hurting the music industry?: I believe I touched on this item before in another question. But yes, I would say piracy is having an effect on the music industry. How big of an impact? I don’t know. And I’m willing to doubt the information and research the music industry is pushing forward on the matter. How can they know how many copies of a given album would sell if the Internet didn’t exist?

There’s many reasons (and possibilities) why the music industry is hurting. One could be lack of good music, of course, everyone has a different idea of what good music is. And that’s one thing that could also be hurting the music industry: The glut of musicians. Back in “the day” there were fewer genres of music and the channels to get to that music was narrow as well. Everyone was listening to the same bands, so everyone bought the same records. You had Rock, Country (far different than the Country of today), Folk (which could be considered an offshoot of Country), R&B, Classical, and maybe a few others I can’t think of off the top of my head.

Today, just by looking at what I have on my shelf (I am an avid music lover and have over 200 CDs and I’ve not counted how much I have on vinyl) we have: Classic Rock, Contemporary Rock, Metal, Emo, Alternative, Trance, Video Game music, Eurobeat, J-Pop, Para Para, Canadian Folk, Finnish Prog Rock, American Prog Rock, Canadian Prog Rock, The Beatles (so good they have their own genre), Punk, Hardcore, Vocaloid, Surfer, Rap, R&B, Gangsta Rap, Screamo, Film soundtracks, Broadway play soundtracks, etc, etc…

So you see, a kind of splintering has occurred in music, we have more of it and getting more every day (or every Tuesday if you’re going by store release dates). I would love to see a study that seeks to see if this “hurting of the music industry” could be explained by this splintering, bands aren’t selling millions of copies of albums anymore, but a few hundred thousand, if they’re lucky.

12. How do you view the current court cases of Joel Tenenbaum vs the RIAA and Jammie Thomas vs the RIAA?: Thomas was the first person to be brought to trial for downloading music. She was brought to trial over 24 songs and was forced to pay $222,000 at one trial, $54,000 at another, and $1.5 million at another. At the $1.5 million dollar level, that amounts to $62,500 per song.

Per song?

Twenty-four songs, right? Okay, that’s around 2 CDs worth of music, give or take. What if she shoplifted this music instead?

Online just now I found that in Georgia, if the property shoplifted is valued at less than $300, the potential sentence is up to one year in prison and up to $1000 in fines.

That’s outrageous.

The law in this country right now seems to think that if a computer was used in any way to commit a crime it makes it far more serious than if a computer was not used.

These were some great questions. Given that I’ve put these on the website where anyone can read them now, I’d love to see some new questions from students.

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