LA piracy debate

The LATimes just posted the second round of its “piracy Dust-Up” (you can read the first round here), and I thought I’d pull two quotes.

The first is from Harold Feld, the “legal director of Public Knowledge, a Washington-based digital rights advocacy group”, who points to the hidden costs of copyright enforcement:

It’s easy to understand 9 million illegal downloads of “The Social Network,” and hard to understand how the new regulations Sony wants will raise the price of your broadband subscription and your iPod while keeping you from doing cool things on your iPhone.  As the crowning insult, there is no evidence that these new rules would actually make a dent in the illegal downloading problem, or that marginally reducing illegal downloads would translate into an increase in legal sales.

The second is from Andrew Keen, “the author of the upcoming Digital Vertigo: An Anti-Social Manifesto...[and] an advisor to Arts and Labs, a coalition of entertainment and technology companies”:

Rather than worrying about doing “cool things on our iPod,” shouldn’t we instead be trying to craft legislation guaranteeing that 21st century artists have the opportunity to make a living selling their books, their recorded music and their movies?

Here’s the thing that I don’t understand:  in 2006, Keen accused Larry Lessig of being “an intellectual property communist”.  Yet if I understand this debate correctly, it is Keen who wants to focus on ways of “guaranteeing that 21st century artists have the opportunity to make a living” and who is unconcerned whether or not people can do “cool things on [their] iPod[s]”.

Last time I checked, “guaranteeing” certain people paychecks is strongly associated with communism.  It is innovation of the sort that allows people to “do cool things on [their] iPod[s]” that smacks of the capitalism Keen so implicitly embraces.

Keen will no doubt object that I mis-characterize his view insofar as he “only” seeks opportunity, not outcome.  This objection is fair enough — so far as it goes.  But it’s a tricky objection to maintain credibly when it is your opponent (here, Feld) who is calling for balance and proportionality in infringement penalties and you (Keen) who is engaging in the take-no-prisoners logic that “we surrender to the online thieves by treating piracy as a ‘cost of doing business'”.

Mr. Keen, accepting business loses due to shoplifting (in the physical realm) or piracy (in the digital realm) is not “surrender”; it is a fundamental recognition of reality.  Failure to recognize this reality seriously undermines your argument — as does your claim that you only seek “opportunity” when you so clearly will be satisfied only by enactment of one particular outcome.

0 thoughts on “LA piracy debate

  1. I think there is a middle ground you are missing here. “Accepting business loses due to shoplifting…” does not mean that those people stop trying to prevent shoplifting. In some instances, my shopping experience is diminished because of their efforts to prevent shoplifting. As an example, I can not walk up and grab an ipod to purchase at best buy. I have to wait for an attendant to open the case to retrieve one for me. On the same token, at many stores I need to find an attendant to open the dressing room. Ultimately these stores do not hope to stop all shoplifting but they do hope to keep it under control. I see the efforts to prevent piracy to be similar.

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    • Keith, I completely agree that there is a middle ground and that it should be explored. Indeed, as I noted in a recent post, there are many who are exploring it.
      Let me try to clarify what I was trying to say: I see the question being debated not as one of “acceptance” (meaning rolling over and doing nothing) vs. “action” (meaning doing something). Rather, what Feld and Keen are arguing over is the point at which “action” comes to mean “overreaction”.
      As Feld put it in round one of the debate:

      Despite the fact that retailers lose an estimated $25 million a day to shoplifting, more than $9 billion a year, no one wants mall cops to carry automatic weapons and have them blast into crowds to nail suspected shoplifters. Nor would anyone think much of an argument that we need to strip search every customer on his or her way out of the supermarket….Unfortunately, this common sense vanishes as soon as we move from the physical shoplifting to illegal digital downloads.

      This is what I mean when I spoke of “acceptance”: not submitting to anything, but also not engaging in a clearly disproportionate response.

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