Sunday, June 18, 2006

Journalism, or press release - the $250Billion question

Some of you may have noticed this article in the June 15 edition of the Washington Post. I was, and still am, quite unhappy, so I sent the following letter to the editor.

Dear Editor,

As a journalist, you are supposed to have written what is happening,
the facts, and then depending on the type of piece, some possible
conjecture or inference. However, in the piece entitled "U.S. Joins
Industry in Piracy War" you give few facts, and alas, many more
outright lies.

Possibly the biggest error is the claim "The intellectual property
industry and law enforcement officials estimate U.S. companies lose as
much as $250 billion per year to Internet pirates" When making that
estimate, did that take in account that that is 5x more than the
worldwide box office figures, AND the worldwide record industry
revenues combined?

As for Russia's "unauthorized file-sharing site", would that be - a site which makes payments to its local rights
collection organisation, and who's only real crime is being
successful, and competing with the likes of iTunes (the fact that
prices are roughly 10x cheaper, and feature no rental-like DRM explain
why an unadvertised Russian site is competing with a site that spends
millions in advertising and has a locked feeder product in the shape of
the iPod. Imagine if roles were reversed, and China threatened to veto
the USA's entry to the WTO unless it shut down the Washington Post.
Its the same thing. One country trying to abrogate the democratic
process through external government interaction in order to further
the interests of business. Imagine the international condemnation of
the US if it pressured Cuba to burn all its tobacco or else, due to
lobbying from the tobacco industry. Its the exact same thing.

Of course, other errors in your piece include terming The pirate Bay"
as "illegal file-sharing Web site". The files it shares are torrent
files, which contain no copyrighted data. Of course, under a ruling
(made based on precedent) last May, such sites are legal in the US as
well, a fact that they are not keen to publicise. Indeed many of those
that participated in the raid are expected to lose their jobs, possibly
including the Justice minister.

I have seen both sides of the argument. In the early 90s I was one of
those self-same pirates (they're not new, indeed gamers in the UK
probably own more original copies of games now, than they did 15 years
ago) and in the late 90s, I was a copyright enforcer, including the
time of the Napster boom.

The problem is, of course, that to many people (including artists
themselves), its the media companies that are doing the stealing.
However, the companies are the ones with the money which pay
lobbyists. Its due to this lobbying that laws are being proposed which
give a heavier maximum sentence for copyright infringement (10 years)
than for stealing the CDs (7 years) - financial loss is easy to prove
with the second, but with the first not only is there no proven actual
loss of revenue, it may actually lead to a gain. These same laws would
make it illegal to use a sharpie on a CD, or to make the kind of
investigation that discovered the Sony rootkit.

The example of what is wrong with copyright law that I often quote is
the song "Happy Birthday". I am sure it is one you are familiar with.
This 25-note ditty was written in 1896 by one sister, the words (good
morning to you, good morning to you, good morning dear children, good
morning to you) were added by another, and the song eventually
copyrighted in 1936 by the third (and at that time, only surviving)
sister. That song is still under copyright now, and will be until 2020
in the US, and in 2002 earned more than $2,000,000 in royalties. Can
you tell me how, 90 years after the songwriter died, keeping it in
copyright is helping foster any sort of creativity?

Stringing assertions made in press releases from an extremist
pressure group (the MPAA is no different from Greenpeace or the NRA,
except Charlton Heston was never a Cabinet Secretary, and the MPAA
represents a handful of companies, not a segment of the population)
is bad journalism. stating as fact assertions from a group which has
not, to my knowledge, EVER published HOW they determined those facts.
There is a similar lobby group in the UK (called the Industry Trust
for IP Awareness) and their claims for sometimes the same things, can
differ by 15%. What makes this clear its a sham, is that the ITfIPA
comprises the same main members as the MPAA, along with some video
rental groups.

Lobby groups, like PR groups, have one aim. That aim is to promote
their agenda. Their agenda is to strengthen copyright laws and the
enforcement of them, to increase their moneyflow. It is government
sponsored monopolistic business, seeking to institute and enforce
unconstitutional copyright terms to the detriment of all other links
in the chain - be they artists or consumers.


Ben Jones

Of course, I don't expect it to do much good, but I still made the effort. Until more people start comming out, and publicly decrying these sorts of actions, can we start to get some sort of change.

Ben jones

**UPDATE** - 28/06/06
The reply by the Washington Post can be found here

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post.
    You have a lot of good points.