Wednesday, July 05, 2006

If piracy is Stealing...

...then speed kills.

I was driving home with the family, after visiting some friends, and a sign caught my eye. It said simply “speed kills”, and it got me thinking. You see, I, like many people, know that speed is not the 'major cause of death' or indeed any cause of death. You go at something like 550mph in an airliner, and you don't die. Andy Green has driven Thrust SSC at speeds of over 700mph (with a peak of 771mph) at least a dozen times. He's still alive and well. I myself have gotten a speeding ticket in the past, for doing 112mph, on the M57 around Liverpool (by the time the police offer had caught me, I'd pulled off to join the M62, so my average speed was in the high 90s, and so that's what my ticket was for). I was speeding, did I kill anyone? Of course not. If I had, it would have been more than £40 and 3 points on my license. However, whilst the sign did cause me to check my speedometer, to double-check the speed at which I was going, it didn't make me slow down. What it did do was make me think about piracy adverts.

Obviously, it's not speed itself that kills, but that speed can be a contributing factor. At 100mph, you're carrying four times the energy as you would travelling at 50mph, which naturally increases your breaking distance, and additionally means you cover twice the distance in reacting. That's fundamental, and for international readers, in the UK you're required to learn the stopping distances for a 1965 Ford Anglia at speeds of 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70mph, by standardised thinking and braking distances, for the driving test. The biggest factors, however are the environment, and surroundings, and the mechanical components. If the master cylinder for your brakes goes, you're very likely to have a crash at 50 or 100mph. If a tyre hits a shard of metal on the floor, and explodes, its still as likely to cause an accident, at 50 or 100mph, differing only in the potential severity. I've had two tyres explode on one car, both times around 80mph – turned out to be a pair of faulty tyres, no injuries, no accident, and the second time, I was on my way again in under 10 minutes.

Yes, speed is a factor in many accidents, and indeed deaths. Yes, speed can magnify minor injuries that would otherwise be suffered. NO, however, speed doesn't kill. Speed applied inappropriately and in unsuitable situations and conditions maybe contribute (in my speeding ticket situation above, I had no cars in front of me at any time - even the cop car was not on the motorway, but parked off behind a bridge- it was a clear dry Sunday lunchtime, and my vehicle was mechanically sound. In that situation I judged my speed was as safe as the 50mph crawl around the M25 is, if not more so) BUT it requires a least another factor. Driver error, poor judgement, mechanical problems, a freak weather incident (If someone's hit by a blown over tree, it could be argued that had they driven slower they might have survived, was 'speed' a contribution to their death? Clearly not, Its all a matter of situation, experience, awareness and equipment.

So it is with all these “piracy is stealing”, “downloading is theft”, “copying CDs costs the industry billions” and so on. If I download a copy of, say, Monsters Inc. have I stolen anything? Well, since I have the DVD within sight, I'm not likely to buy another copy, so to call my download a loss of income is hardly accurate. Lets try another example. My kids, especially the younger two (4 and 2) love the Blue Man Group. A year ago, or so, we thought about getting the DVD of the complex tour as a Christmas present for them. I got a VCD (low resolution) copy to look at, see if it would hold their attention (I was very skeptical) and I was surprised to see it would. So I bought it. I went from a probably not, to a full purchase. That's a GAIN of a purchase, and not a loss. The VCD is for in our van, for playing on our in-car DVD player, when we're on long journeys (cars are very unfriendly places for CDs, with heat, vibration, fingering for slot-loaders etc)

As with speeding above, and its lethality only as a contributory factor, downloading of content in contravention of current copyright regulations only causes a loss in certain circumstances. Of course, doing so would reduce the size and 'impact' of such loss figures, which companies can show to government officials to get laws they favour, or to shareholders to show why the growth wasn't as big as they'd expected. So, next time you see a claim for monies lost to “piracy” or “downloading” and see how fast the figures have grown over the years, remember one thing – Speed Kills.

Ben jones

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