Business TEDTalks

The numbers behind the Copyright Math

Posted by: TED Guest Author

Were you intrigued by “The $8 Billion iPod,” Rob Reid’s short TEDTalk about the new science of Copyright Math (TM)? We were. We needed to know more. More numbers, Rob! we said. And Rob (whose comic novel Year Zero comes out in July) sent us this treatise, a master class in creative mathematics:

A few weeks back, I gave a short TED talk about “Copyright Math.” Since TED draws both Hollywood and Silicon Valley bigwigs, I thought it would be a great venue for raising certain rights issues that have been a sore point between the two industries for years. But January’s brawl over the proposed SOPA law was a raw and recent memory. So I decided to make my talk playful, rather than sermonizing. Everyone can laugh at silly infographics. And who DOESN’T want to deface a Leave-it-to-Beaver-like Christmas scene with pirate-and-Santa graffiti?

Since the talk was so short, I couldn’t dive deeply into the numbers and sources that I based it on (which would have shattered the whimsical tone anyway). But even my silliest numbers were derived from actual research, performed by an actual Copyright Mathematician (me, that is). So I thought I’d use this blog post to put my sources and calculations out there for anyone who’d like to nerd out on the details.

First, the Motion Picture Association’s claims of $58 billion in actual US economic losses and 373,000 lost jobs came from this press release[1] (which can also be found on Scribd[2]). These numbers originated at a think tank called the “Institute for Policy Innovation” – an organization that Businessweek once profiled in an article called “Op-Eds for Sale.”[3] In it, an IPI analyst freely admitted to taking payoffs from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff[4] in exchange for writing “op-ed pieces boosting the lobbyist’s clients.” The IPI’s president supported this behavior, saying it was neither wrong nor unethical, and dismissing those who apply “a naïve purity standard” to the business of writing op-eds.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that MPAA lobbyists paid the IPI to conjure up these numbers. But whatever their genesis, they’re not easy figures to support. In a February New York Times piece,[5] an MPAA spokesman did his best by attributing the eye-popping $58 billion sum to “piracy’s impact on a range of tangentially related industries — florists, restaurants, trucking companies, and so on.” Florists? Really? Exactly how many bouquets go unsold whenever someone swipes a copy of My Sharona?

Ignoring improbabilities like pirated steaks and daffodils, I looked at actual employment and headcount in actual content industries, and found nothing approaching the claimed losses. There are definitely concrete and quantifiable piracy-related losses in the American music industry. The Recording Industry Association’s website has a robust and credible database[6] that details industry sales going back to 1973, which any researcher can access for a few bucks (and annoying as I’ve found the RIAA to be on certain occasions, I applaud them for making this data available). I used it to compare the industry’s revenues in 1999 (when Napster debuted) to 2010 (the most recent available data). Sales plunged from $14.6 billion down to $6.8 billion — a drop that I rounded to $8 billion in my talk. This number is broadly supported by other sources, and I find it to be entirely credible.

But this pattern just isn’t echoed in other major content industries. My movie industry figures (showing significant growth from the rise of Napster to the present day) came from a meticulously researched report by BMO Capital Markets[7] called “Perspectives on the Filmed Entertainment Industry” which is sadly not currently findable on their website (and BMO — if you’re listening, please do the world a service, and at least publish “Exhibit 9” publicly!). My TV, satellite and cable figures (showing spectacular growth during the same period) came from the same outstanding report. I didn’t have time to discuss them during my talk, but numbers from local media analysts BIA/Kelsey showed robust growth in radio[8] in the years immediately following Napster’s debut. This was followed by a brief, agonizing contraction in the 2007-09 timeframe[9], which the organization attributes wholly to the recession, rather than piracy.[10]

So where is the missing $50 billion in piracy? It’s hard to accept that it’s foregone growth in markets that have grown in line with, or (in the case of the giant TV/ satellite/ cable market) far faster than historic norms. So we’re left looking for a market that has no historic norms. Because in such a case, one can tenuously argue that but for piracy, it might have grown at such a blistering rate as to make $50 billion in foregone sales at least hypothetically possible. So what significant American media market literally didn’t exist at all in the ’90s?

The best I could come up with was downloadable ringtones, which were first launched in Japan and Finland in 1998, [11] and didn’t appear on these shores until later.[12] Sure, citing ringtones was a punch line. But if the MPAA can document $50 billion in other pirated media, I’d love to hear about it.

And in case you’re wondering, at 30 seconds per ringtone, and $1.39 a pop (this was the lowest price I could find for ringtones anywhere, and I figured we’d get a bargain by buying in bulk), we’re looking at 34,218 years worth of ringtones — which, laid end to end, would stretch clear back to the late Neanderthal period.[13] And for you astrophysicists, the penny is ¾ of an inch in diameter.[14] 5.8 trillion of these suckers would therefore stretch for 68,655,303 miles, which can easily connect the Long Beach Westin to Mars when we’re on a close approach.[15] And for a mere $128, we could extend that journey clear to the auditorium that contains the TED stage. Meanwhile, my agricultural crop values all came from Wikipedia.[16]

As for the MPAA’s employment numbers, I compared them to data reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in its 2010-11 “Career Guide to Industries.” This put the motion picture and video industry’s total employment at 361,900 jobs.[17] The 2000-01 edition of the same guide put employment at 270,000 in 1998.[18] The 2000-01 Guide simply uses “Motion Picture Production and Distribution” as the industry descriptor, but a close reading of both Guides seems to indicate that they’re talking about the same industrial sector, so I infer that the 1998 Guide used “Motion Picture” as shorthand for the broader filmed entertainment sector.

As for music industry employment, I took the average revenue per employee at Universal Music in 2010 (roughly $852,000),[19] at EMI in 2009 ($300,000),[20] and Warner Music Group in 2008 (about $875,000).[21] This gave me an average revenue-per-employee of about $675,000 throughout the industry. Applied to the industry’s 1999 revenue, this ratio implies total employment of about 22,000 at record labels, which I doubled to account for the retail side of the business as well. This is clearly an imperfect estimate, but even if it’s off by 100% (and I’m quite certain that it’s not), it doesn’t undermine my bigger point. In any event, I combined my music industry number with the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ filmed entertainment number to get my starting-point content industry employment. I then subtracted the claimed 373,000 in job losses to infer in the (obviously playful) “negative employment” statistic.

To me, the most depressing number in the presentation is the $150,000 maximum fine that Congress designates for “willfully” pirating a single copy of a single song under the Digital Theft Deterrence and Copyright Damages Improvement Act of 1999.[22] This number is grotesquely divorced from the actual damages and harm caused by a single instance of piracy. As such, it represents a naked perversion of “The Law” — turning it from a source of justice into a bludgeon for a powerful and cynical lobby. The music industry has sued more than 30,000 US citizens under this law. Since the consequences of losing would be bankruptcy in almost all cases, the crushing majority of defendants settled without daring to challenge the industry. As a result, the maximum $150,000 per-song fine has never actually been imposed (although one student is currently fighting a verdict of over $20,000 per song,[23] and a single mom was hit with an $80,000-per-song ruling,[24] which was later reduced, but is still being debated in appeal).

In determining a given device’s maximum capacity for infringing material, I assumed an average song length of three minutes, and an encoding rate of 128 kilobits/second. I went with 128 kbps because using the AAC codec,[25] this is the rate at which music achieves “hi-fi transparency[26] — which is to say, it becomes indistinguishable from CD quality in most listening environments. This rounds very closely to 1 megabyte of data per minute of music.[27] At 32 megabytes, the Rio (1999’s Christmas hit) therefore had room for about 10 songs, which, if pirated, could represent up to $1.5MM in liabilities under US law. Today’s iPod classic, with its 160GB capacity, can hold 53,333 songs, which at $150,000 a pop is precisely $8 billion. Incidentally, Apple markets the iPod classic as having room for just 40,000 songs, but by my math, that’s selling it short. I meant to note this in the presentation, but I was running way over time by then, and spared everyone the convoluted math (so if the leap from 40,000 songs to an $8 billion liability confused anyone, I apologize — I had meant to take a quick detour through that 53,333 figure!).

FINALLY: the 75,000 jobs figure was just a joke. I think that was probably obvious.

And as for alien music liabilities … well, that happens to be major area of interest and research for me. But I’ll leave that for another forum.

— Rob Reid

Comments (142)

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  • Lennart Garzmann commented on Mar 21 2012


    maybe it’s futile to fight online piracy. Piracy is a mass phenomenon that can only be stopped by largely censoring internet access. It’s not a question of legimitation anymore. You can appeal to the users to refrain from it, but let’s be honest: it will not happen. The question that remains is:

    How can artists and authors be compensated?

    • Tomas Finnøy commented on Mar 21 2012

      That is a misnomer.

      You can’t fight piracy by censoring internet. Because piracy was, and IS, wildly rampant OUTSIDE of the internet. Ever heard of BBS? Or DVD-R/CD-R?

      Yes…you can hinder piracy, but not stop it.

      So, how can you stop piracy? You can’t

      Your second question is way more interesting: I want to add: How can we utilize the awesome invention that is internet the best way…for ALL of us?

      • Tomas Finnøy commented on Mar 21 2012

        Oh…you said online piracy. Anyway: My other points still stand though.

  • Pete Monk commented on Mar 21 2012

    Nice debate. I’ve seen some great points and learnt a lot. Though is the thread stepping up to something greater? Or just getting bogged by attack-defence in our thinking around the now? The world is full of that already. Surely less of it should be here in TED.
    What about challenging our (and our dictionaries’ outdated) definition of the word ‘piracy’ and what it means for our future? OK, let’s be bold: throw in re-assessment of ‘theft’, ‘copyright’, ‘permission’ and ‘rights.’

  • Jeremy Malcolm commented on Mar 21 2012

    The point has largely been made before, but please stop calling it “stealing”, because it quite simply isn’t. Not semantically, not cognitively, and – perhaps most important – not legally.

    No Copyright Act in the world that I know of (and I’ve read many of them) refers to copyright infringement as “stealing” or “theft”. This (bad) metaphor is only ever used by content-owners, in order to make the act seem worse than it really is. Rather, it is the (wrongful, granted) infringement of an exclusive right.

    A much better analogy than theft for copyright infringement is the act of walking through someone else’s garden without permission. Sure, the owner has the right to demand you seek their permission first. They have the right to ask for money in exchange, too – and perhaps, if they ask a reasonable amount, you’d pay it. But if you don’t pay and walk through their garden regardless, they haven’t lost the garden. Ipso facto, you haven’t stolen it. And the same is true of copyright infringement.

    • C English commented on Mar 21 2012

      Excellent analogy and spot on. I’m going to steal that. Uh, I mean I’m going to infringe that.

    • David Glover commented on Jun 8 2012

      Absolutely agree. And let’s stop calling it “piracy” which is something else altogether.

      I think the content industry has discredited itself with the crazy stats Rob highlights and the extreme language they use.

      Copyright is a set of arbitrary and abstract rights, and we won’t address the challenges of the internet and easy copying with hysterical claims and ludicrous penalties.

      I’d like to see a set of reasonably priced, readily available licences. So if, for instance, a friend wants a copy of a CD I own, I can make that copy, pay a reasonable fee ($5? $10?) and get a licence number I can apply to the CD.

      But I can’t do that.

      This is no different conceptually from the rules radio stations operate under, where they are entitled to play any song they like (whether the artist/creator approves of them or not) and pay a standard royalty. Still arbitrary. Still ‘unfair’ (to the performer who, in the USA, doesn’t get a share…interestingly different in other jurisdictions), but it is at least somewhat rational and easy to manage.

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  • Mark Grady commented on Mar 21 2012

    Most of the recent comments here seem to justify piracy because it “only amounts to two songs a months” or “an iPod full of music. So, that makes it okay?

    If I had fifty dollars in my pocket, it is not right to steal one dollar of it under any circumstances. It just seems as if some of you think YOU have the right to say whether an artist, producer or company has made enough, therefore meaning you have the right to their property.

    I am not asking that anyone “control the Internet.” But, the Internet is a community. And just as any community has standards, so should this one. You wouldn’t tolerate someone stealing from members of your community and it should not be condoned here.

    Let me please make one more point and I’ll let this issue be (because I have to go write some more material that people can steal). While the media plays up the really big studio products, you would be surprised at the many, regionally-produced, low-budget films that are produced in this country and have a decent support in their region. My small new production company falls in that category. If someone pirates even a few of my products, it has a lot more impact than it does on Sony or Disney. So, using just big studios and what they might lose by piracy is not a fair depiction of what the practice can do.

    I can promise you this. If you spent two years of your life writing a book and screenplay, and then financed making the film on a very limited budget to achieve your own dream, you would have an entirely different perspective on the subject.

    While I may disagree with many of you on the subject, I harbor no ill will to any of you. I’m just passionate about protecting my work to continue to raise my two teenagers as a single father. I have enjoyed our lively debate on the subject and wish you all the best.

    • Tomas Finnøy commented on Mar 21 2012

      I agree that content owners should be allowed to control how their content is distributed and by whom.

      What I don’t agree with, as you seem to be is:
      * Copying is stealing
      * Copying should be penalised with FAR bigger fines than stealing
      * Content owners should be allowed to “take-down” sites because of ALLEGED copyright infringement
      * Content owners should be allowed to gather personal information from ISP. Often used for extortion and threats oflegal action by legal companies working for the content owners.

      The discussion is pointless until content producers/owners realize that the world has changed and the BENEFIT of the internet should not ONLY go to them, but to their consumers too, THEN we can start discussing HOW their work is best rewarded. Why should each copy cost the same, when it’s free to copy buy the rights holder? I am asking you to change your perspective a bit here. Try to be an alien looking at this from a neutral stand-point.

      Try to find a better way of making money on a movie. How about donation based movie making? “I made these 4 films, and I want to make another. If i get donated $1 million I will make it and release it free of charge.” … Anything is possible.

      Mp3 files used to cost MORE than CD’s (and still often do) for christs sake.

  • Mark Ellison commented on Mar 21 2012

    I think that the unspoken conclusion to this talk speaks volumes.
    The RIAA (and friends) have lost 7 (full) iPods to piracy. I can understand them being upset. I lost an (albeit smaller) MP3 player once and I was really miffed.
    I hope their reasonably well-paid middle staff are paid in kind … around 1 permitted download per year should keep them happy. I mean, it’s worth $150,000, right. And CEOs, maybe 2 song downloads a month, and they’d be the envy of their fellows.

  • Gautam Gupta commented on Mar 21 2012

    Well a lot of people commenting here seem to be worried about the economic loss of their work. However they must consider if 100 people are pirating their work, it does mean they are losing 100 legitimate consumers for their work. They are likely to lose, may be 25. Because the 75 who saw their work, merely did so because it was available, and would not have paid in any case.

    And as the talk has already shown that the net revenues of the entertainment industry have gone up, in spite of piracy.

    People want to control the Internet. Well Internet is free, and the rules are bit different. So learn to use it effectively rather than trying to control it or blame it. It is not ‘physical world’. There is a reason it is called virtual.

  • Bill Sinn commented on Mar 21 2012

    Mark: As you seem rather fond of house analogies, try this one.

    Picture this, you are currently homeless. Your friend has offered to make you a free copy of his mansion with upgraded amenities, tile floors, granite counter tops, a 3 car garage and a pool. (Picture DRMless lossless file like a FLAC audio file or full uncompressed Blu Ray, sans region codes, that will play on any player etc…There is a reason for this, I will explain afterwards).

    Alternately, you can pay $250,000 for a small ranch home with laminate counter tops, linoleum floors, and a carport made by Disney Housing Corp, that they only make in the month of January and that you can only use during sunny days, when it rains, the door locks. You have to buy another copy of the house to use when it rains.

    I hope you are following, because that’s currently the state of media consumer affairs. I recently purchased a blu-ray with newer DRM on it, the manufacturer of my blu-ray player has decided not to release a firmware update to play the new encoding schematic, even though I purchased a licensed blu-ray (for several hundreds of dollars I might add, plus the cost of the blu-ray that set me back 30 bucks). I can’t return the player, nor can I return the opened media for anything other than another copy of the same media.

    If I ‘steal’ from them, nothing is gone out of their pocket, when they steal from me, my money is *gone* out of my wallet, and I have nothing to show for it. Now you tell me, who is ripping who off again?

    I certainly don’t mind paying for high quality media that I can use without having to purchase multiple licenses and enjoy the way I want to, but I want something that *works*, not something that is ultimately gimped into a lower quality than what I can get for free, because someone is *SO* worried he’s going to lose 10% off the top.

  • Michael Matzat commented on Mar 20 2012

    Hey Reid,
    i´ed be interested in the piracy side of things. – When Megaupload got taken down just month ago they threw two big numbers out there in the media. (which i can´t seem to find right now, sorry, got to run to work, no time for excessive googling)
    The bigger number was the amount of losses created, i already expected that to be to big (like math don with “sugested prices” no one pays and with downloads taken in account that would never have been a soled legal copy no matter what because some people just download everything there is) … and the “smaller” number was how much money Megaupload generated by Ads and Subscriptions.
    I´ ed be interested if these numbers would ad up to something that could work as a proper business model… could the money you make with a webside like mega upload actually generate the amount of money that realisticly is lost by it´s existence?

  • Don Speirs commented on Mar 20 2012


    Regarding your particular screenplay and film that you are “building.” Well, first, congrats o your endeavor and best of luck on it.

    Although, perhaps instead of viewing the Internet as a hostile wasteland intent on devouring the bastard love child of your imagination, you might instead consider using those same forces to your advantage. Releasing clips of your film for the “pirates” to share and discuss, as part of a planned marketing strategy, could help build support and interest in your product and whet their appetite to see your film in the theater, to purchase it on DVD or to view it via a legitimate streaming service,

    Of course, though, the onus is on you to actually produce something worth viewing.

    • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

      Hi Don, Thanks for the good luck. I have written four films and directed two, plus a TV pilot. Let me say that in our case, we did exactly what you recommend. We released clips, used the Internet a lot. However, once the full version of our first film was released in 2008, that is when I wanted the opportunity to recoup the investment on my terms. As the content creator, I believe I have the right to decide when I use or not use the Internet as the delivery mechanism. I believe I have the right to first seek a theatrical release, followed by a DVD release and then to the Internet on MY schedule. There is nothing evil about trying to maximize my profits from the work. The number one reason is so that I can make more content.

      I feel exactly like Walt Disney when he told a reporter once, “I don’t make movies to make money, I make movies and hope they make money so I can make more movies.” Without the opportunity to maximize my profits and protect my creation, I can not hire actors and the crew, pay the company to duplicate the DVDs and make enough to make another movie.

      You and I definitely agree that the “Hollywood Studio” model doesn’t work well. But, there is another side to that. By them being silly, it has opened up the opportunity for many more filmmakers to be on a level playing field with them. With that in mind, please consider not taking that opportunity to compete with them away from those of us who are true independent filmmakers by not giving us the chance to make a good profit to make more films to compete against their silly business model.

      • Uros Colovic commented on Mar 21 2012

        ” I believe I have the right to first seek a theatrical release, followed by a DVD release and then to the Internet on MY schedule.”

        Herein lies a problem. The internet is not a store. Don’t take this the wrong way but it is not your personal sales booth and it cannot be treated as such. The only even remotely accurate way of describing the internet is as a giant billboard pasted across the sky that everyone in the world can see at the same time and write on. On such a billboard everything you post is public domain. If you are not the one to post it but someone else then they are a pirate and should be held accountable. Once your movie is out on the billboard you cannot expect people not to look at it. It’s as simple as that. It is available and people will watch it. Making everyone pay 150K$ because they watched it or made another copy on the same billboard is just as bad as what the first ‘pirate’ did. I agree you have the right to control when you release your movie on DVD but it is not the fault of the people who can find a copy of your work on the internet that someone has managed to sneak a camera into a theater to film your movie or that someone got a hold of a private screening DVD and made a copy of it. How movies go from theatrical screening to being a copy on the internet is what should be regulated and policed. Not the people watching it once it is already out there.

        In this day and age where a movie can be streamed or downloaded boxed DVD’s become a matter of wanting physical possession of the box packaging and perhaps the joy of collecting (and maybe perhaps a very small financial gain of owning a re-playable DVD should you want to view the movie more than a couple of times in which case it is more financially viable than streaming it online). For the sole purpose of entertainment fixed media has lost all it’s purpose to the ease of access of an online based distribution model. Considering all this the loss in sales revenues of DVD’s from pirated copies of movies is minimal. The argument ‘they would have bought the DVD if it weren’t available as a pirated copy online’ doesn’t hold any more water over ‘They would have streamed it online for a decent fee instead of downloading it off of pirate servers if only it were available for them to do so easily and efficiently without jumping through a dozen DRM hoops and watching a ton of other stuff crammed down their throats in the form of ads even tho they never agreed to all of it nor known they are agreeing to it when they bought their last DVD’.

        Don’t get me wrong I get your point and I do agree that stealing the original and making it available online through copying an unreleased screener DVD or filming inside a theater is a bad thing and should be regulated. What I don’t agree with is that sharing what is already available online is as damaging to the industry as it claims to be (which is the point of the talk and the article above) or that it should be punished and regulated as much as the industry wants it to be.

        Your argument that just because a studio does not want to make something available doesn’t give people the right to take it is in the confines of a digital world unfortunately one of emotions and semantics.

        If a movie is not made available to me for proper paid viewing (which I am always eager to do and my collection of several hundred CD’s and DVD’s can attest to that) via theater releases or CD/DVD releases (which in the case of the country I live in is the case overwhelmingly more times than not) or even online, than I CANNOT, in ANY way possible, contribute to the studios income. AT ALL.

        Now, if someone makes that movie available to me by other means (piracy) and I watch it, who is being damaged by that act ? The studio’s ego ? Because they really really didn’t want me to watch that movie so badly ? If watching the movie in that case makes me a bad person then by all means I shall be a villain because to be true and fair the studio’s feelings are absolutely none of my concern. Having my ISP disconnect me from the net and a court fine me 150K$ and possibly even with jail-time for not abiding with the studio’s desire for me NOT to watch their movie is absurd to the point of idiotic and has nothing to do with theft or intellectual property but the inability to adapt to the challenges of a digital distribution model.

        • Mark Grady commented on Mar 30 2012

          You say, “the internet is not a store.” It’s not? You mean that Amazon, Best Buy and eBay should not exist? For the first time in history, an individual has the opportunity to compete with a big-money outfit and you want to destroy that level playing field.

        • Uros Colovic commented on Mar 30 2012

          I’m writing this in reply to my own post because I’m not allowed to reply to your comment (probably a nesting limit) …

          “You say, “the internet is not a store.” It’s not? You mean that Amazon, Best Buy and eBay should not exist? For the first time in history, an individual has the opportunity to compete with a big-money outfit and you want to destroy that level playing field.”

          No that is not what I meant and you know it … is a store, is a store, is a fleemarket, craigslist is a bulletin board and Reddit is a library/café where everyone shares the stuff they just read in the paper.

          However the internet is NOT a store… if you want to continue by the same analogy the internet is an open air market in the clouds stretching across the entire planet where everyone is allowed to have a stall of their own (for a fee paid to the groundskeepers (aka ISP’s) and an entry into the global market map (aka DNS)) and everyone is allowed access to everything (unfortunately some countries and corporations are doing their best to prevent people from reaching the entire market by cutting off access points and filtering out who can go where) . I do not want to ‘destroy’ anything and you know it very well. I’m just pointing out that just because you have a stall on the market does not mean you can regulate the entire market to your own desires and wishes.

          For the sake of the argument let’s assume you are screening your movie in a closed theater outside the market and someone sneaks in a camera and makes a recording of your movie. Once he is out of the theater he sets up a video beam on the market high enough for the entire world to see if they want and starts playing your movie. What the MPAA expects is to fine everyone who dares watch the movie. 150.000$. Per Person. You can choose to ignore the movie or you can choose to have a look at it but you shouldn’t be forced not to watch it or fined if you do. And maybe if one likes it they can choose to go to your booth and buy a copy they can take home and watch again. Or they just like it so much they want the box set in their collection.

          My take on this is that it is perfectly valid to go after the guy who made the recording in your theater and fine him to hell and back. What I don’t think is valid is for the MPAA, whose member you might be, to go around prosecuting people, who are pointing other people who want to see the movie on the video beam, towards it (pirate bay etc. who do NOT host any of the infringing files but simply point people to where they are located on the net and don’t even facilitate in the transfer beyond a simple finger pointing and a “look! that’s where the file is”) or the people who might take their camcorder out and make a copy and give it to their friends.

          The thing that changed for the most part is the fact that people can now sample the goods before they buy them, and even if this was prevented by somehow miraculously (and I mean miraculously) preventing piracy the advent of social media has made everyone in the world an instant 0-minute movie / song / game / product / anything critic. You just can’t get away with a crappy product any more and the ways in which one can be entertained these days negates the boredom factor studios think drives people to buy / watch their products. The customer can now see the movie or read an extensive review of it with ratings from thousands of people before they decide to fork out money for a hardcopy or a theater ticket and this means the quality needs to increase. This is something no amount of piracy prevention will ever correct.

        • Mark Grady commented on Mar 30 2012

          Hi Uros,

          I know we will probably never agree, but I did want to respond to a couple of your comments.

          First, I am not a part of MPAA. In fact, I have a problem with the way they treat REAL independent filmmakers, including myself.

          Secondly, you seem to say that by wanting my copyrights protected that I am attempting to regulate the entire market. Not at all, I just deserve and have the right to protect MY product as to where it ends up in the marketplace.

          The one other issue I feel compelled to comment on is this thread in these posts that seem to indicate that everyone has the right to view and critique your work and THEN decide if they want to buy it, after seeing at least some of it. I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy into that. That’s equivalent to saying that if I go to a movie in a theater, then if I don’t like it, I just go back to the boxoffice and get my money back. No one made you go to see the movie and everyone’s taste is different.

          The Internet is simply another method of distribution to anyone’s creation. As a result, I believe I have just as much right to protect my rights in that distribution mode than any other.

          Again, I know we will not agree, but I do respect your opinion. However, as someone who has poured years of work into film projects that I invest my own money in, it just defies logic to me that the creation of the Internet means I can no longer protect my RIGHTS to protect MY work.


        • Uros Colovic commented on Mar 30 2012

          I’m not denying you the right to your copyrights or your right to protect your work. I am an artist heavily involved in the game industry and I know what it means to be plagiarized, have my work used by others without payment or acknowledgement and I know what piracy is (the last game I worked on that got released on the AppStore had appx. 200 paid downloads on the first day and 25000 registered users on GameCenter so basically over 90% of all installs on launch day were pirated (and that doesn’t include the people who installed the game and didn’t register on GameCenter … the pirated version was online in less than 90 minutes after launch).

          However I have come to accept the fact that in the online world things work in a differentl way than what we would want them to. Maintaining copyrights over digital content in a setting like the internet just isn’t possible without complete control of the entire infrastructure (of which SOPA was an attempt to accomplish).

          Even tho material goods are not the same as media or art I do think you could draw a parallel to the world of physical item commerce and ask your self if you would buy a car or piece of tech based entirely on what the company making it showed you or told you in their ads (equivalent to movie trailers)? You would want to testdrive a car before buying it? As much as we would like to sell people what we made without showing them entirely what they are buying, customer requirements have changed due to increased competition and ease of distribution and selling digital content is even harder in such a setting.

          It’s just the way digital media works and we have to adapt … like Apple did with iTunes in the post-napster era … or Netflix did with streaming movies (although there is huge room for improvement there). We don’t disagree entirely and I certainly don’t disagree with you at all on weather it is your right to protect your copyright or not but I think that the same rules of regular commerce and IP can not apply to a digital domain such as the internet.

          Louie CK has quite successfully demonstrated that good content will generate revenue if it is easily accessible and fairly priced and people had the option to view it entirely and then decide weather to buy it or not …

  • Charles Sovereign commented on Mar 20 2012

    I am reminded of the story of the Swiss watch makers and being approached by a electronic watch, they didn’t buy and lost. Also, the Luddites trying to protect the status quo. The internet is a huge printing press which has accelerated the flow of information. How some one can profit from that WILL CHANGE.
    Yes I need to eat and have shelter etc., so I should be compensated for my labour.
    But, do NOT punish every one, go after the source … I kind of like the idea that the senator (can’t remember his name at the moment) solution FOLLOW the money cut that of from the criminal and they won’t bother.
    And, the government should do its job and help the ordinary guy through this transition.

    • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

      Charles, Please clarify that last statement. Do you mean that if somebody really loves this movie they are hearing about and they really want to see it really bad that the government should help them by buying them a ticket to it?

  • Charles Langlois commented on Mar 20 2012

    ^to the first comment.

  • Charles Langlois commented on Mar 20 2012

    Thing is,it is very discutable that merely downloading medias on the Internet,or just sharing them,is stealing.By its standard definition,stealing is taking ,without the intention of giving back,something resulting in a direct loss of property to the original possessor,which can difficultly be applied to medias downloaded on the Internet(a copy among billions) .I have great difficulties to believe that the millionaires artists and billionaires record companies have difficulties living off their profits because of piracy.Also,how do you know that the sharing of medias doesn’t,in the end,advertise and push people to actually buy some of these medias? In my opinion,if that industry is loosing so much money,it’s because they still haven’t learnt how to adapt to the world of Internet and to best use its possibilities. In a way,it isn’t a bad thing.That will teach people in the media industry to have good relations with their consumers,to make them want to buy it,to make them WANT to support the author.Content creators will learn to work not only for money,but because they have people ready to pay for their work because of its quality,when they could actually have it for free one way or another.A lot of independent artists live off their work because they know how to make people want to buy it:they make it available for listening freely beforehand, then they encourage people to encourage them by buying their stuff.And a lot do.A lot also give donations. Also and finally,not to judge you or anything,but the thing is ,in the media industry,it’s so easy to sell crappy stuff,one question any producer must ask him/herself is “Is my work really worth what I want them to pay?”.If it is(and it is surely),many will pay.But not necessarily because they have no choice but to,but because they want you to continue making stuff,and they know that you need money for that.And what’s wonderful,some are willing(and are capable) to pay more than you ask,just because you’re that awesome.

    • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

      Hi Charles, First of all, to assume all record companies and artists are “millionaires and billionaires” is a VERY inaccurate assumption. In tackling your definition of stealing as it applies here, the problem with the Internet in the protection of intellectual property rights is that when you place a copy of content online to “share” with people, it has the potential to be shared by the planet. If you buy a DVD and share it with a few people in the neighborhood, that’s a different numbers game.

      I’m mostly disturbed by what I hear is an entitlement mentality to artistic work. If you build a house, you have all rights to that house, including when and for how much you may want to sell it, no matter how much someone else might want it. Explain to me how a screenplay I “build” myself, or a film I “build” myself is not entitled to the same protection?

      • Jonathan Waterman commented on Mar 20 2012

        Mark, you can’t keep using the same house analogy. It’s a house, you cannot download a house. Something that is on the internet is free game and so people who create things like movies and music that can be easily shared on the internet are going to have to change their game plan in terms of sharing/selling it to others, be it live music, exclusively non-digital copies (hence the increase in vinyl), and various other mechanisms coming into place.

        • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

          With all due respect, Jonathan, just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s “free game.” If someone sneaks into a movie theater and illegally videos the film and then puts it on the Internet, that’s stealing. Period. That’s stolen material. Just because it lands on the Internet doesn’t mean “game over” we have a “right” to it now.

      • Charles Langlois commented on Mar 20 2012

        You’re right,sharing stuff on the Internet makes it available for anyone in the world with an Internet connection.And that’s what wonderful.What that means,is that a lot of people will discover that work and appreciate it,and at least a portion of that huge number will be pull toward buying and supporting it.If you show a DVD to some people and they like it,yes,maybe they will have enough of that one experience,or they might want to buy it for future viewings,or they might want to buy the sequel (or prequel or related products),or they might want to buy other stuff from the author,all of which the original DVD sharer don’t have.Some might always try to get stuff for free,but one day or another,they will end up paying for stuff,or at least providing some sort of revenue to the authors by simply advertising it.

        There’s a difference between a house(a material property ) and an intellectual property.Both deserve recognition and for the author to profit off of them,but in different ways.First off,an intellectual property can be inspired(and is almost always is) by a lot of external sources(to the point that it is common for authors of “original contents” to sue other authors for “stealing their work” when it was merely inspired by it,in sometimes indirect ways).Also,intellectual properties like screenplays,compositions,stuff like that doesn’t cost(in money) anything,where as building a house,from your example,must cost something(the tools,the materials,the men to build it,as it is rarely done by only one).Doesn’t mean it is worth nothing(as you know it can be worth quite a lot),but it has value in different ways and that value can be used by different means than just putting a price on it and trying to sell it that only way.Also,it is a lot more difficult to protect a immaterial work such as intellectual properties than it is to protect a material one such a house or an object (that can actually be definitively stolen as by the definition I gave),precisely because of the world we now live in(where those intellectual properties can be shared as data) since some decades ago. Now that means you need to find other ways to sell and protect intellectual properties than those you traditionally use for material ones,for example.

        • Mark Grady commented on Mar 23 2012

          Hello Charles, In re-reading your comments, I feel compelled to respond to one section. You say that screenplays, compositions, etc. “don’t cost anything.” I beg to differ. The screenplays I have written cost me a great deal in the most valuable thing that exists – time. Plus, producing these films cost me a great deal in paying actors, crew, DVD duplication, and advertising.

  • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

    Hi Jonathan. Based on your “tangible” argument, you pay a doctor for an intangible service. Should that be free, too? Plus, just because someone does not have the money does not mean they have a right to steal. Based on that argument, if you don’t have the money for a car, and you want one, just go take it. After all, those car manufacturers sure have made plenty of money and won’t miss it.

    I believe if someone wants something bad enough, they should earn the resources to pay for it. Whether something is tangible or not doesn’t matter. I work just as hard writing a book or screenplay as someone who builds a house.

    • Jonathan Waterman commented on Mar 20 2012

      I wasn’t making the argument that since you don’t have money, you have the right to steal what you want. My point is that the money that the industry claims to have lost is mostly money they were never going to see in the first place. Something that can be replicated an infinitely number of times by people who just click a download button is a different animal than something like a car that is impossible to do the same to.

      If anything they should call it being non-supportive of the artist/copyright holder, and not stealing.

    • Charles Langlois commented on Mar 20 2012

      You can’t replicate a car like you can replicate a media.You can’t compare material properties and intellectual properties that easily.They aren’t the same thing.Also,it is true that you shouldn’t have to directly pay a doctor to have medical cares.The service provided by a doctor should be free,like it is in some countries like mine.Doesn’t mean the doctor shouldn’t be able to live by its profession,but not necessarily in the same way that a car builder do by selling its car. A material property and a service or an intellectual property aren’t the same thing.You can sell services and intellectual properties directly,but it shouldn’t be the only way to obtain them(and it’s not always the best way for the service provider to make money).Also,a doctor’s cares are often vital services,unlike intellectual properties(even if it can feel like it is).

      • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

        Charles, please allow me to correct one thing in your response. There is NO SUCH THING AS FREE MEDICAL care. Period. In the countries you apparently live in and refer to, taxpayers pay for everyone’s medical care. It is not free. The doctors do not work for free. The only difference is that the government becomes another middle man to collect money from the entire population and then turn around and pays for everyone’s medical care.

        • Charles Langlois commented on Mar 21 2012

          I know that,of course,everything needs to be paid one way or another.Like I said,a doctor should be(and is) able to live by his work,but not necessarily the same way as one would sell an object.Because it is not an object,it is a service(and a vital service for that one example).The two just doesn’t compare well in my opinion.

  • Pingback: The numbers behind the Copyright Math | Krantenkoppen Tech

  • Jonathan Waterman commented on Mar 20 2012

    The point of this I feel is that by “pirating” (Let’s be honest, your’re copying it entirely, not taking anything tangible from the party in which it “belongs” to anyway) some sort of media you’re taking money away from the creators/publishers/what have you of what you pirated. Yet what percentage of these people pirating software, music, and movies had any intention of purchasing said digital information anyway? I sure as hell know that I don’t have the money to put forth for things like this.

    Are these pirates people who would have actually purchased the data, where else is that money going to then if it was not given to the copyright holder anyway?

  • Don Speirs commented on Mar 20 2012


    I agree… and yet, I’m of the “not so fast” mindset on this point.

    As a producer of content, I do wish to be fairly compensated for it. Yet there has been a “race for the bottom” mentality in the marketplace since the advent of the internet that all content should be free. That will always be tough to shake.

    At the same time, some content owners do not make their properties available, forcing their fans to turn to piracy as the only way to locate the content. Case in point:

    The Walt Disney Company produced an animated series titled “Disney’s Kim Possible” from 2002 – 2007. Popular show – so much so that fan reaction convinced the company to bring it back for what was at the time an unprecedented fourth season. It was a smart, funny, well-written show, with a stellar voice cast – Patton Oswalt, John Dimaggio, Nicole Sullivan, Gary Cole, Jean Smart, Debbie Reynolds, Nestor Carbonell, Felicity Huffman. It even had Ricardo Montalban.

    Yet, despite repeated requests by fans, as well as statements from the show’s creative team in support of the idea, Walt DIsney Company management has refused to release the property for sale as boxed sets of episodes on DVD, and it has not made it available to view via streaming sites such as Netflix or Hulu Plus.

    So, if you’re a fan of this show, or types like it, you have no choice – you either abandon the property you are a fan of or resort to piracy.

    Not exactly the best solution. Hobson’s choice, right?

    • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

      So, Don, because you want it, you just take it? Is it not Disney’s property to decide if they want to release it or not? While I agree it’s silly not to make the content available for an obvious market, that does not give anyone the right to just steal it.

      • Don Speirs commented on Mar 20 2012

        Ah, you see, Mark, there’s the rub. How do you define the theft in a case such as this.

        For example… if someone has done a screen capture of an episode, and then posted it on YouTube, who is guilty of piracy in such a case, and thus liable to the $150,000 fine? The poster? The viewers who select it? YouTube (and thus Google)? I doubt the latter would be, because I’m relatively sure their terms and conditions has buried in it a pretty ironclad hold harmless clause.

        You see things relatively easily, black and white. Thou shalt not and all that. Fundamentalism and rigidity might have its place at times. But let’s be honest – the House of Mouse has proven less than smart of late in managing its intellectual property (exhibit A – the poor marketing campaign for “John Carter”). You really are of the belief that when someone else tells you that in the US that an intellectual property like Kim Possible is over and put away, that’s it, it should never be seen again?

        Out of curiosity, what’s your take on shared bootleg recordings of Grateful Dead concerts? The band seemed to have no problem with them, but under your absolutism, they would be verboten as well, true?

        First, make the content all available legally, so that you wouldn’t even need to pirate it. Then, be realistic about the issue of piracy – not hyperbolic with the numbers, but realistic. I’ll support that. Treat the occasional pirated song like the occasional speeder – as a ticketable offense. The major traffickers are who you go after,

        • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

          Don, to this we 100 percent agree, that it’s silly for any producers not to make content eventually available legally and at a reasonable cost. The studios/producers that do it right bring the film to market at a higher price because of demand and then it goes to reduced-priced theaters. Then, it ends up on DVD, which eventually ends up in a $5.00 bin and on Internet film services.

          As far as Disney is concerned, Walt did deliberately keep films off the market for a while to increase their value when they were re-released. That’s just marketing. In fact, when he was living, he prevented the studio from producing films too often because he wanted the release of a Disney film to be a big event. I admire him for that marketing take and appreciation of his brand. However, today’s Mouse is very different, I agree. They don’t take the same approach. Despite that silly approach on their part, it still does not give anyone the right to just go steal something because you want it and they don’t want to give it to you.

          Now, as far as Grateful Dead concerts, you make a very important distinction when you say. “the band seemed to have no problem with it.” In some cases, allowing certain things to float “out there” can have a positive effect on your brand (or band in this case). However, that should be at the discretion of the creator of the content or brand, not just anyone who decides they want it.

          In answer to your question as to who is guilty of piracy on a YouTube posted video of illegally obtained content, it should be the person who captured it and posted it. They are the ones guilty of piracy. For example, if my neighbor took a movie I produced and put up a big screen in the middle of town and sold people tickets to see the movie, then he is the one guilty of a crime. The people who showed up can’t know he obtained the content illegally and the town doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing in their town.

          However, I would hope that if someone KNOWS they are downloading illegally obtained content that they would want to do the right thing and obtain a copy legally.

        • Don Speirs commented on Mar 21 2012


          “In answer to your question as to who is guilty of piracy on a YouTube posted video of illegally obtained content, it should be the person who captured it and posted it. They are the ones guilty of piracy.”

          And now we get to the rub of jurisdiction. I’ll continue to use the Kim Possible example, as I’m familiar with it from both the fan and the production side.

          There are, in fact Kim Possible episodes available on YouTube. But the majoprity of them were in fact recorded offshore – by their screen markings, some were from Canada, and some were from Scandanavia, using the English SAP during the broadcast (hence the Scandanavian credits at the end).

          In doing some research, I found out the person who’d posted was also offshore.

          So… again, who now can the folks go after? US piracy laws apply overseas under certain circumstances, but if the source of th broadcast captured was offshore, the pirate is offshore, and according to YouTube, the server is offshore as well… well, the only person in the jurisdiction is the person saying “Oooo, I loved that show, let’s watch it again! on YouTube!”

          As for Disney and animation marketing… television animation is a hobby and a passion of mine, and I’m surprised and confused that, for as all-in as Disney went a generation ago on this, they have walked away from those properties, despite the fact that an entire generation would now look back with fond nostalgia on Duck Tales, Tale Spin, Darkwing Duck, Chip n’ Dales Rescue Rangers, Gummi Bears, Wuzzles, etc. The feature animation side does mine the nostalgia of their properties – although some might argue, again, the House of Mouse has oversold some of the properties of the last twenty years. But TV animation? They seem to feel theor product was like Kleenex – use once and throw away.

          A shame, really.

        • Rick Murray commented on Jan 6 2013

          Mark: “However, I would hope that if someone KNOWS they are downloading illegally obtained content that they would want to do the right thing and obtain a copy legally.”

          Isn’t this the point that was being made? That there IS no legal option, so a fan’s choice is to either look for non-legal options, or to do without.

      • Gautam Gupta commented on Mar 20 2012

        No body said that stealing content is right. What this talk showed was how flawed the numbers are and how illogical they are! That is all. And besides it is a well understood fact that the entertainment industry does not handle technology in a good way, and starts blaming others.

      • C English commented on Mar 23 2012

        But see Mark, here is a prime example of the problem. If Disney doesn’t make a legal means for me to access their content, then what harm is creatred by me copying it? They aren’t out any money, and a small part of society is improved by it. The “evil” half of copyright is that it is centralized control, as in the cliche “communistic” sense. Ideas are cumulative. IP law largely pays homage to the myth of original ideas, but most progress is built on derivative inspiration. If the “owner” is allowed to chose what their works can and can’t be used for, we all lose value. This is why centralized control via the creator must be limited. The imagination of individuals is limited. The cumulative imagination of a whole society building on each otherd works is enormous and valuable to the society at large. Laws are created by societies to maximize their value. They should facilitate maximizing useful ideas. Individual control needs to be minimized, limited to only providing enough incentive to publish. If creators chose not to allow their works to be used, society does not gain. Why would any society shoot itself in the foot by creating laws Tat expense to enforce) to keep itself from benefitting?

        Personally, I think copyright should be limited to 15 years or so and required yearly nominal maintenance fees. If an owner doesn’t think it worth maintaining, then somebody else should be given a shot to produce something of value to society from it.

        There is no useful purpose for laws that centralize excessive control for excessive periods to individuals.

        • Mark Grady commented on Mar 23 2012

          I respectfully do not agree that laws are designed to “maximize the value of a society.” Actually. they are mainly there to protect the rights of the individual. Based on your description of laws, then there is absolutely nothing wrong with a rich, real estate mogul forcing you out of your home simply because he convinced some governing body that he is willing to pay more property taxes for it. That would be more “value to the society as a whole.”

          Taking your argument even further, why does anyone have a right to own land or a home? After all, isn’t it best if ALL land was shared by the entire society. Wouldn’t that be best for society?

          I also find these references to “individual ideas are limited” to be bizarre. In other words, it appears you are claiming that if I write a book, that I am actually using everybody else’s ideas to write it.

          I find most of these comments justifying piracy to appear to be people just justifying what they believe is their “right” to have something for nothing. However, I also find the points made about some content creators not making desired content available a valid point. But, that does still not give someone the right to break the law. As long as the law stands as it is, then it is best for a society if it is followed. When we get to the point, as I am afraid we are approaching, that we all just pick and choose what laws we abide by based on what we personally think today, then we are headed towards anarchy.

        • C English commented on Mar 23 2012

          Mark, the idea that law s are to “protect the rights of the indivual” even if such right ereduce your net value in society are anti-rational. The very idea of democracy is built on the concept that rational individuals, seeking to maximize their interests, will result in the majority supporting policies that benefit them (and hence the most benefit, instead of benefitting only a select few). It is anti-democratic, and seems pretty valuless, to put in policies that are based purely on concepts such as “individual properiy” that inpractise make more people worse off. Why would a majority of voters support things that make them worse off? (This is where the insult of “ideological” comes from. Some people get caught up in thinking a concept is of natural value that they fail to evaluate it in the real world. It’s the basis of the Prisoners Dilemma problem.)

          As for socity owning all property, the anser is no. That does not provide the most value. It removes all incentives. Nobody is suggesting removing copyright, as you seem to think, but to optimize it. That means finding the balance point of multiple considerations. So far, it seems that you haven’t accepted that any other concept beyond personal property might provide value, and that’s a problem. Why do you think personal property trumps all other considerations of value?

          -f it were demonstrated that relaxing copyright laws could make you more prosperous, would you support that, or do you think that one concept needs to be be protected even if it is proven worse for everyone (creators and consumers) than some competing concept?

        • Mark Grady commented on Mar 23 2012

          I’m not being sarcastic at all when I say I would greatly appreciate any explanation over how relaxing the copyright laws would make me, a filmmaker, more prosperous.

  • Ben Evans commented on Mar 20 2012

    It’s not alright, and that’s not what this video & blog even says.

    It just highlights the exorbitant claims behind some of these industries who claim wrong-doing. While wrong-doing has been done, it does not justify their preposterous numbers, nor disproportionate punishments. Criminal ones, such as here in New Zealand could lead to abuse of human rights (if all your bills are paid only online and you’re internet connection is cut off, how can you pay for gas, heat etc.);

    I’d recommend viewing this by Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing: for an interesting insight on copyright policy.

    • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

      Hello Ben. No matter what the numbers are, right is right. It is NOT right to steal something from someone who owns it. Period.

      • Steven Gosling commented on Mar 21 2012

        Mark, he doesn’t say or imply that. He is saying that two wrongs don’t make a right. Even if I believed that downloading a copy of a song is wrong, and thus justified in its illegality, I don’t believe that 150,000$/song is “right” either. As mentioned in the blog post, anyone found infringing is almost guaranteed to be bankrupt. There is no way that is proportional to the act of copying a single song.

      • Jacobus Erasmus commented on Mar 21 2012

        Yes. You are right STEALING is wrong. (Theft is the taking of another person’s property without that person’s permission or consent with the INTENT to DEPRIVE the rightful owner of it) Copying in not stealing. Copyright is not ownership ! It took many years of adverts and social engineering to change the public opion around this. If you believe that copying is stealing you fell victim to a very clever social engineering trick. Summary (Stealing an item prevents you from use. Copying does not.) The movie industry have spend many years convincing people that copying is the same as stealing IT IS NOT.

        Making money of selling something that you did not author and and not acknowledging the author is also wrong.

        That being said. I have problem giving money to an industry that propose to make it a fellony (not a misdemeanor) to copy a DVD (that I have bought) onto a Media center that I own. According to DMCA I can go to jail for 10 years for that simply act.

        By making the cost of copying a song $150000 it has made it a fellony to copy a song. To put this into perspective you can lose your right to vote and go to jail for 10 years. This for copying 1 song. For doing something that by law before DMCA and SOPA was not even considered a crime. Yes that is a fair and measured punishment. For copying a song you could have bought for $0.99.

        Or more to the point bow beofre your KING.

  • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

    While I do find your math very interesting and your comments well-written, I still have a very difficult time with the logic that it’s okay to steal someone else’s work.

    With this logic, if I build a house and have extra rooms, if I can’t prove that I’m economically damaged by someone just taking over one of the rooms, then they should just be able to have it.

    I have produced two independent films almost totally financed by me. I spent a very long time writing both screenplays, plus directing and editing the product. It’s MY work, so I don’t see any logical, moral reason that someone else should just be able to have it for free just because they decide they want it and are entitled to it.

    • Paul Hirst commented on Mar 20 2012


      It depends on your concept of property. Is an idea property? Once shared, is it “yours” anymore? In the US, the Constitution allowed for copyrights and patents for limited time periods. These were created strictly to encourage economic activity. The thinking was that granting a copyright for a limited time would motive new works, which would help fuel the economy. Unfortunately, over time, we’ve extended copyrights to no longer fulfill their original intent. Now, we see them as protectors of our ideas, or if we own “copyrightable content”, a revenue source.

      So, you’ve created films. Cool. Now, you have some decisions to make. One decision is to limit how their distributed. For instance, you could only make 3 copies from the negatives (assuming you used actual film). Then, you would be able to control the distribution. It would be difficult for someone to steal your film. They’d have to actually steal your film, just like they’d have to steal your car. Since you’re probably all digital, you could burn only a limited number of copies of the DVD. You could control each copy and make sure that they weren’t copied when not in your presence.

      But, you don’t want to do that, I’m sure… you want people to see it. So you make it available. At that point, it’s out in the wild. It’s like a published book. A library could buy it once and then hundreds of people could read it without the author getting a penny more. Or I could resell the book, and then it could be resold again, then again, and the author doesn’t get a penny for each of the reselling.

      The question is, how is digital content different than physical content? The truth is that it’s not very different at all. The means of sharing the content without payment may be more available, but they are, in truth, no different.

      Now, if someone makes a copy of your film without your consent, did they steal from you? It really depends, doesn’t it? If they borrow your film from the library and watch it, did they steal from you?

      The problem is that most copyrighted material is really just an idea expressed in different forms. Once the idea is shared, it’s shared. You can’t unshare it (just like once you’ve seen Leonard Nimoy sing “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” you cannot unsee it).

      The whole idea of stealing copyrights is not as clear cut as you’d like it to be, is it?

      Lastly, I’ll leave you with this: Is the formula for Coca-Cola patented? Or is it a carefully guarded secret? Maybe we should approach all intellectual property the same way. ;)

      • Mark Grady commented on Mar 20 2012

        Hi Paul, I really do appreciate you responding, even if I do respectfully disagree.

        If an idea is some how different from physical property, then once some architect designs a home, why should he have any rights to it once “it’s out there.”

        The library argument I’ve heard before, but again, that is sharing with the limited people in a small geographic region, versus the Internet access to the entire world.

        I repeat, I spent over two years writing and producing one of my films. It was my story. My money to produce the film. So, you are saying that once it is released I should just “make it my gift to the world?”

        Once someone produces a television show, say “NCIS Miami,” you mean once it’s aired that the producers and people who paid to have it made should lose all rights to it?

        I’m having a very difficult time wrapping my thoughts around your take that an idea I create is somehow owned or owed to everyone.

        • Gautam Gupta commented on Mar 20 2012

          Mark, how do you define an idea? Can 2 people not have the same idea at the same time? You did not pay for the idea. You paid to make it a salable product. And once the product is out in the market, yes it is virtually out of your control.

          No one said that stealing work unless permitted to do so is correct. Stealing is wrong. However the way the numbers about loss of revenue and jobs are projected, IS definitely wrong.

        • C English commented on Mar 21 2012

          Mark, I think you have a bit of a strawman argument going on here. Nobody I’ve seen has argued that people should be allowed to just take other people’s work for free as a general rule. (Perhaps there are some, but they’d be a fringe few.)

          There are two important things you have to realize on the topic of copyrights and IP in general. First, copyrights are a balance of two forces. The value of “artistic and useful sciences” comes from them being spread throughout society. That is, if there is a good design or insightful expression, or those of derivative works inspired by them, the value to society is in getting them used and spread. Progress is done via memetic natural selection. Good ideas survive, spread, and incrementally move us forward, and we all ratchet up a step that way.

          Copyright/IP laws are best if they maximize this function. If the laws provide too little protection for creators, as you say, there is little incentive for creators to create or publish their works. If they provide too much control by creators or are too difficult for users to work with, people will not have easy enough access and they will not provide benefit to society.

          The balance idea is to give limited protections to creators to profit from them for a limited time. During that time, society benefits most by allowing some unrestricted uses of that work, such as education or criticism. It doesn’t undercut the commercial value and provides societal benefits. After you’ve profited, or tried to, in the allotted time, society benefits more by giving other people a chance to use it, which is after all, the societal goal. You had your chance, and that chance was the incentive to create. Even if you didn’t profit well, rather than let it die, it can have another potential to be useful by being freely available to everyone in the public domain.

          This optimized balance is why people say copyright is too long. Various studies suggest that the optimum length is probably between 7 and 20 years, I believe. Current copyright lengths are generally life plus 50 or 70 years or more and ever growing. That reduces societal value, though does increase personal profits. It hinders value, especially archival efforts.

          There’s also the rules of copyright which make it automatic and essentially impossible to know who are all of the people with claims to a given work. For instance, a segment of a movie you want to use might involve hundreds of copyright owners (actors, producers, music in the scene, maybe even a photo in the background), and there is no way to know who they are. It is a high cost of entry that hinders the actual derivative use of works, which is the opposite of what IP laws are supposed to do.

          The second important issue is business models. Copyright owners benefit most by having control over every copy which is easy on hard media but not electronic media. Owners therefore benefit in things like CDs, DVDs, and digital locks. But those are inefficient and inconvenient. The new technologies are media centers and streaming media. Media companies make it harder to use the media in the new platforms because they have less control. This makes it inconvenient for consumers who just want to watch the movie they paid for, but can’t rip it from DVD (digital lock) or can’t play it on more than one machine. They do this out of fear of copying/pirating which ironically causes more pirating.

          People turn to “pirating” because of these inconveniences. If the media companies simply sold you a digital copy you could play anywhere, most people would pay for it. But this is a lower margin option, media companies would have less control, and they’d have to accept that some pirating would take place (as has always happened).

          Hence the new restrictive laws like SOPA, PIPA and agreements like ACTA are all aimed at giving media companies more power for their “war on infringement” and legitimate consumers pay the price, both in more restrictive use of goods and in actual cost of waging this war. The DMCA is older but similar in usage. The massively inflated infringement penalties as Rob discusses is another “big hammer” used to maintain copyright control, and the irrational and exaggerated rhetoric is all for show to maintain justification for such laws.

          The whole thing works against the very principles upon which copyright and IP law is based. It is media companies and groups (MPAA/RIAA) using public means to maintain outdated business models rather than evolve and adapt. They are the dinosaurs flailing about in the tar pits trying to take down all the nimble, new, creatures out there.

          These are the issues. It’s not a discussion about “stealing”. That is a symptom, and it largely results from anti-competitive actions of the industry itself. As Rob suggests, and much data shows, people don’t pirate much when given convenient, reasonable, fair, legal options.

          Why did it take Netflix to create that service, and why so long? Or now Amazon and Google? Or Apple iTunes? Why didn’t the media companies create these instead? We all knew they were coming. The RIAA companies could have had a profitable version of Napster in 1999 if they embraced the new technology.

          This isn’t about stealing.

        • Paul Hirst commented on Mar 30 2012


          I AM an architect, so I’m very aware of the copyright laws and “stealing” ideas (there’s an old adage that the best designers forget who they steal ideas from).

          I worked in an office with some other architects. One day I was sitting at a colleague’s desk and picked up a plan he was working on. It looked awfully familiar. I went back to my desk and grabbed a plan that I was designing. In essence, the plans were almost identical. The layout was the same… our clients had essentially given us the same input and the output was very similar. Did I steal his idea? Did he steal mine?

          I am not saying that it’s “OK” to steal someones stuff. What I am saying is that in a world of digital distribution, what “stuff” is needs a different definition. C English, in his reply, has a great discussion about IP and economics.

          I’m not saying the idea you create is owned by everyone, but once it’s out there, it’s out there.

          You also miss my point… it’s your product. The film. You have choices. Do you want to maximize audience? Maximize profit? Somewhere in-between? There are consequences to each choice you make. In economic terms we’d call these “opportunity costs” . You need to decide what’s the best balance.

          What if somebody saw your film then remade it? It took them time, money, energy, etc. But they remade your film. Did they steal your film, or your ideas for the film?

          Personally, I don’t know what the answer is except that I do know we need to return sanity to the copyright/patent world with some reforms starting with significant reductions in time limits.

    • Rob Reid commented on Mar 21 2012

      Hey Mark –

      I appreciate your engagement on this blog & all of your articulate thoughts! However, with all due respect, at NO POINT in my talk or in my lengthy blog post do I say that “it’s okay to steal someone else’s work.” Therefore I do not consider this statement – which I wholly agree with, by the way – to be a relevant rebuttal to my points.

      I’m very much against the theft of intellectual property – not merely for conceptual & moral reasons (although that’s certainly a VERY BIG part of it), but also selfishly & pragmatically, because I’m an author who seeks to make a living from his work. However, I also vehemently oppose any law that penalizes tiny misdemeanors with penalties that are normally associated with significant felonies. A $150,000 penalty for the theft of a digital object that’s typically priced at 99¢ is grotesquely disproportionate. You certainly wouldn’t see penalties of that scale associated with the theft of physical property.

      I consider this $150K per copy/per song fine to be a perversion of our legislative system. If you consider it to be a just & legitimate penalty – one that will engender deeper respect for intellectual property, and actually put a dent in its theft – I’d welcome a debate with you on this point. But I will not debate the against the “mom & apple pie” assertion that theft is bad, because I happen to agree with it.

      • Mark Grady commented on Mar 30 2012

        Hi Rob,

        I DO understand the point of your presentation and numbers completely. And I do not disagree with your point that the fines for the “small offender” are too high.

        The reason I responded is well-noted in the many posts here relating to my comments. My fear in seeing your article is yet another in a series of excuses being used to justify the theft of intellectual property.

        My personal opinion is that most of these are just that, excuses, that are being used to just take something just because someone wants it.

        Thanks for going to the trouble to respond. I honestly don’t think we are too far off the same hymn sheet here.

        Best to you.

    • Uros Colovic commented on Mar 21 2012

      “With this logic, if I build a house and have extra rooms, if I can’t prove that I’m economically damaged by someone just taking over one of the rooms, then they should just be able to have it.”

      This analogy would be fine if your product was physical and not easily replicable. However in digital format things are no longer physical and cease to have the same ownership properties if they are made publicly available. A proper analogy would be if someone created a completely identical house to your own and used it to live in. Their desire to buy a house from you is completely hypothetical and claiming they damaged you by not buying your house and instead making one of their own based on your idea just because the advancement of technology (and you also by making the house publicly available) allowed them to do so is assuming things no one can prove to be true. You can claim the idea to build that exact house is yours and they have no right to build one exactly like it but that puts us back at the question of weather ideas are actually property and to what extent and how the use of publicly available ideas is to be governed.

      However if someone took your house, made copies of it and tried to sell it to people who would potentially buy your house/design is a whole different ballgame and most people would agree that it would be theft.

      In the first case you stand only to loose ‘potential’ customers who opted to copy your house rather than buy it from you but then you are entering a world of potentials, could-have-would-have-might-have’s and other similarly impossible to define things. As soon as you start looking at ‘potential’ loss in a court of law you might as well start arresting people for potential murder just because they don’t like someone.

      In the second case you actually loose valid customers because someone took your product, duplicated it and sold it to someone with a genuine desire to buy it and no other option available other than yours before the ‘thief’ came along with copies.

      I agree that you should be compensated for your invested work and time and that no one other than you should be able to make money off of it. However do you think that the people who watched a pirated copy of your work would have actually paid to go see it or do you think that by seeing it they might recommend it to someone who will actually pay to see it? All the market trends tend to point to the fact that a good product with an easily accessible distribution model that is pirated will only gain from the extra exposure and hype generated through piracy rather than loose. A bad or inaccessible product however will suffer because the generated hype will negatively influence sales. Just look at the box office numbers … the good movies get revenues in the hundreds of millions of $, even billions in some cases while the bad ones don’t even break even. And ALL of them are pirated just as equally.

      This is the bottom line … bad products have less chance of succeeding in a digital economy where the reviews reach a global audience even before the first people to see the product have left the theater / expo / concert … while good products thrive on the easy spread of information and capitalize on the fast flow of information. This is where the RIAA and MPAA have a problem. They sell a lot of things that are far from being good products and they don’t like the fact that people can sample the goods before they decide to buy them.

    • Sw.A. Rahasya commented on May 11 2012

      The whole argument that making a copy of someone’s work and distributing it means a ‘loss’ for its creator is false,

      Mega-stars may be an exception, long after they have become popular and have had surely enough reward. Their being copied at that stage of things is symptomatic of their art’s absorbtion into the culture. This is surely the ultimate reward, more than money.

      I bought many books which I had first borrowed from friends or libraries. I bought much music on account of hearing them often and getting to like them. Most times, these were ‘pirate’ recordings. I have bought many DVD’s on account of having seen them at a friend’s, or an ‘illegal copyright violation’ when screened at a club, society or school for a venue fee or donation …

      And this is common to many people. If you love the music, book, sculpture or whatever, first prize is The Original. I treasure a couple of First Editions, which is a similar thing. I want the artist’s approved copy when I have become a fan.

      If I continue to ‘consume’ ‘pirated’ media of all sorts, when I become a fan of something, the money will flow, and I will acquire the nearest to the ‘real thing’ that I can get.

      Google “Arctic Monkeys” to see a strong example of this buying pattern.

      It was perhaps easy to say, back when I had no published works of any kind beyond a blog and website. Now, I am ‘exposed’ in that area. People could steal 13$ of audiobook, a bit under ten of 3 CD/.mp3 albums.

      … and I feel no differently about it. If a few hundred, thousand or whatever number of people downloaded and shared any of my work, the people I intend it for will get to hear about it. Those that love it will buy it, even a ‘real paid download’ is closer to the ideal-original than a passed-on identical copy.

      This has even happened. I have multiple payments in my paypal from one buyer for the same thing. I recognised her name as someone who had been at a conference where I had shared a first rough edit of the book, by way of beta-testing. I inquired. She tells me that it is recommended listening for her client/students. She buys a copy for them and copies it to their memory-stick for them.

      It is surely every creative person’s major concern that their work should reach those it is intended for. In a world where huge promotional budgets drive consumers to consume what they are told to consume, having one’s work ‘stolen’ is free promotion.

      To test my point, me, a teacher of Tantra (the sexiest religion) creator of an (already controversial, and allegedly very sexy) audiobook (500mb), hosted at considerable expense with a serious risk of over-usage charges …

      … will happily post the link to a free download page here, in a comment, if anyone is interested enough in boring things like tantra, erotic totality, touch work, relationship, sexual meditations and so on to challenge me to my principles.

      Or, if someone wants to challenge me here just so all my potential ‘customers’ can google it and get it here free, thereby ‘losing’ me a whole lot of money.

      Title, to expose my willingness to be stolen from via even search engines: The Rocky Horror Tantra audio Book.


      • Richard Fletcher commented on Jan 7 2013

        “To test my point, me, a teacher of Tantra (the sexiest religion) creator of an (already controversial, and allegedly very sexy) audiobook (500mb), hosted at considerable expense with a serious risk of over-usage charges …

        … will happily post the link to a free download page here, in a comment, if anyone is interested enough in boring things like tantra, erotic totality, touch work, relationship, sexual meditations and so on to challenge me to my principles. ”

        OK. Consider yourself called on that.

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