01 March 2005

Spoiled Children

Today's Washington Post includes an article that demonstrates that the maturity level in the file-sharing debate would need to improve to be properly compared to a third-grade recess. Let's just say that I'm disgusted by the whole matter.

On the one hand, we have the artists claiming that not all file-sharing is bad. Well, it's not. I'm a strong proponent of author (in the constitutional sense; I include musicians, artists, etc.) control over copyrighted works. If the copyright holder agrees to redistribution of materials, such as through file-sharing, that bloody well should be good enough. The problem here is that too many of these "authors" have, for years, allowed the various publishers (again, in the constitutional sense) to grab too many rights and assert too much control. So, instead, these authors are frequently asserting rights that—whether "morally" or not—simply aren't theirs to assert. That this gets worse the farther one moves from a literal "author" as might have been understood in 1789 bears some careful consideration.

On the second hand, we have the doom-and-gloomish ISPs (et al.) claiming that any restrictions at all will result in the collapse of Western civilization, and not incidentally in their own demise. Wake up, children: Somebody, somewhere, is paying for the communications networks used for file sharing. They're not "free." They may well be incredibly cheap now on a message-unit basis, but there's a lot of research, development, and capital expenditure in there. (On the other hand, it's all already been paid for, so continuing to charge as much as many ISPs do for access smacks of price-gouging.) Just because one can't do everything one might ever conceivably want to do does not mean that one is unduly restricted. There is probably no single aspect of the whole file-sharing debate that is not colored by industry executives' refusal to think of anything nontraditional. For example, it's incredibly simple to block communications through certain methods at the ISP level, invisibly to most customers, merely by changing from opt-out on port usage to opt-in.

On the third hand, we have the "entertainment industry"—an industry that invests less in its "raw material" than does virtually any other segment of the modern economy. It, of course, is whining about how threatened it is by the various new technologies. Just like it did when it became possible to broadcast films on television; just like it did when xerography became so cheap that it's almost unconscious. That some of this third hand has substantial investment in the second hand just makes the intellectual dishonesty that much more repulsive.

On the fourth hand, we have a significant proportion of the public that wants to get its entertainment for free. It's all well and good to have entertainment available to the masses; that was the whole point of having both bread and circuses. Wanting something for what is perceived as nothing, though, goes a bit too far… unless, of course, we're going to vastly expand the scope and size of the National Endowment for the Arts. Starving artists don't create great art. Starving artists push up daisies.

And then, on the fifth hand, we have an even more significant proportion of the public that just doesn't get it. I don't know what to say here, except that it's rather interesting what the ultra-rich do with their money more than anything else (not buy more assets, which surprisingly enough comes in about third on the list).

Gag. Maybe I'll go study something demonstrating real maturity, such as figuring out who won the race for Governor in Washington.