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A Nation of Criminals?

Friday, June 22, 2007

  • Pirated DVDs from the site www.piracyisacrime.com

    Pirated DVDs from the site www.piracyisacrime.com

There has been a great uproar about "illegal" downloading of music, movies, and tv shows from the internet. There are quotes around the word illegal because downloading this content is legal in Canada. Due to this Canada has the highest per-capita downloading rate of any nation in the world. However, those that dare to download on the other side of the border face serious reprisals from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). If the Canadian counterparts to these organizations (CRIA) et al are successful in their constant effort to change Canadian copyright law to be a mirror image of American law these repercussions will fall upon Canadians like a tidal wave.

One "hero" of the media fight is Shawn Hogan. He was threatened with a lawsuit to "recoup" the money lost by for him downloading "Meet The Fockers," something he claims never to have done. The MPAA offered him a settlement out of court in the amount of $2500US. This is the standard settlement for motion pictures. According to Hogan about 20,000 people have settled out of court between the RIAA and the MPAA. At that rate, the downloading of illegal music is far more profitable to the producers than actually selling CDs or MP3s. Hogan is fortunate in that he is the CEO of Digital Point Solutions, a business software firm. His income allows him to fight the charges where as others do not have the available cash to take the matter to court and are simply bullied into shelling out the $2500US.

Hogan consistently refers to this process as extortion. If one looks at the first sentence defining "extortion" on wikipedia Hogan's claim can be understood. Extortion is there defined as "...a criminal offense, which occurs when a person either obtains money, property or services from another through coercion or intimidation." At this basic definition these two organizations are indeed extorting money from people. Although the associations attack distributors like Napster, Kazaa, torrentspy.com, and the Canadian site isohunt.com, the favored tactic is to attack the person downloading the file.

It is easiest to discuss in the terms of music. For a time it was claimed that file sharing hurt the sale of prepackaged CDs. However, the decline in CD sales began in 1997, two years prior to the emergence of Napster, the first major file sharing system. The reasons for this decline has been considered in many places and there are several conclusions. However, no conclusion that is based on any sort of research points at online file sharing being the cause. The problem rather seems to stem from music being "prepackaged" and the exploitative nature of the music industry as a whole. According to the site downhill battle's itunes section apple removed the claim that itunes was fair to musicians. The page also shows the break down of the $0.99 per song. 35 cents to apple 53 cents to the record company and 11 cents to the artist, assuming that the company doesn't keep that money to pay for the band's producers, promotions, CD design, etc.

Independent music fares much better for the artist. Independent artists or artists from independent labels receive upwards of 50% of the price on itunes. Also, these bands receive a larger cut in most sales. The age of the CD may be coming to an end as sales decline more and more each year. However, no one is hurting in the "big 5" music companies. Profits are still high and the prepackaged music and movie machine is still able to pump out title after title. In the end, it comes as a matter of support. If there is a single out there that you like, you don't have to buy an entire album anymore. However, if there is a band or artist that you think is amazing or a movie that isn't just the same old thing but something of quality, you still have to lay down some cash. See a live concert, go to the movie theater. In the mainstream, this is the only way for similar items to come out in the future and outside the mainstream... they still depend on you for their living. Don't make them go back to flipping burgers.

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