LOL Copyright

I just have to do this every once in a while.

This post is brought to you by killing time with William Patry‘s blog. Patry is better known as a leading copyright (and I guess also copyleft) guru working as Google’s chief copyright attorney, and he keeps a pretty fat blog. And as you may expect, I’m going for somewhat Longcat here too. TL;DR warning! And most of it won’t have much to do with anime, so feel free to skip towards the bottom.

There are three items and two points.

Item #1: Some paper written by Prof. Neil Netanel, UCLA School of Law. You can read it for free, but it’s 33 pages and, well, is sort of your typical “lol copyright is evil” nonsense. Or sense. If you already read this kind of stuff, note that this paper tackles, for us internet forum warrior-types, the neoclassic economics and Lockean strongholds, and dissects why copyright law is the mess that it is today from a historical perspective. I thought the good o’ Digital Copyright book did a good job, but this is a little more meaty. But it is written like an academic journal article, so Netanel is a harder read.

Item #2: Ok, more like 4 items. Japan looks at copyright term extension. Also LOL internet police. Not so worried about obscene and adult material, but some of the fringe copyright protection schemes it outlined are outright killing-goose-for-the-egg. If Bill Clinton was smart enough to avoid it, Japan is really just a bunch of paranoid corporate interests puppets holding their seats in office. And poor France. Considering how prevalent copyright infringement is on the internet, that would probably wipe out most people who even care about broadband connection in France, if it was ever enforced to perfection. Then again, the French was always a little weird about copyright, among other things. They can take a tip from Canada.

Item #3: And speaking of Canada, LOL Canadian study about Canadians that download mp3 P2P leads about increased music CD purchases.

Just to get #3 out of the way, I’ll start by quoting why it’s worth reading. The TL;DR answer is “this one has actual, directly-correlating data”:

This research paper adds to the discussion on the extent and effects of music downloading and P2P file-sharing by using microeconomic survey data and by extending the analysis to account for a wider range of relevant variables/factors underlying music purchasing.

Most previous studies on P2P file-sharing have tended to analyze aggregated (e.g. macroeconomic) data. Thus, the analyses using those data are merely indirectly measuring the statistical relationships on which micro-assumptions and conclusions are based.

The analysis in this paper is based on direct answers (or micro-data) provided by 2,100 Canadian respondents. For example, respondents were asked about how many CDs and paid electronically-delivered tracks they purchased and the average prices paid. There are advantages from using measures of the respondents’ recalled purchases and experienced average prices. A key issue here is that markets can take many forms (on-line, brick and mortar shop, second-hand, etc.) so no official music industry recorded price will capture the true demand and the true price which consumers are facing.

Moreover, our analysis is wider than previous studies, which tend to focus on P2P downloads only, as it considers a comprehensive range of ways in which music can be acquired. These are: purchasing CDs, ripping CDs and copying them onto computers, buying music tracks from online pay-sites like iTunes or Archambault, downloading free music from P2P file-sharing networks, like Kazaa, LimeWire, eDonkey, BearShare or Gnutella, downloading free music from promotional websites, downloading music from peoples’ private Internet websites and copying MP3s from friends.

The demographic information in the survey, too, is very detailed, including information on gender, age, income, region in which they live, degree of music interest, Internet skills, occupation and educational level.

But the real juicy detail I learned from reading it is that (and I guess it’s not all new stuff):

  • It’s all about the interplay between substitution and penetration: Substitution is what makes people think downloading is stealing; penetration is what makes people think fansubbing works as marketing. Both are very significant factors in determining the effect of illegal media trading, but there are extrinsic attributes which favor one over the other (such as popularity of the said media).
  • And the world is changing. A report back in 2001 is not helpful 6 years later substantively, even if it sheds light in terms of understanding the economics behind the observed mechanism. The Canadian study was published a couple months ago, but it used data from 2005. Perhaps there is actually a point in studying cross-market elasticity between pay-to-download versus buying-a-CD models of business today, but I’m not sure if it was helpful then, especially in Canada. Still, the point here about change. These kinds of studies may be very helpful even if successive studies tend to provide conflicting results, but it’s something we have to take in contingent with current conditions and trends. We were and are trying to count the number of angels dancing on a pin tip in the first instance; now we need to realize the pin doubles as a popular bed & breakfast.

Well, you should’ve gotten that much too, just from the abstract page. It’s good to analyze the hypothesis tested in that study as well and see if you agree with them (and the results). But if micro-econ is not your bag, don’t sweat it much.

Anyways. To the two points.

Point 1: politics matters. Fact is a democratic system counts votes, and votes determine who goes into office. Who goes into office determines what laws come out. What determines your elected rep does vary from person to person; God, Grand Theft Auto and everything in between can and did drive bills through various legislatures. But during this 2008 election year, you Americans better read up and vote to represent! Or even donate money. This is a good start IMO.

As much as I tend to swing right politically when it comes to economics (ie. biased), tightening the screw on copyright protection via legislation tend to be bad for the economy in the long run, just like most other kinds of government regulation on businesses and the economy. Plus I just don’t believe the US government knows what it is doing with copyright, or knows the best way to legislate for the future. (Of course, few if anyone knows that.) What happened to good o’ conservative economics? Silly Republicans. The best case scenario here would just be the status quo for another 4 years rather than any kind of addition to an already mired mess.

Point 2: knowledge is power. As a rule of thumb, people do not understand copyright. Heck, if you can actually explain what copyright means, what it’s suppose to do, and why we have all these problems, then you do better than your average House rep. So what? It lets the established industries get away with whatever laws they want to pass–people get away with labeling media sharing as stealing because no one is out there challenging and correcting what people perceive as copyright infringement. No one is educating the heritage of unregulated use before the mass media era.

But maybe it is no big deal. It just kind of bother me when you read people’s heated debate about fansubbing and knowing most of them don’t know a thing what they’re talking about, in the perspective they take and the kind of arguments they try to make. To be fair, we’re dealing a very unique situation in terms of the economics behind it, as businesses trying to survive in a tough media economy as well as an industry that’s tangled with traces of “old” with plenty of spunk with the players testing the “new.” We’re dealing in a very unique situation, too, on the legal front (which contributes to the intricate industry situation too). We are also dealing with a very unique situation even in the cultural front. Maybe this is why fansubbing debates are so heated; it’s mystically attractive because you just can’t find this anywhere else (case in point, even anime and manga themselves deal with these issues). So. All the more that we need to equip ourselves, at least from my perspective–a fan–to kick ass and chew gum.

Fight? Yes. On that note I’ll wrap it up, even if it is a 6-year-old note. Contrary to marketing studies, it is still just as relevant today as it was in 2002–the Lessig keynote flash presentation about free culture. Are you ready to fight for your right to watch fansubs? Do something.

14 Responses to “LOL Copyright”

  • 0rion

    Excellent post on a topic that really does deserve more attention, not just in regard to the perpetual fansub debate, but for everyone.

    “…the Lessig keynote flash presentation about free culture.”

    This link, by the way, is something you should absolutely check out if you’re not well versed in this issue. Listen to the talk; it’s very down to earth and serves as a good introduction to the underlying issues at stake here. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that he says, but he frames the foundational philosophical debate over copyright controls and the freedom of information very well, and in a noob friendly manner.

    Anyway, well done! I’m to glad see someone taking the time to talk about this issue in a well informed manner, rather than just the usual spouting of uninformed opinions.

  • DrmChsr0

    I’m quite tempted to say pick up your AK47s (or whatever you Americans have stashed in basements, under car seats, in car boots, in ovens, yes I know you hid that Browning M2 in the oven) and march into Congress, threatening to kill every single Senator there (except for that Muslim dude, he’s spared from this horrible death), but there’s a much better way to combat this.

    If you liked a work so much, donate a part of your cash to the people who made it. Sure, it may not seem like much, but the creators hafta eat and pay bills and whatnot, and the people who own these copyrights (NOT the creators) don’t pay them enough.

    Down with corporate ownership. It’s time to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and hand the copyrights back to the creators. When RIAA et al realize that no one is giving them money, they’ll be forced to change their business models.

  • omo

    Well, if I picked up my guns and went to Washington, I fear Setsuna F. Seiei might be breathing the sparkles down my back. How about just good education? I’m all for acting condescendingly towards anyone who thinks pirating mp3s is stealing. I do that for people who don’t think pirating mp3s is stealing already :D

    Joking aside, but yeah. Education. I originally had a Genshiken reference in my post where one of the interviewer Sasahara ran into during his job hunt asked him for an opinion about the doujinshi issue. I thought that was great–and as serious fans we need to also be informed enough about it to make a sufficiently persuasive argument for a sensible position about similar issues that will only get bigger and more serious in the near future.

  • omo

    I appreciate your manual trackback, along with the other POV. To the extent that I borrow Lessig (I don’t agree with him in the entirety, of course; few do), I like to borrow his ideals more than his movement and jurisprudence. Then again, if Creative Commons can work just fine for TV shows and traditional print publications, it will do just fine for anime.

  • Avatar

    I can’t agree. It’s just the pure amount of scut work involved in anime production. Of course, were better tools developed to do a lot of the in-betweening work automagically, that would change the situation significantly. But at this point it’s not work you can farm out to volunteers, unless your creators were incredibly charismatic – it’s just too non-sexy, too non-creative, and the quality of the end product depends too much on it being done well and to your exact specifications.

    Leaving the legal stuff for my own comments page, heh.

  • omo

    Again, see Creative Commons. There are films and TV shows and stuff that are just not exactly one-man operations under the CC. It’s not a matter of making money as a matter of fighting over the legal principles hanging in the balance. Making money is just an excuse.

    You know the CC is not the GNU, right? It’s a very different thing in essence although both take advantages of the same legal mechanics.

  • DrmChsr0

    The problem is this.

    Animators aren’t getting paid enough to work day in, day out in sweatshop conditions in order to get that show out on the airwaves. Worse still, they ain’t earning a single cent from DVDS (correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m under the impression that animation companies are usually given a lump sum of money, and that’s it, unless they come up with something original).

    And as for the whole lol Japan does not want dirty cheap foreign animu DVDs thing, read this.

    Assuming the otaku-milking business is the same as every business in Japan, the explanation on that site alone will suffice.

    (From this point on, I am going crazy and ranting and making rather grim predictions. Please ignore at your peril.)

    In an ideal world, we’d be donating money to the creators, who would, in turn, make some good stuff for people who appreciate them. And we’d donate money to animation studios for animating the good stuff. And pay the merch people money for making the merch. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, and the nature of man is such that he is greedy, manipulative and self-serving. Until we get over the notion of ‘me first’, we ain’t going nowhere but to the end of the world. Which will be caused by our self-serving natures, and not some divine wrath.

    Apocalyptic, yes, but it will happen if we don’t change our ways. The insanity of enforcing copyrights will come to a time when people will be shot dead for downloading a single piece of copyrighted material, or worse still, for reproduction or keeping dogs. Continue to back something so deeply flawed as copyrights and we will all die.

    If the RIAA et al can make policemen go to Sweden to do a raid on some Swedes and their servers, it won’t be long before they arrest people for sharing files. (It’s already happened in Singapore.)And since the harshness of that does not work as an effective deterrent, they will move on to more brutal forms of enforcement, including, but not limited to: gulags, concentration camps, and routine massacres.

    Am I comparing the future of copyright enforcements to the events of the Nanking Rape, Sook Ching, the genocide of Jews in WW2, and the gulags of the USSR (and to a lesser extent, Guantanamo and the secret CIA prisons)? You bet I am. It’s a shock, yes, but it’s one of the many predictions of the grim future if we allow ourselves to be fed the lies of corporate ownership of copyrights.

  • omo

    Well, that’s fine. But you’re left with the task of not just identifying the problem, but also try to come up with a solution.

    I am still wondering why people think the freeloaders are going to make the economy collapse. The empirical data simply does not suggest this, especially in countries where people care enough to pirate your silly anime and other forms of disposable entertainment. I even furnished said empirical data and people don’t get a clue. I guess education does only go so far.

  • Avatar

    You’re right. No anime company could ever go out of business! ;p

    It’s undeniable that they’re distorting the market. And while there’s a substitution and a penetration effect, they don’t work on the same titles – your hits get more sales and everything else gets shafted. Time once was when even a mediocre title would get enough sales to at least make it worth doing… you might not actually make any money off it, but it’s better than sitting around on your thumbs. Nowadays that’s not really the truth – the also-ran titles are increasingly selling so poorly that they aren’t justifying being worked on at all, even if you have idle staff to do the work!

    I’d present empirical data to back that up, but that would blow my NDA out of the water. Suffice it to say that it’s a noticeable trend.

  • omo

    Well, at least you can tell me this: was there microeconomic research data to go with your empirical data? The *AA’s have been telling the world they’re losing money left and right, and they have. But how does losing money correlate to this kind of copyright freedom is not always clearly stated. In fact often it’s quite opaque because companies go out of business from a wide variety of reasons, it may not matter if people didn’t bother with fansubs.

    Steve: you guys should get better blogging service, but thanks for the trackback. Since I didn’t feel like signing up to make a comment on your blog I’ll just say one more thing in regards to it: you sort of have our positions down but I get the feeling “you don’t get it either.” How sad it is the day when “fighting for your right” is painted as extremist. In my perspective I’ve only stated the bare minimum. Do realize I don’t disagree with most of the arguments Avatar put up. I just think a lot of his arguments and presumptions (and especially the unstated ones) only sound good and is effective at convincing people who don’t really know much in this area, but it may or may not be actually true. There’s a lot of room for practical, empirical research, testing and exchanging of thoughts and we all can benefit from this discussion or argument or whatever.

  • Avatar

    To answer your question, yup. ;p

    I’ll ask you… which “right” are you fighting for, exactly? How did you obtain a right to these fruits of other people’s hard labor? Aside from the right of nature, in which you are entitled to take it because you are capable of doing so, of course. Naturally there’s a common culture to which you can claim a right (and assuredly the current term of copyright is too long, Disney evil yadda yadda, not relevant to this discussion as we’re talking about brand new anime here!) The kind of language you’re using certainly makes Steven’s criticism, that you seem to be operating from an assumption of entitlement, seem to be accurate…

  • omo

    Re: data: You didn’t make it clear if you were just comparing titles and how well they sell versus the behavior of people who may buy your title. Big difference there. Presumably you have both kinds of data?

    Certain it seems like entitlement, but I make no assumption from there. If all you are talking about is about two sentences in my blog then I don’t really have much to say besides I might be good at trolling certain kinds of people. But at the same time, I think when you decide to air your anime on TV and make money the traditional way, you can’t expect eat your cake and have it too. Everyone is entitled to something, may it be free culture (to answer your question) or copyright protection. I think you can flip the argument either way and say you or I are making an argument from entitlement. It’s sort of meaningless criticism besides that there has to be some middle ground (ie. the public should pay up and the publishers shouldn’t hog the rights).

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