Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Downloading Books Is Killing Literature - Or Not

Apparently you can download books now. Illegally, that is. I have to think Amazon knew that would happen, as did all the publishers who agreed to make Kindle and Apple editions of their books. Large companies who foresee a consequence of their decision and still makes that decision desire the consequence. Large companies who don't foresee consequences are just dumb or careless. This isn't true about non-millionaire people and your uncle's bakery, because they can't afford lawyers and programmers and all the other people who could have foreseen or prevented the consequence. The money guys can and it's their job.

Medieval copyists complained that once Gutenberg had set up the type for a book on one of his presses, that was it. No more work for them. I bet they put up quite a fight as well. Which worked out well for them. Every time publishing technology changes, the chances of people getting stuff for free increases.

The music industry has been bitching since forever. If it really cared about free access to music, it would stop 8Tracks, Last FM, You Tube and all the others. It doesn't. They're promotion channels. One day I may buy a Ke$ha CD, because I've been watching her videos on You Tube. Otherwise I wouldn't go near it. I suspect the music industry is doing the same as the tobacco industry, which used to sell masses of cheap cigarettes to fat guys with addresses in Malta and then say it was shocked, shocked! to see those cigarettes on sale in the poorer parts of Italy, all of Romania and all over Africa. If they didn't say that, governments might think they were conspiring to avoid paying taxes. I'm not sure about the music industry's motives, but one day we'll hear something and say.... ahhh, so that's why.

The real question is this: what are you objecting to being downloaded? The data or the story (music, movie, whatever)? Downloading data isn't stealing anything, it's making a copy. The copyright owner may have put restrictions on making it available for copying, but then their case is against the person who made the copy available. That's who the contracts are between. Copying data is not the same as stealing a physical book. Wait until the next sentence before you object.

Stealing a book is stealing a bunch of paper and ink. You deprive someone of the paper and ink, and the reason copying isn't stealing is that you don't deprive the owner of the original of anything. If all you do is copy the file to your hard drive, there's no theft. Wait until the next sentence before you object.

Once I open the file and start reading / listening / watching or using the program - that's when the theft occurs. Because nobody buys a bunch of paper and ink, they buy a story. They don't buy a plastic coaster, they buy music. They don't buy an EXE file, they buy software. It's the use that creates the theft from the author and the publisher. Stealing the book is theft from the retailer. Reading it is theft from the publisher and author.

The catch is this: when you borrow a book from a friend, or when your children read a book on your shelves, that's exactly what they are doing: stealing the story from the author. You aren't stealing the physical book, but you are stealing the story from the publisher and author.

Since no judge in the world, nor any government, is going to pass a law or allow a civil ruling that says a child can't read their parents' books or that friends can't lend each other DVD's, what everyone pretends they get upset about is the medium. Which was kinda acceptable for books and vinyl, but is hard to argue for basically costless data. After all, the whole point of going digital is that it reduces the marginal costs of the medium to almost zero. See how the exact law gets a little tricky to frame? It's very technology-dependent.

However, by now we should have a fair appreciation that putting a Kindle file in your Dropbox public folder for friends and family is the same as lending them the book but putting it on a Google-searchable filestore for anyone anywhere to download is not. If we can define or explain the difference between a real (old-skool) friend and a new-age Facebook non-qualifying friend, that would tie it down a little more.

All we would need is for the media giants to be sensible and accept the difference.

No comments:

Post a Comment