My open letter to Hollywood.

Hey United States Government — I mean Hollywood, but really it’s a handful of mega-conglomerates calling the shots for both parties, isn’t it? Why else would the U.S. be so obsessed with monetizing intellectual property and masquerading worldwide DCMA-style copyright laws as international trade agreements?

But I digress.

How’s that war on terror drugs file sharing going? I see you’ve scored a couple of points over the weekend, all but shutting down isoHunt in the stars & stripes and even pulling the mighty Pirate Bay off the grid for a few precious moments. And all in advance of the series finale of LOST, the English-speaking world’s most anticipated old media download that you can’t quite figure out how to monetize until it comes out on DVD.

Well done. But have you checked your rear-view mirror lately?

Remember that DeBill you managed to get passed in the UK? That was awesome. But the three-strikes law in France? Not so much, huh? Seems that downloaders there have turned to other services, like RapidShare — which by the way has just scored a big legal precedent on your own soil. And while I don’t have the exact numbers handy, it seems that BitTorrent downloads of LOST might end up doing a little better than the sales of locked-down DRM-ridden files on AppleTV. Wonder what that’s all about…

I guess your seething hatred of BitTorrent comes from the fact that it represents a much more efficient means of distribution for long-form media like movies and TV. And it must really be a kick in the nuts that storytellers are realizing that they don’t need the so-called “expertise” of agents, lawyers, producers and distributors to get their work out in front of a vast international audience hungry for new ideas that aren’t sequels to re-imaginings of product placements for kids toys.

I bet you’d love to have BitTorrent outlawed altogether, if not for those damned commie Linux users and their free operating systems. You almost had them cornered with your proprietary video codec licensing — that is until Google came to their rescue with the announcement of a free alternative. Who’s side are they on, anyway?

Have you figured out yet that you no longer hold the keys to the world’s culture? That art is no longer a scarce resource, and that your shit movies and TV shows now have to compete with labours of love that talented, forward-thinking folks are making and making available for free, without having to worry about demographics and additional revenue streams?

Oh, you haven’t?

Well, this is awkward…

6 Responses to “My open letter to Hollywood.”


  • (I do download shows and music, but have never convinced myself that it was “okay” and not at all illegal. The following points are just for discussion’s sake; perhaps I can be swayed on these topics.)

    “File sharing” implies the file was yours to share. If it were any other sort of product, it would be called trafficking in stolen goods. (I don’t think “trafficking” requires that you profit from it, but I could be wrong.)

    There seems to be some flawed logic in the piracy community… Distribution of other people’s stuff is nearly impossible to prevent, so therefore the laws against it are outdated and should be discarded? That’s doesn’t pass the smell test, to me.

    I knew a guy who owned a used bookstore. Because of an accident, he could barely walk, and couldn’t do anything but sit by the cash register; he couldn’t keep an eye on the rest of the store. It was incredibly easy to shoplift from him, and I don’t think he ever caught anyone. Did that make it okay to steal from him? And did that mean that if by some chance he *did* find a way to catch you, then you shouldn’t be penalized?

    Any and all thoughts are welcome. So many people are OK with downloading and piracy that I’m starting to wonder what I’m not understanding.

  • Hi Jim,

    With respect, I think you’ve misunderstood my point — or I’ve not made it clear, which is probably more likely…

    When I say that Hollywood no longer holds the keys to our culture, I’m not talking about the digital smash and grab of their wares, but rather the dawn of an age where everyone can produce and distribute their own art.

    If this sounds familiar it’s something I’ve brought up before, both on Facebook and in a separate post here.

    Of course, the digital looting is also rampant; but those trying to stop it are much less like an enfeebled old man in a bookstore and much more like some combination of Wal-Mart, Enron and Jabba the Hut. As you can probably guess, I have zero sympathy for them.

    They’re more than welcome to try to sell me something in a digital format that I can never own — I’ll pass, thanks — but they’ve no right to commandeer the entire Internet to tip the scales in their favour.

  • Hey, Andrew – I’m almost there; but there’s still a part of me that simply can’t get past the fact that in most cases, downloading many things is still the electronic equivalent of shoplifting…

    … though, of course, there are exceptions. I am keen on grabbing things that are public domain, or things that you can’t (or at least that I can’t) find anywhere else. I do believe in sharing, and I do believe in making things accessible… to a point.

    What makes me uneasy are what I call ‘hoarders’. People who bit torrent 24/7, week after month, grabbing everything they can and amassing huge libraries of stuff… to what end?

    I consider myself a complete lightweight downloader, yet I have quite a few files I have never watched since I downloaded them.

    I’m actually a fan of iTunes; stuff is generally affordable and I don’t mind seeing the files removed from my system after a certain amount of time. Newer stuff is more expensive, but still cheaper than seeing it in the library.

    I downloaded the entire series of a certain iconic sci-fi show about a year ago. The result: I got dinged by my service provider who choked my service for about 2 months as a result.

    I ended up feeling sort of guilty about it… but I also wasn’t going to shell out the $90+ for each individual season of the series, especially in view of the fact that what I got are simply digital files… but I might have paid as much as $2 or $3 an episode (forget about the fact that they are free on TV to “capture and keep” as long as I am vigilant with my DVR… which I am not.

    Don’t you feel that there *must* be some new position that the big studios/networks could take to make it less likely that we’ll outright “steal” stuff?

    IE: A yearly “fee” for downloaders, create an account, pay something reasonable for unlimited downloading?

    IE: a fund which people can make anonymous donations to, to offset whatever ‘losses’ the entertainment industry feels it’s suffering. (I suppose maybe 1 to 5% of the torrent-using population would ever do so) I can be naive.

    IE: Something better than iTunes. Since broadcast TV is going to die eventually, put something into play that is an alternative. I guess they are starting that, ie: cbs.com, abc.com, nbc.com, etc. Though I can’t really tell since, as a canadian, I’m blocked from streaming content from those sites… which bugs the hell out of me because now what choice do I have if I want to see something I can’t stream on a legal site…

    In the end, I feel that the content makers need to stop chasing down torrent users but concentrate on making ways to download content that are cost-effective and more attractive to users like me (who seldom download) and all the way up to the guys who run the big Torrent sites (the hoarders)… without whom little guys like me couldn’t find sources of stuff to download… like the Kurosawa stuff I haven’t watched yet…

    … and I love that many content makers can now make art and distribute it for free if they wish… but surely there’s middle ground for the industry that makes it’s living from providing content (and thereby providing a livelihood for lots of people… including me…)

  • “A yearly fee for downloaders, create an account, pay something reasonable for unlimited downloading?”

    This presumes that everyone on the Internet is a criminal, which is incorrect.

    As Canadians we’re already doing this with the blank media levy, but I don’t see it as a viable long-term solution. If anything it sends the message that downloading is okay, seeing how we’ve technically paid for it in advance.

    “A fund which people can make anonymous donations to, to offset whatever ‘losses’ the entertainment industry feels it’s suffering.”

    Contrary to what they’re telling you, the entertainment industry is doing fine.

    “Something better than iTunes. Since broadcast TV is going to die eventually, put something into play that is an alternative. I guess they are starting that, ie: cbs.com, abc.com, nbc.com, etc. Though I can’t really tell since, as a canadian, I’m blocked from streaming content from those sites…”

    Sucks, doesn’t it?

    I’m pretty sure the tradition of region-blocking of movie releases in cinemas was to facilitate the re-purposing of physical prints by shipping them overseas after their North American run.

    But there’s no reason for region-blocking music or television, except for greed.

    “Surely there’s middle ground for the industry that makes it’s living from providing content (and thereby providing a livelihood for lots of people… including me…)”

    So here’s the part you’re not going to like…

    As I wrote in my post art is no longer a scarce resource, so professional artists now have to compete with everyone else doing it for free.

    It makes things harder for an artist who’s used to getting a paycheque from their agent or record company, but the payoff is a more (and ultimately better) art, because everyone’s making it.

  • @Andrew: Very nice post!

    @Jim: I beg to differ.

    ““File sharing” implies the file was yours to share. If it were any other sort of product, it would be called trafficking in stolen goods. (I don’t think “trafficking” requires that you profit from it, but I could be wrong.)”

    Your reasoning does not take into account that Internet is not simply a technical innovation like the radio or the tv. It is much more than so. It is at least a shift of paradigm.

    The DNA of the Internet is copying. Information is copied through routers, gateways, harddrives etc. Everyone is also able to do it – with ease – as long as a digital device is within reach and the information is available. You might consider this irrelevant as “just because everyone is doing it doesn’t make it ok”. However in the context of the Internet one must first understand that everything that can be digitized will be digitized. Everything that will be digitized will also be copied. Again, the digitizing process is in itself a copying procedure.

    Hence, living in the information era, thanks to Internet, makes copying not only a nice little optional feature but a requirement of our societies. It is in many ways impossible to NOT copy stuff considering how the Internet works.

    Unless you don’t see the validity of this reasoning here is the short and boring take: You simply can not steal a file. You can copy it for sure. You can even delete it. But you can never steal it.

    “There seems to be some flawed logic in the piracy community… Distribution of other people’s stuff is nearly impossible to prevent, so therefore the laws against it are outdated and should be discarded? That’s doesn’t pass the smell test, to me.”

    You need to disregard the foundation of the information era to not pass the mell test on that one. But there is more…

    “I knew a guy who owned a used bookstore. Because of an accident, he could barely walk, and couldn’t do anything but sit by the cash register; he couldn’t keep an eye on the rest of the store. It was incredibly easy to shoplift from him, and I don’t think he ever caught anyone. Did that make it okay to steal from him? And did that mean that if by some chance he *did* find a way to catch you, then you shouldn’t be penalized?”

    I am sorry for your aquaintance. It is sickening indeed to steal from anyone unable to defend/protect him- or herself. Having stated the obvious your comparison is flawed.

    1) Again, copying is not stealing.
    2) There is no consensus in society acknowledging a right to steal. Especially not so when the victim is crippled as in the case you outlay. I hope there never will be.

    This takes us to an often forgotten aspect of our societies and the law.

    In a democratic, free and open society the people decides what is right and what is wrong. Of course, in order for that to be realised there also needs to be a platform of basic values adhered to for everyone, by everyone. These values are normally present in the constitutional laws. They are there to safeguard the democracy as we know it, i.e. enabling the requirements for a true democracy. Important things like freedom of the press, confidentiality of correspondence, free speech etc, etc.

    In a democractic, free and open society, politicians, lawmakers etc need to acknowledge the will of the people. Hence, the law needs to be aligned with that will in order to enable a working democracy. A system of laws that does not acknowledge the basic values of the people, as long as these values are aligned with the democratics fundaments, is simply a failure waiting to happen.

    A perfect example of the law not being aligned with the will of the people in the US is your marijuana legislation. Your war on drugs (having defined marijuana a combatant) is futile. Still the war pertains and costs money and imprisons ordinary citizens just for doing what “everyone” seems ok with.

    A similar thing in Sweden would be if alcohol would be made illegal. Marijuana is not the drug of choice here in Sweden hence there is no need, along the lines of this reasoning, to legalize it here. However, the filesharing laws are completely against the will of the people.

    I am pretty certain that that is the case in the US as well. If not today, just wait a few years. People growing up today will consider it completely natural and definitely not something illegal, quite the contrary.

    There are more to write about this matter but I don’t want to hi-jack this comment-field more than already done. Hope you don’t mind Andrew?

    To sum it up: If the laws are not aligned with the will of the people, it is not the will of the people but the laws that are wrong.

  • @Thomas – this is interesting. It is indeed a paradigm shift for me, that you’re “copying” a file and cannot “steal” a file. I assume you’re referring to the fact that if you copy my file, I still have my file.

    I guess the issue is less like theft, and more like the unauthorized photocopying of a book. Which is illegal, but not as a matter of theft. I’m not sure what the legalities are… “copyright violation” perhaps?

    I’m not certain that it’s “the will of the people” yet. Certainly, it’s the will of more youthful folk, but the majority? Online polling doesn’t reflect the entire population; older folks don’t use the internet as much. Which probably supports your point that people growing up today will consider it natural, and they’ll be running things eventually.

    I did find these comments from the U.S. Supreme Court, which touch on your own comments…

    “Interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The Copyright Act even employs a separate term of art to define one who misappropriates a copyright: … ‘an infringer of the copyright.’ …

    “The infringer invades a statutorily defined province guaranteed to the copyright holder alone. But he does not assume physical control over the copyright; nor does he wholly deprive its owner of its use. While one may colloquially link infringement with some general notion of wrongful appropriation, infringement plainly implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud.”

    Anyhow, you’ve given me some things to ponder.

    -Jim

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