Every time changes to the copyright monopoly are considered, the profits of major entertainment industry companies are at the center of the discussion. Even the people who fiercely defend the right to share information freely are going to extreme lengths to argue that this will not hurt the revenues of the copyright industry. But why are these profits even relevant? Why should we care about the profits of these companies?
It is almost apologetic. Apologetic for defending the civil rights that our ancestors fought, bled and died to give us, their children and grandchildren.
Thinking about what hurts and doesn’t hurt sales misses the point entirely. A corporation’s profits must never be at the center of policymaking, much less the center of determining what fundamental civil liberties we have as free citizens.
This is a repost of a column previously published on TorrentFreak, a repost made in the light of TechDirt’s excellent report on the growing entertainment industry, The Sky Is Rising. While factually interesting and well researched, the shrinkage or growth of the entertainment industry must not carry any impact on the debate on civil liberties.
You remember Blackwater Security? The wet-jobs security firm that the US military hires for jobs abroad, jobs that violate the military’s own regulations to the moon and back?
When Blackwater Security was playing Grand Theft Auto among civilians in Iraq in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, with which Iraq had nothing to do, how would you react if they had issued the following statement?
“Our profits are being hampered by the civilians’ rights. It is not fair. In all fairness, we demand that torture should be allowed preemptively to find suspects or people that we find interesting, or because it can boost our profit. Also, we demand the right to detain civilians at will and indefinitely, because we could charge Uncle Sam for that too, boosting our profits even further.”
How would you react to that?
Let’s take another scenario from Blackwater in Iraq:
“Our profits are being hampered by the rights of the people. It is not fair. Our profits are falling. In all fairness, we demand the introduction of wanton censorship, allowing us to discover and prevent people from talking about subjects we don’t like. Also, we demand to hold messengers responsible to some amount of punishment we determine if they carry sealed letters containing something we don’t like. That way, our profits could perhaps be restored to their former glory. After all, it’s only fair.”
Would this demand from Blackwater Security in Iraq perhaps seem reasonable? They’re asking for the dismantlement of rights on the same level as the right to not be tortured, not to be detained without due cause, and similar rights.
Well, this is exactly what the copyright industry is demanding. Exactly this.
The rational emotional reaction to this is an immediate desire to personally kick the living shit out of these pretentious bastards. After proper impulse control has been applied to this desire, the proper official poker-faced response – if any – is that the world owes them nothing, preferably coupled with sharp reductions in existing monopoly privileges.
If somebody had written a dystopic novel in the 1980s illustrating how some subjects had been forbidden, and if you would speak about them on the phone, a voice would pop in and say, “You have mentioned a forbidden subject. This has been noted. Please refrain from discussing forbidden subjects.” – if somebody had written this, people would have dismissed it out of hand as being too dystopic, too unrealistic. This could never possibly happen, people would have said, shaking their heads.
Try posting a link to a torrent on The Pirate Bay on your wall on Facebook and see what happens. People in the 1980s would have been horrified, people on both sides of the Iron Curtain. All in the name of protecting profits for a cartelized industry with monopoly benefits.
The job of any entrepreneur is to construct a use case and a business case that allow them to make money, given the current constraints of society and technology. They do not get to dismantle civil liberties, even if they can’t make money otherwise. That goes for Blackwater Security as well as the copyright industry as well as every other entrepreneur on the planet.
When our parents sent a letter in the mail, nobody was allowed to open it to check if it contained a copied poem, which would infringe on the copyright monopoly. When our parents sent a letter in the mail, they and they alone determined if they identified themselves as sender on the outside of the envelope, inside the envelope, or not at all. When our parents sent a letter in the mail, the mailman was never held responsible for the contents of that letter, regardless of if the contents infringed a particular copyright monopoly or were even downright illegal.
It is entirely reasonable to demand sternly that our children have the same rights as our parents and grandparents had. A particular corporation’s profitability does not factor into it.