It’s tempting to mock the copyright industry for being unable to understand the Internet. Why, we ask, do they sue their fans, play whack-a-mole with torrent sites, and push for net-restricting legislation that savvy users can easily get around? Why don’t they just change their business model? But we never ask these questions expecting an answer; we just want to laugh at how stupid they are. Maybe they’re not. Maybe they know exactly what they’re doing.
It’s said that we should “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” The copyright industry’s behavior is not adequately explained by stupidity. It’s filled with people sapient enough to dress themselves in the morning. Their strategists, accountants, and lawyers are well-educated. They know how to use a computer. They read Techdirt and TorrentFreak. They’ve heard our side of the debate.
The industry has considered changing their business model. They’ve run the numbers, believe me. And the numbers don’t add up. There is no way in which Viacom, Warner Brothers, and Disney can coexist with a free and open Internet.
The copyright industry doesn’t need us to tell them that piracy isn’t a problem. They know. We don’t need to tell them that people will still go to concerts and movie theaters even if they can get it at home for free. Their spokespeople who seem not to know any of this are lying.
They are not afraid that The Avengers is on The Pirate Bay. They are afraid that Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro are on The Pirate Bay. They’re not afraid of people creating YouTube videos with popular music in them without paying a licensing fee. They’re afraid of people creating YouTube videos, period. They’re not afraid that their music is on SoundCloud. They’re afraid that your music is on SoundCloud. They’re afraid that you can mix an album with software that ships standard on every new Mac. They’re afraid that for the price of a high-end laptop, you can buy a video camera that rivals $100,000 Hollywood cameras, in image quality if not resolution. They pray to god that you’ll never get any good at using Blender. They’re petrified of Kickstarter.
Deep down, the copyright industry isn’t all that concerned with a monopoly on what they put out. They just want a monopoly on our attention. The size and structure of the industry’s corporations is not sustainable if they have to compete with some random dude from Stockholm for our hearts and minds. For a huge movie, album, book, or game, the competition isn’t piracy; it’s a small movie, album, book, or game.
Unfortunately for the copyright industry, they can’t make it illegal to release your work independently. That would probably require a complete repeal of free speech, which would make for an insanely expensive lobbying campaign. What they can do is cripple the Internet.
SOPA was criticized because it would do just that. YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, comments threads on blogs, all would be crippled or unable to operate due to the new law. Maybe this wasn’t an accident. Without forums and social networks to tell you about the hot new indie band/film/game, and without cheap and easy ways to distribute it, there’s no more competition to the copyright industry. Underground culture remains underground, only breaking out into the mainstream if the copyright industry buys it and allows it to.
So is the copyright industry full of diabolical evil geniuses rather than blabbering morons? Not necessarily. It’s possible that they don’t actually think any of what I’ve just said, and they seriously believe that piracy is going to kill them. Maybe they’re pursuing a smart business strategy completely by accident. Because destroying the free and open Internet is a very, very smart strategy to save the copyright industry.