[LAU] ASCAP Assails Free-Culture, Digital-Rights Groups

Louigi Verona louigi.verona at gmail.com
Mon Jul 12 08:31:49 UTC 2010

Hey everybody!

Some very good points raised which I'd like to comment.

"Maybe we could get paid if we are forced to consume a copyrighted work
against our will?"

I loved this one. Very funny and I think t-shirts with that phrase can be

I have commented several things brought up by different people in the
1. Manifestations of ideas.
2. Hard work.
3. Artists should eat.
4. Right/wrong examples.

"In your comments you discuss the question of scarcity of ideas and you
compare ideas and physical objects. But I do not think, that we talk about
ideas here.
We talk about manifestations of ideas in the form of compositions and

What you say is confusing. Every idea results in a manifestation. If we are
talking about physical objects that result from realization of an idea, then
my original article's argument stands very well - in that case we will have
to be speaking about distribution and copies. Intellectual property in that
regard is then absolutely irrelevant, since any manifestation of an idea
would be a physical object that falls under physical property concept - and
in the digital world that makes those manifestations redundant.

Of course, I understand what you mean - you can think a copyrighted melody,
but you cannot really perform. But I think it is an erroneous distinction.
If a manifestation of an idea is prohibited, basically it means you cannot
use this idea, it means you do NOT have it. An idea can be useful only when
you can use it. If you know something but cannot use this knowledge -* it is
the same if you simply did not know it.*
When copyright laws regulated only a particular type of manifestation of an
idea - namely, publishing books - maybe then this distinction would have had
some sense, I don't know. Today copyright regulates ANY manifestation,
including derivative works. It effectively destroys any differentiation
between pure idea and its manifestation.
Tell me if my thought is clear, since I believe it to be an important point
of the discussion.

"But "Moses and Aaron" took Schönberg months if not years to write and of
course he claimed a right to be compensated for this work."

What if it took him 10 days to write? McCartney wrote "Yesterday" in less
than one minute one morning. So? And did you read anywhere that Schönberg
claimed the right to be compensated because it took him so long to write?
Where did he claim it? I cannot imagine, for instance, Tchaikovsky or Bach
walking to the main square of the city (or to the government) and saying - I
have worked on this particular score for ten years, so now I claim the right
to be compensated for it.
I am not mocking your statement, I am just questioning its validity.

The argument is, in my opinion, weak, although it is frequently brought up.
If someone did "hard" work, he is not entitled to any compensation by
default. Why?
1. Because nobody asked him to.
2. Because the result of his hard work might not be good.

To rephrase it positively, you are entitled to be paid for your work if:
1. You were asked to do it beforehand (and promised to be paid).
2. The result of your work is satisfactory, regardless of how much time you
put into it.

The first point is more important and is often missed. The second one is
very often brought up. I usually say that I've spent 5 months working on a
song that turned out to be awful. What can I claim? Nothing? But I worked

"One may philosophize all day and all of the night about how works of art
are derived from traditions that belong to everyone or if maybe Shiva,
Hekate or God himself or mother earth or whatever instance beyond our realm
of economics and physical needs are to be attributed for inspiration. But
nobody can ignore physical needs, at least not for long ;-)
It is a social issue: creators need food and shelter, they need a social
status that is adequate to their work"

This is a more important argument. Here is my view on it.

I think there are two issues here:
1. A link between a concept of intellectual property and artists' profits.
2. An imbalance between sufficiency and fortune.

The first is highly questionable.
It is a fact that law of IP as we know it today is a very recent thing. Even
the first half of XX century did not have copyright as we know it today, it
was a very limited law. It is also a fact that many musicians have stated in
their interviews that they rarely made money by selling records, that
includes famous groups. Try reading up a great Rolling Stones interview
where he says that selling records was profitable to the artist only between
second half of the 70s and beginning of 90s. 20 years of all music history
the model worked for artists.
It is also a fact of life that in most countries around the world IP laws do
not really work. People download for free, people crack software, people rip
cds and movies and there is no problem whatsoever in obtaining any media you
like if you want to. Yet I do not see musicians starving or painters lying
on the streets, not being able to make another step out of hunger.
Seriously. I do see some people who called themselves "musicians" and wanted
to make a "career" and become a "star" give up their teenage dreams and get
a decent job, possibly doing something useful for a change. Those people who
are really in music for the music have generally no problem of making a
The link between IP and supporting artists has always been theoretical. For
most of real life cases there is simply no such link at all.

So yes, I do agree with you that artists should be able to eat and have a
shelter. I just do not see what it has to do with a confusing concept of
intellectual property and restricting law of copyright.

The second is also an important problem.
If copyright worked as RIAA and MPAA wanted it, then artists would not
simply be making a living, they would be crazy rich. RIAA and the like are
basically calling for a society in which being an author means being a
millionaire. If the aim was to provide a living, at the very least (at the
very least) copyright law should be shrunk by about 700% in its length and
scope. 2 years of duration, covers only commercial copies of original work.
Then we would be talking about making a living.
Being a composer and being a painter should not mean that you would be
successful and have money. Some painters become poor, some musicians might
starve, but same happens to engineers, programmers, designers, teachers,
drivers, to anybody in our world. You cannot create a society where everyone
would be happy and always have a job. It is not a matter of law or copying a
digital file - it is a matter of human nature.

In the end, if I am told that my freedom should be very seriously restricted
because there is a hard link between my everyday interaction with the
technology and starvation of whole classes of society, that claim, which
does not seem obvious from my life experience, should then be proven. It
should be researched thoroughly and presented to the public. We need facts
and numbers.

Was such research carried out? It was. Several times.
Why don't people generally know about it? Because it showed that IP does not
help make a living. In some fields, such as patents, it in fact made it less
possible to make a living.

So, the super famous argument that links IP law to profits is, in my very
well formed opinion, completely false. It does not stand up to critical
thinking. We can philosophize as much we want about artists starving because
of torrents, but in real life it is not an issue and if an artist does
starve, it has nothing to do with intellectual property.

*note: compensation is a bad term, by the way. if we say that we are morally
obliged to pay to musicians because music is not our need but our "want",
this obligation is cancelled by the fact that nobody forced a musician to be
a musician. You can be forced to work as a waiter, but not as a musician.
This is not that kind of a job. Of course, a more deep argument would notice
that perhaps, music is our need after all.*

Right/wrong examples.

Most examples, in my opinion, have little to do with IP. Most of them make
those usual parallels with how physical property works and all the morality
that comes with it, like sneaking in to the concert. I don't see how this is
even remotely close to IP. Any analogies that copying a file is the same as
sneaking to the concert don't stand a chance.
There were, however, two examples that are interesting and deal directly
with the question at hand.

"4) A friend purchases a DVD of a movie that cost $1M to make but
brought in $1B at the box office. You rip a copy. Right or wrong.

5) A friend purchases a DVD of a movie that cost $1B to make but
brought in $1M at the box office. You rip a copy. Right or wrong?"

I would answer "Right" on both and will explain why.

First of all, the situations assume that it is you and me who should now be
carrying the burden of how the artist makes his living. For some reason, now
that Internet is around, I should be looking up how much was spent on the
movie and how much did it make in the box office to figure out if all those
guys made their living. For some reason, I should now be making sure that
Hollywood would be "willing to compete in the new market", as MPAA said.
(They said that they would want to compete with new technology only when all
pirating is stopped 100%). For some reason, I should now sacrifice
possibilities that new technology gives me and count stuff to see whether an
artist gets his paycheck and if the sum on it is enough.

However, this assumption is wrong. This is not my job. I am not a
distributor. Those distributors take 80% of the profit for their "hard
work". It is their job to come up with the new models, it is their job to
calculate investments and income. It is their direct responsibility to know
exactly what technology offers today and not rely on selling DVDs when they
know they are instantly ripped and spread around. It is their wrong, not
mine. In fact, telling people they will be paid based on sales of DVDs with
digital files is irresponsible to say the least. A person who has made such
a decision should be fired from his job.

But if the burden is now on me and you, then we should fire and disassemble
MPAA and RIAA since they, obviously, are not needed anymore. And if the
burden is now on me and you, then we would want some facts and numbers
before we agree to part with a substantial amount of our freedom and our
money. And we would ask for a law that does a job of helping artists to make
a living, something I mentioned before and something that has nothing in
common with the law we have today - at the very least.

We would also ask why would a movie cost so much money to make in the first
place. Where does all that money go exactly? Why should Cage or Brad Pitt
get a salary of millions of dollars for appearing in the shot? Why am I not
getting so much money for appearing at my work? Should anyone receive so
much money for ANY kind of work, really?
Why does making digital effects cost so much? Is it really so much work? Or
are the costs high up for artificial reasons?
Can we get movies with less blood and explosions, please? Won't it bring
down the costs anyway?

Why doesn't the movie industry use pirate bay or isohunt business model
which was shown to work and bring millions of dollars? Can we see research
that shows this model works for isohunt but won't work for Hollywood? Can we
get a written statement from MPAA and people, making movies, explaining why
they did not use their "hard work" and "marketing talents" to see where
technology is going and adapt their business models to the new situation
beforehand? Can they please explain to us why they believe selling DVDs and
then spending millions of dollars suing people is a better profit then just
setting up an official torrent site? Numbers, please?

So yes, this is right to copy a movie from DVD in the situation described
above. How much money the movie made is irrelevant.
It might be relevant in a non-general case only, for instance, if you are a
friend of one of the actors and you want to buy the movie to support him
personally. But this is not a question of general morality, it is a question
of morality of your personal relationship. It is not something the law
should regulate.

Hope my comments were useful.

Louigi Verona.
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