Copyright & Creation much?

This is a reaction to..

The London School of Economics and Political Science Department of Media and Communications


Copyright & Creation
A Case for Promoting Inclusive Online Sharing

The authors of the LSE paper chose to publish their report under the terms of the “Creative Commons licence”. There on page 2 under the acknowledgments section it says..

Creative Commons license, Attribution Non-Commercial.

The licence lets others remix, tweak and build upon your work non-commercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be non-commercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms.

The Creative Commons Licence was itself created by a man called Lawrence Lessig, who believes that copyright is restrictive and that the world would be a better place if all content - music, tv and film and books - were freely available.

Obviously the authors of this report are believers in this free content concept, and they appear to have set out to try and prove that it is right at the expense of any relation to the world that we actually live in. This explains why the report is so mystifyingly off the mark to anyone who works in the music industry. The intellectuals at the London School of Economics are trying to evangelise these ideals but appear to have no real grasp on the actual situations to which they are referring.

The report is called “Copyright & Creation” and claims to be acting in the interests of copyright creators, but the bulk of their argument is based on the fact that in spite of copyrights being breached, money is made in other ways and thus there is no need for copyright law to be fixed or enforced. They argue that the music industry is in a stable healthy condition, and point to revenue collected on concert ticket sales and merchandise. They do not point out that these revenues are being generated solely by larger already established artists who can set very high prices for their tickets and t-shirts to make up for their lost other revenue. Smaller artists who are not in the position to charge anything like the Rolling Stones or Madonna are not the ones benefit from these new incomes, and yet these are the very people who’s interest the report is claiming to serve.

The LSE paper states that the video gaming industry is healthy and attempt to tie this into their larger argument. The success of the gaming industry is common knowledge and has nothing at all to do with freedom of copyright. Video games run on specific hardware and are much harder to pirate. On its first day of business Grand Theft Auto V did 800 million dollars worth of business. The gaming industry has been steadily growing for years and has completely dwarfed the recorded music industry, and it is now fast approaching the size of the movie business. That the authors of the paper do not know this or fail to mention it illustrates again the lack of accuracy in the findings of the report.

The paper also states that the movie business is booming and points to high gross revenue. This is as a result of a relatively few block busting mainstream successes and again increases in ticket prices.. The truth is that the broader picture for movie makers is bad and getting progressively worse. It is affecting the ability to obtain finance for anything but the most mainstream of pictures. Forget about originality and art in major motion pictures, it’s just too risky. Get ready for sequels and more guaranteed money makers such as comic book franchises. Budgets are being slashed and getting green lights on pictures are becoming harder and harder to obtain. This is a reality, just ask anyone who works in this industry.

One of the major sponsors of the Creative Commons organisation that wrote the license used in the document is Google. Creative Commons makes great noise about the fact that it is a ‘not for profit’ organisation, but Google directly profits from the distribution of free content that the license enables. Creative Commons hides behind the ‘not for profit’ label as it suggest a moral initiative, but this actually wildly inaccurate.

Free information is the blood in Googles veins. By ignoring copyrights and tacitly turning a blind eye to piracy Google has become one of the richest corporations on the planet. Conservative estimates value it at around 200 billion dollars. Google ignores international boundaries and local tax laws. The content which it makes available - movies, tv, music and books - generate virtually nothing back to the people who made the work, but they continue to feed and build googles revenues.

So what is the UK government doing to protect the online intellectual rights of its citizens from this kind of exploitation? Not very much as yet. It is afraid to appear backward or controlling of a new technology it doesn’t fully understand but senses is important, and simply cannot move fast enough to be effective against such an powerful agile entity. So Google gets to set it’s precedent, people get used to being able to access everything for free and with the slogan “Don’t be Evil” we are supposed to accept that this is a new world which cannot be changed or negotiated with.

The situation also enables music streaming services such as Spotify to gain traction by giving a ‘best case’ solution - generating revenue barely more than piracy itself, but bringing with it the justification that it something is better than nothing. If Spotify reaches its goal of gaining a definitive hold on the new delivery system then another precedent will be set and the idea that recorded music is practically worthless will become normal. This has already started happening.. and by the way musicians should consider themselves lucky to be given such a marvellous platform for their freedom of expression.. Thanks.

The shareholders of Spotify are sitting on a multi-billion dollar asset (5 billion and rising) and waiting for the moment to float whilst safe in the knowledge that their scheme will generate income for them (and the old school music industry they needed to set the thing up) in perpetuity.. whilst on auto pilot.. exploiting peer to peer technology to reduce server load and using their customers computers and internet connections to distribute 92% of their content.

Copyright is a benchmark of our civilisation. It arrived around the same time as education and intellectual enlightenment for the masses. As the technology appeared which enabled mass production of media, the law emerged to protect those who created the magic which it contained. The principle of scaling back copyright protection is a dangerous idea and the opposite of progress. No matter how hard they may be to implement, the rules still need to exist.

The internet will change in the next 20 years beyond recognition, as it has already in its last 20.. and it would be nice to think that the people who make it rich with content will be properly protected once the inevitable structures have evolved that could protect them.. rather than being exploited indefinitely for corporate financial interests. Once all the precedents are set and laws are changed it will be very difficult to turn back.

This report is out of touch with reality, vague and misleading. What we need now is our government to act and defend the intellectual rights of its citizens.