October 19, 2006

Copyfighters vs. Narcissistic Hangers-on

The reactions to the recent news that Visa has cut off the Russian MP3 site AllOfMp3.com serve only to further deepen my ambivalence towards the entire debate over copyright and the uses of DRM technology. I have had a checkered history with the entire issue, having parked my ass on both sides of the debate over copyright due to my involvement with Eyes on the Prize.

Here's my problem. I have this large parge of me which remains convinced that a huge part of the 'outrage over DRM and copyright' is nothing more than laziness over personal inconvenience, and crap like the reactions to the AllOfMP3.com news do nothing but reinforce it. Let me explain.

I myself agree, and feel strongly, that the copyright system in the U.S.A. (I can't speak for the rest of the world) is broken and in need of overhauling. I also think that the legislative process has suffered excessive capture at the hands of the 'middleman' organizations such as the MPAA and RIAA - entities which do not themselves create, nor in fact ably serve to defend the rights of those who do. However, I also think that there is a line to be drawn between actions which show defiance of those entities and rules spawned to benefit them and actions which simply show the elevation of personal convenience over other considerations.

Take AllOfMP3.com. Everything I have seen indicates that while yes, they were selling un-DRM-ed MP3 music (which is a Good Thing in terms of how the information is presented), there was adequate evidence that they were not, in fact, compensating the owners of the copyrights to that music as the law required. Ah, many people have said, but whose law? Well, see, I would argue, that's not entirely relevant. The point is this - they weren't really compensating anybody - either the artists directly, or the organizations who were the designated rightsholders.

What they were (or rather, are) doing, is collecting money in return for the transmission of music over the internet.

In other words, they are taking your money and giving you a copy of music which they themselves did not create, and which (it seems quite, quite likely) they 'produced' by simply ripping it off a bought CD.

In other words, they are accepting money for someone else's work.

That's fairly disgusting, to me. I don't see how this makes them any different from the organizations that everyone in the 'copyfighter' movement claims to hate so much, like the MPAA and RIAA - except that the latter seem to have had the foresight to at least get their thievery written into the legal system.

Now, I may be very wrong about this. There may be artists out there who have received monies from AllOfMP3.com. If that's the case, if AllOfMP3's crime is, in fact, that they are bypassing the RIAA and paying the artists directly, well, then huzzah on them and I eat crow. But if they are, in fact, simply hiding behind the 'wrong legal system' argument to collect monies and not really pay out to anyone, then I fail to see why anyone who considers themselves a champion of the freedom of information and the freedom of artists should ever, ever defend them - they're not only thieves and users, but even more blatant about it than the RIAA are.

However, everywhere I look, I see people who describe themselves as 'concerned about the DRM issue' explaining how they like AllOfMP3.com because the site 'doesn't use DRM' and 'doesn't cripple music.'

Okay. But do they steal it?

And don't give me that crap about 'you can't steal music, it wants to be free.' If the artist who made the music in the first place has said publicly that their music should be freely available to all, then yes, you're quite right. But if the artist hasn't said that, then you have no right to make that choice for them. Pretending you do is nothing more than rationalization of theft.

Posted by jbz at October 19, 2006 10:40 AM | TrackBack

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