Last week, the ailing sound recording industry in America found someone even dumber to pick on. Kazaa user Jammie Thomas had got on the internet, and was doing just what the adverts and mass media say you should do once you’re there – fill your boots with free stuff.
This is a case that should make everyone involved feel ashamed of themselves – with no exceptions. But I’m amazed by the howls of outrage.
Without this free stuff, the internet would be worth very little: it’s simply an extension of the telephone network with added pictures, and would otherwise be priced accordingly, as a low-cost or free addition to your phone bill. Everyone knows that pictures of cats falling down stairs, or even feature-light web-based office suites aren’t really money spinners. Google and BT can’t say so explicitly, but most people are only here for the free music or porn. The rest are here for online games. The stuff about getting broadband “to help with the kids’ homework” is sanctimonious crap.
US lobby group the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA), which brought about the case, doesn’t hire the brightest lawyers or lobbyists, and so it couldn’t prove she was downloading copyright-infringing material. Following the mass media’s urgings to “share”, Thomas was convicted on the grounds of “making available”, which made her a willing participant in infringement.
For her part, Jammie Thomas emerges as even dumber than the RIAA. She clocked up a bill of $60,000 in legal fees alone. Make no mistake, the reason she’s now “facing bankruptcy” is because lawyers persuaded her to defend an indefensible position.
Most of the outrage was directed at the RIAA – and much of it had a self-indulgent quality, too. Like this post on our site from Andrew Tyler on Friday:
I have nothing really to add, but I want to register my belief that this is a horrible, disgusting, nasty, unrighteous, heinous, evil, foul, grotesque, sickening, atrocious, offensive, depraved, nefarious, repugnant, loathsome, villainous, wicked, sinful, vile, repulsive, egregious, abominable, dreadful, scuzzy, sleazy, no good, dirty, low down, filthy, rotten, putrid, mean, spoiled, god-awful, diseased ruling.
It sucks too. To whom do I write nasty letters, and where is my thesaurus?
A redundant question, obviously – the thesaurus is halfway down his digestive tract, and is already causing uncontrollable verbal flatulence.
But let’s get a grip, people. You can start by dropping the role of put-upon victim in this pantomime. Our chances of being caught by the RIAA or IFPI are somewhat less than being hit by lightning – or choking on a wasabi-flavoured peanut. The RIAA could up its legal campaign a thousandfold, and people would still carry on grabbing free stuff with little fear of being caught.
With odds like this, there’s no reason ever to buy a physical product again – unless your printer or CD burner breaks down.
I tried a test yesterday: a just-released Top 40 album took 30 seconds to find, and just 18 minutes to download via Bittorrent. It arrived in lossless FLAC format, and had lovely artwork. With unlicensed music, the choice is outstanding and the quality higher than anything licensed. Naturally the artist doesn’t receive a penny, and it allows my service provider to charge me nearer £20 than £2 a month, which is probably what the internet is worth without the free stuff.
Oppression? You must be joking!
However, just as you can hire professional mourners at funerals, there are now professionally angry anti-rights nuts, wailing at every news item with the trigger word “RIAA”.
I wish I could say with confidence that the outrage was directed at the major labels’ unwillingness to license music on terms that would make illegal services unnecessary. It’s this unwillingness which ultimately betrays the artists and producers the RIAA is supposed to represent.
But no, I suspect the professional shouters are simply playing to the peanut gallery and expressing disgust that the copyright holder is making an effort to assert their rights. How dare they?
It’s a token, futile effort by the RIAA to hold back the tide, but the rights holder has the moral high ground, here. Slice it anyway you want, but no one put a gun to Ms Thomas’s head and forced her to crank up Kazaa. If she’d spent a few bob on CDs down the mall, she wouldn’t have been slapped with a fine.
“If she’d just gone out and bought the stuff she’d be about $198,000 better off by now,” one poster pointed out.
“Pay up or piss off,” added another.
So file-sharers: if you want “free” music on demand to continue – you should start backing real proposals to make sure it happens on terms you like. There’s certainly enough money around – text messaging alone is worth three times as much as the global music industry – to help licensed P2P appear to be free. Just remind network providers what their pipes would be worth without the “free” stuff: not very much at all.
Whining about your right not to pay artists simply removes you from the debate.
So spare me the phony outrage, please.