Having followed the copyright industry for so long, I’m often shocked at the incredible sense of entitlement of those who argue strictly for greater and greater copyright powers. One thing we’ve discussed in the past is that the gatekeepers (and it always is the gatekeepers) have an issue of constantly overvaluing the content and undervaluing the service. That is, any time they see a new service come along that the public really likes, they insist that all or nearly all of the value must be attributable to the content and not the service. Thus, they will always argue that “the service” is somehow ripping them off. We’ve seen it over and over again, from ringtone royalties to Guitar Hero to Pandora and others. Every time the story is the same: these other companies are making some money (even if they already pay us) and therefore we’re getting screwed. If anyone else is making any money, then the copyright holders start screaming about how it’s completely and totally unfair.
In their minds, the value of the service is meaningless. The fact that they were unable to provide such services directly themselves gets totally ignored. They just insist that 100% of the value is the content, and thus they need to get more money. Nevermind the fact that companies like Pandora already pay nearly all of their revenue to the copyright holders. There’s always more blood to be squeezed from that stone, even if it means killing the golden goose (to mix a few parables).
Two recent stories illustrate this extreme entitlement, and total dismissal of the value of anyone else, perfectly. Let’s start with the Aereo case, which was heard today at the Supreme Court. It will be some time before the court rules, but check out this quote from Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters on why he believes Aereo is breaking the law:
“Quite simply, Aereo takes copyrighted material, profits from it and does so without compensating copyright holders,” said Gordon Smith, the president of the National Association of Broadcasters.
Of course, that’s misleading in the extreme for a variety of reasons. First of all, there are lots of areas where it’s perfectly legal to profit from copyrighted materials without compensating copyright holders. Used book stores and used record stores (back when such things existed) are a perfect example. Fair use is another. The point is: just because someone is making a profit does not mean that the copyright holders have to get paid. That’s never been the case. In fact, it’s the same fallacy described above. People are flocking to Aereo because it provides a better service than the cable companies. But the broadcasters ignore all of that and insist all of the value must come from the content itself.
That brings us to the second story highlighting this, which involves comments over in the EU concerning the legality of reselling digital media. Not surprisingly, the record labels, represented by the IFPI and BPI, are 100% against this sort of thing for no logical reason, other than that consumers might actually prefer such a system. They specifically highlight that the quality and convenience of digital resales are too good, and that might upset the business model the record labels have chosen. The argument echoes the labels’ argument against ReDigi in the US, a service that allows people to resell digital content that has been shut down in the US.
Again, the focus here has nothing to do with what’s right or what’s best for the public. In fact, the entire argument appears to be “fuck the public, we need more money.” It completely ignores multiple studies that have shown that a thriving used goods market increases the value of the original market. It ignores the idea that making things easier and better for consumers is a good thing. Instead, it’s all about overvaluing the content and undervaluing everything else.
This all goes back to a point we made years ago: industries that have embraced copyright for the entirety of their business model have set copyright up as a crutch on which they lean. Rather than exercising the rest of their body, finding all sorts of other good business models that allow them to improve the experience for customers, they just keep leaning on that crutch and insist it’s entirely necessary for them to live. And thus, those other muscles atrophy and wither away. So now that the world is changing and innovating, and others are demonstrating lots of great ways to better serve the public, the copyright maximalists are insisting it’s all impossible. They need that damn crutch, and anything else is “piracy.” They only have themselves to blame, of course. For decades, people have been explaining to them and showing them how to build better services, how to offer better experiences for everyone, while still making money. And, all they do is lean more on that old crutch and insist it’s the only possible way to walk.
It’s a massive sense of entitlement, in which they appear to have no self-awareness that they’re actively advocating for a world in which the public is worse off.