Today the BBC reports that “Online pirates could face jail terms of up to 10 years under plans being considered by the government.”
The author goes on to note that the new proposals aren’t aimed at “small-time downloaders”, but to believe that in this instance the blunt instrument of the State won’t be used to bludgeon everyone in its sights, however minor their ‘crime’, is naive.
Even if we accept that the concept of IP is rational and that copyright law is just, this proposal is draconian and disproportionate. Perhaps this isn’t surprising, however, given that the film and music industries seem to have forged a very close relationship with lawmakers and have even paid for staff to work with police to help hunt down people who share their content.
These special interest groups and the State tell us that their coordinated efforts are about protecting ‘our creative industries’ and that this is an act of social good, but just because they believe that to be true doesn’t make it so.
What’s really going on here is that a special interest group is taking the opportunity to use the coercive apparatus of the State to brutalize innocent people who, through the non-criminal action of sharing their own (legitimately acquired) copies on the web, happen to reduce the scarcity of their products.
The more abundant something is, the less people are prepared to pay for it, which is why people today are only prepared to pay a few pounds or dollars to acquire a music album or a film (we used to be happy to pay up to three times as much as that in the age of CDs and DVDs).
This is indeed an unfortunate new reality for musicians, film-makers et al, but it doesn’t mean the death of art and music as we know it as many seem to be rather dramatically proclaiming. The dignified and positive response to these challenging changes would be for the entertainment industries to accept that this is now the way the world is and focus their efforts on finding ways to thrive in it.
The undignified, negative and frankly immoral response is for the big players in the entertainment industry to kick and scream and leverage the State to take out their bitter frustrations on innocent people whom they once saw as customers, but now see as the enemy.
The only genuine enemy they have is those people who acquire copies of their work in illegitimate ways, such as hacking, burglary or industry workers who violate their contracts by secretly making copies. These, however, are probably relatively few in number and basic common law and contract law is perfectly adequate to prosecute them.
I don’t know what business models are going to work for the film and music industry in the Internet slash Digital Age going forward, but I am sure that threatening your customers with life-ruining long terms in State rape factories isn’t going to magically change things back to the glory days of the seventies, eighties and nineties.
On a side note, one problem it can only make worse is overcrowding in UK prisons, which are already bursting at the seams with thousands of people who were incarcerated for other non-criminal actions and who represent 17% of the total prison population.
By resorting to the use of the coercive apparatus of the State in a futile attempt to resist a changing world, the entertainment industries could easily end up destroying themselves by frightening away paying customers. No one wants that. They must step back from the precipice of State violence, return to free and peaceful society and find a way to thrive. They need to start by believing that this is possible and stop assuming that the end of their world is nigh.
People still want to be entertained and they’re still willing to pay for it – just not as much as they used to be. But who knows, if innovators in the entertainment industry find new ways to add value to their content and give people reason to want to pay more, then that could easily change. And let’s not forget it’s becoming increasingly cheaper to produce high quality music and film, which only helps to reduce the size of the challenge. Where there is a peaceful will there is a way.