This week, I read Drew Wilson’s rebuttal on ZeroPaid.com of Ewan Morrison’s article calling for more stringent copyright law. Then I read Morrison’s original piece in The Guardian. In brief, he argues that we need government legislation against internet piracy to protect the rights of copyright creators. Wilson argues that we don’t need it. Not because copyright holders will be just fine without it (he doesn’t consider individuals, just ‘corporations’), but because he thinks all content should be free.
I was going to pick apart Wilson’s article as he did Morrison’s, but after having a lot of fun doing that (he argues that free is a policy of newspapers because people have always left them on buses, and bizarrely, backs this up by saying that you can see it in ‘vintage paintings’. Er, yes, you can, but nobody was disagreeing with that. They were arguing that paying for a paper and then leaving it on the seat for one or two other people to read is not the same as putting it on the internet for thousands of people to read.), I decided that this wasn’t real journalism. Wilson argues that the internet now replaces journalism, so people should not pay for it. However, journalism, as opposed to the internet, is coming up with your own argument instead of nit-picking someone else’s.
Wilson doesn’t make a coherent argument for making all content free, but he advocates that it should be and argues that the means of production is now nearly nil (this isn’t actually true, but we’ll leave that for another day). Historically, all the creative industries have worked on the principle that the value is inherent in the format, eg, paperback v hardback books, or 3D v 2D cinema tickets. But as Wilson accidentally illustrates when he complains that the last Bond film was crap, people feel shortchanged only when the content fails them. They don’t care that the paper wasn’t torn or that the pages were in the right order when they say a book was rubbish, they mind that the story wasn’t up to scratch.
Format is just packaging. People like good packaging – that’s why so many people have shiny white gadgets featuring an apple – but it’s the story they remember. People don’t say, ‘you must read this book, the cover was beautiful!’ They say, ‘it made me laugh.’ Piracy is about breaking formats, like the people who used to rip a book and then complain it was damaged so they’d get a discount in Waterstone’s. Wilson says that publishing needs to innovate to make piracy obsolete, and I can think of only one way to do this (I don’t believe that DRM will stop anyone who really wants to hack something). Publishing has a big task ahead, it has to remind people that content is the great part of the creative industries. It also needs to help society begin to put a reasonable value on content. Pirates can’t damage content without making it useless; they could conceivably write new sections for books, or delete scenes from films, but people would then want the real version instead.
But legislation against piracy is important too. Without legislation, the value of content is diminished. We can’t build up new business models based on the value of content when legislators say it is all right to ignore content theft. Wilson says that piracy stands up for the right to free speech. Well, the right to free speech is not defined as ‘all words must be free’. Piracy does not give people more rights, it takes away the right of a creator to put lots of time and passion into making something and to sell it without having it stolen. This is why I support Morrison’s stance.