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Glare, Grouchy

[Rant] Copyright

As this has been getting discussed in the discussion groups of both Katherine Kerr and Megan Lindholm (Robin Hobb) over the past few weeks, it's been on my mind lately. Today I got a note on a game I help keep running that a couple users were using one of the communication venues in the game to discuss how best to trade around cracked games and whatnot.


There are some zealots, I admit, who really do believe that authors should release books for free and copyright shouldn't exist at all, or that all software should be free. Putting aside the question of 'if it's free, you are unlikely to make money on it, and there's no incentive to actually work on it as opposed to getting a different job,' there are other considerations.

Without copyright, for instance, someone could take a book and decide they want to publish their own version of it. They alter it -- cutting scenes, and adding a few they think are better -- and release their own revised edition with the same byline. The author's message is no longer there, and you no longer have any guarantee that you're getting the actual /book/ and not just someone's mutant edited copy.

Add to that the fact that our copyright laws were specifically altered some time ago to adhere to the Berne Convention guidelines, so that our copyright would be enforced and upheld by other countries who are signatories to it.

Really, what it boils down to, I think, is that the majority of people who pirate stuff do it because it's simple (just download something!) and it's free (and people are all about the free stuff). And all the arguments about how it 'doesn't hurt anyone' or how it 'only hurts the publishers' are largely just justifications. And 'I wouldn't have bought it anyway' doesn't really count for anything. If you wouldn't have bought it anyway, that's no excuse for theft. Hey, I wouldn't have bought that DVD player, but that makes it okay to steal it! Bzzt.

If you can convince yourself you're taking a Moral Stand against Big Business or whatever, you don't have to think about the fact that you are stealing from the people who wrote that game you're enjoying so much, that piece of software you use every day, composed and performed those songs you just downloaded in MP3, or wrote that book you just downloaded in eBook format.

The immaturity shows in a number of ways in the pirate community. Witness people who cheerfully accept acclaim and praise for making pirated goods available; the eBook scanners who cheerily accept the acclaim and thanks of the various pirates, acting as if the books were their own work. Hell, think about our Russian hacker friends who have an entire site devoted to Trillian as if it were their work, when all they're doing is distributing pirated copies of Trillian Pro and plugins.

I'm halfway tempted to talk to some of the authors, game developers and so on who I know, and ask them each to write a short essay on copyright and piracy, and collect them into a freely-available eBook to distribute on the net...


I agree. I am not arguing that it should be done at the cost of distribution. I am saying that you should estimate total costs, divide by the number of items you intend to sell, and figure out what your price should be set at. Since there is no (or minimal) marginal cost, you can take the cost of living for X of months, plus car payments, etc, divide, and set your price to that level. Which I am guessing is lower than current levels.

However! This doesn't apply to books. Books have a concrete marginal cost (cost of printing + paper) that software and movies do not.
But books also have a nonconcrete cost, in terms of the author's time and effort.

As for software and movies, they have a concrete cost as well (unless you're dealing with Internet delivery); it /does/ cost the studio to make those DVD boxes and discs. Not as much as they charge for it, I grant you, but it adds up.
I'm not saying that books, software, and movies do not have a concrete cost. :) They do. But for distribution, their concrete costs (for movies and software) could be close to zero if they chose digital delivery.

For non-digital delivery, that's why I said in the beginning that the MC approaches 0, but isn't. :) It is higher, because there are physical products involved.

However, for purely digitally delivered products, once you take account of the cost of bandwidth and storage, the remaining marginal cost is close to 0.

I think we've reached a point of agreement - items are overpriced which induces people to steal. Technology, cheap bandwidth and storage have made it easier for people to steal.

My remaining point that we haven't agreed on is:
If pricing was lowered to be more realistic, less people would steal. ;)
Yeah, I disagree on this. Because if it were, people who have $10 shareware programs would see massive registration numbers. I think that software could probably be priced lower (though I will state that I think that's more the case in the higher end area, applications, and even still there are market reasons to charge a lot more for those sort of programs), but I don't think doing so would stop a significant portion of piracy.

And even today you find cracks and keygenerators and suchnot out there even for $5-10 shareware. Including things that people use on a daily basis. Sooooo... I am unconvinced.
I think that is the fringe that you can never get rid of. There are always going to be pirates and thieves.

Most of the things pirated are things like Microsoft Office, Visio, etc, Adobe's various software suites, and games.

For those categories, I absolutely think that it can be lowered. I think games should move to a subscription-based policy as well as a digital distribution platform (ala Steam). This simple move would completely void game pirating. Once you move beyond 5-15 dollar shareware programs, I think as a company, you need to move to this strategy.

My main complaint against this is that I have to pay for the game, and then pay again every month. I don't mind paying every month - I understand there's sysadmins, gamemasters, servers, bandwidth, etc - but I feel like I'm getting hit twice. I also logically understand that buying it is paying for R&D while the monthly costs pays for ongoing maintenance. ;) I understand that. But I still despise it. ;)
I suppose I still just don't understand why people feel that one person selling shareware you download for, say, $10 or $15 a copy is reasonable pricing (when they get pretty much the whole fee), but 15 folks selling something with a nice disc, a manual and suchnot for $49 is unreasonable, when you are also paying the game store employees, the distribution network and suchnot.

The profit margin in games is high on a really successful one, and overall it's a profitable industry, but I think people overlook how much of a gamble it is... and how often games /don't/ pay off, and developers go under and can't cover costs and suchnot. I think people also overestimate game sales, and underestimate the costs of producing a game. (After all, the people who whine that the game wasn't tested very well with their specific system configuration rarely consider that there's about seventeen trillion ways to configure Windows, and the more QA testing machines and equipment the company buys to work with, the more it costs to make the game.)
when you are also paying the game store employees, the distribution network and suchnot.

That's just it though! Why should the consumer be paying for those things when there should be delivery alternatives that don't include those costs?

I would /rather/ all the money went to the people who wrote/developed the software rather than everyone along the way taking a cut and pushing the price up higher.
Gambling with how big a game will be is the same as what movie theaters and medical companies do.

I guess the other complaint is the length of the copyright/patent. I understand 7 years. That's reasonable. Lifetime of creator + 70 years? A bit outrageous, no? (this applies more to books, movies, and music, rather than software.)
No, no, no!

7 years on books is absolutely ludicrous. I don't want to go into the whole two week discussion from Kit's discussion group here, but consider this. She's been working on this (very long) series of books, the Deverry novels, for well over a decade. You're saying that now, where Kit is still seeing income from those first books while she works on the final two, she shouldn't be.

Copyright expiring is in absolutely no way, no how, something that should happen in the author's lifetime. Period. End of story. Because copyright going away /takes away the author's right to decide what happens with it/. The first Deverry books are out of copyright after seven years? Hey! Snatch 'em up and make a movie... not like you have to pay the author anything! And since it's out of copyright and in the public domain, you can do whatever you want! Make Rhodri and Evander gay lovers! Decide to remove the whole reincarnation aspect, never mind that it's the central theme of the books, redemption over multiple lifetimes! WHO CARES? Not like she can complain, since the copyright expired.

It also means that a publisher can take the book, can edit it in any way they want and republish it as a 'revised edition' without the author's consent, permission or oversight at all. That's what things going out of copyright and into public domain mean.

As for it not lasting past death? What you're saying is, in essence, "Douglas Adams is dead. All his books should be public domain, and his daughter shouldn't see a single penny of any revenue from it because her father's gone." That may not be what your intent is, but it /is/ what killing copyright at the author's death is.


Now, I do think that /corporate/ copyright law needs some rethinking. And I agree you could probably lessen the 70 year duration after the author's death in general. But if I work hard to create a book or a piece of artwork or something, then as long as I'm alive it should be /my choice/ whether or not I release it into the public domain. I have yet to see anyone justify why the creator should not have control over their work within their lifetime. If the creator chooses to release it into public domain, that's wonderful. But that should be their /choice/.

Now, here's the other part people often forget, too: the reason US copyright law has the specific durations it does was to adhere to the Berne convention. If we don't honor the internationally standardized copyright laws and durations, then other Berne signatory nations do not honor our copyrights.
You are correct when the copyright owner is a human being. I retract my statement regarding 7 years - I believe I misquoted when I said that was for both copyrights and patents. I believe it is just patents now (ie: Tylenol), and it mostly applies to medical companies. (And I believe that is correct and the way it should be.)

That said:

As for it not lasting past death? What you're saying is, in essence, "Douglas Adams is dead. All his books should be public domain, and his daughter shouldn't see a single penny of any revenue from it because her father's gone." That may not be what your intent is, but it /is/ what killing copyright at the author's death is.

Yes, I am saying that. What's the problem with that? Should the estate of the author forever own the copyright? Why should the /children/ of the author receive benefits or revenue from the creative works of their parents? If they did not contribute to it, why should they receive benefits?

With regard to the Berne convention, the US laws exceed the times granted within the convention (which is lifetime + 50 years). Our current copyright scheme is lifetime + 75.

Having said all that:

Now, I do think that /corporate/ copyright law needs some rethinking.

This was primarily what I had /intended/ to point out as the problem when I started my original post. ;) With many of the creative works done now, they are done as works-for-hire, meaning the 'author/owner' is a corporation. As the corporation has no finite lifetime, should the work never pass into public domain?