Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Pirate Party and self-described “political evangelist“, loves to tell stories.
Last week on TorrentFreak, Falkvinge wrote a post called Nobody Asked for a Refrigerator Fee. In it, he tells the story of the refrigerator and how it displaced the need for home delivery of ice blocks. The broader point is that this industry “had been made totally obsolete by technical development.”
Falkvinge compares this story to today, where some monolithic “copyright industry” is being displaced by “new expressions of culture” and file-sharing. The difference is that when the “ice distribution industry became obsolete”, “no refrigerator owner was sued for making their own cold and ignoring the existing corporate cold distribution chains.”
It’s a neat story, one that plays well with the anti-copyright crowd, but unfortunately gets a number of things wrong.
For starters (and this is only a sidenote), anyone who has been to a convenience store lately and seen bags of ice for sale can tell you that the “ice distribution industry” did not become obsolete with the arrival of the refrigerator. It is, in fact, a $2.5 billion industry today.
Secondly, Falkvinge’s equating of distributors of a single product to the entire “copyright industry” is inexact. The “copyright industry”, as it were, includes not only distributors, but also creators, producers, publishers, and various other component companies. The International Intellectual Property Alliance divides copyright industries in four general groups, and describes them like this:
The core industries include newspapers and periodicals, book publishing and related industries, music publishing, radio and television broadcasting, cable television, records and tapes, motion pictures, theatrical productions, advertising and computer software and data processing. Most of these industries are engaged primarily in the generation, production and dissemination of new copyrighted material. Some, such as software (including business, education and entertainment applications) and data processing, include both the generation of copyrighted material and its application.
The second group comprises the partial copyright industries, a disparate collection of industries, only part of whose products are copyrighted materials. These industries range from fabric to business forms to architecture. The third group, distribution, includes the industries that distribute copyrighted materials to businesses and consumers. Examples include transportation services, libraries, and wholesale and retail trade involved in the distribution of copyrighted products. The fourth group involves the copyright-related industries, those that produce and distribute products that are used wholly or principally in conjunction with copyrighted materials, such as computers, radios, televisions, and consumer recording and listening devices. We refer to the four groups together — core, partial, distribution, and related — as the total copyright industries.1
Most importantly, just as “no refrigerator owner was sued for making their own cold and ignoring the existing corporate cold distribution chains,” no one has been sued for making their own music, or films, or any other product of creative effort.
No one has been sued either for the business model they’ve adopted, or the technology they use. And there are plenty of new ones in place, with varying levels of success. Jamendo uses BitTorrent technology to distribute its members’ music; Bandcamp gives emerging musicians a variety of methods for selling to fans, from pay-what-you-want digital sales to physical merchandise fulfillment — authors, filmmakers, and other creative professionals have a wealth of options alongside “traditional” avenues for distributing and marketing their works, all legal. The “copyright industries” themselves continue to innovate as well, with new, legal ways for people to experience existing content appearing every day.
What isn’t legal, however, is distributing or selling other people’s work without appropriate permission. Those companies and individuals that have done that — Napster, Aimster, Grokster, Limewire, Isohunt, et al. — have indeed been sued. Not because they “ignored the existing corporate distribution chain” but because they ignored the exclusive rights creators have to the products of their labor. Whatever business model or technology they used to do that is irrelevant.
I’m continually amazed that those like Falkvinge have such a difficult time with such a simple concept. Then again, it’s a lot easier to justify piracy by falsely characterizing it as simply a new way of doing business.
- Copyright Industries in the US Economy, the 2002 Report, Stephen E. Siwek (2002). [↩]