Deja View As Governments Target Illegal Streamers
Held up by current political hissy fits over the US budget deficit, debate over the Commercial Felony Streaming Act (Bill Number S.978) has stalled. As soon as the fiscal log-jam is cleared, it is likely this bill will re-appear. According to a report in The Economist, its enactment would mean that anyone who streams copyright material over the internet without permission of the owners and for their own enrichment (draft says more than $2,500 would be the benchmark) would be committing a felony. This carries penalties of up to 5 years in prison. Seems a tad harsh but highly reminiscent of the absurd Digital Economy Act 2010 in the UK – not so much in its provisions but in its blunderbuss approach to appeasing the media companies.
These pieces of ill-advised legislation have been rushed in – certainly in the case of the UK Act which was championed by Peter Mandelson as Business Secretary. The departing Labour government of Gordon Brown whistled in the Act, despite significant opposition and learned comment from the industry, possibly as some kind of sop or political payback to the entertainment industry. The panic and shortsightedness from the industry are all too apparent. There are clear lessons to be learned from the cassette tape levy fiasco of the 1980’s and, more so, from the resistance to the digitising of music content. Experience showed that, not only was their resistance somewhat wasted, but that a burgeoning and revitalised music industry resulted. The only downside was the dominance of a few new players – such as Apple. With its ground-breaking iTunes service, Apple deserved to blitz the sleepy musos with its fun, simple and (relatively) inexpensive proposition. People were pissed off with being over-charged for records and CDs in the 80s and 90s – that is what prompted the rise of illegal download services such as Napster, as well as peer-to-peer file-sharing and informal swapping of media files online. iTunes, and to some extent DRM technologies which attempted to prevent copying, made it OK to distribute music online. DRM has since been shown to be pointless. However, because the music publishers failed to get on board, their only choice was to license their material to other companies to sell rather than take the opportunity to embrace a wonderfully cheap new distribution model that would increase their margins.
So now perhaps it is time for some of those same dinosaurs – still licking their wounds from the death of the physical music media industry – to get over it and stop lobbying for the unworkable. It is time for the copyright owners to get their thinking caps on and come up with a new business model. Before iTunes, Netflix and even Facebook or Google do it for them. If they are expecting BlueRay and 3D technology to fill the void in cinema gates or DVD sales, they are sadly mistaken. Sure, piracy is wrong but the leakage of copyright material by the villains does not account for the drop in revenues as a result of new technologies.
Current and draft legislation in this regard is ill-informed, unenforceable and wasteful. Even the incoming coalition government in the UK baulked at enforcing all the provisions of the Digital Economy Act. I am not suggesting that illegal distribution or consumption of copyright material be ignored. My point is that the effort put into preserving their existing business models (cinematic and DVD distribution) which are dying, by large yet struggling corporate media companies, should be diverted towards coming up with the Next Big Thing and re-thinking how they can distribute material to the modern world, beyond the multiplexes.
- The Lady Gaga Wars (online.wsj.com)
- What iCloud and Music Match Mean for the Piracy Fight (plagiarismtoday.com)
- Hollywood’s U.K. Pirate Blockbuster (blogs.wsj.com)