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Tuesday, January 6

Thar Be Pirates

After you've finished reading the latest frustrated wisdom of Robert Fisk in The Independent, peek at this interesting article by Tim Walker on the king of (quality) internet movie piracy, aXXo. It also touches on music piracy and the general sense that it all feels like it should be free to many people, like this bloke...
I very rarely buy DVDs, but then who does? Most of my friends prefer to subscribe to DVD rental sites like Lovefilm. Ownership of the physical artefact seems increasingly moot.
...who plunders onward with the same rationalizations that thieves of all stripes have found useful for centuries. One of my college roommates [Hi Ed! Call me.] could energetically entertain me with endless excuses to steal anything not bolted to the ground behind an electrified fence.
  • He needed it more.
  • If they really wanted it, they would have protected it.
  • They shouldn't leave it out where anybody could get it.
  • They won't even miss it.
  • They probably didn't even pay for it.
  • They can afford a new one.
  • They have a bunch more.
  • Somebody else will pay for theirs.
  • They have insurance.
  • It feels fun to do it.
  • I just WANT it!
Our limey friend above continued with his own:
I do have qualms about it, but it's a two-way street. The commercial cinema is increasingly homogenic; there are hundreds of films that never get decent distribution, and now I have a platform to see them.
See? He has qualms; he knows somewhere down there—deep or not—that it's wrong. But the ego kicks in and suddenly it's because mainstream movies are all boringly similar, and anyway, good films aren't in theaters long enough or widely enough.

Leaving aside why he's wasting his time and bandwidth downloading and watching films he thinks are without merit, why not just steal movies that he thinks are crappy? And of course the good films aren't in the theater long enough, which means he didn't get his butt out to pay to see it. He couldn't inconvenience himself to wait for the DVD release to buy or even rent, for which the makers of the film, and frequently the actors, in fact receive a payment. And the two way street? The studios, or major labels, make so much stuff he doesn't like that it's OK for him to steal the ones he does. It's a victimless crime!

And no, I'm not just picking on poor Mr. Anonymous English Movie Downloading Guy. He's just the example amidst millions of fellow travelers.

All of this boils down to my main question, that either nobody, not even the sage Gerd Leonhard, can explain fully to me, or which I'm just too dense to absorb.

If only a tiny fraction of consumers of products of enormous demand are willing to pay for them, and the rest can't or won't be compelled or otherwise convinced to do so, then with what content will we be left?

If the band who would be the next U2, Radiohead, Flaming Lips, or god help us, Fallout Boy, can't get into a studio to record an album because there is nobody to fund them, to pay for the studio time and the engineer and maybe some of their gear, then where will the next wave of bands come from once they've somehow managed to outgrow their 1 in 16,980 myspace artist pages?

If nobody pays for movies, who will make films? Lord of the Rings? Batman? Sure those will look good in cable access quality video and effects.

If nobody pays for news, where will we find out what is happening in the world in any sane and somewhat coherent, objective manner? If all of this dries up, what will bloggers have to write about? Most news blogging is based upon the primary reporting of others. Paid others who have families and mortgages or rent payments. When that goes away, what then? Twitter sites with some kind of super filters to tell us all instantly what's going on in the rest of the world? That will be quality analysis in 160 characters or less.

Musically speaking, if the digital sales are up, but up nowhere nearly enough to make up for the erosion in physical sales, then the whole pie is shrinking. And brother, if you think the majors put out stuff you don't want to hear but that somehow manages to sell to the masses, when the pie gets smaller it's not the Top 40 that gets axed. No, we'll always have High School Musical 18, American Idols, Pink, Enya, Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, Miley Cyrus, and Taylor Swift. What will go are the developing artists and their high commercial failure rate. And the tiny and shrinking cadre of indie fans who are still devoted enough to their artists, scenes, and sometimes even to labels they have come to trust, won't be enough to satisfy the artistic demand and the creative urge on a wide scale.

And if you think that an album made at home on Garageband, or even a pirated version of ProTools, and then listened to on 128kbps MP3s will sound as good as an album recorded at Electrical and engineered by Steve or Greg, mastered by Bob or Jason at Chicago Mastering, and then cut onto vinyl by RTI or United, you are already a lost cause. And you would be wrong. Objectively and grossly wrong.

The above examples are all very cursory, but the costs associated with producing most items of quality and lasting value in any of these areas are enormous. Sure the occasional Shags album or Blair Witch Project arrives, but does anybody outside of the fringe think it would be a good thing for art, music, culture and news if the only source for any of this was to hope for the fitful diamond in the rough to arrive on our doorstep and for it to magically attract our attention amidst all of the surrounding info vomitus?

Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? Anyone?

Boy do I hope I'm wrong.

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