German expatriate film director (and former World Karate and Kickboxing Champion) Lexi Alexander has posted a very interesting – and already much commented-on – entry on her blog, entitled “Will the Real Pirates Please Stand Up?” As well as a selfie calling on Sweden to “Free Peter Sunde Now,” she posts a detailed, passionate, and well-argued statement of the realities of piracy, which while falling well short of a blanket endorsement, makes plenty of room for its positive aspects. And while this is more about Hollywood and films than the Big Five and ebooks, the comparisons should be obvious.
Alexander juxtaposes piracy against lack of diversity, excessive lobbying, and plain incompetence in Hollywood without quite arguing that one deserves the other. But what she does point out is that “piracy has NOT been proven to hurt box-office numbers, on the contrary, several studies say it may have boosted the bottom line.” And also that, Hollywood has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fight piracy: “It’s almost impossible to find out the exact numbers, but given they spent 91 Million dollars lobbying for SOPA in one year alone, we can all assume what the total comes out to.” And, she adds (and links), “You know what statistics are bullshit? The ones stated by the MPAA about losses due to piracy.”
Alexander is also very against geographical restrictions on content, which hit her personally as a German in the U.S.: “As an expat household, with three paid Amazon Prime memberships for three different countries, a paid Netflix membership, a paid ACORN membership, a ridiculously high DISH bill and an Apple TV box, we still can’t watch most programs from back home, even though we’re willing to pay good money for it.” But, she warns, with a nod of approval for script kiddies everywhere, “I am 100% certain that the hacking of entertainment industry’s security features provides better entertainment for these kids than the entertainment we’re trying to prevent them from stealing. Let that sink in for a second, then try not to bust up laughing.”
Alexander is (borderline) against the pirates themselves, who she describes as “just like the Hollywood elite.” She complains that “what we’re lacking are good guys, protagonists, an Occupy Hollywood movement.” But that also underlines the point that where Big Media has already lost the war on piracy is on the moral high ground. As her relative quoted below reveals, whole generations now regard Big Media’s practices as so bad that their intellectual property rights aren’t worth respecting. Any bandit can portray themselves as Robin Hoods purely because the media barons are so obviously corrupt, self-serving plutocrats. Money spent on better PR – or simply on better practices – could have brought them far more respect and consideration than any amount spent on lobbying or DRM.
Where Alexander’s argument may fall short for books as opposed to Hollywood, though, is typified by the response she quotes from a young relative of hers and regular movie downloader, when she confronts him with the “would you steal bread from the baker?” argument:
If we’re talking about a real baker who still gets up at 3AM and hand-kneads a dough made of honest ingredients…no, I wouldn’t steal from him. But if we’re talking about a massive industrial chain who put all the honest bakers out of business, because they lobbied the government for permission to produce fast food trash that can hardly be described as bread…yeah, I totally steal from them.
Now, that may apply to Hollywood, where films and TV shows are a corporate effort. But with books, there are still honest bakers – even if their own creations are adulterated and fed to the market through industrial chains every bit as invidious as Hollywood. And when you steal their product, you are still hurting individuals, directly. As for authors, living or dead, whose work is barred from you by senseless geographical limits, or fragmented edition rights, or excessive and industry-engineered copyright term hikes, however, that could be a different story …