Taking the Mickey
Outrage erupted this week as an anti-piracy video featuring comedian Rhys Darby was released to New Zealand schools. Pro-piracy campaigners announced a boycott and said they would immediately stop watching their downloaded Flight of the Conchords episodes. Darby is expected to miss out on revenues of up to $0 a week until the boycott is lifted.
There is an escalating war between the creators and distributors of films and music and the “information wants to be free” crowd who think they should be allowed to consume whatever entertainment they want without paying for it. The law is on the side of the copyright owners and technology is on the side of the pirates. Matters are foggied because the technology has myriad legitimate uses and the law is being used as a blunt weapon to bludgeon the pettiest of offenders and any inconvenient bystanders.
Exhibit A: Steamboat Willie starring Mickey Mouse. This film was released in 1928. Its copyright was due to expire in 1956. Then it was renewed giving a new expiry date of 1984. Just in time, the law changed extending its protection until 2003. Yet again the horrors of public domain were avoided with the passage of the Copyright Term Extension Act, taking the date out to 2023. Ergo, according to the anti-copyright folks, Congress has been bought by “big media” and Disney is writing America’s laws.
Without wanting to fabricate complicated conspiracy stories, the steady increase in copyright protection does look odd. By rights, Steamboat Willie should have fallen into the public domain by now and the file-sharers should be allowed to share and remix this nugget of Americana to their hearts’ content.
At this point you need to put your conclusion-jumping shoes on because we’re off to the land of Non Sequitur. Steamboat Willie is 80 years old and I would be allowed to copy it if not for some shady corporate welfare deal. Therefore copyright is bollocks. Therefore I should be allowed to download X-Men: First Class, which is 8 days old, which is what I wanted to do in the first place before making up this rambling story about Mickey Mouse.
So, a question for the Rhys Darby boycott crowd: if information wants to be free, why didn’t X-Men: First Class just spring into existence by magic? Why did hundreds of people have to spend months of effort and $160 million to bring it into existence?
Like every good political stoush, everyone is yelling, and everyone is wrong. Media corporations are wrong to keep lobbying for extensions of copyright, lawmakers are wrong for criminalising fair use and format shifting, and file sharers are insane for thinking that they can take products without paying for them and expect the producers to keep producing.
Lawmakers are wrong for writing legislation that assumes guilt as soon as copyright infringement accusations are made and wrong again for mandating that internet access be denied to those accused. Opposing lawmakers are wrong when they claim that internet access is a human right. (Tom Paine was silent on the matter.)
Whenever I listen to an argument on this topic I want to stick both sides in a room and reboot the lot of them.
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Bernard Darnton boots himself into action every Thursday here at NOT PC.