We spent this semester delving into the world of copyright with hopes of finding what the future would entail. Much of the semester and even in the conclusion it appeared that the future of copyright was not merely uncertain but bleak at best. I admit that I bought into this belief that copyright might indeed be dead since there were just too many obstacles for it to survive. P2P just wouldn’t let copyright survive. However, when I take a step back and look at the big picture, I just can’t accept the fact that copyright will fail. I can’t accept copyright failing for one simple reason – MONEY. There is just too much money at stake for the Music, Movie, Software and other copyright developing industries (hereinafter “copyright industries) for them to lay down and not put up a fight. There is so much money at stake that these industries will not only put up a fight, but they will put up a fight and win.
Now winning might be a relative term, but again what does winning entail? Making money. Currently, the copyright industries are still making enormous profits. It is unclear if P2P has really even put that much of a dent in sales. People are still going to the movies, still buying movies, still buying music, still going to concerts, still buying software and production companies are still making money. The obvious concern is not the present however, but what the future will entail. The concern is that P2P is just starting to grow and just starting to show an effect on the copyright industries. There are worries that soon everyone will just use P2P programs to get illegal versions of files and this will kill sales. While it is true that P2P has just began take off in the last couple years and there is no signs of stopping, I feel people often overlook one major factor on the side of the copyright industry – they are just now beginning to fight back.
The copyright industry is just now beginning to really try to curb illegal file swapping. For the most part the copyright industry sat on its hands and allowed the P2P industry to flourish, but when it has taken a stand, people really have listened. Don’t believe me? Well ask Napster, Grokster, Kazaa, and now even BitTorrent how much power the copyright industries have. And if you still question it, look at the profit margins for the copyright industry. The bottom line is they are still making money and lots of it at that.
So far I have come across as if there really isn’t a problem for the copyright industries at all. But obviously everyone can see that there is a potential problem for the copyright industries. If people really did just stop buying files and just downloaded them all for free then of course copyright would fail in its current state. However, my real point is that the problem is not a full fledged problem yet, it is still in the potential problem phase. And I feel it is fair to call it a potential problem still because the companies are still making money. P2P and illegal file-sharing only truly becomes a problem when the copyright industries are no longer making money and production is no longer profitable. The problem is not only in the potential phase but it is also in the very beatable phase. Now beating this potential problem won’t necessarily be easy, but nothing worthwhile usually is. And the biggest advantage is on the side of the copyright industries because they have the money, power, and resources to win.
Many will question the viability of defeating illegal file-sharing because there is no one clear cut way of stopping it. New technology alone won’t work, changing the laws alone won’t work, changing the infrastructure alone won’t work and even suing alone probably won’t work. The beauty of the copyright industries fight, however, is that each of these alone doesn’t have to defeat P2P. Not having one clear cut way to curb illegal file-sharing, isn’t a disadvantage, but really a major advantage. The copyright industry can attack illegal file-sharing from multiple fronts and force the illegal file-sharers to not just beat one obstacle but several. So even if one tactic is beat, there is still another obstacle for file-sharing to overcome. In the end this is really an arms race and the fact of the matter is the copyright industry not only has more arms, but they have more arms at stake as well.
I’ve now come up with this great conclusion that protecting copyright not only can be done, but will be done. However, the real question is not if it can be done, but how can it be done. I honestly think the answer is simply, the copyright industries just need to keep on doing what they are doing. Attack illegal file-sharing from every angle and make it so illegal file-sharing just isn’t worth it. So what are these angles? I think it comes down to about four major categories of attacking methods for the copyright industries: 1) Technological Advancement, 2) Cooperation, 3) Updating Laws and 4) Lawsuits. Each of these groups has several subcategories and a combination of each of these categories will allow copyright to not only survive, but to continue to flourish.
I’ll give a brief rundown of each category to show how powerful each can be alone and in the end how the combination of all of them will spell victory for the copyright industries.
The first line of defense for the copyright industry is to continue to develop new technology. And the technology doesn’t just have to be technology to fight copyright, but new technology in general. Now I know the first thing that pops into everyone’s head when I say this is – whatever you can make, I can hack better. While I agree that pretty much anything made will likely be hacked at some point, it is not really necessary to make unhackable files and media. You don’t have to win an arms race by making the unstoppable product, you just have to continue to make products that will slow the other side down enough to keep you ahead of them. And technology can definitely do this. We have to keep in mind that the use of encrypting files and protecting against hacking is a relatively new concept. Music CDs don’t even have any encryption. And sure DVDs have encryption and it has been hacked into, but even that was a first effort on the part of encryption designers. The fact is, there are endless design capabilities that may be extremely hard to hack and hard enough that will slow down illegal use.
So how will this work? New technology is the key. We likely can’t just start putting encryption on CDs since that would require a complete overhaul of the devices that play the media and there wouldn’t be much incentive for the user. But what can be done is creating a new type of media that users want and are willing to pay for. This has been done in music several times from vinyl to 8-tracks to CDs to mp3s. It has also been done with movies from reels to beta to VHS to DVDs. So changing media is not only a possibility, but a reality. There are several new products on the market from HDDVD, Blu-Ray media, and even relatively new forms of digital media such as Windows Media Audio (WMA) and Apple’s music media (AAC). There are endless possibilities for new types of media on the market and people will pay for them so they can get the newest and best files.
Once a new media is made then new encryption can be implemented. And again, the encryption may be eventually beaten, but this ok. Hopefully it will at least take some time for the encryption to be cracked and when it is cracked it won’t be that simple. Even now it isn’t the easiest process to hack a DVD with its limited encryption. You first have to find the software to rip the media, then you have to learn how to use it, then you have to take the time to hack it, then you have burn it to a DVD. This is way too much of hassle for the average user. There is a way to cut down on the steps – downloading the movie through a P2P service. DVD’s might be a hard example right now as downloading a 4.5 GB file still takes a long time even with high speed internet connection, but eventually bandwidth will increase (I actually just received an email today from SBC that they will be increasing my upload speeds to 384kbs. This obviously doesn’t increase the speed of downloads, but does help download speeds indirectly by ensuring there is enough bandwidth so downloads can reach their maximum speeds). However, even with smaller song files putting enough encryption on the songs will make it a pain and hassle to rip an entire album or multiple files. Surely it can and will be done by those who really want to, but the encryption really just needs to deter the average user since those are the people buying the products in the first place.
Further, technology can be used to identify each file and allow the files to be tracked to further hinder the spread of illegal copies. Once a file is identified as copyrighted or protected it will be much easier to implement programs that help prevent these types of files from being shared. This idea leads into the next idea of cooperation which is could employ a system of “tagging” files.
Protecting copyrights will not be solved by just one group fighting on there own. There are a lot of file-sharers out there and thus it will take an even larger and more powerful group to come in and stop them. This is where cooperation comes into play. The bottom line is that all the power is in the hands of large groups. The individual user doesn’t get anything unless the large corporations and groups allow the individual to get it. So allowing the user to only get and transfer what the copyright owner’s want simply means teaming up with those groups who have the power to control such transfers. I see this cooperation happening at three different levels.
This group consists of the smaller and more localized groups that have control. Prime example are colleges and universities. College campuses are notorious for illegal file-sharing because there is substantial bandwidth available and people with a lot of free time to use it. This problem can be easily stopped however by giving the colleges the power to prevent copyrighted files from being shared. I blogged earlier about efforts made by UCLA and Florida
Businesses and local internet sources such as libraries could also employ a copyright checking system. They appear to be relatively easy to use and I believe are being offered for free. There is still the problem with the average home user, but they are tackled on the next level of cooperation.
Another smaller level is through advertisement. People buy into ads, that’s why we have them. The idea of using legal file-sharing really needs to be sold and illegal file-sharing needs to be discouraged. I know we all think the lame ads before the movies discouraging people from sharing are worthless, but honestly the more publicity there is against it, the better chance of the Copynorms being changed. That is what a lot of this boils down to – changing the Copynorms. And one major way to change it is to really make people think that file-sharing is wrong and to make people aware of the potential problems. And if others losing money doesn’t work then start scaring them. Warn them of the potential legal ramifications involved and an even more realistic problem of viruses. These might be small steps but they are very important in the big scheme of things.
This level of cooperation involves the idea of vertical integration or at least more widespread cooperation on a larger level than just schools and businesses. This level will help curb illegal file-sharer with the common at home user. Right now the average home user can get high speed internet which provides quick and easy downloading of almost any type of media in a system which is relatively unmonitored and unrestricted. This I believe posses the largest threat to copyrighted material and thus the most effort is required to curb this use. While this might pose a huge problem, there is also a very doable solution.
Fortunately for the copyright industries all of the files sent by P2P users must go through ISP regardless of what type of file-sharing method is being employed. This means that the ISP can monitor everything that is going through its system and also means that it can stop anything that it doesn’t want sent. The hard part is obviously making the ISPs to not want certain things to be sent on their networks. Right now there is little advantage for ISPs to prevent users from sharing anything on P2P networks since those are the people paying the ISPs’ bills. However, if the ISPs can be given an incentive to stop the copyrighted material from being shared, then the copyright industries are in business.
One major incentive could come through vertical integration. I won’t get into the ends and outs of this idea as it has been discussed at length before, but the general idea is that the copyright industries will buy the ISPs or vice a versa and thus create an incentive to stop copyrighted materials from being sent. If the copyright industries own the ISPs they will obviously not want their networks to be used to transfer illegal files and thus lose profits from their copyrighted material and thus they will monitor transfers and prevent illegal file-sharing. Alternatively, the companies may not mind file-sharing as much since it will increase the number of people who buy their ISP service and thus the copyright industries will make up lost profits on the ISP end. The idea is a little more complex but the general idea and premise is simple – if you own both the means and the media then you will have an incentive to maximize profits from each. I think this is a brilliant idea and will likely be the real winner in preventing most of illegal copyright uses.
The real hurdle here will not giving the copyright industries the incentive or money to make this happen, but given them the actual power to do so. This will create an enormous monopoly on the markets and may be deemed unfavorable to many groups. We’ll see how it plays out, but I think if the copyright industries really made a push for it, they could get it. What it really boils down to is Microsoft being able to take over the world since they love to own anything and everything. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start incorporating ISPs into their repertoire in the very near future.
The final level of cooperation is indeed the biggest and likely the most difficult. Even if the copyright industry can stop illegal sharing in the US
I really believe we can get other countries involved in preventing copyright abuse and if for no other reason, we control most of the media. The U.S.
Update the laws
A third way to prevent illegal file-sharing is to continually update the laws. We have the DMCA in place right now and there have been numerous bills on the table such as the Induce Act and the Piracy Act all of which could curb many file-sharing problems. We have seen that these measures are a bit extreme and not supported in their current form, but other smaller steps can surely be taken. And actually if the copyright industries push hard enough I really think even large measure similar to the Induce Act could even be passed.
One idea that I really like is shorter terms on copyrights. If companies aren’t really making money on a product after 3-5 years then why try to stop those files from being shared? Put a 5 or even 10 year cap on copyrights and move on. The owners will make there profits and then there is one less thing for the detection systems mentioned above to have to worry about. The new and fresh media is what really needs to be protected so why not just focus on that. Sure some items will be hot for longer than 5-10 years and thus the copyrights should be able to be renewed, but everything else should be left to the public since its not like any money is being lost anyhow and honestly that’s what the copyright industries are concerned with.
Regardless of what is eventually passed, changing the laws is always a means to deter illegal activity. The real problem isn’t creating the laws, but enforcing them. This is where the final idea comes into play.
When all else fails – Sue the Heck out of them
Really if nothing else works and if none of the above methods were ever employed copyright owners can always fall back to lawsuits. The fact is if you have a copyright then giving away an illegal copy is just that – illegal and thus a person can be sued for this. Copyright owners always have a means of protecting their product through lawsuits and it can actually be a great deterrence. Napster was the first big lawsuit which completely shut down that system. Sure file-sharing has found a way around this problem, but it sure put a huge dent in the file-sharing armor for a bit. Now we have the new breed of file-sharing programs such as Grokster/Kazaa and BitTorrent. All of which are being sued right now.
If Grokster and Kazaa lose then we will see a major hit to the file-sharing application industry. Sure the programs will still be available, but they will not be updated and will not allow for the most efficient and newest resources to be used. If the programs can’t be updated then it would seem you could create a file that couldn’t be transferred through those networks. Obviously you have the problem of individuals making programs not for profit which can still be used without possibility of the main source being sued, but these programs are much harder to distribute and market since you can’t get the worldwide popularity without advertisement and easy distribution means. Making these programs illegal or at least liable for prosecution will likely prevent them from distributing the product on major sites such as download.com and others since the product has to be registered on those sites and would thus allow its maker to be tracked and sued. This will make the programs have less users and make it much more difficult to find media. There will then be less incentive to use such programs as it will take too much time and effort for minimal gains and thus if people really want the product they will just go buy. This sounds a lot cleaner and easier than it is, but I think the general premise is true. If you make it harder to distribute the products then there will be less users and with less users it will be harder to get files and the harder it is to get the files the less incentive there is to get the files illegally.
There is also BitTorrent which is a different breed of file-sharing program but seems like it will be facing similar problems. Many of the major BitTorrent sites shut down this weekend because of threatened suits. It is easy to track these sites because they are actual centralized websites which are necessary to find what files are available. This is similar to Napster in that regard and thus makes it much easier to target sources. While there will likely be BitTorrent sites they will not likely grow as large as such super giants like suprnova.org due to fear of lawsuits. People really don’t like getting sued, especially when the ramifications can be so harsh.
Even if we stop these programs we still have the individual users to worry about. Most of the programs will still work even if not updated or readily distributed. The bottom line really comes down to changing the attitude of users towards illegal file-sharing. One way is to change the Copynorms as mentioned above. Make people not want to break the law. Another ways as mentioned above is to scare them. Threaten lawsuits (or actually bring them) and warn them of potential viruses and other problems. Another way is to continue to put bogus files on the networks which will frustrate the users from using the programs because it is just too much of a hassle. These may be some deceptive means but really this is a survival of the fittest and is nothing worse than what people who are stealing products are doing and actually these means are legal and mostly righteous. It is definitely possible to discourage most users. If file-sharing isn’t easy and hassle free, then people just won’t use it. So the copyright industries just need to employ means of discouragement and the users will fall.
The world of copyright is not over by any stretch of the imagination. There is just too much money in copyright for it to be over and the copyright industries just have too much power and control to allow it to happen. Illegal file-sharers won’t go down without a fight and they will probably never die, but the bottom line is copyrights will continue to exist and the copyright industries will continue to flourish. The copyright industries really do have the power here, now they just have to use it.