A semester later, and what have we got? It seems a little frustrating to say that the only thing that has become very clear is that there is still no solution in sight. OK, so what does that mean for the world of copyright? It's hard to say. I certainly would not want to make a bet on who is going to win this one. Could it be that the reason things are so unclear is that we are pretty much discussing something that has possible never happened before? A situation where the "little people", the general public, has the upper hand. The college students have the entertainment world by the you know what. That is what all of the fuss is about. For once, the ones saving money (or making money, depending on how you look at it) are the consumers. How strange! Doesn't the consumer alwats get the short end of the stick? Well not since they discovered P2P software. Hallelujah! The shoe is on the other foot since it is the music and movie industry that is worrying about making enough money to "pay the bills". Has something like this ever happended before? The power balance has shifted drastically and the scariest part for the industry is that, there doesn't seem to be a way to stop it.
Sure, people are being sued for illegaly sharing copyrighted material online but everyone knows that after an initial drop, file sharing has since boomed in response to that threat. Legislation has been drafted and re-drafted and continues to be worked on to find just the right words to scare people into no longer getting their music at home, for free. Tough battle to fight, don't you think? Sure, it's wrong. Legally, morally, it goes against the laws of copyright that exist to protect creative works so that people will continue to produce creative works knowing that those too will be protected (exclusive rights). In theory it makes sense, it has made sense in practice for a very long time and it has even overcome technological innovations throughout history (piano roll, video cassette recorder etc.). Then along comes the internet and file sharing. And a whole new set of problems for the world of copyright.
In the past, when something new came along that messed with the equilibrium of copyright, new parties were brought to the table to amend the existing copyright laws. With the passage of time, more parties were added to the exclusive group at that table until we end up where we are today. So who is missing from that table today? Well, the P2P software comanies are of course no where to be found and are probably not very welcome either. Also, the consumer, as usual is just not part of the deal. That is where the crux of this whole issue is though. You see this time, the consumer, thanks to the P2P software companies, has the big end of the stick. This time the consumer yields the power because they can circumvent buying the cd or dvd and just sit back at home and with a few clicks of the mouse, they get the material for free, without leaving home. What to do, what to do?
It seems quite obvious that strong-arming P2P users is not going to get rid of the problem. The artists themselves do not even seem to be behind the industry 100% and apparently 43% of them think that file sharing is not so bad for business. The writing of the new legislation does not appear to be going anywhere promising. I did read about an interesting proposal where the groups could possibly work together. If the government implemented a tax on related items such as Internet Service Providers and blank cds, a compulsory licensing scheme could possibly work. The money from the tax would go towards replacing the lost earnings through file sharing. This way, people could continue to file share and enjoy all of the benefits of it (getting music for free, being at home, only downloading songs that they want as opposed to buying a whole cd to get one song etc.) but the artists would not be discouraged from creating new music due to lack of financial reward. This seems like as good a solution as any other. It also seems to recognize that file sharing is not going away and so in that sense it is a realistic solution.
At the same time, whatever is done, I think should be done quickly. The sooner, the better. The reason is that the majority of the population is still quite used to buying cds, renting movies at Blockbuster and watching them on their t.v. and not their laptop, and seeing new movies at the theatre. What will happen if things continue to drag on is that the idea of watching a movie on your laptop and never buying a whole cd and making mixed cds etc, will become customary. I believe that now the industry still has the benefit of people being used to the way things are. That advantage will not last forever. People will adjust and soon it will not be mainly college students using file sharing but whole families.
As of yet though, it appears that the RIAA still favors leaving any decisions up to the courts. What this means for the future of copyright is still very unclear. It does not seem likely that the courts would be in the best position to determine the best compromise for this type of situation. The lesson that continues to be learned throughout the history of copyright is that you must get all of the economically significant members on board to amend the Copyright Act successfully. Now, more than ever, it seems that new technological parties need to be accepted as interested parties as well as consumers as a whole. It may not be the reality that the RIAA wants to face but it seems highly unlikely that anyone, let alone everyone, will stop using file sharing anytime soon. So, based on a semester's worth of brainstorming as a class and independantly, it seems that no happy ending is in sight unless every party is heard from and recognized and then possibly a compromise can be reached.