Posted by: Alastair Rosie | July 3, 2012

An Appeal to Reason

You know I swore I wouldn’t get political on this blog but now and then a news item just jumps out at me and I feel the need to vent my spleen, so if you’re feeling a bit out there and need to read something uplifting feel free to move on now, otherwise read on.

Ofcom, the official body which oversees the UK telecommunications industry has recently issued a three strikes and you’re out law for illegal downloaders. After March 2014 if you’re caught three times, it’s a potential fine of up to £50,000. If you think you’re innocent and that your router may have been hijacked by the creepy guy downstairs, then it will cost you £20 to appeal. Ofcom have asked ISPs to comply with the law. It’s being hailed by the entertainment industry who claim to be losing billions of dollars in ‘lost revenue.’

The thing that got me angry was the £50,000 fine, which amounts to about $78,443 USD. If your child is caught downloading three times, they or you get hit with a fine that would see you forced to take out a second mortgage just to pay the fine? If I went out with a can of spray paint and vandalised a car, just because I felt like it, I’d be lucky to pay £200 and/or get a community service work order. But download a movie or song and I’m hit big time. The law has been criticised here as presuming a person is guilty until proven innocent, similar to autocratic regimes like, oh, North Korea, Zimbabwe and other paragons of democratic virtue. As to where it leaves hotels and shopping malls who provide free wi-fi to customers hasn’t been addressed yet, doubtless they will receive their three letters and decide to take out their wi-fi altogether.

And is it justified?

Let’s take the overall takings of Avatar, one of the most downloaded movies of recent times. On July 3rd it posted a worldwide profit (since its release) of $2,782 000,000. I’ll bet there are a few readers who could find some good uses for that amount of money and yet the makers of Avatar can sue you £50,000 for downloading a single copy. As to whether it’s worth £50,000 per copy is another matter. Personally I wouldn’t pay them 10 cents for a copy of Avatar.

The people behind this law assume that all of us in Britain have access to superfast broadband, sadly we won’t see that for years and by the time it hits my little village I’ll still be far behind bigger cities, the point being if you want to watch something on You Tube you need to download it first before watching. If you don’t the clip is un-watchable. The entertainment industry of course claims that they can’t afford to produce films because there are so many downloads. The end result being that they will go out of business.

So let’s go with this for a bit. Let’s say that the law has been revoked and millions of downloads later, Sony, Universal, Universal and the other big companies file for bankruptcy and go belly up like the proverbial dodo. What happens next? Will the world be sucked into a black hole by a disturbance in the space/time continuum? Will the poles switch around like in 2012? Will a gigantic meteor smash into Earth like in Deep Impact? Will we be subjected to endless reruns of My Three Sons or Little House on the Prairie?

You’ve probably guessed but I’ll tell you anyway. Another dozen or more companies will spring up overnight to fill the vacuum because nature hates a vacuum. They will hire writers, actors, directors, producers and the shows will go on, hopefully better than the regurgitated rubbish Hollywood has been trotting out lately. They’ll probably do it a lot cheaper as well. I had to laugh at the writer’s strike in America a few years ago, if I was getting paid a third of what they were getting I’d be laughing like a big fat spider and drinking skinny lattes by the dozen. End result being of course that a lot of excess fat would be cut from the entertainment industry and we would still be sitting in theatres eating popcorn and complaining about that girl with the noisy cell phone.

As an artist, I write because I can’t not write and what the hell I’m just too stingy to pay for therapy. Of course money comes into it eventually but if I was to sit down with a blank document and think of how much money I might make once I’ve finished my book, nothing would get written. If someone is downloading my books illegally then it’s a compliment to me that they actually thought it worth pinching! Illegal downloads for me are part of the risk of publishing in an electronic medium, you wear it and get over it. Price your work low enough that people will pay the price rather than pinch it but high enough to make something out of it as well. That’s a sticky question and one I guess someone else will blog about.

And by the way don’t think I’m a big time downloader, I’m not and I don’t have the time to visit torrent sites and download albums or movies but now and then if I see an old ‘70s clip by a band I used to listen to, I think it’s okay to download to my hard drive to watch in my spare time. In the ‘bad old days’ before corporate greed turned us all into compliant consumers it used to be called sharing. Remember? If someone needed a cup of sugar you gave it to them rather than sending them to the store with a stern warning to support sugar manufacturers? Of course sharing is now fast becoming a bad thing because we could be preventing someone from making money.

As for my You Tube dilemma, hmm, I may have to download what I think should be preserved for posterity (my personal use) and come 2014 when the jackboot bullies appear in Britain, just stop going to You Tube. And if you’ve got to the end of this article I salute you, feel free to download this article to your computer but please don’t download Avatar! I always said that was an abysmal movie in desperate need of a plot and a lot less CGI.

Happy blogging and have a great week!

Alastair Rosie.

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