Corporate Greed or Commercial Need?

This is a recent article of mine published in the National Business Review (NBR) on 10 February 2012 questioning whether owners of IP are greedy for trying to slow down online infringement.


Recent commentators in this publication suggest that US piracy laws threaten New Zealand companies and that this is a fight between corporate greed and the open Internet. I disagree.

This is not about whether the US government or the likes of Kim Dotcom ultimately control the Internet. The battle lines are drawn on two, much broader, fronts – between content providers (including the music and film industry) and device and distribution owners (Internet aggregators and distributors).

The content camp is typically led by the large entertainment companies such as Universal Music and Time Warner but also including small-time creators and artists. The distribution camp consists of device and distribution companies such as Google, Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube, with widespread popular support through ISPs and their customers.

The recent US bills: SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act) have proved to be highly controversial and have certainly brought things to a head. The root of the problem is that the content camp may own the rights but it has largely lost the battle to effectively control these rights. Rampant Internet piracy has seriously eroded the fundamentals of the music industry and the book publishing and film industries are not far behind. Some argue that the battle is effectively lost and a generation of file-sharing listeners and content users are reluctant to change their ways. They say that initiatives like SOPA and PIPA are too little too late and it’s time to just get over it.

However this is not about corporate greed, it’s about commercial survival. It is about widespread piracy and counterfeiting, with content owners trying to protect that content as best they can in a rapidly changing world.

The debate is certainly coloured by a different generational perspective with younger people genuinely believing that information and content should not just be freely available, but also free. A freeloading or “copy” model might work well for a while until the creative base disintegrates and the whole system eventually collapses. A visit to a website such as “the Pirate Bay” illustrates why. If I can freely download at no cost a good quality copy of the just released film “Warhorse” (which I can and definitely intend to see) why should I bother to pay $15 to watch it at a theatre? And, if everyone did this, what would the incentive be for the director and studio to create the next blockbuster film, and one after that?

The argument being propagated is that the choice is between corporate greed and an open Internet. This equates attempts to protect lawful rights as an exercise in corporate greed. It also suggests that the enforcement of IP rights on the Internet amounts to a challenge to an open Internet. That is not the case at all. In an open democracy we respect private ownership of property and the rights of those who own that property to rent it to us for a fee. Taken to its logical conclusion, those who argue the “corporate greed” case are saying if you covet someone else’s property you should be able to help yourself.


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