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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Emily, Meet Mr. Dotcom...

Over the last six months or so I have been writing about Kim Dotcom and

Megaupload is the New Zealand company seized by the US for supposed copyright infringement.  Unfortunately for the US, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the raid and seizure on Mr. Dotcom was illegal.  The reason for this was simple: the warrants were too vague.  Vague about the offense and vague about what was to be taken.

Further, the judge ruled that the act of taking any copies or clones of data off to the US was illegal because the original warrants where illegal.

Kind of a blow here for Hollywood and the FBI.

Ultimately, as I noted in other posts (see the posts with "megaohoh" as a label), the only real criminal in the case of megaupload is you, or rather, folks like Emily who I wrote about yesterday.

Mr. Dotcom did not acquire games or movies and store them on his website for others to download.

You did that.

Mr. Dotcom did not give the URLs of uploaded movies and games to others.

You did that.

Hollywood and the RIAA know that there is little change of success in prosecuting every Emily in the US - there are probably about 30 million of them.  Most of the "Emily's" have dabbled in "shared music" sites over their underage lives - so in the eyes of the law all are guilty like Mr. Dotcom.

But all this makes bad press.

And all these kiddies are also the best customers of Hollywood and RIAA members.

So what do you do when your best customers are stealing your product?

You go after anyone you can find that might be involved that has deep pockets -like Mr. Dotcom - regardless of the law or legality.

(Note that the US case against Mr. Dotcom has more serious problems besides an illegal search: among other things Mr. Dotcom's company has no US office or legal presence and no warrant was legally served on his company by US officials which leaves the ability of the US to even prosecute megaupload in question.)

Until the invention of CDs none of this was an issue.

Cassette tapes were too low-quality for the RIAA to concern themselves with - every kid with a cheap cassette recorder to record a song - but the quality was always worse than the record.

CDs were alright at the start because they were expensive and players were audio devices.

But that changed by about 1990 when anyone could buy a computer with an audio-capable CD drive.

Soon after technology for burning audio CDs became available as did cases of 100 CDs for $50 USD and "Rip. Mix. Burn" from Apple.

The final nail was the internet and file sharing programs.

By 2000 or so the same became true of DVDs and movies.

Today its true for games as well.

Like Emily most kids who were teenagers in the last fifteen years have probably never bought many CDs because they were simply too expensive.  Sure a few artists like the Beatles and Metalica have held out for a period of time in order to preserve cash flow - but for the most part everyone else caved in (and so too the Beatles).

Emily doesn't have the concept of "ownership" in the digital age.  Kind of like someone in the Midwest not having an idea about western "water rights."  Water is simply there and available - your turn on the tap and out it comes.  Sure someone is paying at some point - mom and dad if you're at home - but you can run down to the local river or lake and take all the water you are likely to need for free.

Perhaps you are violating some law by parking your car near the lake and scooping up a 5 gallon jug of water - but no one cares.

In the west, of course, this is not true.  Water rights are detailed and important.  But probably not at the individual level unless you own a large farm requiring irrigation.

Another part of the problem is the very notion of "the cloud." I can put my using in the "cloud" and its available where ever I and a "cloud-based" device are.   This makes the music seem like its ubiquitous - again like water.  I turn on a tap and out it flows.

At the end of January 2012 I wrote "Some are More Legally Equal than Others."

In the post I linked to a Youtube of Neil Young's "Down by the River."  The video, which I postulated was infringing, is today still there.  So I imagine that no one has filed a takedown notice with Youtube.

Does that mean no on cares?

Its hard to say.

Certainly musicians perform this song in bars around the world.

Does anyone care if these performances violate some law?

Again, its hard to say.

The problem is that as the songs become iconic in some sense the listeners "take them over" from the artists and the record companies.  The songs become part of the culture and social fabric.  And this is not just for young people.

I think the digital age has made this process of subsuming art into the culture much more efficient.

When I was young you bought a record - you might wear it out playing it over and over.  You might break it taking it to your friends house to play.  You memorized the words and the melody.  You memorized the guitar solo.  But since it was only a record there was only so much you could do with it.

Today that process requires no physical activity - you can share music sitting home in your dark basement.  Yet the emotional connection to the song is still there.

That emotional connection is what being a fan is about.  Someone might remember what they were doing when they heard that song: a first love, a death, overcoming some significant obstacle in their lives.

In the today's "cloud" that does not change.  Only the means to access the songs.

Mr. Dotcom simply created a tool, like Google, where like-minded folks could share what they would otherwise share in person.  Of course, the "cloud" is much bigger than your neighborhood and the cost to transfer a song from point A to point B is much less than jumping on your stingray bicycle with your album and riding to your friends house.

But the various steps using the cloud are still the same as is the emotional result in 2012.

At the end of the day people will never stop sharing music (or games or movies) because there is an emotional connection to them.  One that supercedes people's ability to distinguish "theft" from a feeling of "ownership."  People share common events in their lives and music connects them whether the RIAA likes it or not.

And Google, Mr. Dotcom and "Rip. Mix. Burn." will always be there to help them because there is money to be made when people lose the ability to distinguish "emotional ownership" from "theft."

The only real question left is simple: when does personal use become theft?

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