Copyright law is designed to benefit content creators by making sure no one can use their proprietary content without permission and restricting where and in what ways consumers can use purchased content. Especially in our digital age, copyright laws, DRM technology, and use restrictions have become commonplace. I think they actually do great harm to content creators in the long run. Here’s why.
Like gun control laws, the only people who actually abide by copyright laws are those who really don’t need them. In other words, copyright laws and crippling DRM restrictions hurt only those people who legitimately desire to purchase and use content within legal bounds. Here’s an example. I purchased a digital copy of Inside Out on iTunes. I wanted to transfer a copy of it to my friend’s computer because his computer was more compatible with my house’s digital projector. This was a private viewing by me in my own house. Absolutely nothing illegal about that. But we couldn’t watch the purchased copy of Inside Out on his computer because his computer wasn’t authorized. Here’s the annoying thing: if I hadn’t purchased the movie, I wouldn’t have this problem. If I had pirated a copy of the movie, I would have been free to view the movie on whatever computer I wanted. To inconvenience law-abiding citizens merely in order to attempt to discourage piracy is foolhardy. You won’t reduce piracy, for one. And you hurt only the very people who are trying to support you financially. That is actually bad news for content creators.
Copyright laws in the digital age are out of touch with the realities of modern consumption. When I purchase a digital copy of something, I want access to it on all my devices, whenever I want, with or without a Wi-Fi connection. That’s not an unreasonable request to make when you are paying $10 or $20 for what amounts to space on a server somewhere. The product itself is really not what you are paying for when you are talking about digital content. You are paying for the time it took to make it. Basically, you are paying the creator to keep creating. You are more a patron than a consumer.
Back in the old days, the only way to “pirate” something was to steal it from a store. You paid for a thing. You got a thing. The price you paid was based on the design, manufacture, and overhead for making and selling that thing. You wanted to hear the new Beatles record? You went to a record store and bought the vinyl. That’s not the reality anymore. I don’t have to buy any tangible thing to listen to the new Taylor Swift record (not that I would want to, but that’s a different article). I can download it off the internet.
But the current copyright model is still based on the realities of tangible things rather than digital content. It needs major updating. The model for content creation has been shifting for quite some time, and the mega-giants of creation and distribution haven’t caught up to it yet. Here’s a rundown of what the current generation generally demands from content creators:
- Make better quality content. If it’s good, people will pay for it. If it’s not good and people have been forced to pay for it based on its projected utility, we will never trust you again. You’ll lose us as customers permanently and we will talk bad about you to our friends.
- Don’t force people to pay for your content. Services like Wikipedia, Bandcamp, and Noisetrade, open-source software companies like Linux, Cockos, VLC, and Blender, and voluntary crowd-funding services like Kickstarter are proving that a voluntary system for support is quite viable for content creators. It may not produce elephantine profits, but it will support continued production with sustainable revenues.
- Stop trying to stop piracy. It’s not going to happen. It’s impossible to keep people from pirating digital content. The best thing for you to do is make sure that paying customers have at least as few restrictions on use as pirates do. And that means you can discontinue the USB dongles, the Wi-Fi cloud check-ins, and all the rest of it. Please! If it is more convenient to use a pirated version of your content than a purchased version, you are not doing it right.
- Don’t make paying customers make up for non-paying customers. One of the major reasons piracy exists is because digital content is often far more expensive than it needs to be. While many young creatives would be happy and able to pay $50 for a copy of Photoshop, piracy starts to look a whole lot more appealing when the price tag is $700. And don’t even get me started on forcing people to pay a monthly subscription for a service in the cloud. If content were priced more affordably, more people would pay for it. Companies shouldn’t punish paying customers with high prices simply because there are so many non-paying pirates. Many pirates would become paying customers if the prices were reduced.
Here’s the bottom line that modern companies need to understand about copyright restrictions, DRM tech, and all the rest: Good will is actually bankable. If people like your company, if it has a good reputation for customer service and support, if your company has reasonable prices, if your company isn’t nickel and diming everyone at every turn, if your company rewards paying customers, if your company isn’t trying to manipulate the market or force people to pay, then you will thrive. Like the good book says, “A good name is worth more than gold.” Part of the reason for that is that a good name also brings gold along with it.
Perhaps you might be thinking, “If companies did this, they wouldn’t be able to turn a profit!” That’s simply not true. If companies did this, they might not make quite as much money in the short term, but they would make better products, the customer would be better-served, and piracy would be less appealing. Sustainable profit is more important than short term windfalls. Just look at Wikipedia. It is crowd-sourced, voluntarily funded, and ad-free. Yet it flourishes. Why? Because it provides a good service that people use, and people feel like Wikipedia is looking out for its customers’ best interest rather than the bottom line. That’s the power of good will. And it’s the future of content creation.