The Magical Ring of Gyges: Why Illegal Downloading is So Rampant in the Age of Cyberspace

NBC Universal recently hired a company called Envisional to study counterfeiting activity over the Internet. The results of this study – despite the fact that it is industry funded – are literally astonishing: 24% of all global Internet traffic involves digital theft!  Stated another way, one in every four people surfing the Internet are stealing intellectual property, i.e., illegally downloading either copyrighted or trademarked materials.  According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, 95% of the music downloaded from the Internet is downloaded illegally!  Imagine how our society would react if one out of every four people in retail malls were carrying out stolen merchandise on a daily basis, or if 95% of the product leaving the mall was stolen.  It would be chaos.

Ring of FrodoNow consider whether these people who so quickly download a song or a movie on the Internet without paying for it would also walk up to an artist selling their painting in the park and steal one of their painting.  I firmly believe the answer to that question is a resounding no!  But why? What is different about the world wide web, i.e. cyberspace, that gives these consumers the feeling that they are entitled to download music and movies through mechanisms like BitTorrent without compensating those who created such product?  What are these people thinking?

I think the answer can be found in the writings of Plato.  In the second book of his Republic, Plato’s student, Glaucon, poses the illustration of the “Ring of Gyges.”  In the story, Gyges is a shepherd who finds a magical ring in a chasm created by a lightning storm.  The ring gives him a cloak of invisibility.  Using his newfound power, Gyges seduces the Queen of Lydia, murders the King, and takes the throne, gaining power, wealth and fame.  In the Republic, Glaucon argues that given a similar opportunity, any person, whether or not they were previously just or unjust, would use the power to commit as many crimes as necessary to get what they want [Book II, 359d].    Glaucon was responding to Socrates’ refutation of arguments put forth by Thrasymachus in Book I of the Repbulic, i.e., that “justice is nothing but the advantage of the stronger”  [Book I, 338c].

I believe Glaucon’s experiment in thought informs us as to why someone who would not normally steal a tangible object in the physical world is nonetheless more than willing to download music or movies, intangible objects, on the Internet for free: because the fear of being punished or getting caught is eliminated in the evanescent world of Cyberspace.  The Internet, like Gyge’s ring, confers upon its users a seeming cloak of indivisibility as it were.  As one astute commentator surmised in response to an interview with Alice in Chain’s lead singer, Sean Kinney, “The real reason people steal music is that they CAN and very easily.”  That this is a truth is evident from the plethora of “how to” guides on the Internet, teaching people “How not to get caught.” There you have it in a nutshell.   All of the commentary about how the record industry has been thieves and how the RIAA unjustly goes after the defenseless people, these are mere justifications for actions people otherwise know in their hearts are wrong.

It’s important to read Plato’s response to his student to understand fully, as Plato did not agree with Glaucon.  Plato’s argument in the remaining portion of the Republic is that the just man would not be tempted by this cloak of invisibility to commit crimes.  Rather, the just man understands that crime itself makes a person unhappy and that he is better off to remain just.   I frequently discuss this issue with my college students at Belmont University when teaching a course on Copyright Law.  One of my students made the following observation, which confirms Plato’s conclusion.  She said:

I do not follow the rules because I am scared of the RIAA busting me for illegal downloading. I follow the rules because I have respect for the people who wrote and recorded the songs, and even more, because I want to work in the music industry.

Another relevant opinion is offered in the excellent blog article found on arbiteronline entitled Illegal downloading: The real cost of ‘free’ music.” In that article, a student at Boise state, Ammon Roberts, is quoted as saying:

“I don’t do it because I don’t feel it’s right.  If I were making the music, I’d be upset if people were downloading it for free.”

For these two students, following the rules is not about whether or not they’ll be caught, it’s about doing the right thing.  It’s about honoring, i.e. compensating, the people who created the music. 03-20-invisible_full_600 This illustrates Plato’s point precisely:  a just person understands that even with a cloak of invisibility, doing the right thing makes a person happy or, in the words of Roberts, makes the person “feel right.”

The Internet is also very much the Land of Oz.  In addition to this cloak of invisibility endowed on us by the Internet, it also deceives us with illusions of anonymity – not so much that the user is anonymous, as that’s merely another form of invisibility – but in the sense that it’s difficult to know who’s behind the curtain.   As Trent Reznor said in an interview, “there is a perception that you don’t pay for music when your hear it . . . on MySpace.”  Because of its sheer vastness and its mysteriousness, Cyberspace gives people false perceptions that their actions on the Internet do not affect real people.   This, in turn, creates an illusion that “resistance is futile.”  Everyone is doing it, so I can too.  In other words, Cyberspace alters our reality in that it makes the real people behind the music an amorphous, anonymous entity.  The result is that it’s much easier to steal from an amorphous, anonymous entity – the man behind the curtain – than it is from a struggling songwriter, particularly when all your friends are doing it.

I truly believe that most of the people who are illegally downloading music from the Internet have no idea who they are affecting or how widespread the effect is.  Most of these people would not even think about walking up on stage after a singer/songwriter in a nightclub takes a break and stealing his guitar, but that very same person doesn’t think twice of taking that same singer/songwriter’s song from the Internet.  They wouldn’t steal the filmmaker’s camera, but downloading the movie doesn’t phase their consciousness.  In fact, many who contribute to the  dialog would argue that these two thefts are not analogous.  But one analysis conducted by the Institute for Policy Innovation states otherwise.  The report indicated that music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year.  It further concluded that 71,060 U.S. jobs are lost, with a total loss of $2.7 billion in workers’ earnings.  Such reports abound throughout the industry, yet many of the people guilty of illegal download continue to view these reports as industry-driven and, therefore, skewed.  Take this comment by blogger Michael Arrington as an example:

Eventually the reality of the Internet will force the laws to change, too. One way or another the music labels will eventually surrender, and recorded music will be free.  Until it is, I refuse to feel guilty for downloading and sharing music. Every time I listen to a song, or share it with a friend, I’m doing the labels a favor. One that eventually I should be paid for. Until that day comes, don’t even think about trying to tell me that I’m doing something ethically wrong when it’s considered quite legal, with the labels’ blessing, in China.

But what this illusion of anonymity, and such misguided opinions, miss is the fact that very real people – not amorphous masses – are being affected.  And the effect is devastating.  I have clients who are songwriters who are no longer creating art because they are forced to take odd jobs to support their families.  The performance royalties they used to receive from ASCAP, BMI or SESAC are down by half or more from a few years ago.  Their mechanical royalty checks are virtually non-existent.  They simply cannot afford to create simply for the sake of creation.  And now, working sometimes two jobs, they don’t have the time to create.  What will become of the art of songwriting if Mr. Arrington has his way and all recorded music is free?  I believe we will not have the quality of music in this country that we have enjoyed throughout the last millennium.  In this instance, I do not believe that resistance is futile.

Now, getting back to Plato and the Ring of Gyges, in answer to Glaucon, Plato would say that the root of all trouble is unlimited desire.   How true is that in this world of Cyberspace, in this world of rampant illegal downloading.  The wheels really fell off the wagon when the RIAA sued Diamond Multimedia, bringing the MP3 into society’s field of view.  Then, Napster exploded and almost everyone found that almost every song they ever loved was available for free.  It’s as if they were Harrison Ford and discovered the treasure room in an unknown, ancient tomb: everything your heart desires is within your grasp.  It’s yours for the taking.  With its cloak of invisibility and its illusion of anonymity, what the Internet has done, in short, is to return the power – i.e., the control – back to the people.  Everyone is now a creater, a publisher, and distributor.  No one needs the conglomerates anymore – the people have the power.  But, as Lord Acton said, beware:  “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  With power, therefore, comes responsibility.   Unfortunately for the music industry, the power is currently being abused and will, ultimately, mean the end of the recording industry as it existed through the 20th century unless the creators regain that power.

So what does this mean for those of us who have chosen to make our living in the world of creation?  Does it mean the end of our industry?  Does it mean an end to copyright law as it exists?  If we examine the origins of copyright – i.e., the protection of an original idea expressed in a tangible format – as passed down to us from our forefathers, we find a concept on which we can continue to build.  In the now famous Radiohead experiment in which Reznor and crew allowed consumers to pay what and only if they wanted to, 18% of the consumers chose to do so!  That to me, is an encouraging statistic, and one that confirms a believe in the viability of creating art.  At least one in five people, even with the cloak of anonymity provided by the Ring of Gyges of this era, i.e., Cyberspace, chose to pay the creators for their creation.  Take that Glaucon!  Take that Arrington!  What does that say for our society?  It says that there are people who still chose to do the right thing, even when the tide of conformity rises above their heads.

The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter what laws are passed by society, there will always be a certain percentage of people who will chose to steal, take and plunder, whether it be because they are more powerful or because they are cloaked with invisibility or shielded by anonymity.  But – and here is the important thing – there will also always be a segment of society that recognizes the idea that Thomas Hobbes first advanced hundreds of years ago, i.e., the idea of “giving to every man his own.”    If a man bakes a loaf of bread, is it not his right to trade that to the artist for whose painting he wishes to barter?  This idea was later incorporated by our Forefathers into Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the authority “[to] promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive rights to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”  Without this Constitutional right, a creator has no hope of protecting his or her property against plunder.  And as long as a segment of society believes this proposition to be beneficial to society as a whole, it will hopefully continue to motivate creators to create, and so profit from their creations, despite the efforts of those who choose to destroy it under a cloak of invisibility and unjustly take for themselves the kingdom of Lydia.

Quotations from Republic are taken from the W.H.D. Rouse translation, Great Dialogues of Plato, Mentor Books, 1956, a quoted in this fine article on the topic.

Origins of an Idea–Nothing New Under the Sun?

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. – Thomas Jefferson

It was allegedly King Solomon who declared “there is nothing new under the sun!”  Now a recent strain of thought seeks to recast King Solomon’s casual observation in order to challenge the basis of U.S. copyright laws, i.e., original ideas.  This line of reasoning is perhaps best exemplified in the popular cult film by Brett Gaylor entitled RIP, A Remix Manfesto, inspired by his need to defend the work of his favorite mash up artist, Girltalk.  Gaylor makes no bones about his attack on ideas, explaining to his audience near the beginning of the film that this  is “a film about the war of ideas, where the Internet is the battleground.”  So be it.  Let’s debate the film’s primary cornerstone, the first and foundational clause of the Remix Manifesto, which is that “Culture always borrows from the past.”  Is that true?

To be fair to Gaylor, let me initially point out that the entire ReMix Manifesto, and certainly the ideology that undergirds it, is actually borrowed from Dr. Lawrence Lessig, who is a professor at Stanford Law School.  Lessig develops the thesis in his book, Remix:  Making Art & Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Lessig is prominently featured in the film and Gaylor does not shy away from his support of Lessig’s thesis.

Now back to the premise that “culture always borrows from the past.”  Without getting too far down the path of logical fallacy of drawing a universal conclusion from purely inductive reasoning (as Gaylor does in the film), such a conclusion is, at best, probable, and not definitive.  Further, it is only probable if one can assume the truth of the premises used to support the conclusion, for the instant a person can find but one example of an contradicting premise – i.e., in this case an example of something that does not borrow from the past – then the conclusion must be flawed.

Can we find such an example, or are King Solomon and Dr. Lessig correct?  Is there no original thought?  I personally have a hard time accepting this premise.  Spawning original ideas or creating an original thought is, in my humble opinion, what separates us and truly defines us as a species.  Sure, the human species uses words, notes, colors, shapes, etc. as the building blocks of its ideas.  In that sense, yes, we are using “the past” to create in some fundamental sense.  But if you think about it, you’ve heard the old postulation that if you put 50 monkeys in a room filled with typewriters they are statistically incapable of creating a work of Shakespeare simply by striking out random characters on the page and even, perhaps, hitting upon a string of a few words every so often!  This illustrates the proposition that the mere existence of the building blocks does not negate original nor creative thought.

King_SolomonEvery now and again, albeit perhaps rare, a human being has a spark of an idea:  something is invented or created – something original and unique – that changes, even if only in a small senses, the very nature of life for all humans that follow.  It is these original thoughts that propel us forward toward the destiny that is mankind’s, affected forever by the new idea.  What it must have been like to be around in the days when the first human species began to formulate language.  Creating symbols, be it words or drawings, that communicated their thoughts to another human being.  To have been present when the first rudimentary tools were developed to perform the tasks necessary to sustain one’s life in a hostile environment.  In the film, Gaylor makes the point that Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press occurred during a time when the “public domain” flourished.  His use of this example is, in this case, ironic, since the printing press can truly be defined as one of those creative bursts of unique ideas that only come along one is a few millennia.  Since that invention, perhaps only the creation of the Internet has affected the world as much as Gutenberg’s original thought.

So, with these examples, I ask what part of the past did they build on?  One might argue that language “borrowed” from the idea of communicating through gestures.  Another will say that Gutenberg incorporated language and writing and therefore borrowed from the past.  But only in the most general of senses can one seriously maintain that these remarkably useful and unique ideas sustain the principle that “culture always borrows from the past.”  I maintain that these are examples of those brilliant moments in human history when someone has that flash of an original idea – whether inspired by God, by his or her muse, by hallucinogenic means, or by heartburn – and creates something that is uniquely and totally new, something that does not, in any substantive sense, borrow from the past.  In that moment, we witness the origins of an idea.  Perhaps more importantly, when that original idea is expressed in a tangible format, we see the origins of a copyright in the U.S., a copyright that is protectable as a limited monopoly for the life of the author plus seventy years.

In that last conclusion lies the crux of the problem.  Lessig and Gaylor make their proposition in the context of trying to solve a perceived problem with current copyright laws:  because the length of protection has been extended, there are fewer works going into to public domain and therefore fewer ideas from which to borrow.  As a result, “artists” like Girltalk who use pre-existing copyright sound recordings to “mash” together and “create” new songs have fewer popular songs to work with.

In Remix, Lessig says that this results in the criminalization of copying ideas and that, therefore, we should deregulate amateur creativity and decriminalize file sharing.  In his words, “chill the ‘control freaks.’”  This is where Lessig jumps in to save the day with his “creative commons” license, which uses existing copyright concepts to allow an author to “issue” a license allowing anyone to freely use his or her work, with the only requirement being that of attribution.  Ironically enough, Lessig has copyrighted his own books and has, to date at least, not issued a creative commons license for Remix! Now who’s the control freak?

In regard to this issue of works no longer falling into the public domain, while it may be true that extending the period of protection has the effect of slowing down the process, the fact is that our forefathers, primarily Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Charles Pinckney, clearly anticipated and struggled with the concept that “ideas should spread freely” – as Jefferson says in the quote above – but nonetheless built appropriate safeguards into the copyright provision of the Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8), providing that Congress may protect the works of “authors and inventors” for “a limited time.”  While one can argue, perhaps, that the period of a “limited time” has been grossly exaggerated, one cannot argue that the public domain concept has been abolished.

Frankly, as I see it, giving up on the concept of original thought is not the foundation upon which we as a society should build a debate against the current construct.  We should cling to that concept, for it is in that moment – that origin of an original idea – that persons can distinguish themselves from the past, not borrow from it.  It is at that moment that our culture is propelled into the future.  It is at that moment, I believe, that we are truly alive.


The Utilitarian Idea of a Monopolistic Right in Intangible Property

By Barry Neil Shrum, Esquire

and Nathan Drake

The classical libertarian, Frédéric Bastiat, is quoted as saying:

In the full sense of the word, man is born a proprietor. . . . Faculties are only an extension of the person; and property is nothing but an extension of the faculties. To separate a man from his faculties is to cause him to die; to separate a man from the product of his faculties is likewise to cause him to die.

According to a recent article, entitled The Copyright Monopoly is a Limitation of Property Rights, the author, Rick Falkvinge, writing for, argues that copyright is merely “a limitation of property rights” and is “not a property right.” This conclusion is incorrect and totally without any basis in U.S. history, not to mention world philosophy. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution directly refutes that by granting Congress the power:

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

code-of-hammurabi-3Our Forefathers, in this case James Madison and Charles Pinckney, based the idea of intellectual property rights on John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian philosophy. In other words, they were quite willing to violate the property of the few – i.e., the “rights” of individuals to use someone else’s intellectual property however they choose – if doing so would serve to advance the greater good of society as a whole. So, the original drafters of the Constitution did. They did not intend to grant partial ownership to the creator, but rather “exclusive rights” for a work derived from their intellect and creativity. That is to say, the idea that copyright is a monopoly is not the “carefully chosen” “rhetoric from the copyright lobby” of recent vintage as put forth by Falkvinge is completely false: rather, it is an idea that our Forefathers debated and discussed, and carefully chose to bestow upon Authors and Inventors.

Many fail to grasp the idea that the ownership of an intellectual property such as copyright is no different than ownership of real property, such a person owning their own house or piece of land. Both forms of ownership are based on societal laws and give the owner inherent rights to do with the property as they please. Just as the government prohibits individuals from reproducing and distributing copyrighted works, so does the government prohibits individuals from trespassing onto another person’s personal property or stealing their possessions. Are the latter “government-sanctioned private monopolies” that impose “limitations of property rights” on individuals other than the owner?  You bettcha!  That is, in fact, what a monopoly is: allowing an individual to control something to the exclusion of other competitors.

The significant different between real property (i.e. the chair in Mr. Falkvinge’s analysis), and a copyright (i.e. the DVD in aforesaid analysis), is that the chair is a tangible object, and its essence is easily grasped by our senses. A DVD, on the other hand, is a physical object which embodies, a movie, or intellectual property, that is intangible and more difficult to conceptualize. When purchasing a copyrighted work such as a movie, one has to realize the two forms of property contained within that physical object that is the DVD.  Falkvinge draws his analogy between the chair and the DVD as follows:

When I buy a movie, I hand over money and I get the DVD and a receipt…after the money has changed hands, this particular movie in mine.

(Emphasis added).  This statement is factually and legally incorrect.  Although the purchaser owns the physical embodiment of the DVD – and in fact may dispose of it any way he or she chooses – the purchaser does not own the intellectual property embodied within the DVD, and may not exercise dominion, or monopoly, over that property. The creator of the work, in fact, owns the intangible property encoded in the DVD, and the creator is within his/her rights, according to section 106 of the United Sates Copyright Code, to reproduce and distribute the work as they please due to the time, creativity and money that produced the work. The owner of the physical object containing the movie has no such rights. Our Constitution is what controls this fact, not just the copyright laws Congress has passed under its authority.

The umbrella of intellectual property, and more specifically Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution, also include the concept of patents. In the article, when Falkvinge compares the limitations copyright places on the purchaser of a DVD to the endless opportunities an ostensibly-expired patent gives the purchaser, he erroneously concludes that ” patents are not relevant for this discussion.” Oh, but they are. First, one cannot legitimately compare a patent with limitations that have expired to a copyright that currently retains its exclusive rights and limitations. In fact, one author has asserted that it is patents¸not copyrights, that place a greater restriction, or monopoly, on property rights. In Man, Economy, and State, Murray Rothbard concluded:

The patent is incompatible with the free market precisely to the extent that it goes beyond the copyright.…  The crucial distinction between patents and copyrights, then, is not that one is mechanical and the other literary.  The fact that they have been applied that way is an historical accident and does not reveal the critical difference between them. The crucial difference is that copyright is a logical attribute of property right on the free market, while patent is a monopoly invasion of that right.

Rothbard’s point is that businesses should not be restricted from independently designing and creating a product using natural laws and principles, even if it turns out to be similar to a patented product, even though our legal structure often operates in that manner.

But the greater point to made here is this: accepting the validity of a patent monopoly requires the acceptance of a copyright monopoly. Both rights are granted by the same Constitutional clause and, a priori, both are relevant to any discussion of government-granted monopolies. Second, simply because an individual purchases the physical embodiment of a chair design does not imply that they acquire full rights to disassemble, analyze, reengineer and distribute the chair commercially. To play with Falkvinge’s analogy, imagine that instead of chair, we are discussion the purchase of a new automobile, let’s say a Ford Mustang. Does one who purchases an automobile by virtue of that sales transaction, gain the right to deconstruct and reverse engineer the product, and start his or her own manufacturing facility to churn out duplicate cars in order to compete with Ford? Why, because there is intellectual property that is embodied in the automobile, just as there exists intellectual property embodied in a DVD, a CD and, yes, even an MP3 or an MP4. Based on the utilitarian teachings of John Stuart Mill, our society believes in rewarding an individual for the “fruits of their labor.” When labor is applied to raw goods by an individual in order to create an original expression of an idea, our society has agreed that this product is the property of the individual that created it. Our Constitution grants the creator of such product a limited monopoly in the exploitation of that creation. This brings me to my final point:

The copyright is, in fact, a “government-sanctioned private monopoly.” The ideology behind the monopolization of intellectual property is to “promote” and incentivize people to create works with the understanding and confidence that the time, energy and financial hardship involved will be fairly compensated. Without any supreme authority protecting the interests and livelihood of creators, the motivation to develop such a work arguably decreases dramatically. The implementation of the monopoly grants the property rights in the creator. As with all property rights, that grant places limitations on the persons who do not own the property.

So, the idea of “monopoly” is an evil concept which the lobbyist have attempted to associate with a “positive word such as ‘property,'” as Falkvinge argues, is a weak argument, historically, philosophically, and logically. It is rather a concept that has been with us since the Code of Hammarabi first described laws regarding property; it was passed down to us by our Merry Old Ancestors from England; it is a right the participants of the Oklahoma Land Rush had to fight to exercise; and it is these rights – the right to exercise control over one’s intellectual creations – that assure a society in which ownership of property is exercised by the appropriate party by wielding their monopoly against those that would steal it away.

So yes, Mr. Falkvinge, a copyright monopoly is a limitation of property rights. But it is also a means by which the owner can exercise his or her property rights. The limitation is, in fact, on those who would steal their rights. So if this is a limitation on your rights to freely distributed copyrighted product, I’m ok with that and I think the majority of our society is as well.

As the French economist François Quesnay succinctly said: “Without that sense of security which property gives, the land would still be uncultivated.” In other words, if we don’t grant a monopoly to our “cultivators” of ideas, the landscape will be baron.

See also, Cleveland, Paul A., Controversy: Would the Absence of Copyright Laws Significantly Affect the Quality and Quantity of Literary Output? A Response to Julio H. Cole, Journal of Markets & Morality 4, no. 1 (Spring 2001), 120-126


98% of all Statistics are Made Up on the Spot! Fact is, copyright infringement DOES kill jobs.

Mark Twain had a lot to say about statistics, ranking them as the highest of all lies:  “There are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies, and statistics.  Twain is also attributed with the more insinuated saying that “statistics are like ladies of the evening, once you get them down, you do anything with them!”   It’s been quite awhile since I’ve seen a manipulation of statistics that illustrates Twain’s philosophy about them more than what is found in the article posted by self-styled “political evangelist” and anti-copyright activist, Rick Falkvinge, this week entitled Kill Copyright, Create JobsAbsent three very slick and attractive graphics, the only “facts” that Falkvimark_twain_pic_440_1_nge offers in support of this conclusion is statistics which, as far as I can tell, are made up!

In an effort to defeat the claims of the United Kingdom’s “copyright industry” that 1.2 million jobs will be lost by 2015 if stricter enforcement of copyright laws is not enacted, Falkvinge begins with the exaggerated conclusion that “for every job lost (or killed) in the copyright industry due to nonenforcement of copyright, 11.8 jobs are created in electronics wholesale, electronics manufacturing, IT, or telecom industries — or even the copyright-inhibited part of the creative industries.” 

Falkvinge reaches this absurd conclusion through a somersault of logic involving segregating the “creative industries” into various categories of groups subdivided into “copyright-dependent” and “copyright-inhibited” sectors.  Of course, these phrases are never precisely defined but, reading between the lines, the reader can gather that the latter sector includes industries “fueled by a lack of copyright monopoly enforcement,” while the former we must assume includes some form of enforcement.  Once he groups the various creative industries according to this loosely defined structure, he asserts that “the contribution of the copyright-inhibited industries outweigh the copyright-dependent industries by a factor of 11.8,” and then draws the leap of faith that when a copyright-dependent job is lost, a copyright-inhibited job is created.  He then forms this general conclusion: “Prevent copyright enforcement, or weaken or kill copyright, and create jobs. Lots more of them.”  Wow!  Please, Obama, take note of this staggering feat of intellectual prowess!

There are so many errors in this article, it’s hard to begin, and I don’t intend to address each one.  But as you start to examine the sectors of industry that Falkvinge places into these divisions, you can easily see where his analysis falls apart.  Seriously, I don’t think it’s intended so much as analysis as it is rhetoric.  Nonetheless, let’s look at some examples. 

In the first instance, Falkvinge erroneously relies on the conclusions of Peter Higgs in Beyond the Creative Industries for his foundational argument that the “creative industries” of the U.K. only account for 7% of its GDP, which he divides into three categories:  copyright-dependent, copyright-inhibited and copyright-agnostic.  I say he relies on this statistic “erroneously” because the 7% figure contained in Higgs’ report is based on what Higgs calls the “creative core” of the industry, not the entire industry.  Higgs’ defines the creative core as the “pre-creative and creative stages of the value chain” (p. 27).   This approach, Higgs establishes, only focuses on those involved in the initial stages of creation, i.e., the musicians, the dancers, the producers, etc (p. 28).  Thus, by default, the analysis does not factor in the post-creation employment of the creative industry and, thus, cannot be used in support of Falkvinge’s overall asssertion that on 7% of the GDP of the United Kingdom is based on the creative industries.

Second, in one sweeping yet unexplained fell swoop, Falkvinge places the entire advertising and marketing industry in the “copyright-inhibited” category.  Last time I checked, the advertising and marketing industry relied in large part on the creation of intellectual property, much of which is copyrighted work which relies on enforcement.   In another breathe, again without laying any factual foundation, he states that only 25% of the software, electronic publishing, games, film, television, radio and photography industries are “copyright-dependent.”  Twenty five percent?  Seriously?  Then he “estimates” than only 50% of the music and performing arts sectors of the creative industry are dependent on copyright protection.  Again, really? 

With regard to his category of “architecture, visual arts and design,” Falkvinge’s “analysis” is totally off the mark.  First, again, he simply asserts that 100% of the architecture industry is copyright-inhibited, meaning it does not rely on copyright protection for enforcement.  He doesn’t define whether he is referring to architecture as a visual art or whether he is referring to the more intellectual and abstract protection of the actual structure which the U.S. Congress protected in 1996 with the Architectural Works Copyright Protection Act.   One can only assume that Falkvinge is unaware that the U.S. and most other Berne Convention signatory countries protect such works, since he groups architecture with the visual arts. 

Secondly, Falkvinge lumps all of the “visual arts and design” industry into “fashion design” and then asserts that it is “copyright agnostic,” since fashion design is not entitled to copyright protection.  Ignoring the fact that there are many other arts to be considered in the visual arts and design sector of a country’s industries, let me just address the last assertion about fashion design.  There are several nations that actual do offer copyright protection for fashion design, namely the European Union, and France individually, and Japan, just to point out a few.  The U.S. currently has legislation pending that would follow in the footsteps of these country and protect U.S. fashion designers whose designs are pirated as soon as they are released.  (See this post on Law on the Row regarding the pending legislation). 

As Falkvinge draws to a long and painful conclusion, he states that U.K’s “monopolized entertainment [industries’]” claim that they will lose 1.2 million in jobs by the year 2015 is “deceptive, dishonest and bordering on fraudulent,” which he uses to link to another self-aggrandizing article in which he claims that we as a culture are creating now more than ever, that copyright monopolies are an obstacle, and the copyright abolishment would only intensify this effect.  All I can say to Falkvinge’s claim is bull$^!+.  Isn’t that something akin to the pot calling the kettle black?  Is it really deceptive to say that most of my songwriting clients, the people who write the music, are struggling to feed themselves and have to take full time retail employment to make ends meet?  Is is dishonest to say that those same songwriters do not create as much music as they did before they were forced to work 10-12 hours a day to support their families?  And how can you deny the decline in sales of recorded music?  How can you deny the falling profits of the world’s entertainment conglomerates?  I certainly don’t pretend to know about the music industry of the U.K., but I do know that the local economy in Music City U.S.A., Nashville, Tennessee has suffered dramatically as a direct result of illegal downloading of copyrighted works.  I certainly know that this has a trickle down effect on all sectors of the music industry here, including my own practice!  If any of these claims are fradulent, then call me a fraud.

Long before Falkvinge began spinning his  illogical analyses, a company of men including Jefferson, Madison and Pinkney and other great thinkers of their day dealt with the issue we are dealing with – should creative ideas be entitled to protection as individual property?   These men debate natural law versus utilitarianism, and ultimately derived what is arguably a very workable system of protecting intellectual properties.  The U.S. system is based on theories like those of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, who believed that we should “give to every man his own,” and that man acquired the ownership of property by exerting labor and converting nature – in this case ideas – into something that benefits society.  In fact, Locke believed that because a work created by an individual enriched society in general, and would theoretically continue to do so in the future, the author should have the right to be compensated as long as that benefit to society continued.  But, our Forefathers also wisely saw that in order to create, it is helpful to have a thriving public domain, so they placed certain limitations on these rights, namely granting the monopoly for “limited time.”  The “monopoly” of copyright protection – Falkvinge derisively refers to it as the “copyright monopoly” as if it’s a bad thing – is merely a reflection of these ideas.  If we believe that one should benefit from his or her own creation, his or her own expression of an original idea, then laws and rules are the only way to enforce that in a developed society.  Because of the wisdom of our Forefathers, we have that in Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution.  For my money, the logic of Locke, Hobbes, Jefferson and Madison surpasses the diatribe of Falkvinge at least by a factor of 11.8 to 1!

So, in summary, I am quite certain that Falkvinge, if he even takes note of my existence, would categorize me as just another one of the “lawyer who advocate maximization of the copyright monopoly.”  He would likely also allege that my claims are misleading if not bordering on fraudulent.  Regardless, I think that it is evident that Falkvinge’s assertion that for every 1 job lost to copyright infringement, 12 more will pop up to replace them is unfounded and, frankly, completely manufactured.

Fair Use is not always “Fair.”

The concept of “fair use” is a very misunderstood concept. The first common misunderstanding that people espouse is that the concept of “fair use” is a right or privilege granted by copyright law. It is not. Secondly, many people mistakenly believe that so long as they do not make any money from an infringing use of copyrighted material, then the use is a fair use. This is also an incorrect assumption. Fair use is not a right or a privilege to be exercised at one’s whim. Rather, the doctrine is an “equitable rule of reason” that may be used as an affirmative defense in a copyright infringement action. The purpose of the rule is to balance the equities between the desire to protect and therefore encourage the creation of new ideas and the desire to encourage the free exchange of speech in the marketplace of ideas. The tension was described by Justice Souter as “simultaneously protect[ing] copyrighted material and allow[ing] others to build upon it.” Nonetheless, the thing to remember is that application of the fair use defense is declared by judicial fiat in the context of a copyright infringement action. It is applied on a case-by-case analysis of the factual situation. Thus, fair use is not a presumptive right or privilege that may be exercised by the infringing party. There are four factors weighed by the Supreme Court in making a determination of whether a derivative work constitutes a “fair use.” These factors are (1) the nature of the work itself; (2) whether or not the work is commercial in nature; (3) the amount of the copyright work that is used; and (4) the effect of the use on the potential market or value of the copyright at issue. Folsom v. Marsh, 9 F. Cas. 342 (C.C.D. Mass. 1841), codified at §107 of the 1976 Copyright Act. The nature of the work refers to the “nature” of the unauthorized derivative work, not the original copyright work. In order for such an unauthorized use of copyrighted material to be entitled to the“fair use” defense, the new creation must transform the original copyrighted material. A “transformative work” is defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as one that “adds something new, with a further purpose or different character, altering the first with new expression, meaning, or message.” See, Campbell v. Acuff Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994). While all factors must be considered, this is perhaps one of the more critical factors in the analysis. Merely modulating the pitch of a song or inverting the sequence of a chord progression would probably not be considered transformative. A very good example of a derivative work that is transformative in nature is Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone, the same story as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, but told from the perspective of a mulatto slave who is the half-sister of Scarlet O’Hara, the main character in the original work. See Suntrust v. Houghton Mifflin Co., 252 F.3d 1165 (11th Cir 2001) per curiam, opinion at 268 F.3d 1257. In that case, the Eleventh Circuit extended the protection of a musical parody in Acuff Rose to the novel. With regard to the second factor as to whether a use is commercial in nature, it should be noted that this does not necessarily mean that the new creation has to generate profits. If the new work create a significant fan, donor and/or advertiser base, those factors tend to lead to a conclusion that it is commercial in nature. A person simply does not have the “right” to use copyrighted works in any manner as long as no profit is generated from the use. It is also evident that this factor does not mean that simply because a derivative use does in fact generate profits, that it is by default not a fair use. In Acuff Rose, 2 Live Crew’s parody version of Roy Orbison’s Oh Pretty Woman had sold over 250,000 copies, yet was still considered a “fair use.” The thing to be remembered is that this is but one of the factors. The third factor is fairly easy to evaluate: the more material “borrowed” from the copyrighted source, the less likely the infringer is to have a “fair use” defense. Again, another misconception is that there is a bright line test for fair use: that a few measures of a song, a couple of lines from a poem, a few hundred words of a paragraph, or a few paragraphs from a book, are considered fair use. This misconception has no basis in either the Copyright Act or the case law interpreting it. It is merely folklore. The factor, as used by the courts, is more of a sliding scale based, again, on the quantity of the material used from the copyrighted work as compared to the total material. Finally, the last factor weighs the impact on the infringing use on the potential market and value of the copyright. This was an integral part of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Acuff Rose that 2 Live Crew’s parody of Roy Orbison’s Oh Pretty Woman did not impact the potential market for the original. The more a derivative work negatively impacts the potential market for and value of the copyright, the less likely it will a “fair use.” In summary, as you may have noticed, the fair use doctrine is by no means a bright line test. Each “fair use” defense is, by its very nature, evaluated on a case by case analysis in the context of a copyright infringement action. Fair use is not something to be relied on as a presumptive right.

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SOPA: The Sky is Falling, The Sky is Falling!

By Amber Rose and Barry Shrum

If you’ve cruised the net or checked out your local news any time within the last few months, chances are you’ve heard rumors currently sweeping the United States about two pieces of proposed legislation : H.R. 3261 entitled the Stop Online Piracy Act (“SOPA”) and S. 968 entitled the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (“Protect IP”).

Senator Patrick Leahy sponsored the Protect IP Act, proposing it to the full Senate on May 12, 2011.  SOPA is the House of Representatives’ equivalent. The government is promoting these acts as a way to decrease online piracy, something that is costs the creative industries millions of dollars each year.  The Record Industry Association of America, representing the music sector, has estimated that global music piracy causes $12.5 billion of economic losses every year, 71,000+ lost U.S. jobs, $2.7 billion in wage earnings, $422 million in lost tax revenues, $291 million in personal income tax and $131 million in lost corporate income and production taxes.  Even these calculations create volumes of debate among the Internet blogosphere as to their methodology and accuracy.  Most every credible source, however, agrees that piracy causes imagesignificant economic loss to the creative community.

After years of fighting the piracy in courts, most website that make infringing materials available have moved their operations offshore in jurisdictions where the long arm of the law does not reach.  The Protect IP Act addresses this jurisdictional problem by giving the government the ability to established a list of “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods ” and then proceed to curb access to these websites by literally squeezing their revenue streams: VISA, MASTERCARD and various ISPs.  Protect IP has a heavy focus on those websites located outside the United States. 

Leahy based the Protect IP Act on a bill he previously proposed called Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). This bill failed to receive a full vote in the Senator mainly due to Democratic Senator Ron Wyden who put a hold on the legislation, claiming using COICA was “…almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile.”  Wyden felt the damage done by COICA would cost “…American innovation, American jobs, and a secure Internet.”

SOPA goes further than Protect IP by also providing a private right of action on the part of copyright owners, giving individuals and corporation with a stake the ability to appeal to the government for relief.  If enacted, SOPA would lead individuals being able to barring online advertising networks, PayPal, and other payment companies from doing business with the infringing or “rogue” website.  It would also prohibit search engines such as Google and Yahoo from linking to these sites while also requiring Internet service providers to block access to such websites.    This legislation would make “unauthorized streaming of copyrighted media” a felony. 

Opponents, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argue that this would create situations where websites such as YouTube and Tumblr might be deemed “illegal,” in direct violation of Federal law.  There is no end to the drama that has been created, including use of such words as “censorship” and such “Chicken Little” mantras as “the Internet as we know it may come to an end.”

While these bills certainly have many who oppose them, including Google, there are some powerful supporters of the bill, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, as well as large online retailers such as L’Oreal and the NBA.  David Israelite, President and CEO of the National Music Publishers’ Association believes that SOPA is just what America needs.  According to Israelite “…[d]igital revenue streams are key components of our industry’s future” and though we are making progress it is threatened by “criminal activity” that takes place on websites based outside of the United States.  Infringing sites typically experience enormous traffic and thus are making millions off of ad revenues.  Israelite feels U.S. manufacturers are struggling to compete, as does the U.S. Chamber. 

While SOPA and the Protect IP Act are a bit different from COICA, they are still built around the same concept of restricting revenue flow.  At first glance the bills seems to be a source of relief for the industry, but upon closer examination, it appears that such relief may come at a high cost.  These are difficult issues that are not easy to decide.  On the one hand, copyright, trademark and patent owners indeed deserve the right to be able to monetize their intellectual properties, a right established by our Forefathers in the U.S. Constitution at Article 1, Section 8 Clause 8.  Jefferson and Madison had many debates about balancing that government-granted monopoly against the free exchange of information they desired to establish in a “marketplace of ideas.”  This leads to the other hand, which is that censorship of ideas was what our Forefathers were trying to guard against by establishing the “for limited times” language of the Constitution, which thrust a work into the public domain for all to use.  Now that the U.S. duration of copyright exceeds four generations (Life +70), the idea of potential government censorship of website should cause us greater concern.

The one thing I haven’t seen from either side is a solution that protects the interests of the copyright owners as well as the interests of the public in accessing information.  Perhaps if the definition of “rogue websites” were more specifically defined, and there was some form of judicial oversight involved, where due process could enter the equation, the legislation would be more palatable.  Either way, if you are in the creative industries, this is legislation you should examine and about which you should talk to your representatives.  It is important to exercise your right to be a part of this process.  Neither the Senate nor the house has taken a vote on the legislation. 

Your House representatives can be found at the House’s Directory and the Senates Directory.  Texts of both bills can be found at the Library of Congress’ website, at, or click below:

S. 968: Protect IP

HR 3261:  SOPA

Additional References:


Amber Rose is enrolled as a student at Belmont University’s Mike Curb School of Music Business in Nashville, Tennessee.  She is currently studying copyright under Professor Shrum.

Illegal file-sharing has the greatest impact on the lowly songwriter

A decade’s worth of music file-sharing and swiping has made clear that the people it hurts are the creators… and the people this reverse Robin Hooding benefits are rich service providers, whose swollen profits perfectly mirror the lost receipts of the music business.  –Bono (New York Times, January 2010)

The passage of the Digital Economy Act in England last year has resulted in a surge of articles that claim that the negative impact of illegal downloading of MP3’s on the record industry has been “debunked” and that, in fact, studies confirm the opposite, that there is no significant impact.  I recently addressed one such claim on my blog in the article entitled 90% of All Statistics are Made Up on the Spot:  Fact is, copyright infringement DOES kill jobs, which addressed an article by Rick Falkvinge.  Matther Lasar of Ars Technica recently posted another article essentially making the same claim, entitled Did file-sharing cause recording industry collapse? Economists say no.  Lasar’s article is based in large part on a research paper by Bart Cammaerts and Bingchun Meng of the London School of Economics and Political Science entitled Creative Destruction and Copyright Protection: Regulatory Responses to File-sharing.

In response to the DEA, one of the “key messages” of Cammaerts’ and Meng’s study is that common refrain that the decline in sales of CD’s cannot be attributed solely to illegal downloads of their digital equivalents.  To be precise, here is their key finding:

Decline in the sales of physical copies of recorded music cannot be attributed solely to file-sharing, but should be explained by a combination of factors such as changing patterns in music consumption, decreasing disposable household incomes for leisure products and increasing sales of digital content through online platforms.


Does this not seem like a circular argument to anyone else that the conclusion that a decline in sales cannot be attributed by file-sharing, a significant change in how music is consumed, is supported by the assertion that it is better explained by a “combination of factors such as changing patterns in music consumption”?   This conclusion by the “researchers” is based in significant measure, as are most of the conclusions in the report, on reports and studies done by others, including the long-since refuted study by Oberholzer-Gee and Stumpf conducted in 2004, entitled The Effect of File Sharing on Record Sales: An Empirical Analysis.    Oberholzer-Gee and Stumpf erroneously concluded that the impact of illegal file-sharing on the music industry was, in their words, “null” but have since revised their conclusions and now argue that illegal file sharing is responsible for about 20% of the decline in the decline of revenue in the music industry.  See File Sharing & Copyright 2010. It seems on the surface that the study is nothing more than rehash of old information.  Based on review of these reports, Cammaerts and Meng concluded that “the claims by the music industry regarding the detrimental impact of infringing file-sharing on sales are flawed.”

The fact is all but a handful of the surveys related to the subject confirm illegal file-sharing reduces consumer spending on legitimate music, and confirm that the dramatic decrease in the sales of recorded music is caused by illegal file-sharing.  See, e.g., Norbert Michael (The Impact of Digital File-Sharing on the Music Industry: An Empirical Analysis, 2006), Rob & Waldfogel (Piracy on the High C’s, 2006) and Alejandro Zenter (Measuring the Effect of File Sharing on Music Purchases, 2003).  A 2006 study by Professor Stan Liebowitz, File-Sharing: Creative Destruction or Just Plain Destruction? concludes that all  “. . . papers that have examined the impact of file-sharing . . . find some degree of relationship between file-sharing and sales of sound recordings.”  Oddly, the only study that finds zero correlation is the Oberholzer and Strumpf study, which it has been frequently discredited.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (“IFPI”) recently released the IFPI Digital Music Report 2010:  Music how, when, where you want it reports what most economists and others who have studied the effect agree on:  “Overall music sales fell by around 30 per cent between 2004 and 2009.” p. 6.   The good news to be gained from the IFPI report is that overall sales of digital music increased to 27% of the industry’s revenue in 2010, a significant jump from almost zero in 2004.

All of this I say not really to fuel the flames of the the debate related to the cause of the decline in the music industry, but to point out that in the midst of all the studies, all the reports, and all of the conversation, there is one group of people whose voice is often not heard:  the songwriter.  I began this post with a quote from the incomparable singer-songwriter, Bono, who states flatly what is often overlooked:  the people it hurts are the creators.  If you read closely through the reports I have linked to in this article, you’ll find very little, if anything, about the impact of illegal file sharing on the songwriter.  Yes, there a some vague references to “authors” and sometimes “creators,” but for the most part the researchers focus their impact on the more broad category of impact on the overall sales of recorded music.  Very little attention is given to the trickle-down impact, i.e., how it affects the songwriter and the small music publishing companies that line the streets of Music Row here in Nashville.  The only report of which I am aware which includes a significant sampling of songwriters is the one conducted by Mary Madden for the PEW Internet & American Life Project in 2004 entitled Artist, Musicians & the Internet.  I won’t rehash all of the argument I made in 90% of All Statistics are Made Up on the Spot: Fact is, copyright infringement DOES kill jobs, except to say that most of these studies ignore the songwriter, on which the illegal downloading of songs has arguably made the greatest impact.  Even back in 2004, when the study was conducted, 75% of the respondents (which included a pool of artists and musicians in addition to solely songwriters) stated that they held down a second non-songwriting-related job which was their primary source of income.  I know for a fact that almost all of my songwriting clients hold second jobs, which prevents them from creating music.  The decline in these songwriter’s revenue is a direct result of the loss of mechanical royalties resulting from the massive decline in sales of physical product, not to mention a decline in performance royalties as a result of fewer artist being played on the radio, which is a result of fewer record labels investing in the career of new and developing artists.

This brings me to my last, and perhaps the most disturbing, observation raised by the new IFPI report.  The report states that

Illegal file-sharing has also had a very significant, and sometimes disastrous, impact on investment in artists and local repertoire. With their revenues eroded by piracy, music companies have far less to plough back into local artist development. . . .

The impact of declining revenues and illegal file-sharing on the availability of venture capital is another factor that is rarely if ever considered by many of the so-called reports on the decline in this “lost decade” of the music industry.  Why would any entity risk investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a new artist when there is no perceivable source of revenue from which to gain a return on investment?  The answer is that they do not.  The impact of the Internet on the creative industry does not stop at the music industry.  Other industries that are starting to feel the impact of lost revenues are the movie industry, the television industry, the print publishing industry and the fashion industry.  Anywhere that creative endeavors are conducted for profit, the profits are being diminished in one form or another by the impact of P2P file-sharing.  My wife has a saying about people who live together when they are not married:  “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?”  This also applies in the creative industries:  people do not generally pay for that which they can get for free.

The chief executive of Kudos, Stephen Garrett, said it best perhaps:

We are in danger of creating a world where nothing appears to have any value at all, and the things that we make…will become scarce or disappearing commodities.

I hope that danger does not become a reality.  Being deprived of the talents of, say, a Don Henley or a Bono, simply because we are unwilling to shell out a buck for a mp3, would, in my humble opinion be a real shame.