Canadian Book Pirates

An interesting account of the Canadian side of 19th century trans-Atlantic book piracy (from Rowland Lorimer’s Ultra Libris)

It was routine for [Canadian] booksellers to sell pirated editions of British titles, produced in and imported from the United States, rather than importing from Britain. Like European countries of the time, the United States did not recognize British copyright law. Nor did Britain recognize the copyright laws of other countries, the United States included. The importation of pirated works into the British Empire (i.e., Canada), where U.K. copyright law clearly did hold, was a problematic but prevailing reality. Responding to intense lobbying by booksellers, and wanting some revenue rather than none, in 1847 the British passed the Foreign Reprints Act, which allowed booksellers to import pirated editions of U.K. books for a 12.5 percent tax. This act not only officially sidelined Canadian printers, but also hijacked a significant part of the pre-Confederation market from Canadian distributors of British works. A U.S. company could print and publish U.K. copyright books to be sold in Canada, but a Canadian company, because it was within the British Empire, could not print and publish the same titles…. Continue reading “Canadian Book Pirates”

The ‘Kill the Hobbit to Save Regular Earth’ Initiative

The editors at Bloomberg View were nice enough to publish this charming drawing by Matt Leines alongside my op-ed, Kill the Hobbit Subsidies to Save Regular Earth (thanks Paula and Matt!).

(For those just joining us, the basic story is that Warner Bros extracted  $120 million in taxpayer subsidies plus support for a slew of bad labor and IP laws to keep production of The Hobbit in New Zealand.)

Returning to the matter at hand, the drawing raises some intriguing questions!

First, I confess I hadn’t fully thought through how to map the various heroes and villains of ‘Kill the Hobbit’ back onto ‘The Hobbit.’   But on reflection, this drawing seems a bit off.  In my version of the story, the hobbit is the villain, stealing gold from the people of New Zealand (I guess to take back to Hollywoodshire?)  This  would make Smaug the dragon the public, and Smaug’s giant pile of gold the commonwealth (that’s why it’s so large).  Smaug should be casting the Expecto Patronum (EP) spell to banish the Hobbit, not the other way around.

But hey, people may see it differently, and their right to publish those perspectives on our common culture is part of what’s at stake in ‘Kill the Hobbit to Save Regular Earth’ (pivoting  here to New Zealand’s support for the IP-enforcement-on-steroids Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement).

So with that in mind, I am happy to announce the ‘Kill the Hobbit to Save Regular Earth’ Initiative– KH2SREI for short (pronounced Kisstory, after the ancient Elven admonition to beware Hobbits bringing gifts).

I invite you to flesh out the Kisstory allegory in whatever direction makes most sense to you.  If you send me pictures, I will publish them here (as long as they are not obscene or gratuitously nasty).  I will even try to talk the good people at Bloomberg View into running them.  Continue reading “The ‘Kill the Hobbit to Save Regular Earth’ Initiative”

A Behind the Scenes Look at the Making of ‘Kill the Hobbit Subsidies to Save Regular Earth’

The complete (and more concise) version appears on Bloomberg View.

So how much taxpayer money, would you guess, did Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. need to produce the films based on the J.R.R. Tolkien book? The answer is zero. The studios are investment companies, and the films are almost certain to be immensely profitable.

But now you aren’t thinking like a studio. The real question is: How much taxpayer money can Warner Bros. demand from the government of New Zealand to keep production there (rather than, say, in Australia or the Czech Republic)? That answer turns out to be about $120 million, plus the revision of New Zealand’s labor laws to forbid collective bargaining among film-production contractors, plus the passage of three-strikes Internet-disconnection laws for online copyright infringement, plus enthusiastic and, it turns out, illegal cooperation in the shutdown of the pirate-friendly digital storage site Megaupload and the arrest of its owner, Kim Dotcom.

For keeping Warner Bros. happy, Prime Minister John Key, a former Merrill Lynch currency trader, got a replica magic Hobbit sword from U.S. President Barack Obama and a chance to hang New Zealand’s fortunes on becoming the tourist destination for Middle Earth enthusiasts. What could go wrong?

For the KHS2SRE completists out there, we’ve assembled some outtakes and extras: Continue reading “A Behind the Scenes Look at the Making of ‘Kill the Hobbit Subsidies to Save Regular Earth’”

NPD Confidential 3: In Which We Defend Ourselves Against Charges of Drunk Blogging and Practicing Math Without a License

Some weeks ago, we published a lengthy blog post called Where do Music Collections Come From?  which discussed findings from our Copy Culture survey of 1000 Germans and 2300 Americans.

Some of the data demonstrated that P2P file sharers (who own digital music files) buy more music than their non-P2P using peers (who also own digital music files).  Here’s the chart again:

To me, this was a fairly innocuous finding, well in line with other studies.  For my money, the more important findings were that personal sharing ‘between friends’ is about as prevalent and as significant in music acquisition as ‘downloading for free’, and that together they are outweighed by legal acquisition.

But the public spoke and the P2P finding went viral: the biggest pirates are the best customers.   Headlines like this generated pushback from record industry groups RIAA and IFPI—mostly centered around the work of NPD, their survey firm in the US.  The exchange, I think, is an interesting window on the state of the empirical debate around file sharing. Continue reading “NPD Confidential 3: In Which We Defend Ourselves Against Charges of Drunk Blogging and Practicing Math Without a License”

America Says: Go Gently on Porn Pirate

So another case has come along to illustrate the excesses of the US system of statutory penalties for copyright infringement–here, a $1.5 million judgement against a guy for sharing 10 porn films on BitTorrent.   Previous infringement cases suggest that there will be ample room to bat this around on appeal.  The $1.5 million penalty may not stick.  But what a waste of time and money that will be.  What if we could start with a rationale outcome?

Fortunately, we can rely on the wisdom of the American people to lead the way.  In addition to the legal reasons for treating such penalties as excessive and disproportionate, we can, for our part, throw in popular opinion.  As we noted a couple posts ago, penalties for infringement attract only 51% support among adults (in our recent survey of 2303 Americans).  Nearly all of this group supports the use of fines for infringement.  Another 7% will consider the circumstances.  So let’s look at fines. Continue reading “America Says: Go Gently on Porn Pirate”

Reading EULAs: Not Just for the Crazy Anymore

As someone who has avoided buying Amazon’s e-books because of its restrictive use policies, it wasn’t a big surprise to see those policies eventually enforced in the form of termination of a customer’s account and deletion of her library for an unexplained violation of terms of service.

And like many others who have watched the divergence between people’s expectations of ownership of digital goods and the actual licensing practices around them, I’ve wondered whether anyone reads the end-user license agreements (EULAs) that define those relationships, much less understands them. Continue reading “Reading EULAs: Not Just for the Crazy Anymore”

Could Pirate Romney Win/Have Won?

With the election around the corner, polls tied, and a slow news week in the US, it’s time to ask the question that’s on everyone’s mind: could Mitt Romney win with some strategic repositioning on copyright policy?  Could the answer be to embrace pirate Romney?  Let’s explore.

What do we know about Romney’s  views on intellectual property?  Really just two things.  We know that he joined the roster of anti-SOPA republicans last year when that seemed like the thing to do (“I’m standing for freedom”).  And we know that he worries about China stealing our IP.  And that’s about it.  But it’s more than it seems. Continue reading “Could Pirate Romney Win/Have Won?”

Die, Substitution Studies, Die II: Well, OK, Maybe Some Should Live

Let’s return to the arcane but, for IP debates, important subject of substitution studies, which try to clarify the extent to which piracy substitutes for or displaces legal sales.  We’ve argued that the media ecology has become so complicated that nobody has a handle on what substitutes for what.  Does a pirated MP3 file substitute for a $1 purchased file, a $12 CD, some number of listens on YouTube or Spotify or radio? Does Spotify substitute for MP3 purchases?  Or YouTube listens? Should we take stagnant discretionary income into account, and rising costs for other media services, like cable TV, Internet access, and data plans.  Do national differences matter–including major differences in digital markets and services (In Germany, CD sales represent over 80% of the market; in the UK and US, under 50%).  What about differences in law (in much of Europe, private copying is legal)?  Which of these factors get priority?  How do we model their interaction? Continue reading “Die, Substitution Studies, Die II: Well, OK, Maybe Some Should Live”