TED Conversations

Simon Tam

Founder and Bassist, The Slants LLC

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What Do You Think About the $8 Billion iPod?

Rob Reid's presentation was recently featured on Ted.com and , "unveils Copyright Math (TM), a remarkable new field of study based on actual numbers from entertainment industry lawyers and lobbyists."

The music industry and observers, including Professor Ken Sanney from Central Michigan University are now weighing in on the debate.

Sanney argues that "Complex issues that are oversimplified and distorted for comedic value are enjoyable and even valuable in providing us with a respite from serious deliberation on such things. But, if these oversimplifications and distortions are presented as truthful representations of facts -- that are just delivered in a funny way -- they risk undermining serious discussions that can create workable solutions. This TED Talk is simply a comedic straw man ... not an idea worth spreading! "

For his full blog on why and an explanation of the copyright laws which weren't fully discussed in Reid's talk, visit here: http://musiclaw-copyright.blogspot.com/2012/03/copyright-math-is-joke.html

What do you think? Is the oversimplification of complex issues breaking down communication barriers or creating new ones? Does either side have a fair assessment of this particular issue?


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  • Mar 28 2012: Pure nonsense. If it's "theft" to copy copyrighted files, then it also shouldn't be ok to steal $8,000,000,000 from a single person.
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      Mar 28 2012: Hi Daniel,

      Again, I point to the article posted - please read through that first. The law professor explains how the math on the video itself was oversimplified and taking copyright laws out of context. You don't owe $150,000 for copying/distributing a song.

      It's moot to argue about when the full argument being presented hasn't been considered.
      • Mar 28 2012: Many thousands of people get threatened with the hefty penalties even when they have only shared a few songs. It is not a matter of a few isolated cases. That article is actually quite crappy and leaves many things out of consideration. He is also a member of a pro-copyright organization so it isn't strange he leaves out some major points and he still has not approved my comment that was cogent and not attacking anyone.

        Edit to reply to simon's post below this post...
        Mass lawsuits threatening the maximum statutory damages continues to this day and passed 200,000 people this past august. You don't respond to my points and continue to deflect. why?
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          Mar 28 2012: As this article notes and documents, the majority of those cases have nothing to do with groups like the RIAA. Most of those are what individuals call "copyright trolls" that simply seek to threaten people to pay money without ever having to go to court. (source: http://www.pcworld.com/article/230515/so_youre_being_sued_for_piracy.html)

          The idea of frivolous lawsuit pursuits by major industry companies have stopped since 2008 (at least by the FBI and RIAA). Another source here: http://www.cracked.com/funny-4101-the-history-internet-piracy/

          Again, while I don't agree with slamming individuals with lawsuits for file sharing (a practice that stopped four years ago), I brought up this debate for the larger issue in question.
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          Mar 30 2012: Mr. Sjostedt,

          I just approved your comments on my blog. I was waiting until I had the opportunity to carefully read them before approving them. Please see my blog for my specific reply to your comments.

          As for your comments that my article was "crappy," that I'm somehow trying to silence you by not approving your comments on my blog, and that my thoughts should be dismissed because I'm a member of the CMA, such statements are exactly what I was trying to highlight with my critique of Mr. Reid's presentation. I do not expect everyone to agree with me, but ad hominem arguments and the like are simply not conducive to solving problems. Intelligent people can respectfully disagree; in fact, I believe that that is how we reach our potential, through respectful dialogue and debate.

          Also, I would suggest that you look at some of my other posts on my blog before simply dismissing me as "a member of a pro-copyright organization." In one post I clearly state:

          "Are there benefits to the free flow of information, knowledge, and culture? Absolutely! This ideal may well be worth pursuing for the advancement of humanity. But human nature and economic realities must be understood and dealt with, least we go down the road of Utopian Marxism. ... What this all boils down to is one simple question: How do we provide an incentive to create quality creative content without copyright? I'm not saying that copyright is the answer. It is becoming increasingly apparent that there are problems with the current state of technology and social norms when governed by copyright law. The friction and failures are undeniable. But necessity -- human nature and economics -- will demand a solution eventually." See http://musiclaw-copyright.blogspot.com/2011/12/shifting-social-norms-of-creative.html.

          I'm humbled that my post has created a lively debate here and I am grateful to Mr. Tam and everyone else for their interest in my thoughts. Thank you.
      • Mar 30 2012: Ken Sanney,

        A person with financial interests in anti-piracy laws could be considered to be biased in an argumentation. If you want to talk about economic realities, that is one, and another is that there is no such thing as economic laws "that cannot be broken". If they are "being broken", the law, or the interpretation of the law is wrong.

        In school I learned that a market is based on something called "Supply and Demand". With the technical equipment of today there is unlimited supply of digital copies, so naturally the price should follow to an almost free or even free level, because the supply limits are non-existent.

        When we had CDs for example, it was required to print, distribute, have stores that sells CD and as such it was only natural for it to have a price considering all the logistics involved. Now however I can find a torrent with people willing to share to me, I can borrow their bandwidth/supply and get the song on my in the matter of seconds.

        The next thing that you could do if you're interested in making money magically appear out of thin air would be to do just that - demand that people pay for air, to make money appear from thin air. If the supply is virtually unlimited there shouldn't be a price, that's even taught in elementary school economics.
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          Mar 30 2012: Daniel, you wrote that "A person with financial interests in anti-piracy laws could be considered to be biased in an argumentation."

          By this very line of thinking, it would discredit your argument altogether as well. A person downloading files free also has financial interests in those type of laws as well - their interest being that of not paying for the product.

          It also seems that you don't understand the nature of Supply and Demand. The idea of purchasing a CD or DVD or even a digital copy of those items isn't for the physical item itself, but for the intellectual properties behind that particular item. We have copyright laws because our society recognizes the importance of creators, authors, musicians, playwrights, etc. to protect their ideas - not necessarily because of the economics behind it.

          Besides, if you want to talk about the elementary principles of supply and demand, you should first realize that it's a price model system based on intersecting curves and that can be shifted. Secondly, as the Journal of Economic Perspectives points out, the model of prices being determined by supply and demand assumes perfect competition. But "economists have no adequate model of how individuals and firms adjust prices in a competitive model. If all participants are price-takers by definition, then the actor who adjusts prices to eliminate excess demand is not specified". In other words, supply and demand does not apply to cases of infinite supply nor aggregated demand.
      • Mar 30 2012: Good point there, Simon. Considering that most people are not in the industry they should also be biased against the music industry. :-)

        I don't discredit his arguments, it's a very big change for the music industry, but from my perspective it's not the people that should get the short straw for their own faults.

        Yet a surprisingly small percentage of a CD goes in to the pockets of the actual creators, I wonder why that is...

        Another good point there, Simon. Are we going to control the market like Soviet did, or actually attempt to have it free? So obviously economists have no value (yet) on the unlimited supply market that is the internet. And that's my point, supply/demand breaks down completely, so let it be free instead of feeding greedy corporations.
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          Mar 30 2012: "Yet a surprisingly small percentage of a CD goes in to the pockets of the actual creators, I wonder why that is..."

          Most of the time, that was because of the old record label deal (especially prominent several decades ago), where the label would give a lot of money to the artist upfront and try to recoup their expenses/make a profit on the back end, through sales.

          Nowadays though, the majority of artists out there are independent and music sales (for better or worse) or their main source of income. P2P sharing affects musicians as well as authors - who get a much more substantial portion of each sale, filmmakers, and so on. It also can affect the people behind the scenes that make each of those as well.

          The problem with many discussions is the rhetoric being passed that the money is all being taken from major corporations or lobbyists. The reality is that it devalues the creative industry as a whole.

          "Are we going to control the market like Soviet did...?" No one is trying to enforce the market in that manner. The government is not stepping in to take ownership, set prices, or take revenue. Copyright laws - which definitely need an update now - simply exist to protect the intellectual properties of others. Even if many people are doing something, it doesn't warrant a shift in morality (that the very act of taking someone else's work without their permission is wrong).
      • Mar 30 2012: Before we had money, and before we had a market we had music. Music has and is still the expression of the soul. The monetization of these highly potent frequencies came to be with technology, and as such it's not more than justified that technology also liberates it.

        It's not a human right to make a living out of music! If you don't like it you are free to stop sharing your work, or even stop with music altogether. If you're in for the money you may want to reconsider your chosen path and study it a bit closer.

        The government IS INDEED stepping in to set prices with anti-piracy laws, as the anti-piracy laws are the only foundation right now on which digital music stores even exists. How is that not to interfere with the free market?

        TED.com is a great example, it's a free website run of donations (I assume, not 100% sure), and yet there is SO MUCH awesome content here! For free! We could do the same with music, if it wasn't for the entertainment industry constantly trying to monopolize it and take it away from the people, just to be d**** and continue to milk consumers.
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          Mar 30 2012: "Before we had money, and before we had a market we had music." We've always had money, it's simply a convenient symbol for barter. We use it to exchange services as well as to declare value for something.

          "It's not a human right to make a living out of music! If you don't like it you are free to stop sharing your work, or even stop with music altogether." I agree. But like I said in all of my other posts, that decision should be made by the artist, not the consumers. It's different if I want to give something away for free than if someone wants to take it and share it for free.

          And no, the government isn't setting prices. If you say that the existence of copyright laws is trampling on the free market, then all laws regarding commerce should be considered the same: laws on wage, employment, food handlers permits for restaurants, permits for builders.

          With the example on TED - yes, it is a free website, but the conferences are not. TED is a non-profit organization. Some artists are, some aren't. Either way, artists have expenses too and if they'd like to charge something for their work so that they can continue making their art, it is their right too. It isn't for someone else to decide. To me, that's not completely unreasonable.

          "If you're in for the money you may want to reconsider your chosen path and study it a bit closer." Whatever the motivation is for an artist to create something should not be of our concern. People who create should have a right to protect their ideas. It's fairly simple and it doesn't matter the age of technology, what laws exist or don't, or whether it is a product that people even want. It's the inherent right of the creator to have some basic rights to their work.

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