Crikey: The inflated cost of illegally copied DVDs

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[This article was first published in Crikey on Monday. I’ve also added the comment and additional material which were published yesterday.]

Hurrah! The War on Terror is over! Well, at least it seems we’re no longer afraid of terrorists, because when Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus warned that illegally copying DVDs costs the industry $1.7 billion, for a change terrorism didn’t get a mention.

Major distributors have been trying to scare us off illegal copying for years. Australia’s laws were “harmonised” under the US Free Trade Agreement so copyright infringement became a crime. Gloomy doom-music-laden messages play before every movie. Serious people tell us that “piracy funds terrorism”.

“The Abu Sayyaf — blamed for the worst terrorist attacks in the South-East Asian country — are likely behind the illegal copying of movies onto DVDs,” reckons Edu Manzano, chairman of the Philippines’ Optical Media Board.

“The Yakuza are behind them in Japan and the Hezbollah are involved in the Middle East,” though he admits they lack “documentary evidence”.

Bob Debus’ weekend media release omits the “piracy funds terrorism” trope, saying instead that it funds “a range of criminal activity like drug trafficking and money laundering”. (Hang on, isn’t money laundering self-funding?) But by the time the story hit the ABC the government’s current bogeyman had been added to the list: child pornography. Ooh err.

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Stilgherrian Live Alpha: episode 1 tonight!

Episode 1 Tonight: Stilgherrian Live Alpha

I’ve just organised by first guest(s) for tonight’s inaugural episode of Stilgherrian Live Alpha. And, as you can see, we’ve spent half the night playing with graphics too.

I’ll be speaking with Adam Purcell and/or Jared Madden from about campaign — their counter-campaign to the music industry’s propaganda film, Australian Music In Tune, which I wrote about the other day.

How can the music industry respond to the dramatic changed happening around them? Is it actually too late for them to change? And it’s interesting to note that the film on their website right now isn’t quite the same as the one originally released…

Since it’s the first program, I’ll probably tell you a bit about myself and what’s been on my radar this week. If there’s anything you’ve wanted to ask me, now’s the time.

Stilgherrian Live Alpha is recorded live at at 9.30pm Sydney time (1130 UTC), and I’ll be talking “talkback” via audio and video.

If you turn up early, you’ll probably see us doing some last-minute technical tests. And once the program is recorded, I’ll turn it in a podcast — details later.

Optimal copyright only 14 years

In most countries, copyright in creative works lasts for 50 years after the death of the creator. In the US, the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 extended that protection to 70 years for works created by individuals and 120 years for corporations. But a new paper by Cambridge University PhD candidate Rufus Pollock reckons copyright terms should be reduced, not extended [PDF file, 256k] — to just 14 years.

The US copyright extension was widely criticised as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act. Walt Disney’s Micky Mouse would have otherwise entered the public domain in 2003 — depriving the Disney corporation of income. Critics said the Act was nothing but more corporate welfare from the Bush II government.

Pollock’s paper argues that the optimal duration of copyright falls as the cost of producing and distributing creative works goes down. But since copyright laws are created through political lobbying rather than “a benevolent and rational policy-maker”, copyright terms steadily increased through the 20th century.

Politically it’s hard to remove rights which have already been granted — unless, of course you can pretend there’s some terrible threat such as terrorists or black paedophiles — so Pollock notes:

It is prudent for policy-makers to err on the low side rather than the high side when setting the strength of copyright.

Somehow, given the media industry’s current terror (!) of falling revenues thanks to that very process of falling distribution costs, and their close connection to political power, I just don’t see Pollock’s arguments winning any time soon.

Thanks to Ars Technica for the pointer.