Royalties and Reality

In my entry yesterday, I mentioned that would contact the maker of Pol Pot’s Birthday to inquire about digital distribution. It turns out that Talmage Cooley, the filmmaker, would love uninhibited digital distribution of the film — but can’t afford it. It turns out that Cooley can scrape together the cash for the inexpensive royalties necessary to show the film in festivals but cannot afford the much higher fees that must be paid in order to webcast.

The recording companies continue to claim that if those distributing, performing, or reusing their work in other ways do not pay royalties, musicians will not be able to produce as much, or as good, music. This is fiction designed to sell both consumers and artists on an unjust, exploitative and inefficient system. Cooley’s experience is the reality of a expansive, pay-per-use, highly controlled and highly centralized system of permission and royalty-based access to ideas. It’s a reality where the vast majority of voices are systematically silenced by simple economics.

Independent artists and producers can’t pay expensive royalties for wide distribution of their work because they work is not commercially viable in the way that Hollywood and the RIAA member company’s products are. Their only available alternatives are degrees of silence.

It’s true that if Pol Pot’s birthday was distributed online and paid no royalties, the recording industry would get nothing. But it’s also true that the alternative — the more likely alternative and the one we have now — is for the film it to not be distributed at all; the music industry still get nothing.

In the latter case, the losers here are the independent filmmakers, whose work has its wings clipped systemically, and the consumers, who don’t get to see great independent film. This is a happy enough arrangement for big media of course. At worst, they break even. At best, consumers with lack of alternatives spend their time and their dollars on media that they can get access to. It is a fortunate coincidence that the remaining available films are produced by the large, established movie studios who are jointly owned, or in bed, with the large established recording companies. This is not a conspiracy: it’s a system optimized for the production of some sorts of content (the highly profitable kind) by disadvantaging and silencing available alternatives.

4 Replies to “Royalties and Reality”

  1. I am told that Windows XP service pack 2 brings popup blocking to Internet Explorer. My big worry is that MS are now starting to copy all the things that made Linux better — user focus rather than corporate focus, security, all that stuff — and gradually the standard arguments in favour of moving away from Windows start to slip away in the eyes of potential users…

  2. Sil, I’m not concerned about this. Microsoft will copy functionality from Linux and user-centric features when they realize that they have no choice. The real strategic reality here is relatively difference and the relatively difference will remain.

    The proprietary companies are in bed with too many people. What Microsoft would need to do is tell the RIAA, MPAA and their stockholders to fuck off to one degree or another saying, “the users are in charge now.” With their current structure, they can’t do that to the degree that an OS produced by its users can. The relative difference, and the relative advantage remains.

    The question is not one of if things change, it’s only of how fast.

  3. I agree with everything you’ve said here, but I wanted to point something out that many people aren’t aware of concerning the iTunes DRM stuff.

    In the example you provided, a laptop being replaced, it is possible to reset your authorized computers.  You have to email the iTunes customer support team and they will reset it for you, emailing you when they have done so (along with a message about how they don’t normally do this and you need to be more careful in the future… blah blah blah).  It is a pain in the rear, and it should not be such a hassle, but it is possible.  All is not lost should your three authorized computers all take a dump on you.

    That’s not to say the system is not fundamentally flawed, I just figured you’d like to know in case it ever happens to you or your readers.

  4. OK, let’s see.
    I have a Mac running Omniweb.
    When I save the page, it saves it properly, so there’s that.
    When I open image in new window, I get cleardot.
    OK, let’s try blocking cleardot.
    This gives you a blocked image shown OVER the actual image.
    So basically they covered the real image with a clear image, and used some obfuscation to confuse most browsers out of saving properly.
    The real image is classified as a background image,  according to Omniweb.

    Nice work, google, but DRM is evil, and we may just have to help you enforce your policy.

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