Archive for March, 2009

No more letters of marque

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

As early as the sixteenth century, countries were turning pirates to their cause by retitling them in exchange for not attacking the nation’s ships. By granting letters of marque, pirates were made privateers. In exchange for not attacking ships flying the colors of that nation, these pirates would not be attacked by the warships of that nation, but would have to give a portion of the spoils for attacking other ships. I think many pirate vessels found this to be an acceptable compromise; they didn’t have to give up their ways, but got some measure of safety out of it. From the nations point of view, they didn’t have to expend resources protecting their own ships from these pirates, but also got a kickback from it. They adapted to the situation at hand rather then trying to fight tooth and nail, a fight that would have cost them elsewhere if it was successful at all.

The Pirate Bay logo

Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, I ran across an article on TorrentFreak talking about the death of the music industry. As many of you who follow such news have heard, the creators of The Pirate Bay, a torrent sharing site, are being held on trial (with the prosecution failing from what I’ve read). What I find more interesting, barely anyone who doesn’t follow this kind of news knows of this upcoming trial, showing how little the sharing of music and videos actually matters to the public at large. The general public doesn’t care about file sharing… they’ll be upset when musicians become responsible and don’t make up tabloid headlines with drug problems and who’s dating who. But I digress.

Personally, I think the music industry missed out on a golden ticket. Most of what I say from here on out is speculation, but I would guess that most people who illegally download music, movies, and games do it for convenience. I’m sure that the big companies could make an easy coin if they accepted new technologies instead of fighting them. Why did iTunes do so well? If people could get movies and music for free, why is it that they still buy music online? iTunes does some specific things correctly:

  • Cheap music
  • The ability to download what you want instead of paying for material you might not want
  • Simple, straight forward service and interface
Image representing hulu as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via Crunchbase

Now, iTunes has its problems too, such as DRM. But services like NetFlix, allowing people to rent movies for periods of times they choose, plus having online options, gave people incentives to sign up with them. Websites such as Hulu allow people to watch popular TV shows when they want, as they want, with little delay and few problems.

What I see is this: if the large companies, instead of suing grandmas and single parents, offered their music and movies through their own services are reasonable prices with reasonable features, they’d continue rolling in the dough (that I really don’t think they deserve). But they’re fighting technology. This has worked for years, when we had a relatively isolated society, where communication even city to city was either a phone call or mail that took a few days. The companies had the power, in that they controlled information, and they controlled the material. We live in a new age today, where the next city is equivalent to the next country. They no longer control the information, and rather then adapt to their situation, they fought it.

We’ve living in an age of information, and more importantly, we’ve living in an age of openness. The internet allows everyone access to information they may have never been able to access before. The internet allows people to communicate with people they never knew existed before. The internet allows people to publish their own information in ways they couldn’t do before. And the internet pushed these fat cats over. More and more, people refuse to simply be told what to do… options are opening up, thinking is on the rise. But this doesn’t mean people are rampant criminals. People will do whats right more often then not. Unlike the old days though, you won’t be able to make privateers of these pirates. What you can do is convince more pirates to give up their ways, and it won’t be by threatening the noose.

So here’s my thoughts or solution. First, music, movie, and game producers need to stop treating customers like renters and thieves. Limited activations and DRMs (like the infamous Spore release) make people on the edge want to give in to their less legal impulses. Yes, you’re going to lose money on resales, but when you’re putting out shitty material, why would I want to keep it? And when your customer support sucks and I’m out of activations, I’ve paid for a very shiny coaster. When you stop treating us like we did something wrong by giving you money, you’ll find more people are likely to give you money.

Join the 21st century and start providing reasonable web services. You can outdo iTunes if you try. People don’t want full albums, usually they only want a few songs. Let people listen to an album a time or two, then let them pick out the music they want to keep, and don’t start charging ridiculus prices for these services. Start offering services to watch TV shows and movies online. Use commercials to pay for the TV shows and charge rates to watch the movies. They’re your material, you should get the money for them. Make the services useable, and let people access older content. Too many TV corporations offer their shows on their site, but with nearly unuseable interfaces, only a handful of episodes, and the shows going online days after the show´┐Ż aired. If you don’t want to bother setting up your own, work out a system with other sites.

Lastly, stop going after people. You’re no longer the big dogs, and thieving is easier with the internet around. You can’t control the internet, and the day you start trying, you’ll find a bigger fight then you’ll want to handle. Yes, you’re making less money then you were before, but I’ve heard nothing of losing so much money that suddenly you’re in trouble, except for your bloated numbers. I’m not saying you’re not entitled to your earnings, I just think its about time you learn you don’t need a golden toilet. You might think you’re protecting your rights to your property (although I’m positive that’s not the reasoning), but all you’re doing is making more enemies and pushing moderates away. Take advantage of your power, and capitulate to the people a bit. You’ll end up being their heroes.


Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

USSR IconographySince Obama came into office, it seems like all we hear from members of the right is that he is leading us to Socialism. And each time I hear it, the first things that pop into my mind are, is that a bad thing, and that’s different from now, how? For some reason, socialism is equated to communism, both seen as pure evil, and I think we have the cold war to blame for that.

I think its important to note what communism is. As posted in the Wikipedia article on communism, “Communism is a socioeconomic structure and political ideology that promotes the establishment of an egalitarian, classless, stateless society based on common ownership and control of the means of production and property in general.” Of course, the reason the US had so much trouble with the idea of communism is that our economy had become based on the idea of capitalism. We believe that those who can make money make it, and if you can’t, too bad; they believed no one should be left behind. But in truth, communism is not socialism. Communism believes that no one should own sources of income, and that it be run communally; socialism advocates that the government should oversee sources of income, and help lead these groups. Communism is politics; it distributes resources and goods to that which needs it. Socialism is economics; it places everyone on equal footing, to succeed or fail based on their own merits.

And this is where I see a large dose of hypocrisy. First of all, Americans need to get it out of our heads that we’re in some progressive, socially advanced nation. Regan once referred to America as a “shining city on a hill”, probably from John Winthrop, believing that America was a beacon of hope for the world, in terms of our resolve, strength, and ideals; that’s no longer the case. If you compare the US to countries like China or Saudi Arabia, I’d argue yes, we are socially advanced. If you compare the US to countries like the UK or Germany, we’re very conservative. In my research, I spoke to a number of people from various countries in Europe, and they all agreed to the following: our liberals are like their conservatives. Some people I spoke to said that if their politicians even said “God” in any public statements, they’d never get reelected, if they avoided the incoming impeachments. We can’t elect a man who isn’t a “true” believer. The idea that we’re advanced because we’re rich is also a fallacy. America has been holding on to stagnant ideas for decades, enveloped in this idea that we’ve continued to progress. In fact, America was the start of the fall of the global economy, started by sheer arrogance.

Another dose of hypocrisy goes straight to the members of the right claiming Obama is leading America to socialism. I wonder how many of them supported the first bailout of Wall Street. I wonder how many of them would have supported the bailout if it was their company or a company that financed them. A government bailout is as socialist as it gets. Not to mention all the other programs the government fiances such as welfare, medicare, and unemployment that are social programs. America already has socialist elements, but they are mere shadows of competent programs. America has dipped its feet in the pool of socialism, but doesn’t have the nerve to jump in, but is now too comfortable to step out.

In contrast, we see European countries, not founded on principles of freedom, equal rights, and religious independence being the more socially advanced. While Americans complain about “high taxes” and constantly demand cuts, many Europeans have higher taxes then we do, and in exchange, have much better welfare programs, higher literacy rates, and more then a few face lower unemployment rates. They have state funded or mandated medical programs, meaning everyone has access to the basic medical care everyone should have the right to. They have programs so when you lose your job, you aren’t wondering if tomorrow you and your family will be on the streets. In effect, the policies give everyone a chance to be someone, and don’t fault them for situations beyond their control. Is it your fault if your bank makes some stupid decisions and you lose money? Is it your fault if your company decides to go for profit and randomly cuts you from the line? Is it your fault if your apartment catches on fire because the person living below you decides that lighting a fire indoors is a good idea, and your insurance won’t cover it?

America tends to be a very solitary society, while providing this false notion of comradery. We talk all about the American future, and how we need to work together to overcome the world’s evil, yet we can’t come together as a country to solve what should be important issues like healthcare, homelessness, the energy crisis. I’m not saying they’re easy to solve, but they should be at the top of our list. Socialism isn’t the enemy… in truth, a lot of American ideals and moralities are socialist in nature. A path to socialism will make our country stronger, if we can control socialist ideas to work for our nation. We’ll never be socialists… America is too deep rooted in the idea of personal freedom to be very socialist, but we can finally adhere to the ideas the “Christian” ideals the right always talks about: helping our neighbors, helping the most downtrodden of us, giving everyone a chance. Socialism is the true “no one left behind”, the real “everyone’s equal”. We can truly be the “shining city on the hill”; we can be the beacon for the advancement of the world, socially, culturally, and economically. Though honestly, it’ll take more then socialism for that… but that’s a discussion for another day.