November 30, 2011 – 4:55 pm

It is said that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. In the case of the copyright industry, they have learned that they can get new monopoly benefits and rent-seeker’s benefits every time there is a new technology, if they just complain loudly enough to the legislators. By Rick Falkvinge, founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party.

The past 100 years have seen a vast array of technical advances in broadcasting, multiplication and transmissions of culture, but equally much misguided legislators who sought to preserve the old at the expense of the new, just because the old was complaining. First, let’s take a look at what the copyright industry tried to ban and outlaw, or at least receive taxpayer money in compensation for its existence:

It started around 1905, when the self-playing piano was becoming popular. Sellers of note sheet music proclaimed that this would be the end of artistry if they couldn’t make a living off of middlemen between composers and the public, so they called for a ban on the player piano. A famous letter in 1906 claims that both the gramophone and the self-playing piano will be the end of artistry, and indeed, the end of a vivid, songful humanity.

In the 1920s, as broadcast radio started appearing, another copyright industry was demanding its ban because it cut into profits. Record sales fell from US$75 million in 1929 to $5 million four years later - a recession many times greater than the record industry’s current troubles. (Speaking of recession, the drop in profits happened to coincide with the Great Depression.)

The copyright industry sued radio stations, and collecting societies started collecting part of the station profits under a blanket “licensing” scheme. Laws were proposed that would immunize the new radio medium from the copyright industry, but they did not pass.

In the 1930s, silent movies were phased out by movies with audio tracks. Every theater had previously employed an orchestra that played music to accompany the silent movies, and now, these were out of a job. It is quite conceivable that this is the single worst technology development for professional performers. Their unions demanded guaranteed jobs for these performers in varying propositions.

In the 1940s, the movie industry complained that the television would be the death of movies, as movie industry profits dropped from $120 million to $31 million in five years. Famous quote: “Why pay to go see a movie when you can see it at home for free?”

In 1972, the copyright industry tried to ban the photocopier. This push was from book publishers and magazine publishers alike. “The day may not be far off when no one need purchase books.”

The 1970s saw the advent of the cassette tape, which is when the copyright industry really went all-out in proclaiming their entitlement. Ads saying “Home taping is killing music!” were everywhere. The band Dead Kennedys famously responded by subtly changing the message in adding “…industry profits”, and “We left this side [of their tape] blank, so you can help.”

The 1970s also saw another significant shift, where DJs and loudspeakers started taking the place of live dance music. Unions and the copyright industry went ballistic over this, and suggested a “disco fee” that would be charged at locations playing disco (recorded) music, to be collected by private organizations under governmental mandate and redistributed to live bands. This produces hearty laughter today, but that laughter stops sharp with the realization that the disco fee was actually introduced, and still exists.

The 1980s is a special chapter with the advent of video cassette recorders. The copyright industry’s famous quote when testifying before the US Congress – where the film lobby’s highest representative said that “The VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone” - is the stuff of legend today. Still, it bears reminding that the Sony vs so-called Betamax case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and that the VCR was as near as could be from being killed by the copyright industry: The Betamax team won the case by 5-4 in votes.

Every time the copyright industry succeeds… this behavior is further reinforced. It is far past due that the copyright industry is stripped of its nobility benefits, every part of its governmental weekly allowance, and gets kicked out of its comfy chair to get a damn job and learn to compete in a free and honest market.

Also in the late 1980s, we saw the complete flop of the Digital Audio Tape (DAT). A lot of this can be ascribed to the fact that the copyright industry had been allowed to put its politics into the design: the cassette, although technically superior to the analog Compact Cassette, was so deliberately unusable for copying music that people rejected it flat outright. This is an example of a technology that the copyright industry succeeded in killing, even though I doubt it was intentional: they just got their wishes as to how it should work to not disrupt the status quo.

In 1994, Fraunhofer Institute published a prototype implementation of its digital coding technique that would revolutionize digital audio. It allowed CD-quality audio to take one-tenth of the disk space, which was very valuable in this time, when a typical hard drive would be just a couple of gigabytes.

Technically known as MPEG-1 Audio Layer III, it was quickly shortened to “MP3” in everyday speak. The copyright industry screamed again, calling it a technology that only can be used for criminal activity. The first successful MP3 player, the Diamond Rio, saw the light in 1998. It had 32 megabytes of memory. Despite good sales, the copyright industry sued its maker, Diamond Multimedia, into oblivion: while the lawsuit was struck down, the company did not recover from the burden of defending. The monopoly middlemen tried aggressively to have MP3 players banned.

The century ended with the copyright middlemen pushing through a new law in the United States called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which would have killed the Internet and social media by introducing intermediary liability - essentially killing social technologies in their cradle.

Only with much effort did the technology industry manage to stave off disaster by introducing so-called “safe harbors” that immunizes the technical companies from liability on the condition that they throw the end-users to the wolves on request. The internet and social media survived the copyright industry’s onslaught by a very narrow escape that still left it significantly harmed and slowed.

Right after the turn of the century, the use of Digital Video Recorders was called “stealing” as it allowed for skipping of commercials (as if nobody did that before).

In 2003, the copyright industry tried to have its say in the design of HDTV with a so-called “broadcast flag” that would make it illegal to manufacture devices that could copy movies so flagged. In the USA, the FCC miraculously granted this request, but was struck down in bolts of lightning by courts who said they had way overstepped their mandate.

What we have here is a century of deceit, and a century revealing the internal culture inherent in the copyright industry. Every time something new appears, the copyright industry has learned to cry like a little baby that needs more food, and succeeds practically every time to get legislators to channel taxpayer money their way or restrict competing industries.

And every time the copyright industry succeeds in doing so, this behavior is further reinforced. It is far past due that the copyright industry is stripped of its nobility benefits, every part of its governmental weekly allowance, and gets kicked out of its comfy chair to get a damn job and learn to compete in a free and honest market.

Note: Rick Falkvinge is a regular columnist at TorrentFreak, sharing his thoughts every other week. He is the founder of the Swedish and first Pirate Party, a whisky aficionado, and a low-altitude motorcycle pilot. His blog at focuses on information policy. The above article was posted at TorrentFreak.

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It’s almost six years since Rick Falkvinge decided to enter politics and found the first Pirate Party in Sweden.

The Party quickly gained the interest of the mainstream media and, at the Swedish general elections in the same year, it became the third largest party outside parliament. Inspired by this success, Pirate parties were founded in dozens of other countries.

Earlier this year, Falkvinge stepped down as party leader to focus more on promoting the Pirate position internationally. Aside from sharing his thoughts on conferences and his blog, he also spreads his ideas on copyright in bi-weekly columns on TorrentFreak.

No longer bound by political shackles, resignation allowed Falkvinge to spread the word on a global podium. And not without result.

Today Falkvinge was honored by the high-level politics magazine Foreign Policy by earning a spot in their prestigious list of Top 100 Global Thinkers. Alongside familiar names such as Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Clay Shirky, Ron Paul and Hilary Clinton, the Pirate Party founder was recognized for inspiring millions of people worldwide.

“Indeed, 2011 may be remembered as the year Falkvinge’s big idea broke through into the public consciousness,” Foreign Policy writes. “His Pirates still aren’t exactly mainstream, but the issues they focus on - government transparency, Internet privacy, and copyright law - are very much in the zeitgeist, and their ranks are growing.”

“The Swedish and Swiss Pirate parties have aided WikiLeaks, offering the controversial site server space and web hosting; a self-described Pirate Party activist was named secretary of youth and sports in Tunisia’s revolutionary cabinet; and, in September, the Pirates won a shocking 8.9 per cent of the vote in Berlin’s state elections,” it adds.

Needless to say, Falkvinge is honored with his spot in Foreign Policy’s prestigious list, something he certainly didn’t expect when he founded the first Pirate Party in 2006.

“I never thought the ideas would gain ground this quickly,” Falkvinge tells TorrentFreak in a comment. “I had expected a Pirate Party success in Sweden to be necessary just for the second Pirate Party to form in another country. Instead, we are seeing them grow like wildfire, and now, be recognized at the highest levels,” he adds.

Indeed, Pirate Parties all over the world are gaining momentum. In the European Parliament Amelia Andersdotter is about to become the second Pirate MEP and, in Germany, the party is riding the wave of success after it earned 15 seats in the Berlin State Parliament elections.

Quite an accomplishment for such a young movement that was built by a group of volunteers who shared the same ideals, and it might be just the beginning. - Ernesto of TorrentFreak


  2. What is always left out in these discussions (at least concerning software that allows people to obtain music free of charge) is this: Everyone seems to think that musicians should be happy at the prospect of not being paid for their labor. The response by those who aren’t musicians (and want their music free but who would themselves never think for a moment about working their own jobs for no pay) is that people who feel compelled to create music will just have to find another way to make money. They can mow lawns. Or wash dishes…

    Or they can tour! Yeah…that’s it! They can make money by touring! This, of course, is an untenable solution for almost all but the very highest profile artists. The costs associated with touring nowadays (gas, maintenance, living expenses, advertising, etc.) are so high that few bands can make much, if any, money by playing a long string of concerts. Those who are able to tour have to (or at least feel compelled to) charge very high ticket prices…which fans then object to as being unreasonable.

    Neither can most artists, other than the highest profile ones, make much money by selling merchandise. (Hell, most of them probably can’t even afford to have band merchandise made in the first place.)

    So what happens in part because of “pirate” software/internet sites? The little guys are marginalized or forced out of music altogether, while the biggies get even richer and the “pirates” themselves benefit largely by doing nothing of value to anyone. The pirates are actually allowing the wealthiest and most powerful players to further consolidate their wealth and power at the expense of all the other artists who don’t have the wherewithal to play the game…probably the exact opposite of what they think they’re doing (or at least what they publicly profess to be doing.)

    This isn’t to say, obviously, that much of what has happened concerning copyrights over the last century isn’t patently absurd (sorry…). But if I were to say to you today, “Hey, buddy, I want you to give me the fruits of your labors free from now on. I’d like you to keep working for me; I’m just not going to pay you anymore. I figure you can find a way to compensate for whatever you lose monetarily”, you’d throw a bit of a hissy fit, now wouldn’t you? So how come your situation is any different from the musician just trying to make a living off his or her art? You know…the little people who aren’t satisfied with mediocrity and recycling the same old ideas over and over? The ones who don’t pander to the Philistines? The ones who constantly push against the boundaries of art? The ones you keep saying you love so much?

    Just saying…

    By Jim Shelley on Dec 1, 2011

  3. -well written jim

    By matt_the_cat on Dec 4, 2011

  4. Good story about the self-serving copyright industry. I agree with this historical summary. Copyright has been all about sacrificing personal freedom and money for the benefit of parasites. It has little to do with creativity or ‘art’. Real artists do not need such a crazy system to inspire them. I, for one, welcome our new Pirate Party overlords.

    By zaar locust on Dec 10, 2011

  5. My friends had a small band and some local success. The pubs would not pay a reasonable fee for them to perform as so many bands wanted to play, even for free. The fact is there is an abundance of local talent and music and it no longer commands a premium over plumbers and shelf fillers. So write it, play it enjoy it but stop expecting royalties, those days are over unless you are very lucky, statistically like a lottery winner. If you are any good, play live, teach, inspire but don’t think you are special, you are ordinary.
    Orchestra members play someone else’s composition, why should they get a royalty if their recording is played on the radio. Pay for live work, yes, royalties no.
    The exception is when commercial use is made of a composition. If an advert or film uses music, then the entrepeneur making the profit should pay the musician / composer according to an agreed formula. Thus commercial radio which only exists for profit motives can pay for using music. The BBC in UK has no profit motive and should stop paying royalties. Any musician should pay the BBC for advertising their work.

    Sharing should be encouraged in our society, never criminalised.
    Sony and the technology industry sold us the means to make digital copies. They own/control half of the creative content in the world, its hypocritical of them to lobby for laws to restrict my use of their equipment.

    By Guardone on Jan 11, 2012

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