As you can possibly imagine the topic of illegal downloading, file sharing and piracy has been a a low level hum in the background of the recording of the new series of Red Dwarf.
There is no doubt that ‘online piracy’ has had an impact on our income. There was a time about 10 years ago when our meagre slice of Red Dwarf VHS and DVD royalties was a clearly measurable part of our income. It has without doubt, diminished considerably. Sales of DVD’s have dropped, not just Red Dwarf ones, I’m talking DVD sales across the board.
Red Dwarf holds a peculiar place in the pantheon of sales of traditional broadcast TV shows, it stands shoulder to shoulder with Mr Bean and Blackadder as being one of the first TV shows that were released as VHS cassettes during their broadcast lifetime which sold by the truck load.
There is a long and complex history of how the performers in these shows, including the esteemed Mr Atkinson were, for a while at least, completely cut out of this considerable income but I’ll save that sorry tale for my upcoming autobiography, ‘Embroidery for Boys.’
I know about the reduction in DVD sales from both sides. I don’t buy them any more, I subscribe to Netflix and rent films on iTunes, it’s so much easier and there are no plastic boxes to find a home for.
I will, I have been assured, receive an income from legal downloads of Red Dwarf episodes but it’s far from clear how much that will be, I think it’s safe to say it will be less than we once got from DVD’s.
Therefore you might imagine that someone in my position would be all in favour of clamping down on online piracy, chasing those pesky pirates into the sea, closing down the loopholes and introducing legislation that makes illegal downloading and distributing of copyright material impossible.
Well, we’ve just seen what a mess that could make of this world we’ve all entered with such eagerness. The SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) which well funded big media companies are trying to bully through the American political system is supposed to do just that. Put an end to these pesky kids watching films and TV without paying for it.
You don’t have to be a nerd or geek to know it’s going to do two things, one is utterly fail to stop illegal downloading, and two, place massive restrictions on what is perfectly legal and above board. It’s going to negatively affect law-abiding citizens and (Lord I hate this term) ‘content providers’ and leave criminals completely unaffected and able to continue ‘stealing content.’
Basically, the old model is broken, not just a bit scratched and in need of a re-spray, the old model is already written off. It does not work. It’s swerved off the road, tumbled down a ravine and is lying upside down in the river.
The old media corporations cannot find a solution. Their existence is dependent on control, restricted access, release dates, locking code and severe warnings to their customers, us.
When I watch a DVD I’ve bought in a store, the first 5 minutes of the experience requires me watching a litany of warnings, all of them assuming I am a criminal and I need to be told again and again that what I could do with this film is illegal. Being a guilt-ridden-over-privileged-middle-class-middle-aged-white-man, I feel guilty. I haven’t done anything wrong but I feel guilty, for buying a product from a corporation, paying tax on that product and using it in the way it was intended.
Here’s my point, make the act of buying the ‘content’ simple, realistically priced, based on a fair return. Make it easy to find, not locked behind endless layers of ‘security’ needing endless repetitions of proof of identity. Make it as simple as buying an apple in a market, give the man some money, he gives you an apple. We do have the technology to do this, safely, securely and fairly to both parties.
It is up to the (forgive me) content providers, people like me, to find new and simpler ways to distribute our creative endeavours in a whole new market place that could not be conceived when I was young. This is not the end of music, film, books, TV, radio. In fact it is the opposite, it’s opened up the whole creative process.
I predict we will look back on the last 100 years as literally a previous species of highly restricted mass communication. We are currently going through the death throes of one model and seeing the birth of a new one. There will be plenty of mistakes along the way, I’m sure I’m going to make some, but slowly a new way will emerge. This will create new corporations who will become just as powerful and blinkered as the ones we see failing now. The cool thing to know as a humble individual is that somewhere out there, there’s a little spermy fella and a little egg lady, and when they meet they’ll create someone who will put the kybosh on Google, Apple, Netflix, Microsoft etcetera. They in turn will fight to the death to protect their corporate ‘rights. Hey ho.