Why I Choose Copyright

Lucas Gonze

I used to have a peculiar habit: I went to great lengths to not infringe copyright. This was often misunderstood to be a statement in support of stronger copyright, taking Metallica’s side against Napster.

My intention was different.

Engaging with a cultural product increases its value, regardless of whether the engagement produces immediate revenue. If you watch a movie, you help to give it cultural currency, meaning the kind of thing that is referenced in conversation.

If you watch a hit TV show and then talk about it, you make other people want it. If you sample it, you make other people want it.

This is regardless of whether infringement is involved. If you are never going to buy something, there is no loss of revenue when you don’t pay. If no revenue is lost, then the holders of the copyright have benefited.

Why would I have to infringe to access the work? There might be a literal price (e.g. $20 for a CD) that was too high. Or the work might only be available on terms that I can’t accept. For example, there might be DRM, or I might need a cable TV account. Those terms are a form of cost.

If I couldn’t accept the price, and then infringement led me to help increase its value, I wouldn’t be helping myself. If I refuse to engage at all,then I maximize the pressure I can exert on the vendor.

The vendor’s ideal outcome is for me to pay the asking price. But the second best outcome, if I can’t do that, is for me to help convince others to pay the asking price. The worst outcome is if I ignore the product.

I ignored products to create pressure on vendors to offer them on acceptable terms.

Purism was necessary. No doing what the copyright owner didn’t want, even if I disagreed. No knowing infringement, no matter how absurd the implications.

No torrenting, Linux ISOs aside. No stream ripping. No DJ sets on Soundcloud. No singing Happy Birthday without a license.

Because by obeying the rules I could demonstrate why the rules need changing.

Evangelism didn’t interest me, though. No preaching, no seeking converts. I just lived my life according to a dogma with only one adherent.

A more committed missionary would have done it differently because I could not have an impact this way.

What I was doing was a boycott. Boycotts rely on broad participation.

The people are not dogmatic, and they want torrents.

Over time, the vendors have gotten somewhat better. You can buy music without DRM. You can buy HBO a la carte, as HBO Now, without having to buy cable TV.

That was caused by market pressure. The masses are not purist, but they do prefer reasonable terms to ugly ones.

At the same time, my standards fell. The rise of mobile caused the computing experience to became so unfair, so centralized, so tightly controlled that my expectations with regard to media seem comically unrealistic. There’s no chance of jail-broken phones becoming the stock experience.

When computing users have so much less power, holding out for more makes no sense.

Eventually, I softened my position to a more common one - pragmatism. I now avoid infringement, but will sometimes do it if the alternative is ridiculous. I now avoid ridiculous problems rather than seeking them out. It’s a big change. It means that when the cost of media is too high, I will do my best to pay up anyway.

Last updated