Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Your Media Rights Under Fire

I was looking at the link to the BBC, where the BBC claims that if you watch the World Cup at work on broadband, the business is liable for TV license fees. Legally, they're right. But is it just?

I lived in the UK for 2.5 years. It was an important and interesting time for me. Also, I was under fire from the guys of the TV license because I did not own a television set or any other device set up to receive a TV signal. I got letters almost threatening that non-payment for the license would subject me to 2,000 pounds worth of damages. As if everybody in the UK owns a television and nobody would be excluded. It's true that they find a lot of people that actually do have televisions though.


I also know that the BBC is producing useful and informative programs. Since I live in Brazil now, I see the very difference between 100% commercial television and public television. It would be a bad move to dispose of public television altogether. The information that is available from a 100% commercially run media system is appalling. It is very important to have an objective media system, or at least acceptably objective to inform the public about politics and what goes on in a country. The commercial TV stations do not know or care how to do this properly.

As you may already know, I am reading Lawrence Lessig's "Free Culture", a very interesting and important book on the subject of our culture, our media, our entertainment. Culture is the expression of who we are as human beings, which can extend to social groups like countries, religions, types of music, etc.

More and more, the very essence of ourselves, our culture, is reduced to content, a word I have started to loathe. The copyright laws in the US have been exemplary of the kind of industry control that media companies have over culture and its distribution. Most of those companies have soared on the success of reuse of other works, especially Disney (reusing the Grimms stories in the beginning and even Mickey Mouse is not "original"). And now it is becoming worse:


The RIAA has been very active in campaigns on file-sharing and claims success in this area:


All that society wants to do is share, it's quite natural for it to do so. But the original author deserves compensation for his work, the sense of property needs to exist and I think also needs to continue to exist, up to a certain point. If there were infinite control of an authored work, no derivative works could or would exist, threatening the continuity of our very own culture or its richness.

I think what is important to remember is the idea of "having right to media and information", the right to be part of the consuming part of media or culture. At the moment, the industry is changing this "right" to a "permission", consciously or not, because they feel threatened by the advances of technology that makes the act of copying of authored works cheaper and cheaper. Rather than embracing this technology itself, they choose to hamper it in order to persist old and outdated business models.

What society really wants to do with culture is different than how publishers want to sell. Which side does the law favour? In the case of society, it is probably government to defend the cause of its citizens. This means sensible copyright laws that offer a balance between the rights of the authors and the rights of consumers. But the industry is continuously sponsoring the rights of the author. Who sponsors the rights of the consumers?


Because the publishing companies already have enormous control over what gets published, they also have enormous control over our culture and how our youth experiences and views our society. Basically, the industry has a very high control over how our society shapes itself through the publishing of media. One of the biggest fears of people is the reduction of media and culture to a uniformly shaped mass. No focus on diversity, but focus on mass-dispersal, because that means profits.



I think from a social perspective that the efforts on this control of authored works is wrong:


"I think that people need to be better informed about DRM, its implications and be informed on every disc so they have the ability to choose! Then we will come to some kind of democratic and public decision on DRM and together, we'll form the true opinion what's right and fair."

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