Spanish Court: filesharing is like lending

' In their ruling, judges Ocariz, Gutierrez and Campillo said that “..since ancient times there has been the loan or sale of books, movies, music and more. The difference now is mainly on the medium used – previously it was paper or analog media and now everything is in a digital format which allows a much faster exchange of a higher quality and also with global reach through the Internet.” '  [link]

I don't agree, but I do think first of all that calling filesharing theft or piracy is also wrong, and second that people on all sides of this discussion need to think carefully about what is really going on and what it means.

To take a related issue: when you buy a DVD and shove it in your machine, you get one of those ridiculous, annoying FACT clips. This one is my personal least favourite. It reminds me - I suspect intentionally - of the 'AIDS iceberg' campaign. And that's exactly the point - unlawful copying is not HIV. Nothing will make it like HIV, most particularly not a menacing voice over and a picture of a fat bloke in a leather apron.

The thing is that your DVD player is set up so that you can't fast forward through or skip the FACT clip. "That operation is prohibited at this time." What? Hey, buddy, this is my house and my goddam DVD layer. You don't prohibit skippy!

But they do. It's another instance of that weird half-ownership thing which crops up in these discussions a lot. I have paid for both the player and the DVD; how does someone else get to decide whether I have to watch the ridiculous clip over and over again? It infuriates me each and every time. I would gleefully digitise a DVD and watch the movie on my computer purely so that I never, ever have to see the branding iron or hear the stupid VO ever, ever again.

Be honest: in your heart of hearts, do you really think filesharing is in any way like actual piracy? No. It's a structural problem. It's something more like fiddling your travel expenses. Each individual instance hurts no one; only the collective effect is a problem (assuming that it is; discussion for another day.)

At the same time, we need to engage with people to reintroduce a sense of respect for the concept of intellectual property. IP is abstruse to most, and slightly more diffuse and annoying than global warming. The two issues are similar, actually: you have to act virtuously in the present to defer a nebulous bad in the future which many deny will ever come to pass whatever you do. The proponents of doing the right thing are often annoyingly finger-waggy and negative. Schoolteacher-ish behaviour is not the answer. Better language and a less hyperbolic approach is a good place to start.

It's unlikely that there would be a similar judgment in the UK, I think, but that's not the point. The point is that in the end, the key to beating filesharing is competing with it and being better, not trying to make it sound like a disease which will kill millions. 

[UPDATE: since I wrote the first bit of this post, I've discovered that the endlessly interesting James Grimmelmann has recently been talking about the Internet as a semicommons. I think this is potentially a hugely helpful and interesting conceptual framework, but it also serves to drive home that this is not purely a debate about book sales and people not buying as many books as we want them to. This discussion is a corner - or a cornerstone, perhaps - of a very broad and very significant debate about how we want our society to work. In looking at ebooks and digital culture we need to be thinking wider and taking on board that this is a complex topic - not only because that's the right thing to do, of course, but also because business models are predicated on models of society. Get the second wrong, the first is toast. Among other things, we may have to acknowledge that things which look like easy fixes - DRM and the DE Act - probably are neither as easy as they appear nor capable of fixing much of anything in the longer term.]