Taping versus file sharing

It’s always more interesting to hear creators talk about copyrights, than it is to hear lawyers. There is a reason why a lot of copyfighting lawyers are now just repeating what Richard Stallman said 20 years ago; for Stallman, the problem that he as an author could not sample or build upon was a very real and concrete one back then, not a theoretical problem to be discussed over cigars and cognac.

Of course, creators aren’t always as savvy about the law as Richard Stallman is, but why should they have to?

nl20 is the local magazine that will tell you what’s on in the cinemas or who’s playing in the theaters. They’re published by PCM, not an unknown party to Dutch copyright lawyers.

This week they published an interview with Kasper van Kooten, ‘theater maker’, and apparently songwriter. I had never heard of him, but then again I am notoriously out of the loop.

Apparently, Kasper has written a song against filesharers. The natural thing to do, he confesses, and he really does not understand why fellow artists seem to care so little: “It is the disease of the download/Everybody grabs what they can/Sweat and tears stolen rudely/But once created so lovingly”.

Ah, but!, points out interviewer Robert van de Griend (btw, who owns the copyrights to an interview?), you also sing that you’re doing this for your artist buddies. “And those buddies were busy with cassette recorders when they were young.”

“That was different,” Kasper feels, “Downloading is no different than cloning. We used to tape the Soulshow from the radio. Exactly at the point where you thought you had recorded a complete song, they started playing a jingle, and your tape was worthless.”

The interviewer points out that if Kasper had been a kid now instead of then, he probably would have downloaded too; the interviewee shrugs off the point as moot, because hypothetical.

One response to “Taping versus file sharing”

  1. Branko Collin says:

    I wanted to put Van Kooten’s opinion in the foreground, that’s why I am talking to myself in the comments.

    Short as this part of the interview is, it offers several interesting insights.

    Assume for a second that Van Kooten is fully aware of all the intricacies of Dutch copyright law. And let’s not beat around the bush about the legality of downloading: in the Netherlands it is legal to download, but not to upload. The moral conclusion to be drawn with regards to P2P is then either that uploading is good, because downloading is legal; or that downloading is bad, because uploading is illegal. We will assume that Van Kooten takes the latter position.

    What should and what should not be legal, then, depends on the quality of the work being downloaded! After all, taping is OK, because by its very nature it is of a lesser quality than the masters of the works. (There were, by the way, radio shows where the DJ tried not to talk through a song, so Van Kooten’s suggestion that you could not copy entire songs is misleading, at least for some songs.)

    Now assume that Van Kooten is unaware of all the intricacies of copyright law; then he is just advocating that the law applies to others, but not to him and his friends. An opinion that is not rare, it seems, but in a sense natural; everybody holds such opinions. The question with these kinds of things, as always, is: should we educate the people (the RIAAA/Brein way, by sueing or prosecuting them), or should we change the law? If we choose the latter, we are going to have a hard time convincing creators that they do not have an intrinsic right to what we are taking away from them.

    There is also an interesting contrast between a line from the song and a sentence from the interview: “Everybody grabs what they can” versus “We used to tape the Soulshow from the radio”. Note how Van Kooten suggests that what they were doing had a very specific purpose. They were friends, buddies, peers, who were in the know about what was good (namely, The Soulshow); the filesharers on the other hand do not care what they download. They just grab what they can (in Dutch: ‘iedereen die graait maar raak’). They lack the well-developed taste Van Kooten and his friends used to determine what to copy and what not.

    I find this a slightly cynical view. Not to mention that is hard to point to the actual damages caused by people who do not care what they download. Unless you hold the even more cynical view that these people would buy at random if they could not download. But perhaps I am just reading too much into a few selected sentences from an interview.

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