In Response to Ewan Morrison’s Sky is Falling Piece on ACTA’s Death

After ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) was killed in Europe, many were applauding the secretive agreements demise. One ACTA supporter, Ewan Morrison, took to writing an article in the Guardian to say that everything from journalism to movie making is going to be devastated by this development. We respond to these comments.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

When I first read this article on the Guardian, my first thought was, “Is he for real?”.

I went digging around looking for other profiles about him. I dug through, trying t find a personal website which linked to the article saying, “Ha ha! Look at the hilarious satirical piece I wrote in the Guardian!”

Either my Google-Fu is failing me today, or this guy was actually serious. I skimmed through the comments on the article, but some people were either enraged by the comments or were asking the same questions as I was – comments like, “is this sarcasm?” or “I can’t tell if this is serious or not.” come to mind. There might have been a comment on the fourth page by the author which would indicate he was actually being serious here.

Perhaps one way of looking at this is that if there’s caricatures such as Kevin O’Leary (who had at least one guest on his talk show suggesting that he speaks in Loony Toon) and Tom Flanagan (who infamously advocated the murder of Julian Assange), I suppose people can seriously write what Ewan Morrison wrote in the Guardian.

Still, I can’t seem to totally prove he was writing this in jest, so I’ll say this: In the event this wasn’t satire, here is my response to this article:

The article starts off with saying that by dumping ACTA, European politicians have “unwittingly” signed Europe up for a future of rampant piracy that would lead to the decline of journalism, music and film production on an industrial scale. He then writes this:

This is not scaremongering. One need only look at the stats from the US, where during the Clinton administration the internet companies were given free rein to pillage copyright material via the rushed-through Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). According to Robert Levine, in his book Free Ride, the music industry in the US has declined by over 55% in the last decade. Film is following with its first decline in recorded history. Journalism is heading towards “free”. All because people now assume that “ripping” is the norm. If “aggregation” is OK, as the Huffington Post do it, then why should we pay for journalism? Why should we be branded pirates? This is what the European parliament has just ruled. Everything on the net, from now on, will be free.

First of all, these industries still exist and they are still profiting.

Second of all, the MPAA has been enjoying record breaking profits after record breaking profits for years now. No ACTA necessary.

Thirdly, to suggest that the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) and the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) had no hand in the process of creating the DMCA nor did they lobby for anything in the DMCA and that the DMCA is somehow a big ploy by the big evil tech companies to free-ride on other people’s works is perhaps one of the funniest attempts to re-write history I’ve heard all year.

Fourthly, you can’t say that rampant piracy has pushed journalism towards “free” when journalism has always had a history of “free”. How many people leave newspapers behind on the subway system/rail system so that others can read it? Did that mean that journalism is suffering from rampant piracy and would cease to exist? No. This activity didn’t destroy the industry. In fact, it may have helped the industry. This sort of activity was depicted in vintage paintings. The only thing the Internet has done is lower the barrier for entry into the market. Before the Internet, you needed hugely expensive equipment and a sophisticated distribution network to mass produce a newspaper and sell it. Trying to get news to the reader was, for the most part, a costly prospect. After the Internet came around, all you needed was server space and a domain name to write the news. Sure, blogging software was helpful, but the bare essentials was knowing to type “”, “”, “” and “” into a notepad file, saving it with the extension “.html” and how to upload that file onto a server. The only cost is server space and a domain name. Now, you don’t even need that. All you needed was an account to one of the many free blogging platforms available. That has not meant the decline of journalism. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It meant that the handful of large corporate interests no longer had a monopoly on human knowledge in current events. Journalists were no longer confined to the whims of an editorial board who determines whether or not an event is newsworthy or not. Never before has information been so well scrutinized, so criticized and so well looked at from all angles as with what was brought forth thanks to the advent of the Internet. Now, anyone can look at something and explain why he or she agrees or disagrees with it. In fact, the existence of online journalism has helped larger outlets understand the points of view on file-sharing in general whereas before, the Internet was some newfangled technology no one understands. Now, some go so far as to say that ignorance is no excuse in the advent of the Internet because anything you want to learn about is a mouse click or a search term away. Journalists are constantly pushed towards the further reaches of excellence less they should face the wrath of a cynical and/or critical, yet informed audience who are more than happy to point out when you are a complete idiot for even the simplest of mistakes.

Fifthly, does the film industry have to have indefinite growth? Is that some sort of right? If there is even the slightest bump in the road, does that mean we have to completely re-write copyright laws as if there was some sort of national crises? I don’t buy that for a second. I don’t believe it is possible for any industry to have continued indefinite growth. At some point, there is going to be a decline for any number of reasons. Quite frankly, with the kind of content I’ve seen marketed in my area, I’m amazed that profits have gone up as much as they have. For crying out loud, how do you manage to ruin a Bond film anyway? I haven’t paid for a movie in over a year now. Is that because I’m continually engaged in torrenting every release in existence? No. That’s because I haven’t seen or heard of hardly anything worth watching. For me personally, piracy is the least of the film industries concerns.

The article goes on to say this:

As a journalist, novelist and a friend of many who “used to be” musicians, I see the wrong in this. I defend copyright because it is the lifeblood of the creative industries and of democracy.

I’ll counter this by saying that, as a journalist and music producer, that statement could not be more wrong. The lifeblood of the creative industry is the fans. If copyright was such a great promoter of creative works, why are Shakespear plays and Mozart performances even considered anything anymore? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t because the original works are still in copyright because these are in the public domain.

In addition to that, under what sort of evidence can someone say that copyright is the lifeblood of democracy? Do you mean to say that it has nothing to do with the writing of a constitution or the actions of people or any great reformation of some sort? Do you mean to tell me that the voting system is not the lifeblood of democracy? Do you have any idea how a democratic government works?

The author then goes on to say that he conducted polls with students and says this:

And I say to them, but don’t you want to make films, be journalists, make music? Where will the money come from if you don’t pay? This is a blind generation. And there is no point trying to convince them person-to-person that what they are doing is damaging their own future.

So, rather than say technology has changed since the 1900’s and that maybe the creative industries have been less than perfect when it comes to responding to change, it’s all the consumers fault? Going so far as to say that it’s an entire generations fault strikes me as extremely short-sighted. Why not admit that maybe, just maybe, suing the younger generation en-mass might have not been the best way to win respect? I don’t know what kind of business background this author has, but I don’t think it’s a smart business move to alienate your customer base to the point of declaring all out war on them.

The author then continues with this gem:

The only solution is governmental. And the problem started with legislation: the DMCA, with Clinton, who was bullied into it by the tech companies in Silicone Valley. The ruling makes it impossible to sue internet providers for copyright infringement on their own sites. So for example, if I am a band, it will be my responsibility, or that of my record company, to trawl the tens of thousands of rips of my songs and send out writs and sue individuals. Meanwhile, the internet companies who profit from piracy are left scot-free, legally.

This raises a whole host of questions. For one, why are we comparing laws from other countries? For another, why do we have to rely on government intervention to keep an old business model alive? Does the government have to subsidize big rich corporations just to keep them alive? If a business makes extremely stupid decisions with how to run things, why do the laws have to be written around these people’s mistakes? It’s extremely hard to feel any sympathy for big corporations who abuse their money and power to do things like hold back innovation and treat their own customers like criminals. If you want to go around and sue everyone who has been exposed to your products, go right on ahead, just don’t come crying to me when you finally figure out that such an idea is a bad one and expect the rules to change to suit your interests.

Let’s throw in one more quote from this author’s article:

Those who think they are being counter-cultural by ripping content off the web are fools, and this includes those who fought against Acta in the name of “freedom of expression”. They want the internet to be some kind of 60s utopia where everything and everyone is free. But we still live in capitalism, and if you make culture free, you make it a ghetto.

The internet is not free. It is about as free as the free market. And the companies that run the internet are all massive US corporations. When you rip material on the net, there is a cost. You are handing over you own country’s cultural content to US corporations, who will never pay a penny in return.

Of course, this completely ignores the fact that many people have also been innovative in the age of the Internet. When I think of being counter-cultural, I think of using the web to promote original ideas – even if it means re-using bits and pieces of existing work as seen here:

Others have used the web for creative purposes. We have Red vs Blue, Remi Gaillard, God Inc., Will it Blend, Black20, Elephant’s Dream, NewGrounds and on and on and on. If the Internet is going to be a ghetto, it sure is a lot better than half the stuff available through more traditional mediums.

In addition to this, to say that people who are against ACTA are simply working on behalf of US corporations is extremely misleading when it was the US that pushed long and hard on ACTA on behalf of US corporations in the first place.

It’s been a general observation from where I’m sitting that many of the industries claims typically collapse when they are exposed to truth, history or both. If you want the truth about the creative industries and the Internet, you look to independently researched science. For that, you can find this as an excellent start.

The industry has had some success stories when tech entrepreneurs came to their rescue even if the industry begrudgingly accepted the invitation to the 21st century. Many of us who have watched these things over the years have known all along that when industries like the music industry actually invests some energy into innovation, it pays off. The major content corporations need to focus less on the antiquated idea of punishing people for behaving like rational consumers and more on finding innovative ways of making piracy obsolete rather than criminalizing such activities, thus criminalizing and alienating an entire generation of customers. ACTA is one of the biggest incarnations of pushing old antiquated and broken ideas into the 21st century. There’s no turning back the clock at this point. Accept that the Internet is reality and go make money from it.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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