The endless barrage of entertainment industry-sponsored bills that are being shoved through our Legislature are indicative of an alarming trend within our society, that it has become a bigger crime to pirate a movie or song than it is to assault someone, or deal drugs.
Is the above statement inaccurate? Perhaps, perhaps not. It really is a matter of perspective.
If you consider it from a purely monetary perspective, if you would rather spend a couple of years in prison, only to get out and have your financial health reasonably intact, then it is valid. If you would rather not be locked up, but be so in debt that you will never be truly working for yourself again, then it is preposterous.
Strictly speaking, the entertainment industry owns our government, and has for some time. It owns them because we have elevated singers and actors above the true heroes of this world. While we celebrate the vain, the interesting, and the out of control train wrecks of reality television, people are dying in foreign lands so that you can have the luxury to waste your money on whatever new product Kim Kardashian is hocking this week.
While you watch the Jersey Shore, and make Snooki's new book your first literary purchase in a decade, there are talented researchers toiling in labratories to publish papers that advance modern medicine and solve real problems, helping to improve the quality of life of millions.
While you watch the Red Carpet coverage of the Oscars, marveling at the million dollar necklaces that are handed out as gifts to stars, just so that the jeweler's name can be associated with such an "important" public figure, social workers, teachers, rescue workers and police officers that are devoting their lives to helping others.
Am I immune to this same behavior? Absolutely not. I watch Hollywood blockbusters, and enjoy music on the radio as well as many of you. Even more, I'm an American, and I enjoy the liberty to spend my discretionary income as I see fit, just like many of you. The purpose of this post is not to ask you to boycott the theater, or turn off the radio, or to justify piracy or theft of any kind.
The purpose of this post is to open a discussion. To make a humble request for everyone to take a step back and look at what our priorities of a culture have become. Other nations used to look at America as the land of opportunity, the land where economic fortune was only a lifetimes worth of labor away.
What does this all have to do with the current state of Intellectual Property Law? If you will indulge me for a moment, I would like to cut to the root of the problem, and build my case from there. It will take a commitment of a few minutes of your time, during which there will not be flashing lights, there will be no glamorous lifestyles to aspire for, and it will put no coin in your pocket. It will, I hope, give you fodder for a far more rewarding discussion as to where we should be spending our time, our money, and our ambition. If your attention span isn't long enough to commit to that, go back to teh Jersey Shore, you are too far gone for me to concern myself with.
While I still believe in the promise of our country, far too many of us have allowed ourselves to be distracted from the unsubstantial "culture" of undeserving admiration. Somewhere along the way, we got to the point where everyone felt that they deserved to be admired, for no other reason than for being themselves. Perhaps its our parents fault. Perhaps the fault lies with our Kindergarden teachers. It doesn't really matter where the blame should fall, but the phrase, "Everyone is special", has poisoned our culture.
It has been said, "No good deed goes unpunished", and "The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry". The best of intentions will sometimes bring about the worst of consequences. Parents sought to inspire their children, to let them know that they believed in them. They wanted them to understand the concept of POTENTIAL, but in the rush to inspire they handed over the keys to the Cadillac without even running their children through drivers education first.
Telling a kid that "Everyone is special." sounds great, but is at best misleading, and at worst the downfall of our society. I know, that's a bit dramatic, but as I said earlier, stick with me for a minute while I make my case. Telling someone repeatedly that they are special is a bit like telling them, "Mission Accomplished, you don't really have to DO anything special, because you already are."
Look at an anthill. Truly watch the social structure of an ant colony, and take a close look at the amazing feats that they are able to accomplish. Now, ask yourself this-Do you think each ant thinks they are special?
No, each ant recognizes their role, and does their job. Each one of them has a specific task that they are good at, and they do it for the greater good. They don't all try to be the Queen.
Humans? It feels like everyone wants to be the metaphorical Queen of the colony. "Too many Cheifs, not enough Warriors", in essence. Not everyone can have their voices represented and truly accomplish anything worthwhile.
Let's briefly explore why that is. Actually, I'll just tell you my opinion, because it is far too late tonight, and I have to get up early for my day job.
-Everyone is not Special, nor are they equipped to make educated decisions.
Disagree? Take a look at our nations test scores. Listen to the Republican Debates.
If you want to be considered "Special", I have a very straightforward way for you to accomplish this-
DO SOMETHING SPECIAL. And no, looking attractive is not by itself considered doing anything.
Make something worthwhile. Come up with a new idea that improves the lives of others. Save a life. Help someone less fortunate, without any gain for yourself other than the good feeling you get from doing the right thing.
Somewhere along the way, we began to idolize people that did the things that we wished we could do. That, in and of itself, is not entirely bad. It can inspire us to do things that we might have never done on our own. Our competitive nature has kept us alive and has allowed us to build our own anthills of accomplishment through the ages.
As we banded together into the first civilizations, an economy of production in the way of agriculture and hunting in groups gave way to the novel concept of "Leisure Time". Out of leisure time, cave paintings and potterycraft, etc. began to take off. As we began to have time to consider more than survival, we invented religion and art to give our lives meaning when we were not performing essential survival duties.
This birthed the first primitive culture, the fledgling beginnings of science, and unlocked our higher brain functions.
Ancient Egypt, Greece, etc. created monumental works that still exist to this day. If you point to a time when the general quality of life enjoyed a marked improvement, an increase in art and science occurs simultaneously.
During the Dark Ages, consolidation of power and greed suppressed this progress.
So, it seems that meaningful progress in the arts and sciences, and advancement of technology, are contradictory to the survival instinct. If we no longer have to struggle as a culture, and are more free to try new things and make mistakes, progress is made. If the economy and power structure are such that we are not allowed the financial or temporal resources to take risks, creativity and technological advancement suffers.
Believe me when I say that the same frivolity that allows for the existence of music and film is a requirement of any advanced culture. You are probably wondering why I traveled so far just to seemingly contradict my earlier statements. My point is that as long as we are doing special things with our time, or at least trying to, improvements in technology and quality of life will follow. If we are presented with too much free time for too long a time, such as the past 50 or so years, we become indulgent, capricious, and stop trying.
Everything has become too easy. And it has even progressed to the point where we are mocking ourselves, such as the dress of the Capital inhabitants in "The Hunger Games". If you watch reality TV, if you spend more time thinking about parties and appearances than you do intellectual endeavors, the petulant people wearing the garish clown makeup in the film are YOU.
These people value cosmetics over human life, over integrity and honor. They oppress through greed and selfishness. This is a clever metaphor for where we are headed as a culture. The workers in the outlying districts work tooth and nail to survive why the inhabitants of the Capital concern themselves with fancy clothes and finding interesting entertainment to avoid the unthinkable atrocity of becoming bored. Being bored is the absolute worst thing they can conceive of happening to themselves, as all risk and struggle has been removed from their lives.
So, a balance must exist. We must have enough free time to avoid fighting for survival, like cavemen, but must retain enough struggle so that we appreciate life and keep the proper perspective on things.
And perspective is what this entire message is about. We have idolized singers, have held movie stars up on ivory pedestals for convincingly simulating the great people we should be idolizing. A movie star is not a doctor, is not a soldier, is not a HERO. If gesticulating in front of a camera is substantially adding to the quality of life for our civilization, then I guess all of our big problems have been solved.
Peace? Not even close.
So the disproportionate amount of money that we as a culture funnel into entertainment is not really healthy.
Do I consider books to be entertainment? Of course, I believe that fiction is especially so. Am I a hypocrite for everything I've said above, as I write this on a website dedicated to promoting my aspiring writing career?
You are certainly free to think that, but I would like to point out that at no point in the above message did I state that entertainment was worthless. On the other hand, I think that occasional diversions are a necessary part of the leisure time principle that I outlined above. It's not the EXISTENCE of film, music, and books that I object to, it's the excessive importance we place upon them.
I believe they are necessary because they are sometimes a source of something that IS important-IDEAS. Books and films even more so than music, which mostly deals with emotions that we are well acquainted with on our own.
Fiction, both in book and Film form, deal in possibilities, in a planning for the future and possible events that bears true value in the means of preparation and taking risks. Fiction allows us to take a potential scenario, and explore what the risks may be with a set of training wheels still firmly attached.
Books are far superior to Films for this, because they are a far more effective medium for encouraging individual thought than either films or music. No vision of the Shire exists in "The Lord of the Rings", without someone first contemplating what that might be like. There is description in Tolkein's prose, but not nearly enough by itself. It took hundreds of actors, workers, and Peter Jackson to bring it to a simulated reality, or it can take a single mind.
As I said before, the value of Art and Science is in the ideas that it encourages, and discussions on those ideas. Ideas are the currency of the realm in todays day and age. It is no longer hard work, and with that evolution it required ways to encourage investment in bringing those ideas to reality. Businesses monetize ideas, and as such ideas have become financial poker chips. Patents, or exclusive rights to an idea, are bought and sold like currency. Intellectual Property includes Patents, as well as designs, logos, music, and even the arrangements of bits, characters, and numbers.
And so we reach teh crux of why I chose to write this post. I thank those of you that have endured it to it's bitter end, but here I hopefully make it all pay off.
If you buy the ideas as currency metaphor, then our intellectual culture can be considered like a large "thought economy". Individuals, as well as banks and companies, take chances with their capital (money or ideas, depending on how closely you've been following the metaphor), hoping to bring in a positive return more often than a negative one. If a person makes a few bad investments, and incurs several losses consecutively, they may choose to stop investing, and choose to keep their money in a vault.
This is pretty much what our current Intellectual Property law has devolved to. The Recording Industry of America, as well as the Motion Picture Assoc. of America, or RIAA and MPAA, are still stuck in a frame of mind that has prevented them from understanding the fundamental difference between selling a physical object and the sale of an idea.
Before the Internet, music and Films were solely contained on physical media. If an unscrupulous individual wanted to steal a song, they had to physically take it. Recordable media brought on a moral dilemma for the RIAA and the MPAA, as it allowed for perfect copying of the Intellectual Property without damaging or altering the initial physical copy.
The two did not see the difference between this and the theft of the original copy, as the actual commodity that they were selling was not the plastic disc, but the unique configuration of zeroes and ones on it's surface. In essence, software. They were selling the story, the sound of the storytellers voice, but not the storyteller themselves.
The simple fact that it is now a lesser crime to steal the physical media from a store than it is to share a copy of the song/film over the internet is a testament to how desperate the RIAA and the MPAA has become to protect the old ways of doing business.
Radio stations are allowed to play songs over the air for a pittance, and allowed to make money off from the recorded performances. This is an old practice that everyone is familiar with. Radio stations pay a monthly fee for access to a catalog of music. The costs for this are not astronomical, yet the penalties for sharing music over the internet are.
If you quote a few words from a song in a novel you are writing, the legal license fees generally amount to around $100-200 dollars a word. For a five word quote, it becomes around $500-1000. Nevermind that some of those words have been in use since the Phoenician Empire. The exact arrangement is now worth more than what some people make in two to three weeks worth of labor.
The discrepancy between the value of five or six words, when uttered by someone represented by the RIAA's lawyers, and 80-120 hours worth of human labor is infuriating to me. Books are commonly quoted, at much greater length, and it is considered fair use, even encouraged in most instances as a form of advertisement. Quoting a lyric, a written representation of a sound, is now considered to be worth more than many physical goods.
A months rent, for five or six words, which aren't even the actual performance of those words, just the words themselves.
This is why I will never purchase another CD or digital music file for myself again. I will not fund an industry that has forgotten the many millenia of information sharing that has come before it, and has selfishly decided that it's bottom line justifies them to destroy the lives of citizens over a potential monetary loss of a few hundred dollars.
The financial influence has even progressed to our government, in the form of the attempted legislation that I began this post with. The RIAA and MPAA, two makers of products that could realistically disappear from existence and not harm a single person not employed by them, now have the power to write their own laws. Music producers telling you what you can and cannot do. Film financiers dictating freedom of speech. It's madness, and I cannot in good conscience support it any longer.
I will continue to put my money into books, into ideas. There are plenty of you who enjoy music, and to a lesser extent, movies, than I. You are free to do as you choose, obviously. I do ask, that you think about what you are contributing to, and at least make an educated decision in the future.
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