Today's empires of copyright infringement

We are almost into 2020, and looking back over the decade, we have seen the rise of a series of multi-billion dollar valuation corporations, that have tiny staffs, all in most part based on inducing millions of private citizens to take behavior which was considered fair use when they took something and shared it with their small group of friends, and through the multiplicative effect of a billion personal computer users, all connected together on the World-Wide-Web, turn it into a potent destructive force, which is ruining entire industries.

Let’s start with criminal organization #1 : YouTube. This company lets you open your own TV channel. They store and deliver the video at great cost (hundreds of millions per year) to however many people want to watch it, anywhere in the world, without an FCC license or spending a dime yourself. Your main goal in YouTube is to rack up as many views as possible, so the advertising YouTube sells can generate views and clicks. The majority of the content viewed on YouTube is stolen fragments of concert DVDs, films, and TV programs, all of which are owned by various copyright holders, with none of whom are compensated. Under the current law the copyright owners have the burden to find their content among the billions of videos on file, and report each one, which will then be taken down after identifying it specifically. It is such an exhausting and taxing job that only a few studios bother to protect their current properties, and so the infringement rages on. When Prince was alive for example, he had a paid staff whose sole job was to keep his old concert footage off YouTube. With his untimely death that staff has been terminated, and now you can find thousands of Prince videos. So you can block things if you are diligent, but you will have to do it every day of the year, forever, which is a significant cost. YouTube makes billions in ad revenue, passes on millions to the infringers, and thus is the overseer to tens of millions of petty copyright criminals working as independent contractors in their ecosystem.

Example #2: Pinterest. This is a website (now worth over 13 billion) that lets people take a bunch of photographs and arrange them into a little art gallery kind of scene. Hundreds of millions of people browse Pinterest to see the latest fashions, archival images of movie stars, paparazzi photos, pictures of plants, everything. You pick a theme for your collection, and they store and deliver these photos in perpetuity for free, to however many people (and that might be millions) that does a search for that theme. You can look up fashion, art, but a lot of it movie star glamour shots, etc. The majority of the photographs are reprinted without attribution or permission, and thus Pinterest is the single most powerful force in destroying the value of the value of photography in the history of photography.; How can one get paid for a picture of Audrey Hepburn when your coffee table book has had its key pages scanned, and fed back into a website that aggressively promotes this infringing content? This isn’t a guy xeroxing a photo out of a book, and pinning on his wall, this is a guy taking a photo, scanning it, and sharing it with millions, wiping out the economic foundations of photography, not to mention destroying the coffee table book biz, when the juiciest photos have leaked out.

Youtube has its Chinese, Russian, and other country copycats, and the net sum of all these types of companies is the elimination of copyright as meaningful protection for the intellectual worker class. The music business is so destroyed, that only a few live acts which can fill stadiums like Taylor Swift, make tons of money and the 99% of the rest of musicians live in greatly reduced circumstances.

Copyright, patent, and trademark law protected creative workers. It built our rich culture and sustained a middle class set of artists, thinkers, creative people of all kinds. We must immediately update the laws and strip these quasi-criminial organizations of their means to be rich by inducing millions of private citizens to infringe. We could start by fining them 10 times whatever advertising revenue they get from display infringing works. We could make it so that all photographs are stored on a single database and monetized. Maybe 0.0001 cents per view is all you get, but multiplied by a million that would add up. The computer has no problem tracking billions of tiny transactions. One of the basic features inside cryptocurrency is the ability to subdivide a currency to a microscopic level. There are many solutions possible, some will be more feasible, or politically acceptable. But nobody is even talking about fixing this disaster.

If you steal a $10 candy bar from a local 7-11 store you can be fined up to $500, but more importantly the legal fees can be $10k for a criminal defense attorney. What YouTube and Pinterest are doing is wiping out copyright. But copyright is too long nowadays, many of the owners lose track, and for the benefit of society we should cap it after a short period. The greedy Disney company championed in Congress by successfully lobbying to extend Copyright further and further because they wanted to protect their old-ass licensed properties like Mickey Mouse. What they should have done is allow companies with huge investments in some character or thing, to be able to pay to extended protection for a specific thing indefinitely for an annual fee. Then we could make copyright 20-30 years for example, and that would stop damage to newer works, but let old stuff get circulated, and allow companies that build on various things continue when it is warranted.

YouTube is full of clips from Cheers, Seinfeld, and other sitcoms. They shouldn’t have a single clip. They didn’t pay the millions of dollars for the hundreds of creative writers, actors, directors, stage hands, and editors.

And I haven’t even begun to discuss software piracy which has ruined my profession.