Let the MPAA Speak, There’s Nothing To Be Scared Of

This week GigaOm’s NewTeeVee published a piece pointing out that in harsh economic climates people may decide to download movies for free instead of going to the theater or viewing them via VOD. The MPAA weren't happy with the article, to the point where they managed to get GigaOm's permission to publish a retaliatory guest post. Some didn't like that, but I say: "Well done GigaOm!"

Journalist Janko Roettgers has been writing about file-sharing and piracy issues longer than most and his P2P-Blog is a collection of good articles dating back many years.

Janko hasn’t been so prolific on that specific subject in recent times because as writer and co-editor of popular news resource GigaOm, his brief is understandably wider.

Nevertheless, his work on GigaOm’s NewTeeVee section naturally covers some piracy issues, as the official TV and movie outlets of the future try to compete with the BitTorrent networks of today.

On Thursday Janko published a piece called “Sorry, Hollywood: Piracy may make a comeback” which mulled over recent Netflix price hikes, fresh HULU restrictions, the economic downturn and how they may combine to cause a boost in piracy. It contained the following words:

The U.S. credit ratings downgrade, tumbling stocks and international instability have made not just financial analysts nervous this week. Consumers are also starting to wonder whether we’re about to enter another recession. Whenever that happens, people start to tighten their belts and cut unnecessary expenses — like paying for movies and TV shows…

With memories of the housing slump still fresh, many people could simply return to BitTorrent and download movies for free instead of going to the movies or paying for VOD.

The piece was read by Alex Swartsel at the MPAA who took issue with Janko’s “casual promotion of the idea that stealing movies, TV shows and music is a perfectly acceptable way to save money.”

Since Alex had much more to say, GigaOm allowed the MPAA to have a guest post on their site in which they took the opportunity to chastize Janko and drive home the notion that, among other things, copyright infringement is the same as physical theft.

“But if Roettgers had written that financially insecure families will shoplift clothes from a department store this fall to save on back-to-school costs for their children, he would be laughed out of the proverbial building, right?” wrote Alex.

GigaOm reader Dave Warner could barely control his anger.

“Why is GigaOM publishing MPAA propaganda that continues to try and convince us that copyright infringement is the same as theft, when there are quotes from Thomas Jefferson that convince us it clearly isn’t?” Dave began.

“Why is GigaOM giving web space to an organization that spent decades expanding copyright to the point of absurdity and now wants us to pay them for every film made in the last 80 years, most of which would be in the public domain now?

“Why is GigaOM giving newshole to an organization has bought our malleable Congress and suppressed cultural exchange worldwide to line their pockets?

“Keep these bastards out of our tech news feeds,” he concluded, an opinion shared by many in pro file-sharing, anti-restrictive copyright and other associated movements.

But while Dave makes some good points, GigaOm were right to let the MPAA have their say.

Firstly, Alex’s problem with Janko is based on a fundamental misunderstanding. Read any of Janko’s articles and try and find one where he has ever – even casually – condoned copyright infringement. None can be found. All Janko did here was make a credible observation, that people who have the ability may choose to reduce their TV and movie bills in times of hardship. Picking Janko up on something he didn’t do undermines the basis for the whole article.

MPAA 0, Critics 1

Secondly, shooting Janko – the messenger – is another mistake. All this has done is draw attention yet again to the fact that when the MPAA can’t effectively punish the “thieves” taking their content, shooting the messenger (ISPs, webhosts, writers?) is what they’ve been reduced to. That notion is unpopular with just about everyone apart from rightsholders, and very few people – especially journalists – think that is a good idea.

MPAA 0, Critics 2

The other thing is this – no one should be scared of an opposing viewpoint. Letting the MPAA have their say – even when they have criticized a site’s co-editor – is a show of strength and GigaOm are to be applauded.

Last week TorrentFreak published two guest articles together. One argued that people shouldn’t be held responsible for copyright infringements carried out by others. In the interests of balance, we published another from a lawyer operating a porn-based “speculative invoicing”-style model who argued that people should.

Pro-adult industry website Xbiz went on to republish the latter but not the former. I’d venture that TorrentFreak’s readers are now much better informed on the issue, precisely because a dissenting voice was given a platform, an option rendered unavailable to Xbiz readers.

Of course, it will be a cold day in hell when TorrentFreak is allowed to publish an uncensored guest post on piracy for the MPAA blog. However, if the MPAA ever wanted to respond to us here in a piece, we would welcome them. It’s an easy choice because, quite simply, there is nothing to fear.

Free flow of information and freedom of speech is inclusive and if one side of the copyright debate demands it, then the other should receive it too. There is no danger in letting people voice their opinions – one-sided debates are not only boring, they rarely achieve anything.

Vive la différence!

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