The year was 1929. Ruined stock brokers were throwing themselves out of windows on Wall Street in desperation from the horrible stock market crash. The economy was in a shambles. People were literally starving, something that had been inconceivable just a few years back.
That same year, record sales in the USA plummeted along with Wall Street brokers – from $75 million to a mere $5 million. The copyright industry was certain: it was all the fault of the broadcast radio. Certainly so.
It couldn’t possibly be their own business failure or the fact that the entire economy had gone belly-up. No, it was definitely the fault of broadcast radio. They went to politicians and policymakers and demanded (and got!) fees from broadcast radio to compensate for the damage done to the copyright industry by the new medium, as evidenced by the fact that sales were down from $75 million in the mid-1920s to $5 million in 1929. And so, politicians thought it was a good idea to hamper the promising new medium of broadcast radio in order to benefit the old record industry and their sales.
Fast forward to the 1940s, when television arrived. The copyright industry was furious: who would possibly pay to go to the movies, if you could watch a movie for free at home? The decade had barely started when the U.S. FCC adopted the television standard NTSC, and at the same time, people almost stopped buying movie tickets. The copyright industry was certain: in 1941 through 1944, it was definitely television’s fault that they didn’t sell as many movie tickets as they used to. They complained to politicians and policymakers as they always do, but these particular years, politicians were busy doing something else, something that might just have affected the overall economy. Nevertheless, it was the perfect scapegoat – again – for the copyright industry’s own business failures: who would possibly pay to see a movie at the cinema when they could see it for free at home?
Then, a decade later, in the 1950s, cable television arrived. By now, the copyright industry had learned to profit off of broadcast TV, and they were absolutely furious at the new cable TV medium. They were required to broadcast for free, after all. How could they possibly be expected to compete with a paid service? This was grossly unfair and they went to politicians and demanded the new cable TV medium to be hindered, hampered, and regulated.
Skipping some twenty episodes of the same pattern, we arrive at the Internet.
Unlicensed home manufacturing of copies had started with the cassette tape, but took off with the net. The copyright industry, once their business failed for completely unrelated reasons, had the perfect scapegoat: young people who didn’t respect their distribution monopoly. Damned be civil liberties, damned be the internet, damned be jobs, entrepreneurship, innovation, and progress: by blaming unlicensed manufacture, they didn’t have to face the music of a business failure toward their board and shareholders, but – again – had a convenient external scapegoat for their own damn utter incompetence.
(We can easily observe, that now that unlicensed home manufacturing of music has practically ceased, copyright industry sales of music still hasn’t changed a bit. Unlicensed manufacturing was never the business problem or a cause. But it was a very convenient scapegoat.)
The copyright industry has managed to kill civil liberties for their own children, ushering in a dystopian surveillance machine, merely to avoid taking responsibility for their own business failures. I lack words to quantify my contempt for these utter parasites.