Speaking in aid of UN World Book and Copyright Day, last month U.S. Ambassador to Australia Jeffrey L. Bleich waded into the Internet piracy debate after learning that Aussies are particularly partial to downloading Game of Thrones without paying for it.
He accused half the show’s audience of being thieves which perhaps understandably caused a bit of a fuss. Bleich’s Facebook page lit up with reaction – most of it critical, some of it abusive – but, as the Ambassador now points out, “a frank exchange is a good thing”.
In a new address to those who download content from unauthorized Internet sources, Bleich recaps some of the issues, including one on many critics’ lists – doesn’t a U.S. Ambassador have anything better to do than talk about file-sharing?
“Actually, given the overwhelming response to the topic, maybe I haven’t talked about internet piracy enough,” Bleich begins. “The point is, this isn’t just about ‘Game of Thrones’ and it isn’t a small issue.”
Citing a whole bunch of figures, such as U.S. businesses “losing” $48 billion to Chinese-based copyright infringement in 2011, Bleich said piracy “is a big deal” for both the U.S. and Australia. “Fortunately, working on this topic doesn’t mean I’ll stop working on other big issues too,” he adds.
Bleich goes on to dismiss accusations that copyright enforcement is all about protecting the profits of big corporations. Game of Thrones, he says, costs $6m per episode to produce and relies on people putting money into their pockets to fund the show. However, we also know directly from mouth of HBO that the show is doing very well indeed, despite all the piracy. Bleich, however, feels this is missing the point.
The Ambassador argues that profitable shows and artists help bring niche products to market. Without Taylor Swift, One Direction and Justin Bieber, labels won’t have the money to support acts that aren’t commercially viable.
“When the labels aren’t fully compensated for the big acts (or HBO doesn’t get receipts for ‘Game of Thrones’) that means other artists won’t get a chance at all,” he says.
Bleich then goes on to address the one thing that seems to come up in every infringement debate – the notion that copying is the same / is not the same as theft. He makes some more analogies, but none of them will quieten this baby.
“Making use of someone’s property without permission — is against the law, and for the same reason as stealing. Think of it this way: no one would argue that it’s legal (or moral) to slip into a movie theater and watch a movie without paying for your ticket (even if a seat was empty and the theater still had the movie afterward). That’s basically what you do when you illegally download a video.
“Stealing is the word that comes to most people’s minds when you use something that’s not yours without permission and without paying for it. So if folks want to call it something else, that’s fine, but my point here is that it is both wrong and illegal,” he says.
But hold on just one minute – didn’t the maker of Game of Thrones and an HBO executive describe piracy of the show as a kind of compliment? They did, but Bleich is having none of it.
“Illegal immigration is a sort of compliment, too (it means people would rather live in your country than theirs) and so is having someone hit on your partner (because it means they find him/her attractive),” the Ambassador says.
“No one seriously thinks that illegal immigration or someone seducing your partner is a good thing. Likewise, the idea that people who download illegally may generate ‘more buzz’ or might decide to do the right thing and buy the next season may be true, but it doesn’t make up for the fact that you are taking something that is not yours when you illegally download content.”
Of course, no one likes the idea of someone hitting on their partner, but they aren’t exactly up for grabs in the first instance – free, paid for, or otherwise.
Countries attract illegal immigration for a number of reasons, not least because they’re a) desirable and b) hard to access by the official routes if you live in the wrong locale, which coincidentally is something Game of Thrones and HBO know a little about.
“Many companies today are working on how to deliver their products flexibly enough to meet the lifestyle and expectations of online consumers. But while they are working out the kinks, we shouldn’t be doing something that hurts people who work in the entertainment industry,” says Bleich.
“I know some people will still passionately disagree (and will let me know it). But instead of shifting blame, I’d just ask that the next time one of us considers illegally downloading a copyrighted work, we remember (and actually follow) the Lannister family code: ‘A Lannister always pays his debts’,” he concludes.
To be continued….