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Give the wookie what he wants!
By Jon Newton, p2pnet.net
(more articles from this author)
2002-12-16
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"I have watched my 19 year-old daughter and her friends sample countless bands on Napster and Kazaa and, enthusiastic for their music, go out to purchase CDs. My daughter now owns more CDs than I have collected in a lifetime of less exploratory listening. What's more, she has introduced me to her favorite music, and I too have bought CDs as a result.

"And no, she isn't downloading Britney Spears, but forgotten bands from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s, as well as their musical forebears in other genres. This is music that is difficult to find - except online - but, once found, leads to a focused search for CDs, records, and other artifacts."

Stirring words, and a round condemnation of those who want to stifle p2p or better yet, buy up the most viable p2p apps so they can try to reduce them to pitiful commercial packages.

They're the thoughts of Tim O'Reilly, founder and president of computer book publishers O'Reilly & Associates and one of the best-known activists for internet standards and for Open Source software.

And, as he says in his seven-point, end-of-the-year editorial Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution, "eBay is doing a nice business with much of this material, even if the RIAA fails to see the opportunity."

After discussing how sites such as Amazon Sites have created virtual storefronts, "for all the books in print cast a ray of light into the gloom of those warehouses, and so books that would otherwise have no outlet at all can be discovered and bought," Tim goes on to say:

"For all of these creative artists, most laboring in obscurity, being well-enough known to be pirated would be a crowning achievement. Piracy is a kind of progressive taxation, which may shave a few percentage points off the sales of well-known artists (and I say 'may' because even that point is not proven), in exchange for massive benefits to the far greater number for whom exposure may lead to increased revenues."

He says 'piracy' is a loaded word which used to be reserved for wholesale copying and resale of illegitimate product and, "The music and film industry usage, applying it to peer-to-peer file sharing, is a disservice to honest discussion.

"Online file sharing is the work of enthusiasts who are trading their music because there is no legitimate alternative. Piracy is an illegal commercial activity that is typically a substantial problem only in countries without strong enforcement of existing copyright law.

"At O'Reilly, we publish many of our books in online form. There are people who take advantage of that fact to redistribute unpaid copies. (The biggest problem, incidentally, is not on file sharing networks, but from copies of our CD Bookshelf product line being put up on public Web servers, or copied wholesale and offered for sale on eBay.) While these pirated copies are annoying, they hardly destroy our business. We've found little or no abatement of sales of printed books that are also available for sale online."

And on eBay, under Shoplifting is a bigger threat than piracy, Tim says while few of the people putting books on public web servers try to profit from the activity, "those who are putting up CDs for sale on eBay containing PDF or HTML copies of dozens of books are in fact practicing piracy - organized copying of content for resale. But even so, we see no need for stronger copyright laws, or strong Digital Rights Management software, because existing law allows us to prosecute the few deliberate pirates."

Actually, we don't have a substantial piracy problem in the US and Europe, Tim states, emphasising that the fact that Microsoft's software products have been available for years on warez sites (and now on file trading networks) hasn't kept it from becoming one of the world's largest and most successful companies.

"Estimates of 'lost' revenue assume that illicit copies would have been paid for; meanwhile, there is no credit on the other side of the ledger for copies that are sold because of 'upgrades' from familiarity bred by illicit copies," he points out.

Other points covered in Tim's 'Thoughts for Today' ; ) include, File sharing networks don't threaten book, music, or film publishing. They threaten existing publishers; 'Free' is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service; and, There's more than one way to do it in which he sums things up with the ultimate lesson: " 'Give the wookie what he wants!' as Han Solo said so memorably in the first Star Wars movie. 'Give it to him in as many ways as you can find, at a fair price, and let him choose which works best for him'."


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