Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Scouting for a Fight

So, if the government manages to ram through the Digital Economy Bill without debating it properly, a number of things will change. Among them will be our relationship with so-called 'intellectual property'.

The reason we have separate laws to deal with copyright is, quite simply - and whatever Ray Winston's offspring is paid to say about it - because it isn't the same as theft. Theft is the deprivation of someone else of their property, meaning, once you've deprived them of it, they don't have it anymore. As this isn't true when you move 1s and 0s into the same pattern as someone else without their permission - they still own the pattern they made - copyright infringement is not theft at all. It is closer to trespassing.If the Bill becomes law, people who 'steal' copyrighted data will be subject to expulsion from the space where the 'property' they've 'stolen' is legally available. It is akin to ASBO-banning a persistent hoodie thief from all town centres that have shops in. As such, the harshness of the punishment redefines society's view of where on the spectrum that runs between property and non-property copyrighted data lies. If you can be cut off for copying - as the ORG points out - £18 worth of music, then consumers of music will have to stop looking at downloaded data as trivial information and start looking at it as a real purchased object.

The entertainment-industrial complex's stupid adverts declare that "you wouldn't steal a car" and ask why, in that case, you are happy to download their stuff. This implies that there is a moral equivalence between the two. If the Bill is passed, society will have recognised this moral equivalence.

So. When you buy music, you will be buying a real object. People who don't pay for it are thieves - if you do pay for it then you are now a consumer. Consumers have rights.

For a start, DRM will have to go. It's an object you bought - they can't tell you what to do with it - if you can deprive them of it, then it isn't theirs anymore. DRM should be made illegal immediately.

Secondly, it is time to start demanding full consumer rights for all goods purchased, whether tangible or not.

In the past, before copyright infringement was officially stealing, we were able to allow a certain sensible line to be drawn when we were dissatisfied with the data contained within a product. Obviously, if we considered the data to be shoddy then we were stuck with it; if the CD was scratched, we took it back. Now though, the data itself is the only product on sale. If we are going to view the data as something stealable then we deserve full consumer protection when we purchase it legally.

The sale of goods act, 1979 (amended) is clear:

If you have bought goods you have a right to expect that they should be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality:

  • ‘As described’ means that it should correspond to any description given about the goods such as the quantity, colour, measurements etc. These descriptions may be verbal statements about the goods, statements in the brochure, on a shelf edge or even on the box.
  • Goods are of ‘Satisfactory quality’ if they reach the standard a reasonable person would expect taking into account the price and any description.
    - The law says that goods that are of satisfactory quality are free from minor defects, have good appearance and finish and are durable, safe and fit for all the purposes for which such goods are commonly supplied.
  • In addition to being fit for their every day purpose goods should be fit for any specific purpose you agreed with the seller at the time of sale [for example, if you specifically asked for a printer that was compatible with your computer]

So say, for example, that prompted by their earnest, heartfelt and passionate pleas for money on Panorama I were to buy 'She's So Lovely' by Scouting For Girls. As a consumer, I have a right to expect that the data will reach the standard a reasonable person would expect of it.


As a piece of new music from the esteemed Sony corporation, I would expect it to be wholly original, to have lyrics that express something about the human condition and for it to cause a positive emotion to be generated in my brain.
Sadly, very little about the track can be called original.

It shares a title with a 1997 John Travolta film about a violent ex-husband causing trouble for his remarried wife. The Band's name is a 'repurposing' of the title chosen by Baden-Powell for his handbook establishing the boy scout movement only with 'girls' instead of 'boys', presumably in order to emphasise the band's affinity with kerb-crawlers and pimps.

Musically, the song is built around a four chord progression (G, C, Am, D) which is repeated for most of the duration. As any pop musician will know, the actual musical content of a chord sequence is not in the notes but in the progression - and this progression: from the 1st to the 5th to the minor 2nd to the 7th, while less common than the 1st, 7th, minor 9th, 5th sequence found in the majority of pop songs, is not new or original. It can be found (though with less repetitions) in 'True Love Will Never Fade' by Mark Knopfler, 'An Eluardian Instance' by Of Montreal, 'I'm Set Free' by the Velvet Undergound, 'Three Little Bears' by Jimi Hendrix and 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' by The Smiths among a host of others. The topline melody of the chorus consists of four notes: D, C, B and A with the latter two repeated one after the other for the majority of the tune - only adding the D and C to spice things up a little at the end. The song is in standard 4/4 time.

Given that there is nothing in the music that we can identify as uniquely original, perhaps we should turn to the lyrics. As a consumer, I have a right to expect that they should be 'fit for the purpose for which such goods are commonly supplied'. As such, and as words deliberately arranged into a meaningful order, I can expect that they should convey something with a reasonable degree of skill.

I quote:

"A stunner

I want her

Was she this fit When she was ten years younger?

Come see me,


She says she's got a trick or two to teach me

I don't know how we'll make it through this (repeated)

I think that you are lovely"

leaving aside the suggestion of paedophilia in the 'ten years younger' remark, we might wonder who is being asked to 'come see' the narrator given the confusion of tenses. Perhaps the grammatical ambiguity is designed intentionally to create a sense of dislocation in the listener and prompt a questioning of the protagonist's sanity and reliability? Is this a song about a tragic figure - literally out in the streets, delusionally but literally Scouting for Girls? Unlikely - as the 'she; in question has apparently already confessed her interest by implying that she has 'a [sexual] trick or two' that she intends to teach our hero. The only interpretation of this passage is that the writing is, in itself, faulty - a reading underscored by the seemingly random insertion of existential doubt inherent in not knowing 'how we'll make it through this' and the laughably clumsy and meaningless final assertion.

This neither uplifts or pleases me.

The packaging of this product suggests that it is a professional release conforming to a reasonable standard of quality. As the music is an entirely unoriginal cobbling together of slowed down trills and regularly used chord progressions - we can only look to the lyrical content of the data to determine it's compliance with consumer protection law and trading standards. As the lyrics fail to reach a basic level of competence - any consumer would be well within his or her rights to return the goods to the seller and demand either a full refund or that the song be repaired to a reasonable standard.

If the digital economy bill is passed and if the pedlars of such data are to be afforded enormous protection against 'theft' of their goods then consumers must demand the right to treat data as goods themselves and be entitled to rights when the goods are substandard.

I'm not sure how one goes about returning a copy of a digital download. And I'm pretty sure that every song I've ever heard or written is every bit as unoriginal as 'She's So Lovely' music wise and nearly as inept lyrically - but still, if this is how it is going to be - it's time to demand better. After all, the music industry says that without the Digital Economy Bill it will be unable to discover and develop new talent. They haven't appeared to do this for quite a long time now - but if they're going to take our rights, it's about time that they started.



JasperM said...

I propose the following as a question, as I have yet to make up my mind:

I agree with the notion that when you illegally download a song or book, the author still possesses the data, and therefore it is inappropriate to equate the act with stealing a car. I also agree that Scouting For Girls and Jaime Winstone should shut up.

However, the fact that the transactional analogy used by morons is inappropriate does not wash away the justification for criminalizing the downloading of copyrighted material.

Just because the product of some people’s work can be turned into code, and thus access to it can be made unlimited, should not negate their ability to demand appropriate remuneration for it. I believe that access to knowledge and information is a greater good, and that Digital Economy Bill is both cynical and poorly thought out. However, we do not have the right to exploit experts simply because the products of expertise can be easily reproduced after the original data has been created.

The problem with this debate is found in the fact that it is centred around pop music. You are quite right is noting that the claim of authorship for material created by rearranging existing chord progressions is bogus. Your post put me in mind of the way in which inventions become patented. There would be no point in patenting a pop song, because any number of songs might have similar effects. However, some material that can be easily downloaded is not so easy to create. Some data requires significant expertise and training for its initiation, as well as research and development for its creation.

Whilst the author still has a copy of the data after the ‘theft’, it is not through possession of the data, but through the right to create the conditions by which the data is transmitted, that the creator can reliably hope to earn money for the time he expended in the act of creation.

The government, record and publishing industries should spend more time thinking up appropriate new business models, rather than trying to protect old ones in inappropriate ways. However, I don’t think it is reasonable to suggest that authors should give over their rights to earn a living from their expertise and labour, simply because it is difficult to establish an appropriate model of legal protection. Depriving someone of rewards for their labour is wrong, even if it’s not theft – especially when the artist is creating something we want to consume and could not reasonably expect to find elsewhere. Should such deprivation of reward not be punished?

lyingtothekids said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lyingtothekids said...

I came here to delete this post as I wrote it for a glibber blog in the hope of drawing some RTs to push the anti-Debill demo - but this is a worthwhile, worth-reading comment so I'm going to leave it up so as not to lose it, but lock feedback.

I'm not anti-all-copyright-in-principle (as some are) but I think the market value of certain data has fallen as close as makes no difference to 'free' due to the explosion in supply and unchanging demand. It really is only new business models (corporaterecords.co.uk, me fans) that have a hope of helping. I don't think consumers should be harshly punished for refusing to pay an unrealistic price in a free market. On the DEBill though, I think that the whole piracy question is a distraction from a bad law and beside the point. I think that other musicians who have stayed silent or supported it should ask themselves some difficult questions and should probably be ashamed of themselves.

But I'm on the record all over the place with better arguments than the one above - so I have better ground to defend and will leave this there. Thanks for the comment though :)

lyingtothekids said...

oh, maybe I can't lock comments for individual posts - oh well, fine, comment if you like - other people, but I won't be checking.

幸雨 said...

Better say nothing than nothing to the purpose. ........................................