Friday, January 27, 2012

Copyright Wars

Now, for the first time in history, we have the technological capacity to save all those works in digital form at a tiny cost and, through the Internet, easily put them at the fingertips of everyone, anywhere in the world
- Pat Choate, Hot Property

About this time last week, I was making a list of the fall jdoramas that I didn't have the time to see and was doing an inventory to check whether or not I had all the episodes to the dramas currently languishing in my computer's hard disk. I also made a mental note to set aside some time for dramas that weren't on my to-watch list but were nevertheless already subbed in their entirety only to hold off obtaining a copy, thinking I could easily gain access to them through direct download links... oh boy, was I wrong to think this.

Looks like I have to wait a little longer before I can watch Kame morph into Kokey's distant relative or see Chiaki Kuriyama play wife and spy by varying the application of her eye makeup. I should also give up the idea of ever getting to watch Sakurai Sho play butler to a rail thin Kitagawa Keiko, whose acting, by the way, cannot possibly get worse after landing the role of a pouty, anemic, Plain Jane in Paradise Kiss. How do I waste my time now without all these (ahem*) quality shows?

Ah, 'tis a shame, indeed.
 *   *   *

Just when I though that the online community scored one for the team when the U.S. Congress decided to postpone any action over the proposed legislation against online piracy, the Feds and the Justice Department managed to strike back by cracking down on the filesharing site mammoth, megaupload, thus strongly sending a message that the fight is far from over. And although the owners of the said site deserve little or no sympathy for amassing millions based on a business model that clearly violated copyright laws, I can't help but feel bad thinking about all the material that fansubbers and raw providers have guardedly made available online, now lost and inaccessible. These storage sites have become an integral part of the Asian drama community in the past few years, they provided an alternative to peer-to-peer file sharing which can take a while if you missed out on the swarm.

I may not have been following the issue closely (I'm sure there's a student out there preparing a thesis on this very topic), but it's interesting to note how recent moves to enact SOPA/PIPA/ACTA appear to be nothing more than the latest installment of what some critics and commentators would refer to as Hollywood's continuous attempt to protect the interests of copyright holders (i.e. their right to make money and have sole discretion over certain works). Watching the Keiser Report episode on SOPA made me realize how today's debate regarding the controversial bills reflected the same core issues identified with the film and music industry's fight against piracy---from the early days of the VCR, to the rise and fall of Napster, up to the successful lobbying of studio execs  for the Bono Act, which in turn extended the copyright term of commercially viable works.

As delineated by author of Hot Property, Pat Choate, this really is an ongoing saga of two clashing cultures and belief-systems, a battle that is alternately fought in the federal and international stage. In an age where information can readily be obtained at the click of a mouse or a mere touch of a keyboard, copyright holders would like nothing more than to regain absolute control over the distribution of their work, while public domain advocates, in contrast, would like nothing more than to protect the untrammeled exchange of ideas in cyberspace to foster innovation.

It's a dicey situation for sure, one which might not readily find a solution, however, at the moment, extending the breadth and scope of intellectual property rights enforcement as suggested would mean imposing a form of regulation which can easily border on censorship and negate the established concept of fair-use. I think people in general are not opposed to the idea of protecting intellectual property rights, it's just that technology in itself is quite the game-changer, and as such, the old rules don't apply. The challenge therefore is to come up with a new model, a new system, hopefully one that works without having to take us a step backward.
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