Just as the HumancentiPad was incapable of acknowledging what it was reading, so are the media industries incapable of reading into the modernization of copyright laws and the ways in which consumers obtain what they need. While these industries assume that acts of piracy are what is ruining their almighty regime of media, the reality is that their denial of, and inability to adapt to, new technologies are what is hurting them.
The record industry, for example, is constantly hesitating to accept the Digital Age of music and respect the consumers’ desire to make music more accessible online. They claim that such progression leads to more piracy and, subsequently, less sales. Artists such as David Byrne and Bono have discredited this claim, saying “Major labels aren’t doing well because they put out terrible records for years and years and kept raising the price of those terrible records and finally people were like, “Screw you.”” (Patry 18). What the record industries have difficulty understanding is the logic behind such acts of piracy. The majority of the people who are illegally downloading music are still doing so in the best interest of the artist. While this “best interest” may not be the same “best interest” that the industries are familiar with, it is an interest that benefits the artist in the long run. If someone decides to illegally download one song by an artist, he may be doing this for one of many reasons. He may be waiting until he has enough money to buy the entire album legally. Moreover, he might be unsure about said artist, but once this single song grows on him, he will purchase the album and even attend a concert or two, as well as buy merchandise sold by the artist.
“HUMANCENTiPAD.” South Park. Dir. Trey Parker. Comedy Central. 27 April 2011. Television. 9 September 2012.
Patry, William. Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.
As a consumer of media and technology I frequently come across Terms and Conditions or Terms of Services that I agree to in order to use these Services or technologies. Do I accept these Terms? Always. Do I actually read the Terms and Conditions that I’m agreeing to? Absolutely not. Trey Parker’s South Park episode “HUMANCENTiPAD” satirizes the average consumer’s actions regarding technology including not reading Terms and Conditions before agreeing to them as well as how consumers respond to companies such as Apple.
I watched “HUMANCENTiPAD” in the context of the first chapter of William Patry’s book Moral Panics and Copyright Wars titled “How the Copyright Wars Are Being Fought and Why.” While the observations and subsequent statements that Patry forms about the Copyright Wars are mostly in regard to companies as copyright owners, there are direct comparisons to be made to Apple’s business strategies.
Patry opens up his chapter with the concept that industries, such as the music industry, have “gone to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted” (Patry 1). The theme of the industry’s control of consumers is one that particularly interested me when considering themes of “HUMANCENTiPAD.” A premise “HUMANCENTiPAD” is the control that Apple gains by having customers agree to Terms and Conditions (which no one actually reads because it’s “like eight pages long and they send you a new one every three weeks” (Parker)). In this episode, characters blindly agree to the Terms and Conditions and subsequently turn into a rather vulgar new type of iPad which is part-human part-centipede part-iPad, a parody of the horror film Human Centipede.
I decided to peruse the 17 page-long Terms and Conditions of iTunes and, as of the version last updated May 23, 2012, Apple does not have acceptors of the agreement agree to become any sort of HUMANCENTiPAD. However, the Terms and Conditions does contain some language which put Apple in control of monitoring compliance with Terms and Conditions and “enforcement and/or verify compliance with any part of [the] Agreement” (Apple). The South Park episode doesn’t necessarily criticize or bring to light specific content of the Terms and Conditions of iTunes, however, questions the actual control Apple products and other similar technologies have over consumers. For instance, Cartman throws a complete fit in Best Buy because his mother does not want to buy him an iPad and he refuses to be seen with a less expensive Toshiba HandiBook. While Cartman’s response is extreme, it represents the loyalty consumers feel towards brand-name technology, specifically Apple.
Some critical questions to raise are how we got to the point where consumers would not be caught dead with an off-brand piece of technology and why we feel the need to have the latest-and-greatest even if it is, in the case of the South Park episode, a HUMANCENTiPAD? According to Patry’s interpretations of the definition, Apple uses what he describes as “push marketing” by creating what it wants then markets it to the consumer. Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple was quoted in BusinessWeek in May 25 1998, cited in Owen Linzmayer’s Wired article “Steve Jobs’ Best Quotes Ever,” saying that “it’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” (qtd. in Linzmayer). This is precisely the kind of approach Patry detests and views as an attempt of control of consumers. Jobs even went one step further to say in a BusinessWeekOnline interview in October 12, 2004 that “I’ve always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do” (qtd. in Linzmayer). Patry criticizes businesses for creating “products or services based on what they want to sell to consumers and not based on what consumers want to buy, resulting in what Theodore Levitt called ‘marketing myopia’” (5). Unfortunately for Patry’s case against this marketing tool for being ineffective, Apple has been highly successful with push tactics and now has a large following of Apple users, myself included.
For whatever reason I feel a certain connection to my Apple products (of which there are eight being used regularly in my house at home with me and my parents) and while I would like to think that I make the decision to purchase Apple products based on my independent thoughts and decisions, I recognize that this is not the case. Like many other consumers I have allowed myself to be seduced by companies like Apple and in order to continue to use their products will blindly accept the Terms and Conditions presented to me “like every three weeks” (Parker).
Linzmayer, Owen. “Steve Jobs’ Best Quotes Ever.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 39 Mar. 2006. Web. 07 Sept. 2012. <http://www.wired.com/gadgets/mac/commentary/cultofmac/2006/03/70512?currentPage=all>.
Parker, Trey. HUMANCENTiPAD. South Park Studios. Viacom, Apr. 2011. Web. 6 Sept. 2012. <http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s15e01-humancentipad>.
Patry, William F. “How the Copyright Wars Are Being Fought and Why.” Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. 1-41. Print.
“Terms and Conditions.” iTunes Store Terms and Conditions. Apple, 23 May 2012. Web. 06 Sept. 2012. <http://www.apple.com/legal/itunes/us/terms.html>.
Copyright laws are designed to “promote the progress of science and useful arts (Madison Article I, Section 8).” Many everyday websites are attempting to do just this. However, they seem to consistently fall short of the noble goal articulated in the constitution due copyright wars resulting from our modern culture and technology. Stumbleupon.com, which has a mission to provide users with individualized internet content based on a profile of interests each member creates is, on the surface, a fun and unique way to discover one’s interests on the Internet. Buried under the website’s thousands of pages of poetry, photography, music, recipes, and more, there is secret and binding literature, the terms of service agreement.
When reading through Stumbleupon.com’s terms of service, one can see traces of the power struggle depicted in William Patry’s chapter, “How the Copyright Wars are Being Fought and Why.” In the section labeled “Term,” Stumbleupon.com clearly reserves the right to ”restrict, deactivate, or terminate your account for any reason” (StumbleUpon). This statement gives the company more power than its users, sharply contradicting my first impression of the sight as an individualized cultural discovery provider, focused on catering to its users interests. This concept of a company’s power over the customer can be seen especially clearly in the South Park episode “HumancentiPad,” where Eric blindly agrees to Apple’s terms of service, subsequently signing his life away. This episode does a painfully wonderful job of depicting the power we as customers give service providers by clicking “agree.”
Companies and service providers such as Stumbleupon.com and Apple are known for their popularity among consumers and reputation for being caterers of customer desires. This is humorously echoed in the South Park episode by character Kyle Broflovski when he says, “everybody knows that everything but apple is stupid!” (Parker). However, upon reading the terms of service and watching the “HumancentiPad,” a new side of these companies was revealed to me, a side that mirrors William Patry’s claims of what the copyright war is, a struggle for power. While Stumbleupon.com makes it clear in their terms of service literature that the “services are made available to you for your non-commercial use only,” (StumbleUpon Section 7, f) it is not without the stipulations discussed above. Through the implementation of their terms of service, both Stumbleupon.com and Apple are limiting consumers’ rights in what users can do with the cultural content they obtain through services provided by these two companies.
By recognizing the fact that very few users actually read the terms of service material, companies like Apple and Stumbleupon.com are secretly in control of their customers’ rights. Users are under the impression that these two companies are all about giving customers exactly what they want and creating an environment of free-flowing and available culture, a consumer’s euphoria. To some extent they are, but what customers fail to realize is that company policy is a juxtaposition of the outward appearances they advertise and is often swept under the rug by the simple click of the “agree” button.
Madison, James. United States. Constitution of the United States. Philadelphia: , 1787. Web. <http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html>.
Patry, William. “How the Copyright Wars are Being Fought and Why.” Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford, 2009. 1-41. Print.
Parker, Trey, dir. “HumancentiPad.” Writ. Matt Stone. South Park. Comedy Central: 27 Apr 2011. Television. <http://www.southparkstudios.com/full-episodes/s15e01-humancentipad>.
“StumbleUpon Terms of Service.” StumbleUpon. N.p., 27 Jul. 2011. Web. 6 Sep 2012. <http://www.stumbleupon.com/terms>.