If you asked any random person on the street what they thought the purpose of copyright is, they’d probably assert that copyright is designed to protect the rights of artists. William Patry, author of Moral Panics and Copyright Wars, disagrees. Patry believes that copyright is a tool used by so called “copyright industries” to wage war against their consumers. Patry argues that the modern use of copyright is a symptom of “push marketing”: “With push marketing, businesses create products or services based on what they want to sell to consumers and not based on what consumers want to buy” (5). This kind of push marketing is very apparent in the modern music industry, which constantly resists changes in music mediums. “This is what occurred with the record industry’s refusal to move to MP3 single-song sales, long after it was apparent to rational observers that the CD market was exhausted” (4). Push marketing as Patry describes it is detrimental to progress and resists free market ideals, in particular the invisible hand. Patry argues that the industry needs to move to a pull market, in which consumers and “collaboration, not control” drive the marketing of copyrighted works (7).
Since Patry’s argument is based primarily in the domain of economics, one would assume that a company such as Facebook that provides a service free of charge would have little use for the waging of copyright wars. But while Facebook generally does not revolve around the creation and sharing of creative works, it’s easy to forget that photos and videos uploaded can be considered “intellectual property”. Facebook has a somewhat disturbing approach to intellectual property, as stated in their Statement of Rights and Responsibilities: “For content that is covered by intellectual property rights, like photos and videos (IP content), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License). This IP License ends when you delete your IP content or your account unless your content has been shared with others, and they have not deleted it.” Facebook essentially has the right to use your photos and videos for whatever nefarious purposes they can think of. This becomes even more frightening when it becomes clear how little privacy really exists on Facebook: “When you use an application, the application may ask for your permission to access your content and information as well as content and information that others have shared with you. We require applications to respect your privacy, and your agreement with that application will control how the application can use, store, and transfer that content and information. ” While users do have the right to resist this intrusion, I doubt that many users consider the possible repercussions of playing “FarmVille”. As Kyle Brovlofski so tactuflly stated in the South Park episode “Human CentiPad”, “Who the hell reads that entire thing every time it pops up?”
Patry, William. Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2009. Print.
“Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” Facebook, 8 June 2012. Web. 08 Sept. 2012.
Parker, Trey. “Humancentipad.” South Park. N.d. South Park Studios. South Park Studios. Web. 8 Sept. 2012.
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.
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>.