Douglas Crockford

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November 2006

The Law Becomes an Ass

I am a fan of Lynne Brindley, the Chief Executive of the British Library. She recently said

Unless there is a serious updating of copyright law to recognize the changing technological environment, the law becomes an ass.

I think it was George Bernard Shaw, or was it Benny Hill, who said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language. In this instance, Brindley is using the word ass [emphasis added!] to mean a bad thing, while I usually use it to mean a very good thing. But despite the apparent ambiguity, I think I am able to understand her deeper meaning, and agree. This is confirmed when she goes on to say

DRM is a technical device, but it's being used in an all-embracing sense. It can't be circumvented for disabled access or preservation, and the technology doesn't expire (as traditional copyright does). In effect, it's overriding exceptions to copyright law.

It is almost like she's reading my mind. Except for the ass part. I wasn't thinking anything like that.

Dreaming of Money

From time to time, the MPAA publishes an estimate of the losses their industry imagines it suffers as a result of what it calls piracy. In 2003, it was $3.5B. Then they boosted it to $6.1B. I think the extra .1 makes it seem much more credible and not just pulled out of Jack Valenti's ass. Don't you? Recently they bumped it to an alarming $20.5B by generously spreading the imaginary secondary and tertiary loss over other industries.

MPAA needs these losses to help it to justify its immoral position on Intellectual Property and Digital Rights Management. Imaginary losses aren't like real losses. No merchandise was actually stolen. Nothing was broken or damaged. Nothing disappeared. Nothing was actually lost: Losses without losses.

Imaginary losses are not actually an estimate of loss, they are an exaggerated estimate of potential. They reflect how much additional revenue might be produced by investing in business models which are consistent with the way the world actually is. Unfortunately, pursuit of such models requires brains and money and courage and it carries a lot of risk. It is easier to complain that the money left on the table was stolen by pirates.

"A fella said 'We must never forget that we are human. And as humans we must dream. And when we dream, we dream of money.'"