Praise for a pirate

DAVID SLACK
Last updated 05:00 11/11/2014
Scott Hammond/The Marlborough Express

Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom.

David Slack is the internet adventurer behind Speeches.com.

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Some people call Kim Dotcom a thief. Some call him worse. John Key certainly does. But even if Kim Dotcom is everything Mr Key says he is, and that's saying a lot, he fails to say what he is above all.

OPINION: Kim Dotcom is our own Ernesto Miranda. In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested in Arizona for armed robbery. They took him into custody. No-one bothered to tell him that he had the right to keep his mouth shut. So he went ahead and incriminated himself. Then he signed a written confession. It went all the way to the Supreme Court.

They overturned his conviction. And that's how the right to be told that you have the right to remain silent - your Miranda rights - became one of the most famous phrases on television.

That was probably the last point in Ernesto Miranda's life that things went right. At the retrial he was convicted, and he went to jail. At 34, he was stabbed and killed in a bar fight.  A suspect was arrested but nothing came of it. He exercised his right to remain silent.

But the Miranda name lives on.

And if it should prove that the state overreached with its 70 armed police and helicopters in search of some hard drives, that zealous work at the bidding of another nation may very well prove to be a Miranda case of our own.

That's not all. Because of people like Dotcom, whatever he might be, a whole raft of assumptions are being challenged. An established order is being disrupted. And that may be no bad thing.

Let us consider, for example, copyright. History helps us see the big picture. Copyright was designed by distributors, to look out for the interests of  distributors. Whatever it might have done to help protect the interests of the creators was secondary.

Over the three short centuries that it has been an indispensable part of civilisation, copyright has been typically championed and defended by  publishers - not the artists, but the publishers - making the argument  for copyright to be stretched further, wider and deeper.

For a long time, they had a decent point: you had to put a lot of capital at stake to be a publisher, and publication could not happen without that risk being taken.

Society stood to gain from the arrangement. But not today - not when the internet has reduced the cost of publishing to almost zero.

Prohibiting people from freely sharing information doesn't serve your interest,or my interest, but it does serve vested interests. The internet wants to replace an ageing distribution system with a system that serves consumer demand as efficiently as possible.

People like the executives at Warner Brothers don't seem to much like the idea, even if they don't actually write emails about Kim Dotcom that have a "This is how you will die, Mr Bond" tone to them.

When vested interests get their expensive lobbyists and their PR teamsand their politicians to tell us that the internet is killing their business, I think the first thing we need to do is look for a body.

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How much did people pay to go to the movies in America in 2007? The answer is $9.6 billion dollars. In 2011? $10.19 billion. Last year? $10.90 billion. As deaths go, it feels a bit soon to be burying the deceased.

Game of Thrones was the most illegally downloaded TV series for 2012. Let's ask the president of programming at HBO how he feels about that. 

"I probably shouldn't be saying this, but it is a compliment of a sort. The demand is there. And it certainly didn't negatively impact the DVD sales. [Piracy is] something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network."

Books, then. We all know the publishing industry is in terrible shape. But what shape is that exactly? Don't ask Neil Gaiman, whatever you do. He'll tell you a fascinating story about giving his book away and how that has only served to drive up sales.

I'm an author, quite a few of my friends are. I believe, as they do, that any author, or artist, or musician should be justly rewarded for their effort. 

But the whole wretched business is one vast crapshoot. Ask any of your writer friends how much of their income they earn from their books, and then ask how many of them live off that income alone.

An upheaval in the way artists publish their work and get paid for it might be death to the established order, but if the arrangement were to evolve into something better for artists themselves, what's really the objection here, apart from buggy whip makers complaining about the streets being flooded with motor cars?

Kim Dotcom may be less than he says he is. He may be a pirate. But if his disruptions - either by accident or design - lead in the long run to a better deal for artists, I'm not going to judge him as harshly as John Key or Warner Brothers. 

- Stuff

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