From: email@example.com (jms at b5)
Subject: Re: ATTN JMS: File Sharing, Sci-Fi TV and the art of motorcycle
Date: 12/8/2004 9:03:17 AM
: List :
|>-- where we were discussing (for almost two weeks now) downloading/file
>sharing of tv shows (particularly SF) and the recent open letter from
>the producers of Battlestar Galactica asking people not to download or
>it will result in cancellation for the show.
>....and the issues we raised in *our* debate - summarised thusly:
>- whether downloading kills ratings/shows
>- whether downloading helps to promote (or otherwise help) the show
>- effectiveness/disenfranchisement of current ratings methodology
>- downloading vs. VCR use
>- whether downloading kills DVD sales
>- whether downloading is illegal or not
>- whether downloading is immoral or not
>- and finally, the very concept of illegality vs. immorality
>All this to wonder what your full thoughts are on the subject,
You mean, aside from the fact that it's massively illegal? I mean, to a
certain extent, the task here is to show that it's immoral to steal a car
because one might scrape the paint or affect the business of local repair shops
after it's been cargo-shipped to some distant city.
But okay, I'll bite.
I don't want to get too far into the "it's as if" part of this conversation,
because in no time at all the conversation becomes about the metaphor instead
of the thing itself...but to indulge that for just a moment....
Let's say you're a big fan of Jonathan Carroll (as am I). You read all his
books. But instead of buying them, you know where there's a blind spot in your
local bookstore where the mirrors can't catch you, so you just go in, grab his
latest book, shove it in your bag, and leave. Or, conversely, you borrow a
copy from the library, go to the office where you work and can use the copy
machine for free, photocopy the entire book and keep it.
You CAN do it, sure. But does that make it right?
There's this sub-section of the internet community who seem to feel that all
information should be free...and thus fail to distinguish between *data* and
*art*. Not understanding that distinction is pernicious.
The points you raise above are all well and good, but they don't get to the
*point* of it. Which is this:
The place of the artist in society is more fragile than most people really ever
understand. To stay with writers for a moment, only because I know that world
a little better -- but with the understanding that this applies to acting and
directing and other disciplines with equal appropriateness -- the average
writer in prose earns about $3,000 to $5,000 per year. They have to keep one
or two other jobs to sustain them, and that amount is crucial to their being
able to continue to write.
In television, the figures are also not great, despite what the public
perception may be. Roughly half of the Writers Guild is unemployed at any
given time. The average WGA member earns less per year than the average grade
school teacher, and if they're lucky they get maybe 2 assignments per year.
The top writers who earn consistently six figures constitute only 2% of the
entire membership of the Guild. The rest struggle to get by, and to contniue
to create the stories they tell. To that end, every dime is essential, as it
is to most people.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of their work is residuals. Residuals aren't a
bonus, they aren't a gift, they're *deferred compensation* no different than
the royalties an author gets from his books (as noted above). If you were to
take away those residuals, well over the majority of working freelance writers
(and actors and directors) would be financially unable to continue to work full
time at their profession, and would have to get other jobs or leave the
Every time an episode of television airs, those responsible for it get a small
residual. And I do mean small. But it adds up in time. I'm not talking about
the major studios, or networks, or the advertisers...I'm talking about the guy
who sold 3 scripts that year, made maybe $30,000 for the entire year BEFORE
taxes, and knows that the two or three grand in extra income from residuals of
his prior work will mean he can have a decent Christmas this year.
This individual -- and the actors, directors, others -- get nothing from
internet downloads. And the more prevalent this becomes, the more fragile
becomes the life of artists, and there may come a point -- and I am not
exaggerating here -- where a lot of people can no longer afford to keep working
at their preferred profession because this makes the economics no longer
"Well, they should keep at it anyway," some might say, "if they have to suffer
a little, that's their choice."
Is their suffering preferable to somebody having to actually buy a DVD? Is
their suffering or financial deterioration acceptable because the result --
putting their art on the net -- makes it more *convenient* for others?
There's this overwhelming sense of entitlement you see these days, where if you
WANT something then by god you're entitled to HAVE it, damn the consequences
for somebody else, and this is just one aspect of it.
This recently went to court with Harlan Ellison's case against AOL -- which was
finally settled out by AOL and new law further created to magnify this position
-- that those who upload short stories and novels onto the nets without
permission are commiting a crime. And if the role of the TV writer is
especially parlous, the fiscal position of prose writers is even MORE fragile.
So it seems to me an odd statement to say, "Boy, I really love this show, the
writing, the acting, the directing, so much that I'm going to steal from the
people who made it and hurt their income and possibly destroy their ability to
tell more such stories in future, THAT'S how much of a fan I am."
Yes, the prevalence of downloads does cut into reruns, and ratings, which in
today's highly fractionalized TV marketplace could spell the difference between
renewal or cancellation, because the advertisers look at the bottom line
numbers, and if they drop past a certain point, yes, the show goes away. And
yes, internet uploads of episodes will cut into that fragile calculation. And
yes, you may end up killing the very show you say you enjoy.
But even before you get to those computations, the act itself is simply wrong,
for all the reasons stated above.
The problem is that people don't like to be corrected, don't like to be told
that they're doing something wrong. They are defensive, and arrogant, and
pushy, and they feel that the world should give them anything they want because
they want it, period, and if anybody else has a problem with that, it's THEIR
The technical term for these people is deadbeats. The kind of guys who come to
stay at your house for a weekend, end up staying for a month, eating your food
without paying for it, using your car without sharing gas costs, and get pissed
off when you ask that they share the burden.
Me, I don't associate with guys like that.
Your mileage may vary.
(all message content (c) 2004 by synthetic worlds, ltd.,
permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX Magazine
and don't send me story ideas)