Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: Cheap Stimulus

I was astonished that the financial crisis in Greece got at best lip service on the “Sunday shows” in the US. The complexity of the negative effect on Eurozone economies of Greece’s 125% plus debt to GDP ratios is alarming in this, the sternest test of the Euro and the vitality and wisdom of maintaining a financial union absent a political union. The EU, unlike the US, does not have the American system of gigantic automatic federal transfer payments enforced on EU taxpayers that shifts funds at the federal level as a matter of course. The International Monetary Fund essentially provides that kind of relief (although that’s a gross oversimplification).

While this may change, recent statements by France and Germany, both of which are now facing a political choice for decisions made over a decade ago to give up their respective historical currencies. The fact that Gordon Brown looks like a genius on this issue (given that Britain didn’t join the Eurozone–another gross oversimplification, I know) tells you how dire the situation really is.

The situation in Greece may be isolated, but it may be the first of a few dominoes to fall. A year ago we started hearing about “short term stimulus” and how the withdrawal from “short term stimulus” would have to be “managed” (see “Quantitative Easing Explained“) in the “middle term”. Many think we are now in the middle term, and politicians are looking for cheaper ways to accomplish economic stimulus with a frightened eye on 70s level inflation (which some of us think is all but inevitible).

Here’s one idea for cheap stimulus: Enforce the copyright laws. When you hear the infringement issue discussed (such as in the Tenenbaum case and Thomas cases), it is as though the pro-file bartering side arrived through a time warp and it is now 1999, the dot com boom bubble hasn’t burst, the creative community had not fallen apart and what’s a little free music “shared” among friends.

Good stewards like Rick Carnes have tried for years to raise the red flag, warning that unbridled file bartering is not a business, and that the core creators in music, the professional songwriter, will not be able to sustain themselves economically. Not only has Rick been mocked and attacked by the anonymous mob (“for none of us are as cruel as all of us”), he’s been largely ignored by majorities of lawmakers (with some notable and commendable exceptions).

So rather than doing the time warp again, read the FCC filing from a few weeks ago by the entertainment industry members of the AFLCIO: The Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Predominately working people, not the “rich rock stars”.

“Internet theft threatens grave harm to the output of our nation’s creative industries, and to the artists and craftspeople who make up the membership of [these AFLCIO member unions]….[These AFLCIO member unions] represent over 300,000 workers who create a multitude of diverse films, television programs, and sound recordings that are sought-after by consumers around the world. Protection of their lawful rights to earn a living from the sale and distribution of that content should be one of the principal goals of [government].”

For protection of the legal rights of citizens really is the primary function of government, isn’t it? Particularly when those rights have been recognized as human rights and protected by international human rights treaties?

The unions emphasize the importance of artist rights as protected human rights:

AFTRA, DGA, IATSE and SAG collectively represent artists and craftspeople who create the movies, television programs, sound recordings and other forms of entertainment that people around the world love and demand. Together, [these AFLCIO member unions] represent over 300,000 individual workers who depend upon the enforcement of this country’s copyright laws – and the protection that affords against theft of their creative output – to earn their living. At stake are not just our members’ jobs and well-being, but also the well-being of their families, and the hundreds of thousands of ancillary jobs in communities across the country where they live and work. The revenue that their work brings to this country from around the world is critical not just to these workers and this industry but to our national economy as a whole. That is why the protection of these creative works must be a fundamental consideration in the Commission’s deliberations in this proceeding.To characterize our members’ contribution in terms of dollars and cents or as mere “intellectual property” fails to capture what makes entertainment workers unique….”

It also fails to capture the protections to the human rights of artists required of UN member states by the various human rights treaties.

(See, for example, article 27, paragraph 2, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author”; article 13, paragraph 2, of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man of 1948; article 14, paragraph 1 (c), of the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 1988; and article 1 of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1952.)

So whether you are Judge Denny Chin ruling in Google Books, Judge Michael Davis ruling in the Minnesota file barter case, or just an anonymous member of the mob, you would do well to take into account the obligations of the United States (or your home country) to protect artists that were undertaken in the international documents.

And don’t pretend that it’s 1999, because it really isn’t.

Politicians who are looking for “cheap stimulus” could start with coming to the aid of the professional creative community that has been in its own depression since way before the current crisis. Despite the popular mantra of “failed business models” and “it’s the industry’s fault” and “What do we want? FREE STUFF! When do we want it? NOW!”–there is still a fundamental and simple truth.

Markets operate on rules. If there are no enforceable property rights, there will be no market. Without a market there can be no business model. Property rights online have been allowed to decline almost to the point of extinction, yet everywhere that rights are recognized (largely voluntarily by responsible folk such as Apple, Microsoft and Amazon), wealth is created despite the greatest failure of law enforcement I can recall. Imagine what would happen if government actually did their job.

This is cheap stimulus–the government already pays for the Assistant U.S. Attorneys and the prosecutorial apparatus. All that would be needed would be for the government to let them do their job. They do it for the trial lawyers, how about for the creators?

Pork, pork everywhere but not an ounce for us.

This will not be forgotten. Why not have the memory be a pleasant one?

Let’s not do the time warp again.

3 thoughts on “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again: Cheap Stimulus

  1. "Here's one idea for cheap stimulus: Enforce the copyright laws."You lost me at this statement. You opened this piece with a description of the melt down in Greece. Then you seem to be suggesting that an enforcement of copyright laws would boost the economy of Greece…How does that work? I would understand if we were talking about Los Anglos or Hollywood, but a quick review of the economy of Greece doesn't indicate a significant portion of their economy is dependent on the movie, music, or publishing industries.And while strict copyright enforcement may reduce piracy, it isn't going to put money in the hands of the unemployed to allow them to increase their spending on copyrighted works. The problem with entertainment in a depressed economy is that it is something we can do without. And perhaps if people are spending less time listening to music or watching movies, they might spend that time fixing the economy?I guess I am just at a loss as to how spending more money enforcing copyright laws would help produce more goods, or put more money into anyone's pocket (even the content industries). People spend what is in their budget on entertainment regardless. Strict enforcement of copyright might reduce the amount of content people get to enjoy, but I don't see it increasing what people will spend.Besides, given the content heavy advantage Hollywood has, strict copyright enforcement is just as likely to increase the money going out of Greece into the studios and labels here in the U.S. would it not?It will be interesting to see if you actually will approve and respond to this comment.Thanks in advance for considering my ideas on the topic.


  2. The point of the reference to Greece is simply to point out how fragile and interconnected the international economy is. Enforcing the copyright laws might put money into the hands of unemployed AFL-CIO members in this country and artists around the world. The point is that "people" are not spending less time consuming entertainment, they are consuming entertainment without paying for it. The food is terrible ans such small portions.


  3. Actually, the choice to buy or not to buy should be with the consumer. I don't think there's any or many artists who wouldn't be fine with living in this world (i.e., the history of mankind prior to 1999). That's not the same as the choice being which way you don't pay.Creators are very, very accustomed to having their livelihood dependent on whether they succeed commercially. Those dollar votes are very closely monitored. That's not what's happening. If the policy is that society is going to selectively decide which laws to enforce, then let's just say that and deal with the consequences.The price of enforcing human rights is probably always greater than the monetary value of the actual transaction prohibited. That's not why we enforce human rights. So I don't really know what the cost would be of enforcing artist rights as are required by a variety of UN human rights treaties because it hasn't been tried.Street performers chose to perform on the street. If your standard is that you get music for free when the artist decides to make it available for free, I'm fine with living in that world. That's not the world of the Pirate Bay, however. That's your anonymous world.


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