This (hopefully last) scenario about a case for willful copyright violation is one that I’m much less inclined to agree with as morally okay, but it still presents an interesting problem. The situation is similar to the last one, in that certain goods that could be replicated digitally were never available commercially, but in this case, they were at one time, but aren’t anymore.
Actually, dang it, it looks like I’m splitting off into two possible scenarios *again* … the other one I wanted to cover was a case of newer, recent media that has never been available commercially. Lemme do the other one, first.
A great example of a category that covers both scenarios, though, would be abandonware. Abandonware can be either computer games that were once released for personal computers, and so people obviously had physical copies, or ROMs for video games where the consumer would buy hardware, but couldn’t duplicate it themselves.
For old computer games, that were once published and had a legal channel to purchase a copy, there is still the option of tracking down a copy somewhere, but it is usually difficult to do and cost prohibitive. Collectors are willing to do it, because of the sense of ownership of owning an original piece of the production, but for people who just want to play the game, there is a demand without any marketed supply.
I’ve really waffled with the moral considerations of this one for a long time, and I personally don’t have a clear cut decision on what I think is “right.” It seems obvious, though, that if there is the chance of getting a legal copy, even as a collector, that that would be the right thing to do, and in a lot of cases that is is what I’ve done. I’ve hunted down copies of old games (LOOM comes to mind) that I never played but wanted to, and then once I had an actual copy, I’d feel justified in getting a digital one somewhere that I could run on an emulator (assuming I couldn’t use the original disks for whatever reason … usually because I don’t have a floppy 5 1/4″ drive). But, I’ll admit, I’ve also downloaded copies of games that I’ve wanted to try out just to see what I think of them as an attempt to demo it and see if it’s worth my time to track down. Generally, though, I’ll either delete the copy once I’ve found it not worth my time or track down a copy once I decide it is.
Computer games is just one example though. A much more modern one would be television shows and movies. There are, for some reason or another, modern day shows on television that just never make it to DVD. And I’m not talking about stuff from 20 years ago that I’m being nostalgic about, either, I’m talking about really recent shows from this decade. One example, just off the top of my head, is an older show called “Still Standing” that is running in syndication right now on a couple of channels on TV late at night. It’s a great, hilarious, original family sitcom that I love watching, and if there were DVDs out, I’d most likely buy them. It ran from 2002 to 2006, and hasn’t seen so much as a blip on the radar of TV shows on DVD. I have no idea why.
Now in a case like this, I’m also not sure what the “right” thing to do would be, but I’ll at least share my own line of thinking on the matter. This is my take — that since they were originally designed for public consumption, and publicly aired at one time for anyone to see, anywhere, then I don’t have any issues with downloading copies of them and watching them. In my mind, it’s just a case of extreme time-shifting. I couldn’t watch it 7 years ago, so I’m just now getting around to it. It was originally free and public, and so how could there possibly be a harm to the market — especially since there’s no other way to watch them?
A second example is a crime drama that’s being aired right now, called “Cold Case.” It’s a show that I think is fun and worth watching, but it’s not out on DVD either, and so if I want to watch them, I’m pretty much on my own again to find the archives since there’s no market for them. Another case of demand with no supply. CBS’ website does have some clips of the show (big whoop), but again, I don’t understand the logic of not putting them all online somewhere … aside from the infrastructure cost, of course. It just doesn’t make sense in my mind how studios can broadcast a show, for free consumption, and then have an issue when it is, technically, rebroadcast by being downloaded somewhere else. Of course, I should also throw in that I don’t mind having commercial breaks during those since I recognize that’s their source of revenue. Personally, though, I’ve been voluntarily ignorant of TV commercial influence since I was about 5, but that’s a whole other story entirely.
A third example is of a show that started to release some DVD sets, but then stopped after the first season — Malcolm in the Middle. In that case, I do know what the issue is — licensing. Everyone who originally signed up now wants a bigger piece of the pie now that it’s getting redistributed. And, as a result, of course, it ends up in *zero* revenue versus any at all. Once again it shows how boneheaded people can be with their rights. It’s seriously like little children who say if you can’t play how they tell you to, then they’re just going to spitefully take their toys and play by themselves, always ignorant of the fact that people adapt and do just as well *without them* and the missed opportunity is really the loner’s.
Anyway, it’s really interesting how “piracy” is creating the market and supplying the demand that is out there that businesses either cannot create or are not willing to invest time into. It’s rather interesting, really, that an ocean of people would willingly provide the infrastructure and shoulder the costs to share all this information, media and entertainment by themselves. What’s even more interesting is what people *will* do when there are legally licensed marketplaces to acquire the exact same stuff digitally (a la iTunes) — they’ll pay for it!
I don’t really think it’s fair to “blame” copyright owners for not seeing the demand and investing their futures into providing virtual marketplaces for all these digital goods. After all, there is a risk in doing so. But on the flipside, I also don’t think it’s reasonable for them to chase down scofflaws who are copying stuff when there’s really no way to legally get it in the first place. There needs to be a happy medium somewhere. I have no idea what it is, though I have a few ideas — a simple licensing framework website where the digital goods are hosted and sold … kind of a cloud for cpoyrighted digital good or something, who knows. I’m not a businessman, thank goodness, just a savvy consumer. But I imagine that if the entry barrier into the marketplace was lower for investors to setup shop, that things would quickly streamline and we’d see “piracy” dwindle quite a lot. I don’t think people are being intentionally bad breaking copyright laws, I just see them as being reasonable and practical first.