Stop Being Idiots? Only When IP is a Historical Novelty

Over at WIRED, a website I once held more respect for, an article by Jordan Crucchiola called, “Dear Idiots, Stop Leaking Comic-Con Trailers” has drawn some recent attention.

For those who (somehow) don’t know, Comic Con is an international event for all things geeky, but especially (or at least, supposedly) related to comic books. The Comic Con at issue in Crucchiola’s article is the 2015 San Diego Comic Con. The big news there was the new movies coming out from DC, Marvel, Fox and all the rest. And, naturally, folks decided to record them when and where they could and put them online a few days before their official releases.

Crucchiola is very upset about this and wants us to know all about it. People who do such things lack “common sense” and are “asshats”, “lazy”, “joker[s]”, “self-styled Julian Assanges” and of course, “idiots”. Crucchiola’s condescension and overall obliviousness to problems surrounding intellectual property enforcement detract from her credibility. But since her lack of clarity on the intellectual property issue is a common one, it needs to be addressed.

First off, intellectual property is unenforceable practically speaking. For instance, I doubt that Crucchiola’s readers will suddenly start thinking, “Oh darn! You mean what I did was illegal? It violated the arbitrary boundaries set by some giant corporation and its political cronies? You mean they might lose a few bucks over this?! Damn, I better not do that anymore!”

No. Very few people are going to read Crucchiola and have an epiphany that they must change their “Evil Ways”. In fact, most people who do these “evil” things know exactly what they’re doing and, odds are, they don’t care what you think about it. And good for them! Pirating intellectual “property” is easy, and it doesn’t strike a moral chord with the vast majority of people because while it may be illegal, it’s not immoral.

Second, the companies who are actually mature about this (See: Marvel’s response to the Age of Ultron trailer being leaked) are the ones who’ll last in the long run. As these companies adapt to the culture around them, rather than trying to force it to meet their unrealistic desires, they’ll get along better with audiences and come off much more in touch with the technological age than Crucchiola does.

But hey, if Warner Brothers wants to, they can continue to act like it’s the end of the world. And honestly? If they can’t figure out how the 21st century works and conclude that the smart decision is to not come back to Comic Cons with their movies, then I won’t be crying for them. Especially considering their handling of the DC universe.

From an economic standpoint, the costs of leaked trailers is negligible. Most folks seem to grasp the basic concept that these are trailers for unfinished products and should be judged accordingly. Where is any real money being lost from these leaked trailers? If someone could explain that to me, I’d be interested to know.

Crucchiola seems miffed about how “shaky” and “non-focus[ed]” the footage is. Has she considered that maybe, if companies weren’t so uptight, the shaky leaked footage wouldn’t be disseminated in the first place? Crucchiola also apparently speaks for everyone when she says the leaks “ruin” things for everyone at Comic Con.

Well, all I can say is that I haven’t heard that sentiment from many. Most people seem ecstatic that these trailers were out earlier because that means more access to more folks and a lot faster too. And they also don’t seem to care that it’s shaky or low-quality. That’s kind of what you expect from leaked footage taken at Comic Con, right?

And of course, Crucchiola relies on the idea that these images are somehow the “property” of the respective companies. But property, rightly understood, relies on scarcity and there’s nothing scarce about these images, ideas, or words.

The films were created by these companies. Nobody should take false credit for them. But there’s also nothing wrong with third parties sharing their creations. Sharing someone’s information isn’t stealing and it doesn’t alter or ruin the information in any way. Additionally, taking or using someone else’s information does not deprive them of it. What intellectual property proponents are really claiming is that possessors of certain information should have a monopoly on the profits arising out of its use.

This is a myth that’s perpetuated in romance (the “starvation economy” as some folks call it) as well as in information. People getting more and different kinds of love doesn’t mean that said affection necessarily becomes “less special”.

As Robert Heinlein argued, “The more you love, the more you can love — and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just.”

And what if the dissemination of a thing did make it “less special”?

Well, so what?

No one is entitled to have their information or love be special or unique. If someone sharing your ideas makes you feel less special or important, that’s no cause to claim they’ve violated your property rights.

Similarly, if someone feels strongly for a person you too feel strongly for, that doesn’t mean they’ve violated your autonomy. Claiming such in either case is ridiculous. Crucchiola and other IP proponents would seemingly view both claims as not only legitimate, but common sensical.

Crucchiola also complains that companies like Marvel and Paramount Studios are already opting out of these conventions (though she fails to specify whether it’s related to IP). No problem. I’m perfectly fine with Comic Con not being the huge cultural icon it’s become. I can barely handle how non-comic Boston Comic Con has become, and it’s a bastion of comic books compared to San Diego. I wouldn’t mind if San Diego Comic Con was knocked down a few pegs. Ditto goes for the folks who think that intellectual property is a valid concept.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of alternatives to the overly simplistic policy of discouraging leaks. Let’s run through a few of them:

  1. Live streams. It’s the 21st century after all. Everyone from the Grateful Dead to the American Bar Association utilizes them. Folks could pay for an e-ticket to see a particular hall’s events or even a particular panel, if the organizers could manage it. Seems to me a great way to turn a “problem” into an entrepreneurial gold mine!
  2. The companies release the video (or plan to) right after the trailer premiers at the event. And hey, even better, they announce that that will be the case during the panel. So this way there’ll be almost no point in someone leaking it since the official trailer will be going up so soon. And the best part (for Crucchiola and folks like her anyways) is that the people in the audience still get that special first look at the material before the rest of the fans.
  3. Let the people leak the footage! Okay, I know. It’s not technicallygood alternative, if you want to discourage leaking, but it still makes a bunch of sense to me.

Crucchiola is also convinced that somehow these leaks will stop companies from coming back. But internet piracy has been going on for decades and plenty of companies have had different reactions to it. Some of them playfully wag their fingers (Marvel as mentioned before) and others try to act tough about it (Warner Brothers, Apple, etc.). And the ones that generally looked favorably on piracy are the ones that’ll get more of the dough. I speculate companies like Marvel will be those favored ones, but we’ll see.

Finally, somehow this article isn’t supposed to be read as a “sympathy plea for The Man”…but how isn’t it exactly that?

The Man thrives on intellectual property. It stifles competition worldwide, it has caused the deaths of many by preventing promising new drugs to be put into market, and it gives already big corporations like Apple another huge leg up in an unfree market.

So how exactly is Crucchiola not making a sympathy plea for The Man? She compares people who leak videos and post them online to whistleblowers like Assange in a mocking manner. Kind of seems like she’s already apologizing for The Man even if it’s just supposedly satirical.

I also want to counter a few points that the people from Game Trailer Review made in their video on Comic Con streaming panels.

There’s no point in delaying the trailers or trying to stop leaks so long as the movies don’t go at the fans’ pace. The movies also don’t get much of a commercial benefit, if most of the other movies officially come out the week after Comic Con ends anyways. Plus, they have plenty of competition from the outside world, the other movies or things that happened at Comic Con, besides themselves. So in summary it’s not clear that this is as effective as the Game Trailer Review contends.

If companies really want to double trend (trend during the weekend of the convention and then in the days after via official release) there are multiple ways to do so. They could release a sneak preview at Comic Con, then a bigger one soon after. Or do it as big as possible, but exclude a few important scenes that inject more meaning into it. Make it so you’ll still double trend, but a bit more legitimately and meaningfully.

Worried about the fans who get their “special experience” ruined? Well what about the millions of people who don’t get that special experience to begin with? Wouldn’t we want to open up this special experience to as many people as possible? Why limit it to the attendees at Comic Con? Again, the myth that sharing means less special feelings for everyone doesn’t hold up.

It’s a myth when people say it about sharing “your love” with more than one person as well as when it comes to information. The love I give for my partner and the love I give for my family members are different, sure. The same way that a parent may give different love to two of their children. But in both situations the love is special and unique. Yet the love itself doesn’t become less special just because it’s more spread out.

One thing I’ll grant the Game Trailer Review folks is that some who are leaking footage may be invasive to others viewing experience. Fair enough. Wanna fix that? Let the person leak the footage to begin with.

Or ya know, join the 21st century already.

Crucciola and others like her think they’ve got it all figured out and want to call pirates “idiots”. Meanwhile, good luck trying to uphold an unenforceable regime of individual rights violations built upon the threat of violence on a massive scale.

And when that fails, well, we’ll see who the idiot is then.

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