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Sometimes I'm happy for copyright violations.

I probably shouldn't say that as someone who's trying to become a lawyer, and in general the free-marketeer in me thinks copyrights should be defended. But something odd came up today that's made me wonder.

Before I moved back here for the summer, I watched most of a Japanese anime called Revolutionary Girl Utena with some friends in Oxford. These were pirate downloads from the internet, not the 'official' products which sell for exorbitant amounts in the US and until recently couldn't be bought in the UK at all.

Now I've watched some of the licensed versions, and the thought I'm left with is, 'Thank God I saw the other copies.' Despite the horrible image quality, the subtitling was far better. I can only suppose this is because it was done by people enthusiastic about the task, rather than paid translators. In general, the pirate copies caught the sense and feel of the original, as well as having a stronger sense of drama. The licensed versions just have 'special features.'

So where does that leave the legally-minded? I'm happy that these translations exist--the 'fan-edited' versions of Cowboy Bebop are also better than what you can get on DVD. They give people an opportunity to enjoy something I think is quite special without having to learn Japanese themselves, or put up with sub-par translation. But they probably violate copyright law. [1]

The economist in me thinks the law should change with the times, and that those who used to be paid a great deal of money to choose what should be distributed in the audio-visual world when distribution was difficult are using the law to maintain their profits long after their usefulness has come and gone. (The recording industry was clearly in the right, and Napster was clearly taking the mick in its trial, so far as I can tell. But the idea that music file sharing will get rid of good music is ridiculous--by disintermediating the record distributors, music should become cheaper, more plentiful, and provide greater selection than Ms. Spears v. Ms. Aguilera.) But that seems to be a long time coming.

Until then, I'll find it difficult to reconcile the fact that what are, as translations, in their own right works of creativity and skill are actually violations of the law.

[1] Someone with a bit more knowledge than me would have to tell me whether it did in fact violate the law. To the best of my knowledge, the translation of these files was done before a 'licensed' translation had been performed. Who knows whether or not the product was translated before the rights to do so had been sold--I certainly don't. I somehow doubt it matters, as the visual aspect of what was copied probably broke the law. But I'm not going to state that as a definite.

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Copyfight! http://www.creativecommons.org it's the way forward my friend. Seriously - copyright is being broken by mass dissent so surely this has implications for the law? More importantly most (all?) forms of copy protection result in a product which has less utility than a pirate version. This means the record industry is going to be fighting the invisible hand - which should be fun to watch if nothing else.
Well, yes, but copyright does have its valid purposes--I think the fight over music is most interesting, since in this case what's at threat is, essentially, a very fat distribution network whose profits are being threatened. The idea that music-file sharing will kill off music is ridiculous, and I'm probably more in favor of adjusting the law so music can be shared more easily--it will expand the number of musicians who can distribute by reducing their barrier to enter the market. On the other hand, I think movies or books are more of a problem. A burned CD is exactly the same as a legal one without the album art, so the destruction of Geffen Records doesn't mean good music won't be produced. But I wonder if films like The Matrix Reloaded (i.e. very expensive and requiring tons of capital to be accumulated and then recouped) would be made if it were easier to file-share movies? That said, maybe things will move to different business models. Trademarks or artistic copyright could be revised so that merchandising is the model by which artists or even distributors make their profit. To an extent this is already happening without legal fiat--the two webcomics linked off of this site are as funny as anything 'published' and make their money through selling t-shirts.

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