MIKE GOLD: The Peacock Priorities
About a month ago, our Glenn Hauman turned me on to this story and I’ve got to tell you, I’m still pissed.
According to published reports, which all carry the following verbatim: “NBC/Universal general counsel Rick Cotton suggests that society wastes entirely too much money policing crimes like burglary, fraud, and bank-robbing when it should be doing something about piracy instead.
“Our law enforcement resources are seriously misaligned," Cotton said. "If you add up all the various kinds of property crimes in this country, everything from theft, to fraud, to burglary, bank-robbing, all of it, it costs the country $16 billion a year. But intellectual property crime runs to hundreds of billions [of dollars] a year.”
Okay, let me first state the obvious: this man’s head is so far up his ass his eyeballs think they’re hemorrhoids. And I am in the intellectual property business: what ComicMix publishes is intellectual property, and we’d rather not see our various creators’ work, current and forthcoming, ripped off.
The whole thing about copyrights and the Internet is a little wacky and confusing. This country has lousy copyright laws and, to the extent they “protect” anybody, they tend to offer that protection more to the corporate oligarchs than they do to actual creators, let alone to any legitimate sense of history, art and culture. We’re muddling through as best we can, basically using the Grateful Dead’s policies as our starting point.
But Mr. Cotton acts as though he is an idiot. He is either woefully misinformed or he is an out-and-out liar. Intellectual property crime runs into hundreds of billions of dollars each year? Prove it. Smith Barney, hardly a communist organization, quotes the Motion Picture Association as saying such piracy cost them $6 billion in 2005. I realize there’s a lot of other stuff going on – music piracy, books, even comics – but movies and DVDs are the E ticket of the operation. If Mr. Cotton is even remotely correct, these other media have to come up with a minimum of $194,000,000,000.01 to justify his number.
Mind you, the majority of this loss comes from overseas: nations like China, where there is little or no adherence to international copyright agreements.
But for the purpose of argument, let’s accept Mr. Cotton’s number. What Mr. Cotton is saying, and there’s no mistaking it, is that somebody who might bootleg a copy of the last episode of Studio 60 is a worse human being than somebody who would rip off Mr. Cotton’s mother’s life savings and steal his kid’s toy train set on the way out.
I don’t think Mr. Cotton worked for Enron prior to taking the NBC gig, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he did an unpaid internship there. He is the type of lawyer Shakespeare warned us about.
Mr. Cotton, I was there in 1989 when Warner Bros’ private detectives raided the Batman merchandise bootleggers throughout Manhattan. They did a nice job. It’s been a while since I’ve seen multitudes of DVDs for sale spread out all over the floors of the Times Square subway stations. The police are doing a nice job. Let’s get us a reasonable solution to the IP theft problem; one that doesn’t act as though that bootleg of Universal’s Evan Almighty is more important than the fraud at Enron.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.