Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Intellectual Property Over Internet Protocol

(Good evening. Wait - what's that you say? Well, it's evening here, so you'll just have to deal with that. Anyway, you join me, Atala Wala Wala as I eavesdrop from the rafters and listen into the goings on in the Junction...)

(Max and Nat are whiling away the time when Zack walks in clutching a packet.)

Max (beaming): Aha! Beta don land. Come on, Nat - get off that chair and let our good friend Zack be seated.

Nat (angrily): Why don't you get off your own chair if you care so much about Zack's welfare?

Zack (shaking his head): By the time two of you have resolved this battle, I will be dead of varicose veins from standing too long - so I'll get a chair from another table. (He dumps the packet on the table and goes looking for another chair. While he is gone, Max seizes the packet and tears it open.)

Nat (annoyed): What's the matter with you? Can't you wait? Zack isn't going to be too happy when he gets back!

Max (still unwrapping the packaging): Wow! That is great! I don't know how he's done it, but Zack has been able to get ahold of Harry Mosco's 'Country Boy'! (Sees Nat's look of utter incomprehension) Oh, you've probably never heard of him.

(Just then, Zack returns dragging a chair with him.)

Max: Hey, Brother Zachariah! (Waves the CD at him.) How did you manage this miracle?

(Zack's annoyance at seeing his package prematurely opened turns to smugness.)

Ah... well, Lizzy and myself were at this party last weekend, and there was this guy who was selling CDs from the olden days. I took a look at his collection, and I found this gem!

Nat (puzzled): But if it was from the olden days, how come it was available in CD format? Has it been reissued?

Max (dismissively): Who cares? All I'm interested in is that beta don land o!

Nat (irritated): Of course someone like you with the ethics of a rabid hyena wouldn't care! (Turns to Zack): So - how come the this album is available as a CD?

Zack: Mmm... I can't remember now, but I think the man said something about copying the music off a vinyl record and recording it onto a CD.

(Nat's expression turns to one of disapproval.)

I'm disappointed in you, Zack. How could you do this, especially when you're always preaching against corruption and stealing by our politicians?

Zack (surprised): What are you talking about? Who is stealing what?

Nat: You don't think that it's wrong to purchase stolen goods? Do you think it is right for the vendor you bought that CD from to make illegal copies of it?

Zack (still surprised): I don't know what you are talking about. Stealing is when I take from you so that instead of you having and me not having, I now have and you don't have. But in this case, the owners of Harry Mosco's music still have their music - so how can it be stealing?

Max: Exactly. What is your own business if someone is making a living selling stuff and nobody is complaining? Busybody!

Nat: It's still stealing, because you didn't get permission from the company with rights to the music before taking it.

Max (mockingly): So - what you are saying is that everytime that you use something that I own without asking me for my permission, you're stealing? In that case, I'm going to sue the living daylights out of you!

(Now it is Nat's turn to be surprised.)

Sue me for what? What are you talking about, Max? When did I ever use something of yours without permission?

Max (triumphantly): See - you just did it again!

Nat (in exasperation): OK, enough of your games! Explain what you are talking about or... (expression changing as he realises what Max is talking about) oh, I get it now. You're talking about your name, eh? (Max nods.) Come on - that's different. There's no way I can deprive you of income by using your name without your permission.

Zack: What are you talking about? Who is depriving the record company from making money? As I said - they still have the man's music, so they can sell it and make money if they want.

Max: But you know the funny thing? They aren't even selling the music any more - so why should they now try to block anyone from enjoying the music? That's the kind of dog-in-the-manger attitude that big businesses have!

Nat (smiling): That's a strange reaction coming from a businessman like you. But think about it this way. If the company allowed people to distribute its music because it wasn't selling it, the people would get too used to distributing that company's music. And before long, they would even start distributing music that the company was still selling! It's like allowing a squatter to set up a shack on your piece of land - before you know it, he starts parading himself as the owner of the land.

Zack: I still don't understand why you are making so much of a fuss about this. It's not as if the company are going round threatening people who use their music illegally. Who knows, maybe they even want to encourage people to distribute the music! After all, if I now start playing this CD, my neighbours will hear the music and ask me who Harry Mosco is. Then interest will develop and the company will be able to sell new copies of the record. So my purchase of the CD will actually be to their advantage!

Nat: That's just a self-serving argument. At the end of the day, it's still their music - only they have the right to decide how it should be used. Imagine if you bought a piece of land, but you didn't have the money to develop it right away. Let's say then that you left this land fallow for a few months. How would you feel if someone came along and said that you must allow him to sell it to you so that he could build houses on it to benefit everyone? Of course you wouldn't agree!

Zack: Well, I don't even agree that it is totally their music. Are you saying that they invented the instruments that were used in the song? Did they come up with the words used for the lyrics? What about the melody - they must have used do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do to make it, and who doesn't know about that?

Max: Exactly! As the Book of Ecclesiastes says in chapter 1, verse 9, "there is nothing new under the sun". Any so-called idea is really a clever rearrangement or combination of older ideas. And since many of those older ideas were got for free, how fair is it that we should pay for the new idea? As Jesus himself said in the Book of Matthew, chapter 10, verse 8, "Freely you were given; freely give".

Nat (amused): You don't fool me, Max. You're just supporting Zack because you're hoping to get a copy of the CD. I know that beneath this born-again bible-verse-spouting music-for-all attitude you're putting on, there lies the black evil heart of the profiteering exploiter that we know so well. (In a sceptical tone) So you're telling me that if you came up with a new song that people were crazy about, you would really be happy for them to make money off the sweat of your labour without lifting a finger?

Max: Ah - wait o! That's different, because they are trying to make money at the same time as I am trying to make money. As the originator of the song, I should be allowed a certain amount of time in which I am the only person who can make money from it. After that, well, anyone can try their luck with it - I'm not that greedy.

Zack (astonished): Max! You've just done a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn! Weren't you saying just now that no idea is new and we must freely give? How can you now be saying that you must have the exclusive right to profit from something that you got free?

Nat (chuckling): See? What Mosco has joined together, it looks like love of profits is about to rent asunder.

Max (smiling): There's no about-face at all. Of course the raw ingredients of the song are free - like the concept of rhythm, melody and so on. But there is creative work that goes into turning those raw ingredients into something that you and I can enjoy - that's my intellectual property, so it cannot be free. In fact, it's like cooking food. The value is not in the tomatoes, or the pepper, or the onions - it's in the culinary magic that the cook has used to turn all these into delicious stew. That's what you pay for, either in cash or in compliments.

Nat: Exactly! In fact, the problem with Nigeria is that many people are like Zack. They value concrete things, like machines or houses, but they don't value the more important abstract things, like the software that helped to design the machine... or the architect's plan that described the design of the house. So the creators of such abstract things are discouraged from producing them, and Nigeria becomes a place where we just end up imitating rather than originating.

Zack: All this big grammar that you are spouting makes no difference. The reality is that piracy is here to stay, and rather than preaching about abstract and concrete, you're better off learning to live with it. Look at the Nollywood movie makers - they have learnt to adjust they way they do business so that even though pirates make copies of their videos, they still manage to make money!

Nat: And you think that the movie makers are happy about it? Don't you think that it would be better if they received the money that the pirates are getting so that they could plough this back into making movies with higher technical quality?

Zack (sceptically): It makes no difference. They would just pocket the extra and continue to make more poor quality movies.

Max: But it's still their money, not yours - so they can do what they like with it.

Nat: Zack does have a point about the inevitability of piracy, though. In the olden days, most people had no choice but to buy CDs at exorbitant prices, because the technology to produce them was very expensive. Then the equipment to make CDs began to fall in price, and CD piracy increased. Now you don't even need CDs any more - you can just download songs, movies and software over the internet. My friend who is into these things calls this phenomenon '1'.

(Max and Zack look at him uncomprehendingly.)

Nat (smiling): You don't get it? OK, let me explain. Well, you know that software and music are intellectual property, right?

(Max and Zack nod.)

And you know that the one of the rules that power the internet is called 'Internet Protocol', right?

Zack (irritated): How are we supposed to know that?

Max (gesturing): Please continue.

Nat (enthusiastically): OK, so that means when download songs over the internet, you are transmitting intellectual property over internet protocol. Or if you like, you are sending IP over IP. And as you know, in mathematics, when you say something over something, you are dividing that thing by itself and you'll get 1. Therefore, IP over IP is 1!

(Max and Zack look even more confused than before.)

Zack (to Max): This must be one of those computer jokes that only ten people in the universe can understand, and only two can find funny.

Nat (flustered): OK, don't worry about it. The point is that piracy is so hard to stop that maybe the only solution is to offer people all the songs they want for download from the internet if they'll pay a fixed fee.

Zack: That's madness! The music companies will lose so much money, offering everything they have for just a small amount.

Max (musing): Mmm... maybe not. I remember that once when I went the UK on holiday, there was this restaurant I went to where they said that for ten pounds I could eat all I wanted. I thought "Ol' boy, awoof don' land" and I sat down and unbuckled my belt to expand my carrying capacity. You won't believe it, but after a few plates, I was full - in fact, I'm sure that if I had bought the plates I had eaten for the actual value, I wouldn't have spent up to ten pounds.

Nat: That's the point - people will get fed up downloading so much stuff when they realise they don't even have the time to listen to it. But they will like the service, because it will give them the choice to get whatever they want.

Zack: Well, your idea may work abroad - but here in Naija with unreliable internet connections and even more unreliable power supply, we're still some way off from that happening.

Max: Anyway, enough of all this talk - let's hear the CD. Philo has a battered CD player that we can test it on. (He gets the CD from Zack and walks over to the bar where Philo, the barman is serving drinks. After much pleading, Philo reluctantly agrees to hand over his CD player, and Max walks back triumphantly to the table holding the player aloft.)

Max: Zack - Oya, put it in - it has batteries, so don't worry. Nat, clean your ears out well, well - you're about to hear some good stuff!

(Zack puts the CD in, and presses the play button - and after a few moments, the melody of 'Country Boy' can be heard. But after a few seconds, the song begins to skip. Annoyed, Zack takes the CD out, looks at the underside and exclaims in horror.)

Oh, no! There's a nasty scratch underneath. How did that happen? This has completely destroyed the CD! (Turns angrily to Max) Who told you to open it? I'm sure you're the cause!

Max (defensively): Hey - don't blame me. You should know better than to buy pirated stuff that is of dubious quality.

Nat (chuckling again): Eh, Max - can you really be the same person who was not so long ago supporting the right of people to sell CDs as long as nobody is complaining? You're doing so many turnarounds tonight that you'll end up going almost as fast as that CD was going in the player!

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