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    From: (jms at b5)
 Subject: Re: ATTN JMS: File Sharing, Sci-Fi TV and the art of motorcycle
    Date: 12/8/2004 9:03:17 AM  

Message 1 in thread 

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>-- where we were discussing (for almost two weeks now) downloading/file
>sharing of tv shows (particularly SF) and the recent open letter from
>the producers of Battlestar Galactica asking people not to download or
>it will result in cancellation for the show.

>....and the issues we raised in *our* debate - summarised thusly:
>- whether downloading kills ratings/shows
>- whether downloading helps to promote (or otherwise help) the show
>- effectiveness/disenfranchisement of current ratings methodology
>- downloading vs. VCR use
>- whether downloading kills DVD sales
>- whether downloading is illegal or not
>- whether downloading is immoral or not
>- and finally, the very concept of illegality vs. immorality

>All this to wonder what your full thoughts are on the subject,

You mean, aside from the fact that it's massively illegal? I mean, to a
certain extent, the task here is to show that it's immoral to steal a car
because one might scrape the paint or affect the business of local repair shops
after it's been cargo-shipped to some distant city.

But okay, I'll bite.

I don't want to get too far into the "it's as if" part of this conversation,
because in no time at all the conversation becomes about the metaphor instead
of the thing itself...but to indulge that for just a moment....

Let's say you're a big fan of Jonathan Carroll (as am I). You read all his
books. But instead of buying them, you know where there's a blind spot in your
local bookstore where the mirrors can't catch you, so you just go in, grab his
latest book, shove it in your bag, and leave. Or, conversely, you borrow a
copy from the library, go to the office where you work and can use the copy
machine for free, photocopy the entire book and keep it.

You CAN do it, sure. But does that make it right?

There's this sub-section of the internet community who seem to feel that all
information should be free...and thus fail to distinguish between *data* and
*art*. Not understanding that distinction is pernicious.

The points you raise above are all well and good, but they don't get to the
*point* of it. Which is this:

The place of the artist in society is more fragile than most people really ever
understand. To stay with writers for a moment, only because I know that world
a little better -- but with the understanding that this applies to acting and
directing and other disciplines with equal appropriateness -- the average
writer in prose earns about $3,000 to $5,000 per year. They have to keep one
or two other jobs to sustain them, and that amount is crucial to their being
able to continue to write.

In television, the figures are also not great, despite what the public
perception may be. Roughly half of the Writers Guild is unemployed at any
given time. The average WGA member earns less per year than the average grade
school teacher, and if they're lucky they get maybe 2 assignments per year.
The top writers who earn consistently six figures constitute only 2% of the
entire membership of the Guild. The rest struggle to get by, and to contniue
to create the stories they tell. To that end, every dime is essential, as it
is to most people.

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of their work is residuals. Residuals aren't a
bonus, they aren't a gift, they're *deferred compensation* no different than
the royalties an author gets from his books (as noted above). If you were to
take away those residuals, well over the majority of working freelance writers
(and actors and directors) would be financially unable to continue to work full
time at their profession, and would have to get other jobs or leave the
business entirely.

Every time an episode of television airs, those responsible for it get a small
residual. And I do mean small. But it adds up in time. I'm not talking about
the major studios, or networks, or the advertisers...I'm talking about the guy
who sold 3 scripts that year, made maybe $30,000 for the entire year BEFORE
taxes, and knows that the two or three grand in extra income from residuals of
his prior work will mean he can have a decent Christmas this year.

This individual -- and the actors, directors, others -- get nothing from
internet downloads. And the more prevalent this becomes, the more fragile
becomes the life of artists, and there may come a point -- and I am not
exaggerating here -- where a lot of people can no longer afford to keep working
at their preferred profession because this makes the economics no longer

"Well, they should keep at it anyway," some might say, "if they have to suffer
a little, that's their choice."

Is their suffering preferable to somebody having to actually buy a DVD? Is
their suffering or financial deterioration acceptable because the result --
putting their art on the net -- makes it more *convenient* for others?

There's this overwhelming sense of entitlement you see these days, where if you
WANT something then by god you're entitled to HAVE it, damn the consequences
for somebody else, and this is just one aspect of it.

This recently went to court with Harlan Ellison's case against AOL -- which was
finally settled out by AOL and new law further created to magnify this position
-- that those who upload short stories and novels onto the nets without
permission are commiting a crime. And if the role of the TV writer is
especially parlous, the fiscal position of prose writers is even MORE fragile.

So it seems to me an odd statement to say, "Boy, I really love this show, the
writing, the acting, the directing, so much that I'm going to steal from the
people who made it and hurt their income and possibly destroy their ability to
tell more such stories in future, THAT'S how much of a fan I am."

Yes, the prevalence of downloads does cut into reruns, and ratings, which in
today's highly fractionalized TV marketplace could spell the difference between
renewal or cancellation, because the advertisers look at the bottom line
numbers, and if they drop past a certain point, yes, the show goes away. And
yes, internet uploads of episodes will cut into that fragile calculation. And
yes, you may end up killing the very show you say you enjoy.

But even before you get to those computations, the act itself is simply wrong,
for all the reasons stated above.

The problem is that people don't like to be corrected, don't like to be told
that they're doing something wrong. They are defensive, and arrogant, and
pushy, and they feel that the world should give them anything they want because
they want it, period, and if anybody else has a problem with that, it's THEIR

The technical term for these people is deadbeats. The kind of guys who come to
stay at your house for a weekend, end up staying for a month, eating your food
without paying for it, using your car without sharing gas costs, and get pissed
off when you ask that they share the burden.

Me, I don't associate with guys like that.

Your mileage may vary.


(all message content (c) 2004 by synthetic worlds, ltd.,
permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX Magazine
and don't send me story ideas)
    From: (jms at b5)
 Subject: Re: ATTN JMS: File Sharing, Sci-Fi TV and the art of motorcycle
    Date: 12/9/2004 4:50:21 AM  

Message 2 in thread 

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>Well, not trying to argue - but just follow-up "questions":
>1) In Canada, most downloading is so far not-illegal, but "grey".

I don't know the Canadian laws well enough to comment intelligently.

>2) There is a large chain of bookstores that encourages people to come
>and sit and read, by putting chairs out all through the store. And
>people do spend hours doing that.

Apples and oranges. Libraries do that as well. The few stores I've heard
about who do that have found it encourages sales, because readers have more of
a chance to decide. So it benefits the writers and publishers. They don't get
to leave with the books they're reading.

>3) What about downloading vs. VCR use?

Again, apples/oranges. If you have it on a VCR, it's because it's been
broadcast to you, and you have your copy, and the system is legal. When you
digitize it and make multiple copies available, then you are no longer keeping
a single record for your archives, you are becoming a distributer without a

>4) What about reform of the current system? (ie: ratings, distribution, etc)

Not only apples/oranges, we've gone out of the produce section
entirely...different matter entirely.


(all message content (c) 2004 by synthetic worlds, ltd.,
permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX Magazine
and don't send me story ideas)
    From: (jms at b5)
 Subject: Re: ATTN JMS: File Sharing, Sci-Fi TV and the art of motorcycle
    Date: 12/11/2004 8:07:16 AM  

Message 3 in thread 

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>1. The laws on media copyright were not authorised by the
>general public.

>Could similar laws to the current ones have been negotiated
>with the general public?

Maybe I missed something, but the last I heard, no laws are"negotiated" with
the general public, and the general public does not "authorize" laws. The
courts legitimize or authorize, and congress negotiates.

Unless it's a ballot proposition, and there have been very few of those
overall...something like 90% of all the laws on the books are the result of
either legislative bodies or precedent set in courts.

If that's the distinction, it's a false one.


(all message content (c) 2004 by synthetic worlds, ltd.,
permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX Magazine
and don't send me story ideas)
    From: (jms at b5)
 Subject: Re: ATTN JMS: File Sharing, Sci-Fi TV and the art of motorcycle
    Date: 12/11/2004 8:07:17 AM  

Message 4 in thread 

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>Legality and morality are not equal.

No, not always. But my point, to which you respond, is that it's illegal. If
you want to argue morality, that's later down in the message. (Actually, there
are values, mores and laws...the former two eventually morphing into the third.
Just for any sociology students kicking around.)

>You *say* you don't want to indulge in the metaphor, but you then
>proceed to use the typical horribly flawed metaphor.

> You CAN do it, sure. But does that make it right?
>No, because you've deprived the store of that *physical property*. It's
>no longer there for them to make money on.
>With someone downloading something, there is no "physical loss".

Is the matter physical loss or financial loss? For the writer, there is sure
as heck a physical loss in one fewer check that arrives. And I would point out
that one of the two models I used did NOT result in physical loss, which takes
out your "horribly flawed" argument on the face of it. Copying a book and
returning it does not remove the physical book...but most people who think
nothing of downloading a movie get a serious case of the ooks when copying a
whole book.

So if you were saying the metaphor was false because it relied on physicality,
you're wrong on both relevant cases.

>But... wait... at the moment, that individual isn't getting *anything*
>for US-based individuals. It's only treading on the *possibility* of

Not correct. I don't even quite know what you're trying to say here. Each
time an episode runs, the people who made it get a royalty. So your point here
doesn't parse.

>People who are so fanatic as to spend four hours downloading an
>online version of a TV episode are also likely to be watching it again
>anyway when it airs

Please show your work here. Do you have any figures at all to back this up, or
are you just pulling this out of your backside? Because I've seen plenty of
people who've said, on boards, that they watched a given episode of Jeremiah on
download, and didn't watch it on broadcast. That is anecdotal, yes, but so is
yours...please back it up or we'll have to dismiss this one.

>People who aren't that fanatic -- people who download it, watch
>it, and then could care less about the actual television airing --
>probably weren't going to watch it past the first run anyway.

And thus they are irrelvant to the discussion.

>This is
>important because the first-run of the show is pretty much a sure

No, it's not. Where do you get this stuff? Yes, it's a sure thing to
BROADCAST, sure, but any FUTURE airings or seasons are affected by ratings, and
ratings can be diminished if lots of people have already seen it on the nets.

Case in point...I know that a lot of British fans didn't watch Jeremiah when it
got there because they'd seen the downloads. (I know, I saw the discussions.)
So now we have to parse between the original US broadcast and all the rest of
the world.

>Now, any future airings (and thus, future
>residuals) are going to be based upon the network's belief that there
>will be repeat viewers. But those people who stole it who "never
>watched it the first time" were never going to be a contributor to the
>residuals anyway.

You're simply not making any sense. Their "belief that there will be repeat
viewers" is based on the NUMBER OF VIEWERS WHO TUNED IN. If the net has cut
into that, then guess what, their computations are not going to be very

>In other words, the residuals argument is a red herring.

No, it's not...if only because you are deliberately confining your argument to
the first broadcast of a given show, not the rest of the time it's on the air.
You can't support the rest of your argument, so you try to limit it to the
first broadcast. Residuals specifically refer to subsequent broadcasts.

>(a) people who are
>going to keep watching it whenever you air it because they're uberfans,

The only thing wrong with this is that it ain't so, and is unsupported by you
or anyone else.

>Thus, downloaders have *zero* effect on residuals.

Sorry, you can use "thus" all you want, but you haven't proven anything. All
you're doing is throwing a lot of verbiage to defend your right to take
anything you want to take, whenever you want to take it.

How is what you are doing, or defending, any different than going into a
library, borrowing a book, making a bunch of copies of the book for your
friends, and giving it away free? It isn't. Not in the smallest regard.

Let me be straight: IT'S NOT YOURS. Okay? Are we clear on this? The book is
not yours to duplicate for others because you can hold one copy in your hand
and photocopy it. It's not your RIGHT to do so. You are NOT a publisher, you
are NOT a distributer. You can have what's yours, but you can NOT go around
making copies for other people or uploading it.

You mention morality...yeah, we all have competing moralities...but from my
moral persepctive, as well as the law, it's wrong, pal. Pure and simple. You
can dance around it all you want, but that's the core of it. It's wrong, and
it's illegal, and it's theft.


>Then there's the DVD argument, the people who dupe the crap out of
>DVDs. These fall into a couple categories as well:
>o People who dupe everything they can just to dupe everything they can.
> Any studio who believes that the people who have DVD-R collections
>with 10,000 movies on them were *really really* going to actually PAY
>FOR 10,000 discs need to have their heads examined. This is money the
>studios *weren't going to see anyway*.

We're not talking about individuals duping 10,000 copies...we're talking about
individuals who digitize movies and TV eps and put them ON THE NET for 10,000
people to individually download. If you're going to keep changing the
parameters of the discussion to make your case easier, we can't really have a
conversation, now can we?

>But downloading the show *isn't* actually stealing. As shown above, it
>isn't taking a penny from their pockets.

You have NOT s hown this, sorry. And it IS stealing. You don't want to THINK
of it as stealing because that would mean thinking of yourself as a thief, and
you don't like that...people don't like to be told when they're being bad, but
you can use all the soft language you want, it doesn't make it any less theft.

>On the flip side of course, we have the studios, the guys who want to
>tell me that if I want to watch the latest episode of Lost, which they
>aired on TV for free, on my laptop while travelling across the country,
>I've got to subject myself to three different levels of DRM to make
>them happy.

So it's okay to steal if it's from a big company? Is that your moral position?
And if you're talking about one ep which you digitized for your own purposes,
not for uploading, then again you're changing subjects to cloud the argument.

>For a product that they gave away for free over unencrypted and
>unprotected airwaves.

Yeah, she was wearing a short skirt, she deserved what she got.

>I think I speak for many people when I say that's a load of shite.
>First, you feel the need to fall back on the ever-flawed "consumption
>metaphor", where your "deadbeat" consumes things which then prevent
>their consumption by others.

What a narrow definition you have of theft..and again, you haven't shown it's
shite, or disproven the point. When you cut into something that puts residuals
in the hands of artists, sorry,b ut that's a physical harm.

>Second, in many cases, these are people who *want* to give money to the
>rightsholders. Who *want* to be viewing the program via "approved"
>methods. But the rightsholders do stupid things, like say "well, we'll
>only let people in North America view our content."

Stupid. Really? Studio A has the RIGHTS for North America ONLY. So they make
a deal with a foreign distributer, sooner or later. The foreign distributer
then -- wait for it -- pays the studio money which GOES TO THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE
THE SHOW. That's the way the system WORKS. It's not a "stupid thing," it's
each company having their own bite of the market.

>If this was about "getting the rightsholders paid their due share" the
>rightsholders would be bending over so far backwards that they could
>kiss their ankles trying to get the data out there everywhere in
>gazillions of formats, charging for all of them, and acknowledging that
>the few remaining people who weren't willing to pay were people they
>weren't going to get money from anyway because they're the type of
>people who just don't pay for things.

But they can't because there's competing markets. The studios have as many
arms in as many countries as they can, and where they have arms, they
distribute, which defeats your point. Where they DON'T have arms or deals they
CAN'T distribute. It's not like they come in offshore with pirate masks saying
"Arr, beger, here's our shows, matey." They need to have someone in that other
country who will distribute it, or it can't be shown.

What part of that baffles you?

But the thing of it is...and this is the part that gets me...all your arguments
are very philsophical and self-congratulatory, but leaving aside entirely the
issue of legality (which is one hell of a lot to leave aside), and morality
(ditto), and physicality....

THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THESE SHOWS, the people like those on Galactica who started
this conversation, people like me and others, the people you say you respect,
HAVE ASKED YOU TO STOP DOING IT...have been pleading with you, don't do
it...don't you understand that you are hurting the field, hurting jobs...this
isn't theoretical, this is the real, honest to god people who MAKE WHAT YOU SAY
YOU LIKE, asking you to PLEASE not do this.

And your message back to them is: fuck off, I do what I want.

Nice. Real nice.


(all message content (c) 2004 by synthetic worlds, ltd.,
permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX Magazine
and don't send me story ideas)

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