Some final (?) thoughts on SOPA/PIPA

We did it! Apparently. Whatever “it” is.

Wednesday’s “SOPA Strike” finally got the attention of Congress (and millions of confused high school and college slackers who had to endure 24 hours without access to Wikipedia, humanity’s only known source of information). In the wake of the protests, sponsors of both the House and Senate bills “shelved” the bills.

For now, they’re gone. But do you remember the end of Halloween, when Loomis shoots Michael and he falls out the window, and then when they look down a second time, he’s gone? Yeah, that.*

Before I move on to other topics (hopefully forever), I just wanted to share some final thoughts about SOPA/PIPA.

1. They’re not really dead. Sure, it’s entirely possible that we’ll never hear about SOPA/PIPA — by those names — again. But if you think the MPAA, RIAA, and their legions of highly paid lobbyists are going to let it all go this easily, you must be new here. As long as there’s any chance that anything the entertainment industry owns is being copied illegally, which is to say, until copyright law is forgotten during the zombie apocalypse (which might just be led by Zombie SOPA itself), old media dinosaurs will continue to fight for their lives.

Actually dinosaurs employing an army of zombies to fight Internet cyborg pirates sounds like a perfect Hollywood movie idea. (Copyright 2012 Scott Anderson. All rights reserved.)

2. Piracy is not really the problem. Sure, piracy happens. Sure, it’s illegal, and very probably even “wrong.” But what’s really wrong (as in, factually incorrect) is the idea that piracy translates directly into lost income for movie studios and record labels, or, as they (and their cronies in Congress) like to put it, lost jobs for gaffers and key grips and best boys and Foley artists and all of those other weirdly named jobs you see scrolling by in extremely small type at the very end of the ending credits of big Hollywood movies.

Yes, if Hollywood goes down, it’s going to take those kinds of middle class jobs down with it. But trotting these people out to get the average person to support this legislation is not unlike Prolife Across America’s billboards with pictures of babies and speech bubbles saying “I could wiggle my toes at 18 weeks!” Bear with me. Regardless of whether they’re right or wrong on the issue, both tactics are designed to appeal on a very simple, gut emotional level, and to discourage critical thought about what’s really going on, whose agenda is really being promoted, and what the implications of that agenda are.

Aside from the documented cases of entertainment industry lobbyists making egregious “errors” in their calculations of the numbers of jobs affected or the billions of dollars “lost” each year to piracy, there’s the simple logical fallacy that every pirated movie or CD equates to a lost sale. On reflection, this should be obvious: many, if not most, of the people who are pirating a movie or an album were not likely to buy it otherwise.

Then again, sometimes getting a copy of an album from a friend turns a person into a lifelong fan of a musician. A personal example: in my life I have purchased every album ever released by both Rush and Yes, which is a lot (there are 31 Rush albums and 29 Yes albums in my iTunes library right now), several of them multiple times, as each new remastered version is released. I have seen these two bands in concert a combined 8 times. I’ve bought their concert videos on VHS and DVD. In all I’ve probably spent over $2000 in the past 20 years on my Rush and Yes obsessions. And it all began because a friend made me cassette copies of A Show of Hands and Classic Yes (both of which I subsequently purchased on CD) back in high school.

So, you see, piracy is not really the problem in two ways: 1) an instance of piracy doesn’t necessarily mean a lost sale up front, and 2) copying now may lead to a lot of purchasing later.

3. Copyright is broken anyway. The other day I mentioned that copyright law had been changed to allow Disney to retain exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse. In fact, the Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 was even referred to as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act! I’m not against copyright, per se. I believe that the creators of original works should reserve the right to decide how their works are used and distributed, and to profit from their efforts.

But I also believe that an ever-changing law that allows that protection to extend in perpetuity, long after the creator’s death, is counterproductive and harmful to the free exchange of ideas within a society. I’m firmly against software patents for the same reason. In fact, I’m even more against software patents than I am against indefinite copyright extension, but that’s a topic for another post. But I think it’s worth mentioning that I am equally, or even more so, opposed to protectionism in my own field than I am in the entertainment industry.

4. Adapt or die. That’s it, really. As I’ve noted previously, these bills (and any future legislation like them) are not really designed to protect the interests of content creators. They are intended to prop up a dying industry that grew fat on profits over a period (specifically the 1970s through the 1990s) when their business was built upon a model that is ultimately unsustainable, especially as new means of distribution have proliferated. Combine that with what is broadly regarded as a precipitous decline in the quality of their products, along with untenable pricing, and you have a perfect recipe for the kind of collapse and failure currently underway. Don’t blame piracy; blame yourselves for overcharging for a product of low value.

P.S. Boy, it feels good to be able to link to Wikipedia again!

* You seriously haven’t seen it, and I spoiled the ending for you? Whatever. Also, would describing a portion of a film in a blog post like this have been a prosecutable offense under SOPA/PIPA?

I recorded an EP today… on my iPhone

What did you do today? I recorded an EP. Every sound on it was produced using my iPhone. (Sure, it was mixed and mastered on my Mac, but the only “instrument” was my iPhone with an assortment of music apps.)

For the curious, the apps I used were: Argon, Funkbox, Beatmaker, Filtatron, NESynth, Animoog and Beatwave. (I’d provide links but… come on. Just go to the App Store and look ‘em up.)

The EP is available to stream or download for free right now on alonetone.

Three years

Judging by the old posts dredged up by my new WordPress plugin, Room 34 presents On This Day*, it was three years ago today that President Obama was inaugurated.

It’s been a strange three years. The president has probably failed to live up to the (unreasonable) expectations a lot of his supporters put in him, and he’s been too willing to contort himself in vain efforts at compromise, but I think he’s still accomplished a lot, and he’s certainly better than his predecessor (although that’s damning with faint praise).

I’m supporting the president’s re-election, if less enthusiastically than in 2008. And if for no other reason than what last night’s (yet another) Republican debate proved**… they’re a sorry lot indeed.

* Yes, that’s kind of a douchey name for the plugin. I wanted to just call it “On This Day,” but there’s already another plugin (which does basically the same thing, but appears to have been abandoned by its developer) in the repository with that name. This was the best I could come up with, because I think “On This Day” is the best possible name for a plugin that does what it does.

** I’m basing my opinion of last night’s debate, like all of the others, on what I’ve gleaned from Twitter. I would never subject myself directly to watching one of these debates, because a) I already know there is no possible way I’d ever vote for any of these candidates, except possibly under extreme duress, and b) I value my sanity.

Scott’s Accidental Artisanal Ketchup

I cannot imagine many things more hipster than artisanal ketchup. Then again, I do love ketchup. Then again again, can I really endorse a product whose website uses a handlebar mustache as its favicon?

I’ve never actually tried artisanal ketchup, but I think I may have just accidentally made some myself. You see, SLP and I stopped by Everett’s today, and ended up walking out with a take-and-bake “mom’s meatloaf.” I figured a meatloaf like that needed a proper tomato sauce to go with it, not just a few squirts of Heinz, but I couldn’t find a recipe to my liking. So, I just decided to wing it with ingredients I had on hand. I realized as I was cooking my sauce that it was drifting dangerously close to artisanal ketchup territory, but nonetheless I went for it. The end result was good. A great complement to the meatloaf, if perhaps not quite sweet enough or thick enough to stand in for real ketchup on something like a (grass-fed) hamburger.

Yes, this recipe is principally comprised of beef broth, so it’s anything but vegetarian. Then again, I made it to put on meatloaf.

Here’s the recipe, as I made it (to the best of my recollection). If you experiment and find a better variant, please let me know in the comments!

Accidental Artisanal Ketchup

1 tsp olive oil
¼ c red onion, chopped
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 – 6 oz can tomato paste
2 c beef broth (for thicker sauce use 1 ½ c)
1 tsp brown sugar (or more, to taste)
½ tsp salt (or more, to taste)
dash cinnamon

Whisk together the tomato paste and beef broth until well blended. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Avoid browning the onions.

Add the vinegar and stir to combine. Stir in the tomato paste-broth mixture. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer.

Stir in brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Don’t put the same spoon back in the pot or you’ll be Chopped.

Continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes or until desired consistency is achieved.

For a vegetarian option, substitute vegetable broth or water in place of beef broth. If using water, add extra salt.

For a smooth sauce, i.e. to get rid of the chunks of onion, puree after cooking. (And if you don’t know what happens when you put a hot liquid in a blender, you’re on your own.)

Serve hot or cold on whatever you like: meatloaf, burgers, poutine, scrambled eggs, ice cream. It’s all good.

Update: When I made the ketchup a second time, I considerably increased the amount of both red wine vinegar and brown sugar, from 1 tsp each to 1 tbsp each. It was awesome. I’d also suggest adding a dash of either Spanish paprika or cayenne pepper for some extra kick.