A couple days ago, I had an interesting “teaching moment” with my 14 year old. That evening, we decided to watch a movie. Usually we either pick a streaming movie off of Netflix or rent something from iTunes (yes, and once in awhile borrow it from the library).
This time, we wanted to watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Guess what? It was nowhere to be found. Disney has a weird practice of placing a sort of moratorium on their movies – meaning, you can’t buy or rent some of them. Not even from the Disney Store.
Anyway … mad librarian searching pro that I am … I solved our “we want to watch a movie” problem pretty easily. I did a quick Google search for beauty and the beast full movie and found a rogue streaming version that we could watch. We watched it, it worked fine, and we had a fun evening.
Afterwards, the 14 year old was asking why the movie was so hard to find, so I explained what Disney does with their movies, and how someone had decided to burn their DVD and upload the movie to a file sharing site, probably to “solve the problem.” And the fact that that’s sorta illegal. And that watching the illegal stream is probably a bit shady, too.
Ultimately, I was able to explain to my daughter how those copyright rules worked great before she was born, but they don’t really work now. Copyright in today’s world is kind of like enforcing a “no chewing gum within city limits” law. Impossible at best, ridiculously silly to attempt to enforce at worst.
Why? Because the web is so easy to use, and because there are so many file sharing and multimedia streaming sites. I’ll guess that if we tried hard enough, we could have watched the whole movie in chunks on Youtube. People like uploading movies and TV shows in chunks on Youtube. Slightly inconvenient, but it works.
In my family’s movie-watching case, who broke the law? Did we by watching? Did someone else by burning and uploading? Did the file sharing site, by providing a place to store files? Did AT&T, by providing my DSL line? The answer is probably … yes.
Is copyright broken? The answer is also a resounding yes. Can it be fixed? Probably so. I’m certainly no copyright expert, but I know it’s not working. Will it catch up to the 21st century? What do you think?