The Problem with Problem Solving

Commerce and industry is about fixing problems.  If you have the problem that you're hungry, a shop will sell you a solution in the form of a sausage roll. If you have bought something in another country, a postal service or courier will bring it to your door (usually). The two problems that Hollywood made an astonishing amount of money solving was that it was difficult or impossible, and in any event extraordinarily expensive, to create and distribute movies.

An entire half of that problem is solved.  It's not a problem anymore.  The decades of shining light through sixteen frames per foot of 35mm cellulose nitrate, the decades of arranging the magnetic fields on a thin strip of plastic so that it can be played in Victor Company of Japan's VHS systems, the poking of small pits 500 nanometers wide, between 830 and 3000 nanometers long and 150 nanometers deep in a polycarbonate compact disk all range from trivially easy and inexpensive through to total anachronisms.  Physical media that contains a creative work is dying or dead, where it continues to be used it is production quality, consumer-available and logistically effortless to obtain and distribute. Nobody's hungry, no market for sausage rolls.

The second half of the problem is partly solved.  The production of creative works is available to everybody.  Most people reading this article have in their possession an 8 megapixel high definition video camera attached to a  120mm x 60mm 1.3Ghz computer, with enough storage capacity to keep hours of high definition video, connected via the Internet to every other pocket supercomputer with a high speed HSDPA modem.  If you want to create art, there is no longer the requirement to have millions of dollars worth of real estate and equipment in Burbank California.  Of course movie studios still make creative works, and they spend between five and two hundred million dollars to do so, but their unique monopoloy on creation of commercially successful artistic work in motion pictures is gone.  Some parts of the industry understand the decentralisation and commoditisation of movies, with theaters long ago moving to a business model around selling popcorn and soda as their primary revenue stream.  People go to the cinema as a distinct choice - for an experience, for a choc-top and to catch up with friends they keep meaning to catch up with.  

One of the two things Hollywood does, isn't needed at all.  The other isn't as needed as it was, and Hollywood doesn't possess the only means of solving that problem.  So what is an industry faced with declining profitiability to do?  What is the agenda for a doffer, a limner, seneschal, an ice hockey rover or any of the other problem solvers whose problems are solved on Wikipedia's Category: Obsolete Occupations?

In the modern day, you blame, lobby and litigate.

Graham Burke is rapidly becoming the most prolific oversharer of feelings relating to piracy, the movie industry, and how piracy is the problem with the movie industry's relevance.  Piracy of course isn't by itself a threat to Hollywood, Hollywood has a crisis of relevance created by other people being able to solve the problems Hollywood solved, in large part without generating profit for Hollywood.  Piracy is one example of that, but not the way Burke says.

In a Sydney Morning Herald piece a few days ago entitled "End Piracy and Bring Google to Heel", he creates as much noise as possible to divert attention from Hollywood's crisis of relevance and control over profitable problem-solving.  Blaming technology is a weak suit, but Burke's not holding a lot of cards.  Roadshow Films Pty Ltd & others v iiNet Ltd was fought out and lost by him from 2010 through to 2012 and most of his idealogy about what the copyright industry's problems are and who's responsible for them were dashed against the rocks.  He tries to play some cards not dealt with (or not entirely dealt with) in that decisive defeat in his op-ed.

Our Attorney-General George Brandis is attempting to reform our copyright law. Meanwhile Google, one of the multi-national companies attempting to avoid paying tax here, is lobbying in Canberra to stop this, by putting forward the following six fundamentally misconceived arguments.

That's a glass house to be throwing stones in.  Village Roadshow is an astonishingly prolific electoral donor and at one point in the last few years paid more money into government coffers than any organisation bar the key major party donors such as unions and business groups.  From 2007 to 2008 alone Village donated $482,791.00 to both political parties (favouring the government).  Its Austereo subsiduary coughed out another $211,958.00, a hundred grand a piece to each major party and a ten thousand dollar bonus to the government. In 2009-2010, they donated $72,450.00, in 2010-2011 they donated $869,224.00, then in the most recent 2012-2013 reporting period $337,004.00.  Village Roadshow's tax position is opaque, but when it comes to giving money to the government they volunteered pennies shy of two million dollars in the last handful of years.

Its contention that implementation of piracy legislation would have little effect. There is proof in Europe and Korea, which received high-speed broadband early, that legislation done in concert with legally available product and education is in fact conclusively effective. Overwhelmingly, most people are decent and honest. They would no more illegally download than go into a department store and steal a book or a DVD.

No there isn't Graham.  There's comprehensive evidence in every jurisdiction that's tried the quarter-arsed ideas you're piping into attorney general George Brandis' ear, that they simply do not work.  Central to why Burke is wrong here is the idea that movies are like a butcher which doesn't do a sample sausage sizzle on the footpath outside the shop for fear people will eat them and not buy.  Consumer behaviour in the face of a commercial product and a competing product that's free is complicated.  Pressure to do what Hollywood wants, and to not do what Hollywood doesn't want, has mixed results everywhere the pressure is applied.  People will take the free samples.  People will buy the sausages.  People will do both, and people will do neither.  The only constant is that some people do, and will always, consume content and not pay the person with a commercial interest in it.

The assertion that the proposed legislation supports big business. The opposite is the case as it is the creative people working in production, cinema and television who are good and decent tax-paying Australians who will lose their jobs. About 910,000 people depend upon copyright protection for their livelihood. My company Village Roadshow is public and all shareholders are Australian.

This 910,000 figure is adorable but of course entirely false.  By now your head should be doing some rough division for the second time after the first calculation yielded an unlikely scenario where one in twenty-five-ish Australians apparently work for Hollywood.  The trick to understanding the trick is to understand how Hollywood maximises the numbers.

It's in the industry's best interests as you transition your business model from being a company that solves problems to being a company that lobbies for the exclusive legal right to solve problems, that you maximise the people you claim to be lobbying on behalf of.  Politicians have a weak spot which is directly proportionate to the depth of the queue at their electoral office that any particular decision may create.  Saying the government refusing to do what you say affects 30 people is not useful, saying it affects basically everybody is.  The Australian Screen Association (formerly AFACT), revealed how this number comes about when several years ago they released a curriculum package for Australian schools designed to indoctrinate them into being copyright enthusiasts.  Part of this curriculum package was a Flash web game which represented a town with various people going about their day.  Players were invited to click on people they felt were not connected to the copyright industry, and were unwaveringly corrected in every instance by pointing out how every single person in the fictional community is affected.  The film producer? Affected. The guy down the road that operates a coffee shop? Also part of the 910,000 because he sells a weak, warm, soy flat white with half an Equal to the film producer.  See how we're all intertwined?  Corporatism is wonderful.

Google says the proposed three strikes policy is too draconian. Overseas experience has shown that most people, when it is pointed out that it is theft, stop illegal downloading. For the others, if there is a meaningful deterrent it will almost never be used and piracy will cease. Like parking in a towaway zone!


The primary problem with three strikes or "graduated response" as the industry likes to term it, is less that it's draconian and more that it's expensive and based on accusations, not convictions.  If you park in a tow away zone it's obvious, and your car will be removed.  If Graham Burke rings the NSW Roads and Maritime Service and insists that he saw you park in a tow away zone once, he'll be roundly ignored.  In New Zealand this, together with the cost of implementing the scheme resting on the record labels rather than the ISPs, is why three strikes has failed.  The first case in that jurisdiction was dropped after the accused didn't know what file sharing was and had to have it explained to her, and RIANZ demanded $1075.00 as the cost of the five tracks the share-house dweller's flatmates reportedly downloaded.  New Zealand continues to infringe copyright with gay abandon.

I say to Mr Google, turn the question around. Why shouldn’t the government legislate against theft? Change the name from piracy which connotes something roguish and even romantic. Recognise why piracy is a lose/lose equation. Workers get hurt and good content gets cancelled.

Mr Google?


The government has legislated against theft Mr Burke.  The problem you have, is piracy is not theft.  Piracy is people almost absent-mindedly solving a problem you used to get paid to solve, and you're flat out accussing Google, iiNet, the Internet and everything else in your path as being culpable.

And if all you've got is "why shouldn't the government legislate to fix my problem?" as a closing to a meandering, factless article, this may yet be a short fight.