January 21, 2021

Do Your Part, Rights Holders: Open The Vaults!

For those who can stay at home, please do. We’ve all been advised to socially distance — the safest thing anyone can do in their individual capacity.

Of course, stir craziness can set in quite easily. (I’m stuck in my apartment with my dog, and while he’s good company he’s not much for conversation.) This is a great time to catch up on all of the books, shows, movies, and video games you’ve been meaning to read, watch, play, etc.

While each of us is doing our part to stay indoors, rights holders can do their part to make these trying times a little less tedious for the home-bound. How? By making their content freely available for streamers and downloaders.

So we’re clear, I’m not talking about independent artists or those who rely on touring income. These folks are most certainly going to take a hit, and would hopefully be covered by any kind of broad-based stimulus that comes from Congress. (This would also be an excellent time to consider Dean Baker’s proposal to give every American a creative works tax credit to donate to an artist of their choosing. To qualify, the artist would have to make their works public domain).

No, I’m talking about the collectors of passive income, those who actually hold the rights to the content: Disney, Netflix, CBS, NBC, Amazon, etc. Rights holders for video games, like Bethesda Studios, Paradox, EA, and Activision could also help. Even if they don’t want to release relatively new titles, this would be a great time to make older games free for all to stream, download, and play. Audible should also give everyone a few free downloads, and a few free months of Kindle Unlimited would go a long way.

Now would also be a great time to release the directors’ cuts or other deleted scenes that never made it to the theater or online. I personally would love to see the older versions of Rogue One or the rumored J.J. Abrams’s cut of The Rise of Skywalker, and I’m sure there are lots of other clips left on the cutting room floor that fans would love to hear.

More controversially, I implore all major rights holders to forgo prosecutions for torrenting, streaming, and other forms of infringement during these times. If illegally streaming keeps someone indoors, then let them stream.

The penalties for copyright infringement are astronomical and disproportionate, and simple peer-to-peer file sharing should be decriminalized in the first place (large torrenting sites and streamers are a separate case). But now is not the time for that — a lot of people need just a little bit of joy, and the owners of infringed copyrights must appreciate this.

This is especially true when it comes to going after YouTubers and other online commentators who must make use of others’ content when producing their own. A great deal of their use is fair to begin with, but dealing with a 512 notice or copystrike is the last thing they need on their minds.

This is a time where everyone must sacrifice both for their own personal safety and the safety of others. Rights holders should pitch in and forgo the benefits of the subsidy that has been given to them to make everyone else’s sacrifice a little more bearable.
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