Don’t Mess with Convenience

My local library has many good books and CDs, which I can borrow for free. All I have to do is go down there, find that what I want is out, get on the waiting list, come back a few weeks later to pick it up, and remember to return it on time. This is not convenient at all, but it’s free and totally 100% legal.

Similarly I could borrow a DVD from a friend. Yes I’d probably be imposing somewhat on my friend, and if I forgot to return the DVD, perhaps this person would cease to be my friend. But, the point is, I could do this legally and for free.

Ok so what if, during one of the above scenarios, I decide just to make a quick copy for myself. Look, I’m never going to buy the thing. I buy things I want to own. If I just want the option to read a book twice, maybe once a year, it doesn’t make sense to own it 24/7/365. Besides, at any given time I could “re-borrow” the thing anyway — it would just be more convenient to have a copy readily available.

Of course, this is illegal.

The MPAA and the RIAA and many publishers don’t get this. They want you to see black and white here. Unfortunately, the reality is a whole lot of grey. The convenient method is illegal. If you want convenient access to a work, you must pay for it. Otherwise, if you’re satisfied with the inconvenient methods, they are — at least currently — resigned to the fact that those methods are legal.

(Don’t be fooled, though. If they could make libraries and friends illegal, they would.)

In a nutshell, this is why the MPAA and the RIAA are doomed to lose the copyfight. Convenience is not theft. Convenient things are not wrong. If you get between people and convenience, you’re going to lose every time.


5 Responses to “Don’t Mess with Convenience”

  1. 1 Ryan September 16, 2005 at 7:34 am

    Mark – I have absolutely no comment on the blog entry – but return a damn phone call!

  2. 2 Kevin Frei September 22, 2005 at 2:58 pm

    I’m sorry, Mark, but I’m no longer legally allowed to be your friend. The RIAA contacted my lawyer and my lawyer has advised that there may be a lawsuit pending if the friendship continues šŸ™‚

  3. 3 Jonathan Gilbert April 27, 2006 at 2:15 pm

    I believe it would be perfectly legal for your friend to make a copy of a CD they own and give that copy to you. However, if you borrowed the CD from them and made the copy yourself, it would be illegal. I think this is how it works, but I could be wrong. Probably nobody will affirm this or correct me because this blog entry is so old. Oh well.

  4. 4 Mark April 29, 2006 at 12:06 pm


    I’ve never heard anyone make that particular distinction before. I was under the impression that it didn’t make any difference who copied the work.

    Just for the record, I buy all sorts of DVDs and music. I just bought two David Ryan Harris records about an hour ago. I did this in the vein hope that he will actually see some of the money. I think he deserves it.

    I also did it because it was convenient to buy the discs online, which gets back to my point. Even at $15 a pop, it’s not really the cost that bothers me. I just want convenient access to the work (and perhaps it would also be nice if knew that the creator — and not some middle man who “adds value” in some obscure way — got the cash).

    Case in point, the CDs I bought are not optimally convenient. If, for example, each disc had some kind of code on it which I could use to access the music online, from anywhere, that would be much better.


    PS: Oh, and, my blog is not so popular that I don’t read every comment — no matter how old the posting šŸ™‚

  5. 5 Jonathan Gilbert May 1, 2006 at 6:49 am

    I agree entirely and feel the same frustration as you. My finances do not currently support buying all the music I like to listen to, but every now and then, for something I particularly like, I’ll go down to the local record store.

    It is really sad that there is no path between us and the artists. I mean, they probably don’t *want* thousands of fans intruding onto their lives (more than they already are), and are grateful to have a record company to handle the ugly details of manufacturing & distribution, but there is little recognition of the artist’s effort. I could be wrong, but my understanding is that typically, record companies don’t license the work for production, they *buy* it from the artist, and if the artist doesn’t want to relinquish control over his/her work, the record company simply won’t deal. Only the biggest and most influential artists are in a position to get royalties, and more often than not, none of the money you pay for a CD actually makes it back to the artist. šŸ˜¦

    You have an interesting idea about making the media accessible from anywhere. The internet’s bandwidth is on the verge of being reliable enough for such a concept to work. The only problem is, any implementation done under the scrutiny of the RIAA would be heavily laden with DRM, and in any case there would be no doubt the issue of people sharing their codes. I guess for now, you’ll just have to set up your own such system. šŸ™‚

    In any case, the industry currently wants to make everything less convenient, not more. Probably the next audio CD I buy will do its very best to stop me from making MP3s of it. It might even install a root kit on my system!

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