iTunes Match and making Prof. Lessig’s case

Recap: Prof. Lessig’s argument.

You will remember that Michael Speck from Music Industry Piracy Investigations was outraged by Apple’s pending iTunes Match service and, in particular, the part where the service would in your iCloud account copies of music on your hard drive which had not been bought through iTunes.

At the time, it wasn’t clear (at least to me) whether Apple was going all gung-ho and just offering this unilaterally or had the agreement of the record companies to this.

Of course, if the record companies had agreed to this, it would be rather hard for them, or their representative, to complain about the pirate’s charter.

Jonathon Bailey, at Plagiarism Today, reports here that Apple is in fact offering the service in the USA with the agreement of the record companies. He also goes on to discuss indications that this is all part of a clever new strategy by the record companies to combat piracy – one of the indications he identifies includes recent reports that the music industry in Australia is not pursuing a 3 strikes policy (at least as strongly) as the movie industry.

Swerving to another aspect: the iTunes Match service Steve Jobs announced was for the USA only. Media reports suggest it will take up to 12 months for the service to be extended to the UK and speculate other countries will have similar delays.

Copyright is, of course, a territorial right and there are often different owners and licensees for different territories (i.e., countries). Thus, just because you have consent from the (or a) copyright owner in one country does not give you rights to do the same thing with the corresponding copyright in another country. No doubt, therefore, a large part of any delay will be attributable to the need to negotiate separate arrangements with the owners of copyright in different territories.

So the delay reported in the media should come as no surprise. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to those in Australia who monitored, for example, how long it took for the iBookstore to get any “in copyright” content. Perhaps, if Mr Speck’s view is representative of the views of the copyright owners in Australia, the wait would be even longer – what an economist might describe as “infinitely long”.

All of which goes to highlight, as representatives around the world assemble in Geneva to debate extending copyright and introducing limitations for visually impaired readers, why are we still dealing in the 21st century with territorial rights for electronic rights which can be accessed virtually instantaneously from virtually anywhere in the world?

Oh, perhaps it’s not just an electronic “problem”. This product is advertised for sale in the USA for US$399. You can buy it here for AUD$699 or (depending on exchange rate fluctuations) approximately US$736. (By the way, I am certainly not recommending that you do buy the product from either source, I have no experience with it.) Almost makes you wonder where’s Prof. Fels?

Helping make Prof. Lessig’s case for him

So, Steve Jobs introduced iCloud to the world yesterday.

Michael Speck from Music Industry Piracy Investigations (the people who bring down pirates like Kazaa for the record industry) declared:

Apple was “no better than the old p2p pirates”.

Now, at one level, Apple is not doing that much that hasn’t already been done before: Apple own webpage compares its service to those already on offer from Amazon and Google. Here’s another 17 Apps Mr Jobs made redundant.

Presumably, what you “buy” from Apple through the iTunes store is covered by a licence. The thing that Mr Speck is concerned about is the iTunes Match service: if you let Apple scan your hard drive it will store on the iCloud server for you copies of – according to Mr Speck – all the music you have there; you paid music and music you, er, ripped yourself including pirated music files.  Tidbits’ summary of iTunes Match:

iTunes Match — What about the music you purchased elsewhere or ripped from CD yourself? For a $24.99 yearly fee, iTunes Match makes those songs available, too. iTunes uploads a list of songs in your library (much as it does now for the iTunes Genius results) and matches them (probably using music fingerprinting) against Apple’s collection of 18 million tracks. If you choose to download a track to a device where it doesn’t appear, Apple provides a version at iTunes Plus quality (256 Kbps and free of DRM), even if your original copy was ripped at a lower quality.

Hmm, so if an Australian user chooses the music files to be “matched”, that puts Apple in the territory of iiNet (unless of course Apple’s servers are “in” Australia too).

But wait you say, isn’t there a fair dealing defence? See if you can fit what is being proposed into this.

From what some of the other commentators say, however, it looks like Apple may have cut a deal with the record companies so that some percentage of the annual iTunes Match fee goes to the record companies – see the comments of Kim Weatherall and Colin Jacobs here.

If that were part of the deal with the record companies, then problem solved, but Mr Speck’s interpretation is that it just a unilateral position taken by Apple without the consent of the copyright owners.

Then, for those of us in Australia, there is another problem: when it launches, iTunes Match will be available only in the USA. It will become available in other parts of the world only when licences are negotiated with the copyright owners. Wonder how long it will take before (a) Apple gets around to negotiating with copyright owners for Australia and (b) the chances the copyright owners for Australia will agree to any of this? Remember how long it took for any copyright material to show up in the iBookstore?

On the topic of territorial copyright:

When Zengobi announced Curio Core it was priced (to US customers) at US$39.99. It’s currently available in the Apple Australia Mac App store for AU$47.99, even though the Australian $ currently buys (approx) US$1.06 (which translates into just under AU$38. You can have similar fun with lots of other items in the App stores. Choice magazine provides even more egregious examples for a host of brands.

What Prof Lessig’s case is.