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Wednesday, 11 April 2012


Quoteth Ctein, "I very much doubt that the studios' intention was to make it impossible for me to watch, in the future, the movies I had purchased."

During the time of analog VHS, perhaps not. The studios knew the heads and tapes would wear out or fall apart over time, and that the technology would be replaced. However, it was replaced with digital signals and replication.

So today, that very idea of "time limited viewing" for your purchases is the focus of the MPAA and many studios... and physical media copy-protection aside, the concept has been incorporated into the EULAs of nearly every vehicle for legally downloading said movies. You no longer "own" your copy of the movie you downloaded off of iTunes or wherever. Like software, you're just renting it for a while... at the same price.

Did you download VHS rips of those movies? If so, then maybe you can morally claim "fair use backup." But if you didn't, you're very squarely in the wrong.

I'm pretty sure I shouldn't write this because someone else will write the same thing in a more coherent manner but...

The parallels between your expectation (you bought a movie, you should be able to consume it however you want) and the expectation of photo clients (they bought sitting time and photos from you, they should be able to consume them however they want) are pretty strong. Those people bought a wedding package from me and started printing their own! That model got prints and now they're her facebook profile picture! That client bought photos to use in an internal presentation and now they're in an advertising campaign!

I could see the studios making the argument that you didn't buy the movie, you bought the rights to watch it in that particular format. Personally, I disagree with that. But then again, I also disagree with a lot of photographers.

My day job is with a Hollywood studio, so I've skin in this game. You're not alone in your reaction, for many the jumping off point into music piracy is when they first struggle to move their iTunes library from one device to another.

And the problem's about to get worse, many pundits say the future of transactional entertainment media (stuff you buy as opposed to rent or get via a subscription package) is digital purchases...problem is what you're purchasing may not be the movie, it could be just a licence to watch the movie. That's going to be more than a minor irritant to a lot of previously loyal and law abiding fans. Like I said, I've skin in this game, but I also recognise there's a notion of natural justice deep in our genes, and corporations offend this notion at their peril.

Ctein, be aware that unless you bought the archival kind, DVDs are a very unreliable backup medium. They will degrade over the years and you may lose your files after several years if you don't have another backup.

I like the way it works with my wife's KOBO e-reader. If she buys a book from KOBO, she always owns the book even if she loses her e-reader or upgrades to a newer KOBO device. She can just download her book again from her KOBO account. Perhaps this is how it works with iTunes? I wouldn't know. Perhaps someone can tell me.

I'm always uncomfortable with piracy even though I think Ctein makes a reasonable argument. I wouldn't do what he did. It's a slippery slope.

I developed an analog solution to the problem of old VHS tapes - I threw them in the garbage. History is not nearly as interesting as the future.

@Chris Norris: Interesting. I would actually somewhat disagree with you about the photography, but not about the movies. I think ever since VHS tapes came out, the studios would forbid certain uses: for example, you were not supposed to play them for commercial purposes (as in a theater-type setting where you charge people for watching them), nor were you supposed to make copies and sell them. The fact that these restrictions exist suggest that the studios were, in fact, selling you only certain rights, and not other rights -- that you were buying a license to watch the tape, not to do anything you want with it.

On the wedding photography, it all depends on exactly what the contract says. If you're doing work for hire, then they own the photos. If you retain the rights, then not. If I were getting married, I'd pay the photographer for a set of prints, but I'd want the right to make casual copies or put them on my Facebook page, if I had a Facebook page. In other words, I'd only hire a photographer on a work-for-hire basis. If that wasn't acceptable, I'd find another photographer. If it weren't specified in the contract, I suspect (but don't know, because I'm ignorant of this aspect of the situation) that most courts would side with the purchasers.


I have a somewhat parallel experience, but less legally ... um ... ambiguous result. I have a bunch of CDs which I have bought but left in Australia. Mostly classical music (so naturally hard to torrent).

The answer? Spotify (http://www.spotify.com) Their catalog is fantastic and most of my CDs are there.

I now just have to put up with the crummy ads... but one day, someone will create the video version of Spotify; I just know it ...


I don't know this for sure, but I believe most current laws on this sort of subject allow for limited copies made for personal use, which would cover what Ctein's doing. For instance, you do not have the right to copy a music CD and send it to five of your friends, but you do have a right to copy it so you can listen to it in your car. But IANAL.


Why?? How many hours of the time you have left do you expect to live them re-gurgitating old food? I know, it's me, I'm sorry. I speak only for those few like me who've torn up the tracks as they go. My brother is a 'Ctein', I missed the target, think I'll give him a call, tell him he has a kindred spirit, give him your tips on propagation. Best wishes, I like your column

Having just disposed of the last of my in-laws many, many VHS tapes (hundreds - purchased and self-recorded) I have to say I'm not sure why Ctein bothered for most of these.

The question is to Ctein, but applies to us all: Do you/we really expect to watch/re-watch all of that media? Do you/we have enough free hours left in a lifetime to do so?

I am curious, now that these are all digitized, how many will ever be watched again. I bet it turns out to be less than 10% of them. I don't know, but I am curious.

Ctein: check back in with us in a few years and let us know how many of these actually get "watched". It will be a sample of one, but I am curious what happens to these "depots" of entertainment in real life.

I certainly know what happened to my in-laws trove of tapes! (The "recorded on VCR from TV" all went to the landfill, the purchased ones were all given away to somebody who thinks they might get 25 to 50 cents each for them).

Work-for-hire can only exist by specific contractual provision; so, if the contract doesn't specify, the photographer owns the copyright. Which has been absolutely the norm for as long as I've been reading about legal issues with photography; portrait and wedding photographers have nearly always (I'm sure some people did negotiate special contracts) owned the copyright.

The pricing is generally set up so that the real profit comes from selling prints, so on the one hand you aren't committed to big money until you see if you like the result, but on the other hand, the print prices seem absurd. No doubt this is changing somewhat in the digital era -- at least, people need provision to make some digital use of some photos. Nobody will believe in the wedding if you don't post photos on Facebook ;-).

How is it that you are so sure that the people you downloaded from/uploaded to are pirates, yet you are not?

"I very much doubt that the studios' intention was to make it impossible for me to watch, in the future, the movies I had purchased; I doubt that even entered their thoughts."

I never realized Ctein led such a sheltered life. If you didn't bother looking at the last several pieces of legislation the MPAA, RIAA and others have written for congress, you might want to check them out. Not only do you not own their products, they expect to spy on you online and come into your home as if they are law enforcement. And they feel justified because some people steal content on the internet. And they are dinosaurs whose method of wealth building died 30 years ago.

It's a slippery slope :-) ... today 26 films via that USB decoder stick, tomorrow 26 tb of films, someone better start suing someone else here before this new technology destroys thousands of jobs and ruins the industry.

if the d-vhs machine works so well, why bother transferring all the old vhs tapes (which i reckon you will only view occasionally if at all) just play them on the whizz d-vhs player?

No one else has mentioned it, so I will. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act forbids circumventing copy-rpotection schemes. Lots of people do it, but I don't think I'd ever admit to the world on a website that I did it.

I can only think that studios are very aware of the obsolescence of media formats. A few studios seem to have the habit or re-releasing a "collectors edition" version of movies in which ever media format is going out of use.

The question is how many times I can reasonably download that Roy Orbison tape I bought in high school a since lost, under the premise that I've previously purchased the rights to the content. Also, if you copy and then sell (or donate) your videos, do you loose the right to watch your copied version because you have transferred your license at the point of sale (or donation)?

I also don't get the urge to "archive" commercial media and taped TV that is unlikely to get a second viewing. But I recognize it -- my father just went through the same exercise for his hundreds and hundreds of hours of partial tapings of random broadcast TV. It was a major project -- these all need to be copied in real time. Having watched so many thousands of pounds of "collectibles" be hauled to the trash from my grandparents' hoarding house, I can say that the only things of importance at the end are a few boxes of family photos and a few reels of family movies. Everything else is ephemera.

Regarding the legal issues, I am bemused by Ctein's casual brushing off of the issues. Of course the analogy to photography is pertinent. I hope Ctein doesn't mind if folks who've bought his prints re-photograph them so that they can print them at smaller or larger sizes? Or use them as a screen saver on their computer? Because after all, they bought the image and I'm sure it never crossed Ctein's mind that computers would come along and allow folks to enjoy his pictures in both places. It's only for their personal use after all.

Even weirder is Ctein's willingness to throw out the commercial tapes and/or cases. So, even if Ctein were covered in the safe harbour of 1984's "Universal vs. Sony" i.e. the Betamax case, he's thrown away his proof-of-purchase/defacto license.

I don't agree with everything about the current copyright regimes, but it is disconcerting to see folks whose livelihood depend on intellectual property be cavalier about other forms of intellectual property.

Dear Mark,

Yes, the world seems to be moving in that direction, and I intend to firmly resist for as long as possible. I do not feel obligated to follow an EULA that is unilaterally imposed on me if it is brain-dead and stupid. In particular, should I find myself the position of being forced to purchase content that is DRMed, I shall immediately break the DRM and make whatever appropriate archives and backup copies I need to insure my future enjoyment of said content. And any studios that don't like that can kiss my digital assets.


Dear Six,

I have no idea. Our TV is still a primitive "analog" one connected up to a TiVo (which is how we are able to watch today's all-digital channels). Wouldn't matter if I downloaded 100 MB or 10 GB AVI files; they all look the same on this box.

Consequently, this is a distinction without substance.

(Please excuse any word salad; iPad dictation in training…)

pax / Ctein

Dear Bernd,

That's a really good point that I neglected to bring up. I chose to transfer these to non-archival DVDs because they are really interim stuff. Eventually everything is going to get digitally converted (probably within a year) and then I'll simply have back up hard drives.

Had I meant these to be long-term archives, I would've used archival DVD blanks, just as I do for my photographs.


Dear JC,

You're really quite right. If I had any sense I would've just thrown out the old tapes. I am constitutionally incapable of doing that, for much the same reason that I don't get rid of 90% of the books of the house, even though the chances of me ever read reading them again are negligible. It's a quirk. I know it. I'm stuck with it. (Severian and James take note.)

You could be right about the studio's intent. If so, then it falls under my "screw them" clause.


Dear Paul,

What I am sure of is that I do not give a tinker's dam if *someone else* thinks I am a pirate.


Dear NHW,

Damn straight! As a great sage once put it:

"Why it's the first step on the road to degradation

"First it's medicinal wine from a teaspoon,

"Then beer from a bottle,

"And before you know it…"

The apocalypse is indeed upon us [VBG].


Dear Roger,

Reread paragraph 2. Also, if you wait until you are down to your very last VHS machine, and it breaks down, well then…

The trick to successful data migration is to do so BEFORE you reach the end of your rope.

(Please excuse any word salad. iPad dictation in training…)

pax / Ctein

"Ctein, be aware that unless you bought the archival kind, DVDs are a very unreliable backup medium. They will degrade over the years and you may lose your files after several years if you don't have another backup."

Seems like Ctein is using DVDs to make it easier to import into iPad and computer friendly format, the DVD recorder was used so he didn't have to baby sit the process like you would if you were using a computer.

"if the d-vhs machine works so well, why bother transferring all the old vhs tapes (which i reckon you will only view occasionally if at all) just play them on the whizz d-vhs player?"

because the vhs player will break at one point, whereas digital media can be kept forever provided there are enough backups.

So if I have a fading 4x6 copy of a photograph on newsprint, I should consider it within my rights to seek out, illicitly, a high resolution jpeg of that photograph to make my own 8x12 print?

Apples to apples comparisons will of course be impossible, but from a person working in one medium to a person working in the other, that's what your rationale sounds like to me.

But honestly, as a person who dedicates himself so steadfastly to image quality, I'm shocked that you'd cling to any VHS at all, save for the rare irreplaceable bit of TV or odd film that can't be bought on newer formats.

I used to have a freind in college owning a whopping turntable and a great music collection. But what was his problem.....even though he had a whopping turntable the records never sounded as good en crisp as the first time he played them. So what did he do? He bought a whopping dolby etc....equiped, tape recorder to record all "first time" listerings to cassette......and he then only listened to the cassettes. The actual albums were only archive material to him should a tape be lost. Of course he made first rate recordings but he always had to be carefull not to overcook the tape so he never used the full headroom (and above) to record his musis, so he always listened to something verry close to the original but never quit the original music. The CD changed his game. I wonder were his record collection (large enough) is now. Then MP3 came along and so forth.

I was reminded at this not by your column but by the newest James Cameron movie, Titanic 3D......you may call me an idiot but I forked over 11 guilders to see that movie in the cinema back in the ninetees. I have seen it on TV at least 4 times. Now James has rehashed the content digitally in order to make me wear 3D goggles to see it again. Now personally I don't need 3D to view a great storyline, I don't need 60 frames/second either. I just need a few letters on a page or some old film running through a projector. And then "The Artist" came along just blatently neglecting 80 years of technological development en "telling" a story with tools Eisenstad could have used. And at the end of it, everybody in the audience was touched. Experiencing art is not about the medium, it is not about technology, it is not about bits and bites, and it is not about making money either. It is about the heart of the beholder that is beating in unison with the heart of the artist to create meaning, for the both of them.

So I understand the need to save your tapes for eternaty and beyond, but I still own record and record player.......these record are grey indeed, they crackle and sometimes even jump a track, but they are part of my memory imperfections and all. With their sleves, the cover art, the smell of vinyl, the joy of seeing a trusted old record player spin up to 33.3 revolutions a minute (quarz controlled), off hearing the cracks and then experiencing the music. Another freind of mine found a new recording of an old Billy Holiday record (he could find an original copie) so before listering it he emptied an ashtray over the brand new record and rubbed some dust into the surface. And their she was, singing in an angelic voice, with some cracks like she was speaking from a different age. Straight from the fifties back into the late nineties. Angel of harlem the way she was not intended to sound but the way she was supposed to sound. Halfway up the nineties I bought a Roland VS880 digital HDR recorder and one of it´s digital effects was adding old skool record noise (for a 45 or a 33 revolution record if needed). So i guess I wasn't the only one needing technical imperfections to appreciate artistic perfection even better.

So my advice to you Ctein, why bother?

Greetings, Ed

If I were getting married, I'd pay the photographer for a set of prints, but I'd want the right to make casual copies or put them on my Facebook page, if I had a Facebook page. In other words, I'd only hire a photographer on a work-for-hire basis. If that wasn't acceptable, I'd find another photographer. If it weren't specified in the contract, I suspect (but don't know, because I'm ignorant of this aspect of the situation) that most courts would side with the purchasers.

Me too. I would find someone to do what I wanted, after all, I'm paying.

Courts wouldn't be involved as I would re-write the contract to suit me.

So you took from the pirates but would give nothing back? Hmmm.

"[After copying to DVD] I could digitize at my leisure"

Um - you do realize that DVD's are a digital format?

@Latent Image, that only works so long as KOBO exists. They go away, so do your bits. (Yes, bits. What own are bits arranged to form text - not a book.)

"He bought a whopping dolby etc....equiped, tape recorder to record all 'first time' listerings to cassette......and he then only listened to the cassettes. The actual albums were only archive material to him should a tape be lost."

Having worked in high-end audio for enough time to make observations, I can tell you that in some cases, it's just a field for the playing out of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I could tell you stories.

I have one friend, a brilliant and original guy, who had an astonishing vinyl record collection--he would buy fifteen records and keep only two, seek out rarities from around the world, etc., and in this way he had amassed 4000 records. When CD came along he decided he couldn't stand the imperfections of vinyl and offloaded his whole record collection. But he is having trouble switching from CDs to digital files; I don't know why, but it might be because he needs a physical object in order to feel like he safely owns the music.

I know of another guy who started out liking rock and pop like everybody else, but decided that small acoustic ensembles made the best-sounding recordings, so now he only owns and listens to small acoustic ensembles. That's dedication to sound quality....


I smell a double standard regarding pirating here. But hey, everybody's got their own justification for torrenting.

I always knew home taping would kill off the music industry, it's happening to the movie industry now!

They were right all along!

I probably would be doing the opposite of Ctein - throwing out the movie tapes and keeping the TV recordings. It was fascinating when I last viewed an old TV taping - the advertisements were hilarious to watch. They would be the things I would digitize and upload to YouTube!

On the subject of digitizing VHS, and of BitTorrent, I'd like to express my undying gratitude to whoever digitized their off-air recordings of "Master Photographers", and made them available as a torrent.

"Master Photographers" was a 6-part BBC documentary series from 1982. Six photographers - Adams, Brandt, Feininger, Lartigue, Kertész, and Eisenstaedt - all interviewed one-to-one in the last years of their lives.

These little programmes had a huge impact on me. I hadn't seen them since they were broadcast (except for half of the Adams programme which I still have on tape). They are unlikely to be obtainable by any other means, but technically they are still copyright to the BBC. Seeing them again was wonderful.

Ken's mention of Laser Disc in the featured comments section reminds me of going to an informational interview with a large government institution while I lived in Washington DC (use your imagination to guess which one, but they used a lot of photos). While there was no job available for someone with my fractured educational background, they were nice to me and gave me a little tour.

Low and behold, they showed me a room where they were transferring scans of photos on to some propriety system that stored on Laser Disc! Now, even then, Laser Disc was passe and production had already stopped, but someone in the governments "infinite wisdom" department decided that the government needed to get digitized long before the technology even got close to stabilized. I mean, this was like someone deciding the information of the nation needed to be put on Edison shellac cores.

I may not be a genius, but I certainly knew that Laser Disc was not going to be the end of the train, that technology development was accelerating, and that "motionless" and "wearless" storage would probably be the end result. This wasn't that long ago, so they must be working on changing that, right? Who knows, the government is more likely to fund a department for Laser Disc manufacturing and machine repair.

BTW, going through some stuff on the untimely death of my Mother, and since I've been ping-ponging around the country for the last fifteen years, with my stuff in storage, this entry is also interesting because I'm trying to decide what to "shed" and travel lightly with. Believe me, zillions of pre-recorded movies on VHS, or CD, just aren't making to cut. Even if I savagely cut everything, nearest I can tell is that I still have 18 file sized boxes of negs, prints, art work, and irretrievable family memorabilia. Dragging around ever changing media is just not going to make the cut, and spending lots of time or money scanning film and negatives to some sort of media that may or may not be migratable, or may or may not even be as erudite as the original isn't going to be an option either.

I can't figure out if I mourn for the lifestyle of my parents, able to afford and keep a home for all their stuff for 40 years (and happy doing it), or I should learn how to shed it all and live for the day. Lord knows the photo market is not paying me to live like my parents...

Ctein on CteinDUX:
'What's the Point of Even Having Copyright?'

Copyright law is not, fundamentally, about financial damage. It is about giving the creator of the work the right to decide how it is used. They can sell it, they can give it away for free, they can enjoin others from selling it, they can do what they want. But the decision is theirs. Outside of the very limited provisions for Fair Use and Work for Hire, you need permission from the creator of a work to use it for your own ends. That's the whole thing in a nutshell.

—Ctein, in the comments to yesterday's post

pitard, which see: google

Dear Chris,

To engage in a bit of amusing legal nitpicking, I am not technically in violation of the provision of the DMCA. I did not circumvent any copyright protection. I took advantage of other people's circumventing of copyright protection. It's not the same thing under the law.

Not that I particularly care. I consider that one of the more offensive provisions in the DMCA. I am not likely to ever violate it, though, because that would be too much like work. [grin]


Dear Derek,

You're entirely correct; I miswrote that. What I should've written was virtualize.


Dear scotto, David, Will and others,

Attractive as the prospect may seem, you cannot draw analogies between photographs, music, and video. Both the written and case law are different and so are the practices and customs. Any analogies you draw, no matter how seductive, are of no practical or legal significance.

Before you disagree, please read the previous columns cited at the beginning of this one and most especially the comments attached, and also, in particular, this one:

The Not-So-Slippery-Slope of Piracy

(Please excuse any word salad; iPad dictation in training…)

pax / Ctein

My folks have a fairly small VHS collection that doesn't get played anymore. I suggested that for the commercially recorded tapes that have some chance of being watched again, buy used DVDs instead. Or use their Netflix account. Less effort, better quality. Small overall cash outlay --- the monies spent on the VHS tapes were "amortized" so to speak eons ago.

These days, "DVD quality" is a basic benchmark that VHS tapes can't match. Even when played on a D-VHS machine, sorry. The negative, er, source tape, remains paramount here.

Of course, as mentioned, watching on an old analog TV wouldn't necessarily reveal this, which is a curious priority and placement of discretionary funds coming from a professional printer that understands things such as tweaked ICC profiles, specialty papers and inks and pro-level computer monitors.

Ctein, don't ever look at what a modern TV and Blu-Ray can deliver; you'll never view all those tapes you converted if you do. Of course, if your TV "watching" is just for the background noise, please disregard the above.

Dear Patrick,

Yes, that would be it in a nutshell. Maybe I should worry about being sued by the Pirates? [Very big grin]


Dear Ed,

So, your advice is that I should be more like you and your friend? Ed, you know I really like you and we are good friends. But I would prefer to be more like me. [Smile]


Dear David,

Well, first off, my livelihood does not depend on being an inflexible absolutist about intellectual property. Really, very few people's does. Though there are some.

Second, now that you've read the columns that I recommended you read in my earlier comment, you are aware that analogies to photography are not, in fact, pertinent.

Third, there are two real problems with attempting to take the argument "to the man."

The first is that is unseemly. The second? Well…

I, in fact, do pretty much give people permission to do exactly what you talk about. Some of it is there in black-and-white on my website as a blanket explicit permission. I also took great care when I created the website to not watermark or otherwise deface the screen images, to make it easier for people to make just that sort of secondary use of them.

There's your problem. You just lost your argument, by your rules of debate; since I'm fine with this, it makes what I'm doing okay. Right?

Well, I'm going to decline the victory. I have made substantial arguments over several columns that these practices is not only harmless but in fact legitimate. But not once have I tried to argue that it's socially legitimate because I personally am fine with it, and I never would. A sophomore debater can demolish that argument. We're all smarter than that here.

(Please excuse any word salad; iPad dictation in training…)

pax / Ctein

I'd like to respond to Derek with respect to KOBO. It's true the KOBO model of having my wife's purchases backed up online "only works so long as KOBO exists." This is also true of appliance warranties, uninsured houses built on flood plains, and my wife herself. Stuff happens. But I still prefer the KOBO model to that of many other sellers of digital property.

And yes, all she's getting are bits. And physical books are merely row upon row of inked letters. I don't get the point.

Dear Richard,

You can make anyone seem to contradict themselves by making every statement and absolute and applying them to different contexts.

In fact, it's standard practice in political discourse today.

Happily, I am not running for office and so do not need to sink to the level of responding to it.


Dear David,

I've a two-faced (ahem) answer to your question about video quality.

First is that I don't put TV and fine art prints in remotely the same mental box. OK, they're both rectangles and present visual information and that is as far as it goes for me. Kind of like a carrot stick and Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia are both food and I like both of them... but I don't try to compare them!

Second is that I've got a friend who's an uber-videophile and reviewer-- she's spent twice as much on her home theatre as I've ever made in a year. I've learned a huge amount from her about what to look for and at in video reproduction. I'm pretty well educated, now.

Problem? If I actually put on my "golden eyes" (the ones I use for printmaking) everything looks lousy, even her system. Some look a lot less lousy than others, but none of them really please these sensitive artist's eyes [s]. And anything coming over broad (or cable) cast looks far, far worse.

So I just don't look that closely, kind of the same way that when I have music on in the car, I don't listen that closely. If I did, none of it would be pleasurable.

pax / Ctein

Dear Chris,

Chris, meet BrianW [vbg].

Actually, there's another use I put torrents to. On occasion, my Tivo will fail to record a program (mostly when I'm on vacation, of course). I don't have any problems in the least going to the torrents and finding a copy of that same program someone has pirated. I think of it as my virtual DVR.

Again, I keep the upload rate throttled down to insignificant.

If someone can actually construct a sensible argument about why Tivoing the show and watching it sans commercials (I skip them all) is OK, but grabbing the very same show I tried to record from a torrent is wrong... without just spluttering about piracy and copyright laws... I'd be interested in reading it.

Good luck.

I totally don't get the two-faced thing, unless you think it's two-faced of me to take from pirates and not give back in return. Which I suppose it is, but it's hard for me to muster much moral fervor over that.

pax / situational Ctein

I wonder how fast are VHS players being melted down, recycled, worn out, etcetera, vs. in what numbers are people taking preemptive actions to end their VHS playing, such as the ones mentioned here.

I wonder how much risk there really is that the scarcity of VHS players will outpace the diminishing numbers of people who need them.

Perhaps your post itself has caused an increase in the number of VHS players becoming unused, making itself irrelevant ... or vastly relevant, depending on how you look at it.

Seeing as technically, I pay for the BBC through the licence fee, is it illegal for me to download masters of photography via a torrent?

CTein, you misunderstood me. I was not accusing you of being a pirate (not that you care), but was suggesting you should not be assuming those you copied from were. They could well be in the same situation as you. Your assumption of their guilt seems rather out of line considering your own circumstances.

Dear Michael,

Oh lordy, I hope I don't wield that sort of influence [g].

I don't really know the status of VCRs. I do know that they became almost impossible to find in physical stores, the selection by online order diminished hugely, and the ones I bought were increasingly shoddy. How shoddy? The extended warranty insurance policies that the stores like to foist on customers became a net gain for me. I took that as the handwriting on the wall.

I could find studio-grade pro units, but they cost so much it would have been cheaper to scrap all my tapes and buy DVDs (or downloads) of everything.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com


You're certainly right that the laws are different, and the columns and comments you pointed us to had mostly to do with music, not video.

I also should clarify that my original post was in reference to your piracy via BitTorrent, not your digitizing of VHS. That, roughly speaking, feels in the spirit, if not the letter, of fair use.

The torrents you downloaded, however, are another thing entirely. Since my fading newsprint=VHS analogy fell flat, I'm going to avoid using comparisons between media.

Your VHS tapes contained a copy of the film at a resolution of 230-250 analog lines, pulled down from a frame rate of 24 frames per second to the NTSC standard of 29.97. Your torrents were sourced, almost certainly, from DVDs, with twice the vertical resolution (480) and at the film's true frame rate. The audio on the dvd is also substantially improved. It's likely that these technical improvements were all maintained in the torrent, but I couldn't say. Either way, it's a near certainty that what you downloaded was a sight better than VHS.

What is certain is that the film didn't get onto that DVD by itself. The film was rescanned by a trained telecine operator and color corrected, usually with the cinematographer and/or the director supervising the correction as a printer might do with a photographer ( a comparison of craft, not a legal one). The audio, too, has been remixed and remastered. This process is painstaking and time consuming, and isn't an insignificant triviality. This is one of the many reasons DVDs look better than VHS: better tools and more care taken in reproducing what was seen in theaters.

So there's a very real difference between preserving what you own by moving it over to a different form of media and taking to the Internet to steal an improved version that plenty of people put a lot of work into. This sort of piracy jeopardizes livelihoods beyond just those of studios guarding their IP and trying to re-sell you movies you already own.

"I very much doubt that the studios' intention was to make it impossible for me to watch, in the future, the movies I had purchased"

But that is exactly the position of the large copyright holders, which is why they crack down so hard on file sharing. In their mind you don't own anything by buying a tape or DVD. You are only leasing the content.

So, screw them.

I just did something similar for the two Beta tapes I couldn't replaced. Got a $30 USB digitizer, bought a replacement belt for the Beta machine, and copied them. The most interesting was the Lloyd Dobbins show "The Japan They Don't Talk About", about the seamy side of Japanese manufacturing just before their bubble broke.

For current events, see today's news about WalMart's "Disc to Digital" service. Show them the DVD (which they stamp with some ink that purportedly prevents copying but not playing?!) and $2, and they give you the right to stream it online.

Dear Paul,

You are absolutely right. My bad. I hang my head in shame.

pax / contrite Ctein

@ Ctein,

No Ctein, of course you are entitled to your own way of doing things.....but there are a lot of alternatives :-), and personally I don't envy being you in the mids of the proces of coding and recoding.

Personally I have a nice collection of CD's in storage. I could have sat down a few years ago and make digital copies (perfectly legal since for my own use) for MP3 use but decided that I only needed 40 CD's for emidiate use and even that was a few hours of stupid work. I can't image what it should be like when trying to save youre recordings on tape. On by one, tape in deck, DVD in deck, press record, then take DVD out of deck and sticker it. Then make a nice sleve in order to be able to find it in your DVD rack. Then take out the tape and tos that away? Or store it in the attick (house seems big enough :-)) along with unused analog camera's, and obsolete computer hardware through wich no electrons will evermore flow.

Greetings, Ed

Just as mainstream media owners have an epithet for copyright violators - "pirate" - so too do the copyright violators have an epithet for those who would take from but not give back to their community - "leech."

I've enjoyed your writing here, Ctein. I don't think you're the devil or anything. But what you've found is a paper-thin justification for doing a questionably ethical thing (pirating material you feel you have a natural right to, in spite of the law) in a completely unethical way (leeching), and it's clearly not even fooling you as well as you had hoped it would. You protest too much. "I don't care what they think of me-ism" is frankly childish. It's obvious you care a great deal. If you were really totally comfortable with what you did, you wouldn't feel the need to spell out these justifications for it.

If you were more familiar with the technical and social sides of the torrent scene, you'd realize that you've punished yourself by limiting your upload rate (your downloads go faster if you also upload fast) and that you've likely failed in your goal of taking while giving nothing back (the communities often reward high upload/download ratios in various ways; your leeching improves the ratios and the social standing of those you've leeched from).

It seems to me you've joined the ranks of both the pirates and the leeches with this project. Why not just admit it and embrace it? What you actually want - the ability to watch the movies you paid for - is completely reasonable. Why not just face up to the implication? The copyright system that created this situation is absurd. You don't have to make yourself absurd, too.

Dear Will,

I would be in complete agreement with you if I had gained any benefit from the higher-quality files. For example, if Paula and I had gone out and bought a nice shiny HDTV, Clearly I would be trading up from my shoddy old VHS movies to brilliantly clear Blu-ray ones and that would most certainly be unjust enrichment. My conscience would not be happy with that.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, all we have is an old analog-style TV and I don't watch it very closely because I really can't abide the quality of a good TV, let alone mine, if I put on my "golden eyes." Consequently, I don't reap any benefit from the higher-quality file; there is no unjust enrichment going on.

No doubt at some time in the future we will buy a better TV, and then I will have to ethically deal with the legitimate concern you've raised. At this point, though, I'm not reaping unearned benefits.

Of course, it will very likely turn out as many people have predicted, that I don't actually look at 95% of the stuff ever again, which will make the whole thing moot. But that's my personal compulsion, not an intellectual property issue. [Smile]

(Please excuse any word salad. iPad dictation in training…)

pax / Ctein

My understanding is that making backup copies of content that you've purchased falls under fair use. To me, the "how" part of that process has always been transient and fairly immaterial. Since Ctein has not violated the DMCA's directive against circumventing copyright protection schemes I'm not sure what specific illegal activity is being alleged.

Dear " Western Infidels",

Why in the world do you imagine you can read my mind?

I'm not running for office and I'm not engaging in a popularity contest. There are times when I indeed do want to know readers opinions to counsel and guide me and want their judgment and sage advice. I make that pretty clear when I write it.

When I write a column like this whose nature is of the "here's what I did and I think I'm pretty clever by God" you may consider that a sign of excessive ego (you may even be right, although I would of course disagree), but it is not a seeking of approval or an indication of diffidence. The reason I'm arguing with people is because I am enjoying the arguments, and because I truly think I'm right, not because I'm feeling insecure in my position. You may notice that when I do not think I am right on a point, I acquiesce rather quickly. That's how you can tell when I'm feeling insecure about my position; when I shut up.(Some people wish I would do that more often)

It may please you to know that Mike holds closer to your point of view on this column than mine. He thinks I'm winning the arguments but losing the public relations war. He's probably right. I explained to him, as I explain to you, that I'm not trying to change your hearts and minds on this one. Oh yeah, there are times when I do, especially when I'm writing about some technical aspects of photography where I really do think you would all be better off if you paid attention to my advice. But this is hardly one of those! It's like the old joke goes; we are debating this so heatedly because the stakes are so very low.

Sometimes a good discussion is its own reward.

On this leech thing, since I don't hold with the values of the pirate community, I don't care if they consider me a leech. I neither respect nor value their opinion. Certainly not their opinion of me. But Paul brought up a really good point, which is I assumed that they were overwhelmingly pirates. I hadn't even considered the possibility they may not be, and if they're not, well then I was leeching off the decent folk, and that's a bad thing. I don't know of a way to check this out. Suggestions?

On the technical side, I did check the upload versus download rates because I wasn't certain this was feasible, and for some reason in my setup, throttling back the upload rate to less than 0.1% of my bandwidth didn't markedly affect my download rate. If it had, this would've made the scheme unworkable.

(Please excuse any word salad. iPad dictation in training…)

pax / Ctein

Dear Andre,

This conversation is about ethics and morals, not about the law, really. Nobody's suggested I broke the law in an egregious way-- it's more like going 3 miles over the speed limit on the highway. The discussion is mostly about whether I'm entitled to get viewable copies of my VHS tapes by taking advantage of pirate materials.

(It doesn't appear that anyone thinks I'm not entitled to the copies, period, as no one has taken me to task for making the transfers to DVD.)

Still, I am in violation of the law, because I can't turn my torrent upload rate to 0, only down to about 0.1% of my download rate. So, when I acquired, say, 25 tapes worth of pirated content, I also provided 0.025 tapes worth of content in return.

I decided that was negligible harm. But, it was illegal, no question of that.

pax / Ctein

(Note: the following is arguing a semantic point, not a moral one - I've downloaded plenty of stuff via bittorent myself.)

You seem to think "pirates" are some nefarious, profit driven, criminal subgroup like their namesakes of yore, set apart and categorically different from a mere downloader like yourself.

The reason it's called "peer to peer" file "sharing" is that the torrent swarm consists essentially of a bunch of people like yourself, looking for the content for whatever reason, and the software provides a means for you all to do so by simulataneously uploading and downloading bits and pieces of it until you obtain complete copies.

Of course someone originally had to make the content available, and some will continue to do so after completing their downloads (or else the entire system wouldn't work)...but there's no real distinction between "pirates" and "decent folk", they/you/I are all doing the same thing (and arguing that throttling your upload speed somehow makes it otherwise is just silly) and nobody's making any money off anything.

Dear mu43,

They are not my peers. That "for whatever reason" that you dismiss is what matters, not the instrumentality. Suggesting they're all the same because they make use of the same instrumentality is like saying anyone who wields a knife is the same, whether they're hacking up a fish for dinner, defending themselves form a mugger or stabbing their spouse to death in their bed.

I don't think so.

Pirates take goods to enrich themselves that they have no legitimate right to, not even the least justification of ownership based on even the slightest evidence of prior claim. While I do not consider this the most pressing problem facing Western Civilization, I do not intend to assist them.

While you are coming at it from the other side, you're making the same mistake as the folks who are saying, in so many words, "Ctein, you're a pirate because you're making use of pirated goods." That's a fail. Instrumentalities do not have inherent morality. What you do with them does.

pax / Ctein

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