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February 24, 2002

The Razor's Edge

If a television show is cancelled, the rights holders show no interest in selling the rights to anyone else, and indeed they have demonstrated from the beginning a lack of interest in promoting the show (when they usually promote the living daylights out of every new show they introduce), moving it from timeslot to timeslot and 'hiding' it's fleeting new location, is it intellectual property theft to acquire unlicensed copies of that show?

The strictest answer is, of course, yes. Still, I was quite enchanted by Invader Zim (not even listed on Nick's front page), and to date there is every indication that it is headed for oblivion, killed by neglect at the hands of Nickelodeon. Happy is the man who discovers Divx, and applies it wisely. I found fan copies of every episode released so far, online at various sites, apparently captured directly from television, as they had Nick 'toon promotions for other shows at the end of each program.

I have never downloaded any movie or television show which I had a reasonable hope of getting commercially. Strike that, I've never downloaded any American movie or television show at all. I've only ever downloaded some Japanese anime which clearly was never going to be licensed in the United States. In the one instance where I was surprised by the license being picked up, I deleted the files.

So what if Nick or whoever eventually owns the rights releases a DVD of all the episodes? I'd buy it in a heartbeat. I won't have to delete the files from my computer because I don't plan to hoard them anyway. I just wanted to see the episodes which have eluded my ReplayTV because Nick lies about the scheduled showtimes.

In October of 1998, the Bono Copyright Extension Act stretched copyrights out yet again, such that the 'reasonable term' granted to original authors extended well beyond their lifespan, and benefitted only corporations. A side-effect of this is that works which were due to enter the public domain instead remained copyrighted by various publishing houses. And of course the publishing houses made these works readily available, right? No, in fact, the vast majority of these works are out of print, and will most likely be lost forever. Of course some of them are worthy of oblivion, but we will never be allowed to judge that.

So we return to the ethical question. Is it theft? Yes. Is it wrong? In my opinion, only if the copyright holder has any intention of using the intellectual property. Let me close with a quote from Steve Ressel, the producer and director of Zim:

If you are wondering about the crew reaction to Zim episodes on the web and the legal or moral aspect of the practice- no one has a problem with it; we are generally flattered.

Posted by dpwakefield at February 24, 2002 12:26 PM