Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In My View: I fail (Now with pictures!)

I was wrong.

I'll admit it. It has happened before, and it'll happen again. Part of the reason I write in this blog is to present arguments that strike me at the time as valid, and see how well they fly.

And to be honest, on the whole fansub ethical issue I ignored the third option: to not buy it. Which is really the only ethical option in my argument.

But I did get a lot of interesting comments that I think deserve a full response.

Point One: Buying is not an ethical action

Now I've made this argument before, but I think it bears repeating. The exchange of money for goods is not an ethical action. It's not an unethical action either. Now I'm not going to go as far as to say that the person who's selling a product is not entitled to set a price on a product. But the only person who can set a value on a product is the individual consumer.

Now Sagacious1 brought up a good point that the value of a product can't be generalized. But just because it can't be generalized doesn't mean the final arbiter of the value should be the person who made it. Because that means if I buy a product on sale or used or rent it than it's unethical (or at the very least less ethical than buying it at MSRP).This opens up a whole bag of worms which I think is both unnecessary and frankly a little insulting. Because if I can't determine the worth of a product than who should? The anime industry? The animators? The distributors?

Now the big problem with my argument is that it's quite possible that you might pay less than what the product is worth to you (which would mean it's actually an unethical action), but that's a better result than the alternative.

The other reason why considering buying an ethical action is a problem is that it legimatizes "Buyer Beware" as an ethical argument. If I buy a product that isn't worth what I paid for it, then the seller does have an ethical obligation to take it back. (Strange how this doesn't seem to work in the real world.) To go back to Sagacious1's Bentley argument, if I buy a car and it's a lemon, it's not my fault that the car was a lemon and I was definitely harmed if the seller isn't willing to give me my money back.

Point Two: Zero Sum Gained and Selfishness

The problem with not buying being the only ethical action in my case, is that there is a zero sum gained for the anime industry. Now I'll admit that this really was my only problem with Ayres argument. I do respect that he's right in the end, but if I don't buy and I don't watch fansubs (of shows that aren't released in the United States) then where does that leave the anime industry.

Really, the big reason I don't have a problem with watching shows like Legend of the Galactic Heroes or Monster or Rose of Versailles is that I wouldn't buy them (unless by some miracle they get a US release). Now that doesn't justify stealing them (omo and Sagacious1 are completely correct on that point.) Sure I ought to pay what they're worth to me, but without a means to do that I'm left on the wrong side of my ethics without a way out. Now Scott's all or nothing approach does appeal to me, but I guess I have to admit that DrmChsr0 is right. I am selfish.

Now that is a bitter pill to swallow.

Point Three: The Monetizing of Enjoyment

The big reason I didn't touch on the economic issue is that what is happening in the anime industry is a microcosm of what is happening in the larger entertainment industry. Network television is struggling. DVD sales are down. All around we can see the signs of media saturation. And when you combine that with the ever blurring line between professional and amateur content, the rapid devaluation of entertainment and throw in a healthy dose of entitlement (which is not just a symptom of "this" generation. Spend some time working retail and you'll see what I mean) you get a problem which is both cultural and economic. And it's hard to split those two apart.

The only difference is that the anime industry presents an even more convoluted, almost labyrinthine, business model. It's almost impossible to follow the money from a release because part of it is through DVD sales, part of it is through figures, part of it is through general merchandise and part of it is through ad revenue and part of it is through licensing fees. Even renting doesn't provide a simple one to one ratio because most of the time the studio still "owns" the product, the rental company is just borrowing it. (Although this may or may not hold true with the anime industry.)

But to be honest, when I read the Ayres interview my initial reaction (and some of a lot of commenters) was, "Hey wait, I spend money." And to be honest, I spend a quarter of my disposable income a month to buy anime. Again, this doesn't justify stealing, but it does dishearten me when someone comes along and says, "You're not doing enough" or "You don't have a right to watch that show." Because while they may be right, I feel like I'm being denied and dismissed.

This isn't really the way you want to treat your customers.

Point Four: The Customer isn't always right, but they're still the customer

Now using customer in this context is a little disingenuous. Customers buy stuff. But for argument's sake, let's replace customer with consumer. The thing about consumers is that they feel entitled to what they consume. This goes for every age bracket, every generation and pretty much the majority of America. And if you pay attention to politics you'll notice that not only do they feel entitled to what they consume they also feel that they pay too much for it. Is this a bit elitist of me to say? I'll let other people decide that.

The thing is that all of that is right, but no one likes being told that. There's got to be a more politic way to go about it. Brandishing swords (in a panel or on the Internet) will not solve this problem for the industry. Trading invectives is not going to change anything. All it's going to do is make both sides dig their trenches a little deeper and make people like me make faulty arguments and splash them into the Internet.

But the other side of that argument is that people do have to buy. Now you don't have to buy everything. You don't have to put yourself out on the street. And you certainly don't have to buy stuff that isn't worth buying. But for any entitlement argument to work, there has to be a concerted effort to actually purchase stuff. Well unless we all decide to go and shoot the creators. That's always an option.

Point Five: All of this makes me depressed.

To be fair, talking about fansubs and the industry makes me depressed. Because it feels like there's an overemphasis on what I do wrong and no emphasis on what I do right. Almost every argument made against downloading fansubs is valid. But a lot of the arguments for downloading them are valid too (at least in the case of shows that aren't going to be released in the United States). Granted, none of the ethical ones really stand up (at least from what I can tell.) Maybe omo can give me a better metaphor.

All this said, a lot of this discussion has left me feeling a bit helpless and definitely hopeless. I'm not really seeing a solution.

And what's worse, is the admission that downloading isn't really ethically justified (something I knew before but hadn't really thought about) really set my brain in gear. Now my Dad has instilled into me the credo that as long as you admit what you're doing is wrong and can accept the consequences than do it. But on the other hand, what exactly are the consequences of admitting what your doing is wrong and then doing it anyway.

I guess that makes me a hypocrite.

And that is really the hardest pill to swallow of all.

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