Friday, June 15, 2007

In the end, it's the pirates that will get you

Michael Moore was able to score a marketing coup when he somehow tricked the Treasury Department into formally investigating the trip to Cuba the propagandist took during the filming of his health care documentary, Sicko.

Once the government fell for his rope-a-dope, Moore got to scream about censorship and made a whole big show of hiding a copy of the film in Canada in case Federal agents tried to confiscate it.

Of course the likelihood of the Feds making such a move is about as close to zero as something can be in this crazy world. And even if they had, Moore could have thwarted their efforts by copying Sicko onto Youtube before they kicked in his door.

Sure this tactic would cost Marimax some coin in the short term, but it would make Moore, who most people seem to have grown tired of, into a genuine First Amendment crusader, with even greater earning power for his next effort. All the while still getting his message out about health care.

The bottom line is, because of the Internet, there has never been a time in history that the government has less potential to exert control over art or the market place for ideas.

But there is a flip side to this new freedom, and it looks like it just bit Moore on his mammoth posterior.

Two weeks in front of Sicko's release the movie is turning up as a high quality download on off-shore file-sharing sites.

While it isn't uncommon for movies to make their way onto these free, legally dubious sites, it is very unusual -- if not unprecedented -- that one would appear in its completed form in front of its theatrical debut.

Maybe, in his paranoia about the government, Moore got sloppy with the master copy of Sicko. Or maybe Canada isn't such a safe place to store film after all.

It's possible this apparently unauthorized leak won't put much of a dent in the film's box office take, as, presently, peer-to-peer users tend to be teenagers and young adults who are unlikely to plop down nine bucks to see a documentary in the first place. And there is always a chance this is just another marketing ploy by the showman. (Although I can't quite figure out what the angle is.)

Regardless, it does highlight the Internet's uneasy relationship with intellectual property. Which is a subject someone like myself, who creates easy to steal intellectual property, yet who has, by certain definitions, pilfered the intellectual property of others, struggles with all the time.

You could even make the case that Internet giant Google bases its whole business model on grabbing and repackaging intellectual property not its own.

There really isn't an easy way to define what intellectual property theft is in the digital age. Let alone figure out a way to stop it. There isn't even the kind of cheap illusion of an easy solution that someone like Moore has made a career trading in.

Although it would be funny if Moore's film was ruined by freedom, after he cried wolf about censorship.

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