Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You keep on using that word... The JBPA, Apple, and Copyright


I do not think it means what you think it means.

The JBPA brings up a copyright problem, but do they have a solution? Then again, why the hell should they solve Apple’s incompetence by design?

So in what’s pretty much old news by now, the JBPA and three other groups have slapped Apple with an “angry letter” regarding the apple app store and the sea of illegally available manga that resides therein. Much like in similar situations, the Japanese rights holders are angry and concerned that their commercial IP is being distributed by entities who aren’t licensed to do so, and realistically… that’s a very reasonable way to feel. They are also upset that, while it seems the Apple App Store can instantly take down an app that has fart noises or boobies, they seem to leave the copyright diligence up to the copyright holder. This kind of action of a huge company passing on expenses to smaller content providers is all over the history of the fall of the anime industry in the US, when small home media labels were bombarded by all kinds of chargebacks and “so sue me” kind of contract violations from giant retailers and national distributors. Unlike Craig’s List, or eBay, Apple’s app store is directly selling units of commercial goods to the public, and this situation would be no different from WalMart or Sears simply not checking at all to make sure that the products they sold were real and not counterfeit or stolen, instead leaving it up to the manufacturers to send people in to browse the isles and then raise a red flag if they find something wrong. Businesses just can’t do that.

Apple has a lot of growing up to do, and with Jobs at the wheel, they’re never going to do it. He’s still way too bitter about getting booted from Apple the first time, and he was never ever a nice guy. Sure, both Jobs and Gates dropped out of college and "computer genious" and blah blah blah, but while Gates seems to have left college because it wasn’t moving fast enough for his super-brain, Jobs seems to be the guy who left because he pissed everybody off in record time. Just compare the commencement speeches the two have given (look them up your damn self), and the whole personality difference starts to jump out at you. And while Gates is long gone from Microsoft and busy giving away billions of dollars to charity, Jobs is parking his $130,000 sportster with no license plate in handicapped parking spots whenever he drives down to the office to bitch about the new iWhatever being the wrong shade of off-white. He’s made the mistake of letting his company become his identity, and that never ends well.

Apple is now bigger than Microsoft. But it never learned how to really be that big, and so is still acting as if only a small portion of the market is watching what they do. They’re also still designing products for that small portion of the market, but are always first across the line with the features people never knew they wanted. Apple has the potential to remain a majority stakeholder in the emerging world of mobile devices, or pull a Sega and shrivel up again.

That will depend on many things, including how they deal with this manga issue raised by the JBPA. Apple has plenty of quantitative people who have been able to point out that doing even a minimal amount of copyright diligence on these apps (beyond the major properties like Harry Potter or Beyonce) would end up costing so much, that Jobs would fall behind in the imaginary dick measuring contest he has with the rest of the world to see who has the most money. But in reality, that’s just too f-ing bad. Let’s remember, this isn’t the “app exchange” it’s not some Mac BBS or Macworld cruise where the top of the pyramid get together and trade crap with each other. This is a formal division of Apple, the company, selling digital products made by third parties. And a large company like Apple, who is going to sell these digital products, has to do that diligence whether they like it or not. Microsoft knows stuff like this and would have crunched the numbers beforehand to see if it was worth it. Manga publishers have an existing protection under international copyright law and should not have to use their own limited resources to police another company which violates that protection, especially if it’s a company bigger than Microsoft.

It is also important to note (accordig to the Financial Times article) that the bulk of the as yet uncovered infringements are Chinese translations. American otaku will once again undoubtedly gripe when the obvious is mentioned, but if they’re unhappy about the insignificance of the American market compared to the Japanese one, they’re really not going to be happy about how small the potential Chinese market is going to make the U.S. look. What does a 10% sales figure look like in China? It looks like one third of the entire USA. The high population, close proximity to Japan, and lack of cultural hurdles in product acceptance that manga is up against in other parts of the world, makes the Chinese market the only ripe fruit on the tree at the moment. Combine all of that, with a super strong Yen and a hyper expanding wireless market in China, and you have an environment where the only strategy that’s going to get any attention is that of expansion in the Chinese market. Don’t be surprised if it turns out that the money that Japanese companies are pulling out of the U.S. operations ends up going to Shanghai and Hong Kong.

One could argue that he Japanese side of the equation is part of the problem in that they’re doing what they have always done, just bringing up piracy issues without addressing causes or coming up with a proactive solution. But it's actually not true in this case, in that the solution that they are proposing is that Apple do what any other retailer do responsibly; Make sure the stuff they sell isn’t bootleg, fake, or stolen. Apple is not “putting a buyer and seller together” or simply “providing a service” for people to buy and sell directly. They are straight up running this show, and with that comes certain obligations as a global retailer… And like a French tourist in New York who simply can’t understand why they aren’t allowed to smoke on the subway even though it’s late and it’s their birthday*, Apple can’t seem to figure out why those same obligations that apply to the “other companies” like WalMart, Amazon, Dell, or the pawn shop down the street, should also apply to them. Do I really think there’s some sort of mentality at Apple that holds a “rules don’t apply to me” stance? Sure, in Jobs’s head there’s gotta be, but there are enough smart people at Apple who actually have to run things over there that they know this is just a case of keeping costs down to keep their stock as high as it can be. So combine those two and what we’re going to have is a situation that is going to get bad enough so that the royal bean-counters eventually have to approach the king, who probably won’t want to budge on principle until he can actually see money coming out of his pockets (and then you know he'll blame someone else anyway).

Now there are some otaku and Mac fanboys (notice I didn’t say Apple there) who are so religiously into this "Apple as a whole can simply do no wrong" idea, there will be no reasoning with these people. But lots of Mac fans out there might simply notice that this is a case of Apple entering an industry and not playing by the rules which naturally help the smaller players. To see Apple shit on smaller businesses out there, in a kind of cliché Captain Planet sort of way is a sad thing to see indeed. If nothing else, to see that Apple is acting like a real life OCP, should snap a lot of people out of any idealogical daze they're in. The “…have a scale problem but not a willingness problem” (FT article) is such a non-excuse and is patently rediculous if held up to legaql standards of other businesses; “McDonalds wants to make sure the food they sell is up to federal standards, but we just don’t have the man-power, so the customers can look out for that ecoli on their own” or “Foot Locker wants to make sure that all the Nikes we sell are actually made by Nike, but that’s up to Nike to send their people in here and check, we don’t have the resources to do that” …and so on.

Perhaps I’ve been a bit redundant here, but Apple seems to get a pass all too often when it comes to entering an industry and doing it “their way.” But this is actually just the way of “I’m big and tell you what to do haha” and because this M.O. has an Apple logo on the front of it, people seem to reign in their otherwise hostile reaction. This time I am hoping that most otaku out there see that the JPBA is an organization that represents lots of publishers, small companies that all put together aren’t worth as much money as Apple farts in a day. The JBPA is the little guy in this story, and Apple is damaging their business by selling stolen goods, plain and simple.

"The Japanese have hit the shores like dead fish.
They’re just like dead fish washing up on the shores."

-Steve Jobs, 1985.

Way to see the future Stevie, those Japanese never got a foothold in the computer business did they…? Think his opinion has changed much?

Watch how many mac-boys start crying foul at that one. But at least they can have a place to go in Tokyo to pray 5 times a day to the mighty Apple.

*That French thing is based on a true story which happened at Jay St.


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