Copyright Math: the best TED Talk you'll watch all year

This may just be the best TED Talk video I've seen: founder and extremely funny person (and soon-to-be debut science fiction author) Rob Reid examines the math behind the claims made by the copyright lobby and explains the mindbending awesomeness of the sums used to justify SOPA, PIPA, ACTA and the like. Here's Ars Technica's Ken Fisher discussing Reid's philosophy:

Reid’s goal was to capture and represent some of the rhetoric from that past decade and a half in a way that would fill the hall with laughter, even if some of it came at the expense of some clearly ridiculous industry arguments. “Everyone can laugh at silly infographics,” Reid opined while silently crushing the serious journalism dreams of hacks everywhere. “And who doesn't want to deface a Leave-it-to-Beaver-like Christmas scene with pirate-and-Santa graffiti?”

The brilliance of Reid’s talk is that he thoroughly skewers the content industry’s dubious appeal to quantitative reasoning. We’ve all see the headlines proclaiming huge numbers of dollars, jobs, and patents lost to piracy. The appeal to quantitative measures is supposed to undermine counterarguments by doing two things: slyly stepping into a (pretend) world of objectivity, and raising the alarm with big, scary numbers. It’s hard to look at those kinds of headlines in the same way after Reid’s elegantly hilarious skewering.

Reid’s examination of Copyright Math began when he started working on his soon-to-be published debut science fiction novel, Year Zero, which Random House is publishing in early July (we’ll be reviewing it). Year Zero tells the story of how the toxic legal byproducts of some overly litigious lawyers cause problems that make global warming seem downright cozy. Not to give it away, but could you imagine how pissed off an alien music lover might get if he was sued into bankruptcy for pirating a few lousy Rick Astley songs?

Copyright Math: a quantitative reasoning master class by Rob Reid (video)


    1. I agree it wasn’t my favourite; but it was definitely the best presentation (punchy, concise, easy to understand and funny – all in 5 minutes).

      In terms of content though, 100% agree there’s a whole wealth of better talks out there.

  1. So film and video piracy is the equivalent of multiple crop failures that would send worldwide commodity prices soaring and lead to mass starvation around the globe. Who knew?

    Always understood the numbers from the MPAA were fishy, but never did the math to know they were that fishy.

    1. I know right? The Japanese government recently found out that anime sales increase due to online piracy.

        1.  Do a quick search for “anime sales increase because of online piracy” and almost the entire first page is citing the study.

        2. Yes I do the source is right here
          In addition when the author says that
          ““Estimated equations of 105 anime episodes show that (1) YouTube viewing does not negatively affect DVD rentals, and it appears to help raise DVD sales; and (2) although Winny file sharing negatively affects DVD rentals, it does not affect DVD sales,” the researchers conclude.
          “YouTube’s effect of boosting DVD sales can be seen after the TV’s broadcasting of the series has concluded, which suggests that not just a few people learned about the program via a YouTube viewing. In other words YouTube can be interpreted as a promotion tool for DVD sales,” reveals to readers that online piracy is beneficial. . 

  2. Goldman Sachs has 494.9 million shares in circulation, at a last trade value of $123.4 per share. The value to purchase all 494.9 million shares of Goldman Sachs is $60.89 billion.

    It would cost 7.611 iPods to purchase Goldman Sachs outright.

    (edited for significant figures, herp)

  3. I have to smile – this is so *you*, Cory.  Of course you would think this is the best TED talk.

    To me, though, this is really just about deconstructing lies from people who are a plague on society.   It’s funny and clever, but it’s not mind expanding.

    Anyway, if there is anything the internet teaches me daily, it’s that we will all manage to disagree on something ;)

    1. this is really just about deconstructing lies from people who are a plague on society.

      Which is one of the highest priorities you could poke a stick at right now.

      It’s imperative that people are inoculated against these fucks, permanently.

  4. Great TED talk.  I love it when people use corporatist’s own retarded numbers against them.

  5. Seriously, the BEST TED talk? It’s a single joke (that everyone’s here heard before) stretched out for fice minutes and delivered in a self-congratulatory way.

  6. 2 things.  First, I fully believe that copyright claims are inflated to some extent, although I do not know to what extent.  Second, I still believe that theft is wrong.  If theft is not wrong, would you mind posting your name, address, driver’s license  and social security numbers as well as an image of one of your checks with your reply.  After all, you won’t mind if I do a little Identity Piracy.

    I buy ebooks from Baen books and their marketing policy allows people to freely give friends copies of books they have bought online.  But that is a case of the books content owner choosing to allow free dissemination of older works as a marketing ploy.  It is not theft.

    1. Fair warning, people around here love dissecting logical fallacies such as the one you just committed.

      I believe what you just did is called the “straw man” fallacy. You equated copyright violation with identity theft, and then argued against identity theft.

      I quoteth yon wiki:

      “To ‘attack a straw man’ is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the ‘straw man’), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.”

      See what I’m saying? The point isn’t that people who are against extreme copyright laws are in favor of theft, its that they question the copyright laws’ definition of theft and, in this case, the ramifications.

      By the way, you did it in this post too.

    2. “I still believe that theft is wrong”

      Gah, there’s always one.

      It’s not theft, it’s the violation of a copyright license. Stealing a CD is theft; illegally downloading an MP3 is potentially lost revenue.

      1. “I still believe that theft is wrong”
        “I’m 99 years young!”
        “Who wants ice cream?”

      2.  I’m so tired of this argument. It’s been used by whole lot of people to justify taking and enjoying music without paying for it. I don’t care what verb you use, it’s wrong. Stealing is stealing. Do you think people steal CDs because a physical CD is so valuable? No, of course not. They steal CDs because of the music on them. The *action* hasn’t changed; only the format.

      3. dear mr self righteous: isn’t stealing a CD simply another form of potentially lost income since if the store doesn’t sell the CD, it can be returned to the distribution company?  wouldn’t your logic also apply to software?  shouldn’t it be perfectly OK to never pay for any software on your computer?  i mean, it’s only potential income for the software company anyway, unless i decide to use it.  in your case, the MP3 is potentially lost revenue unless it is enjoyed.

      4. So the morality of the situation hinges on whether an essentially worthless piece of circular plastic changes hands? Nothing troubles you about that?

  7. I find it quite sad that Cory claims this is the “best TED talk you’ll watch all year” because: a) Cory’s entire personality can now be explained thusly- “Napster Good”; and b) the entire video was simply a billionaire satirizing some out of touch figures provided by some douchebag bureaucrat.  I work in music and I can tell you that I have seen first hand the ravaging of lives and yes families that has gone on.  A 50% reduction in gross revenue for any industry is generally not regarded as hilarious.  Don’t let the douchebag bureaucrats who are the public face for the RIAA obscure that fact.

    1. Sorry, octopus, false blame here. Any reduction in gross in the music industry is due to the music industry spending the last 20 years subverting laws instead of providing products and services. There is no business model based on mass lawsuits, never has been, and any industry stupid enough to think so deserves to go the way of vaudeville – which it will.

      Those companies with the sense to provide the products the customers actually want are getting revenue just fine. (Apple makes billions from iTunes. The existing big music companies could effortlessly have had all that, but they were too busy trying to get the internet banned to try actually using it.)

      The music industry is responsible for the douchebag bureaucrats who are its public face, and they’re a front for the douchebag lawyers in charge. If they’re too stupid to change that and put someone who actually wants to sell to customers in charge, then newsflash – the ‘ravaging of lives’ is caused by your employer being a damn fool, and there’s nothing any outside force can do to prevent that.

      1. Sorry, octopus, false blame here. Any reduction in gross in the music industry is due to the music industry spending the last 20 yearssubverting laws instead of providing products and services.

        People love to find villains to blame for things! But your argument is just as dubious as octopus’. As I said in my last comment, this loss of revenue probably isn’t the “fault” of anyone acting badly (whether piraters or the lawsuit-happy MPAA (edit: sorry, RIAA)) but rather due to a shift in purchasing patterns from albums to individual tracks. There probably isn’t any possible “business model” that would get sales back up to what they were in the past when people mostly bought albums, if that’s not what most people are interested in any more.

      2. Subverting law?  The music industry?  You have drank the net evangelist kool-aid one too many times.  Yes, Apple makes billions from iTunes.  And what exactly are they selling?  I hate to tell you this, but theft is theft.  Should Apple give away it’s next OS and sell mountain lion t-shirts to make money? Should Microsoft?  Why is it OK for musicians to give away their work but not software developers?  Is it a crime that PS 3 games are copy-protected?  I know that RIAA has acted despicably, but complaining about them is tired.  So is telling me about your friend who gives away their music on the internet but makes up for the lost income in volume.

        1.  I don’t get your argument. Apple makes billions from iTunes because people are buying music there. Apple isn’t giving the music away for free.

          Piracy isn’t the only problem the music industry is facing. The biggest is probably the selling of single tracks instead of full albums by people who just want that one song (1/10 of the revenue that a hit song used to generate). There’s the collapse of the economy – people are simply spending less on entertainment. There are devoted music fans who no longer by music from RIAA labels because of their sue-the-customer response to file sharing. There are more forms of mass entertainment competing for the customer’s dollar. Many artists are able to record and release music and build a fan base without ever going near a record label. And a lot of piracy is driven by the fact that the music people are looking for is often not yet available in their country because despite the internet the labels can’t figure out how to release albums worldwide on the same day, or make their back catalogs easily accessible online.

          All of these things, including piracy, have hurt the recording industry, but thanks to the iPod, people are listening to more music and a greater variety of music than ever before. Musicians who never had a chance to be heard because they didn’t fit some record company’s mold or some radio station’s narrow format are able to reach people and find fans and make a more personal connection with them than was ever possible before.

          Napster was good. The RIAA should have made a deal with Napster. They might have discovered untold riches. Hell, they should have invented Napster and had total control!

          But all we ever hear from the RIAA is “piracy, piracy, piracy.”

    2. Hey, I work in music too! And I’ve seen first hand the standard work-for-hire contracts of the music industry ravaging the lives and yes familes of musicians. I also know plenty of happy musicians giving their music away online and keeping all the money they make from merch sales at live shows. So, there’s that.

    3. What makes you think that 50% reduction in revenue is a consequence of piracy? The simple fact that downloading individual songs has become much more popular than buying whole albums would probably be sufficient to drastically decrease revenue even if every single person was paying for those individual songs on iTunes (and that’s not to mention legal internet radio like pandora). Note that despite decreases in revenues, the number of individual tracks purchased on the internet has been increasing, see this article from 2010 which looked at sales over the previous 4 years and found:

      “Seeing that the Nielsen stats are readily accessible and accepted as legitimate, why then are we left with the impression that music sales and revenue are down? The simple answer is album sales and overall gross revenue from music sales (CD and downloads) are down. The increase in music purchases comes from the people buying individual songs. The decrease in revenue comes from a $0.99 song costing less than a $16.98 physical album as well as fewer purchases of physical CDs.”

      1. That is the funny thing. When the LP was the format of choice, there was often singles released. The cassette never had the equivalent (that i know off) but the CD also had singles released (tho they largely went away in the mid-90s or so). There is also the collection CDs that is basically a bundle of hit or theme singles.

          1.  Well i stand corrected. I guess both those and CD singles had a thinner sales margin tho, as the media is much the same in terms of physical cost while the record single was physically smaller than a full LP. At least the margins seems to be the excuse of choice for the eventual dropping of the CD singles.

        1. The effect I was talking about was just the one of the industry not making as much in profits…other than that I’m not sure what kind of effects you’re asking about here.

  8. This may be important, but it doesn’t have the brilliance, nor modesty, nor sheer gusto of other TED entries. This was by far the most powerful and humbling thing I’ve watched not just on TED but probably online this year:

    I truly implore you to watch it. Coincidentally, to remember the name of the speaker I had to refer to my quote book, where I had noted his epic line, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is justice.’ Above this I noticed I had a quote from Cory’s book FTW: ‘What is banking if not pressing buttons and asking everyone to make believe that the outcomes have value?’ which resonates strongly with Reid’s talk above. 

  9. What is it about the copyright posts that bring the shills and sockpuppets out of the woodwork?

    1.  All that lost revenue from piracy?  More likely the amount they spend on trying to battle piracy with lies and shills, instead of bringing their business model into the 21st century.

  10. Very enjoyable.  He’s basically doing a Jon Stewart-type schtick but it works. And TED has staying power so hopefully lots of people will get to see this.

  11. He glosses over the 8 BILLION dollars that the music industry has declined, and turned it into a joke.  Then the rest of the talk is all about the music industry, not the film/tv/book industry that he previously used to defend the music losses.

    Look, the math that these lawyers use is indefensible, and clearly made up.  But an 8 billion dollar loss in an industry that was already shortchanging the content creators (musicians) is a serious thing and shouldn’t be laughed at.  

    It wasn’t DRM that did it, it was free music raining from the sky that did it, even ‘legitimate’ free music, like that coming from youtube and myspace.  

    1. It wasn’t DRM that did it, it was free music raining from the sky that did it, even ‘legitimate’ free music, like that coming from youtube and myspace. 

      What makes you think this? Do you have any evidence in the form of studies etc.? Like I said in a comment above, it seems more plausible that it was due to the increasing consumer preference for buying single tracks as opposed to albums, even if there was no free music available whatsoever I think you’d see a massive decline in music industry sales because of things like iTunes. Pretty much all the studies I’ve seen on piracy indicate that it actually leads to people buying more music, not less.

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