Stephen Fry on Copyright

July 13, 2009

Actor, comedian, and writer Stephen Fry who was the warm up act for the Itunes Live London Festival went rogue.

After outlining the history of copyright, he went on to say that, in the entertainment industry’s pursuit of the file-sharers, he suspects “that my business – the film business, the television business, the music business – is doing the wrong thing”.

He described what he called the aggressive prosecution around the world of those who illegally download. It did no good, said Fry, to label these people as criminals.

He mocked “those preposterous” commercials on DVDs telling audiences “you wouldn’t steal a handbag”. He said he wanted to ask whether people in his industry are “so blind… as to think that someone who bit-torrents an episode of 24 is the same as someone who steals somebody’s handbag”.

Thank God someone inside the industries that have decided their business model depends on extorting money from their own customers is saying what’s obvious to everyone who isn’t an old media CEO.

What’s interesting about all this is that Stephen Fry would seem to be the perfect candidate for buying into the way the film, television, and music industry has gone about their business. His living is made exclusively in those industries, he’s well off, and he’s 51 years old. This should be a guy linking arms with Lars Ulrich and Dr. Dre in their support of suing the crap out of their own fans.

A quick perusal of his biography, however, reveals what may be the difference:

Fry has a long interest in internet production, including his own website since 1997. His current site, The New Adventures of Mr Stephen Fry, has existed since 2002 and has attracted many visitors following his first blog in September 2007, which comprised a 6,500 word “blessay” on smartphones. In February 2008, Fry launched his private podcast series, Stephen Fry’s Podgrams, and a forum, including discussions on depression and activities in which Fry is involved. The website content is created by Stephen Fry and produced by Andrew Sampson. Fry is also a supporter of GNU and the Free Software Foundation. For the 25th anniversary of the GNU operating system, Fry appeared in a video explaining some of the philosophy behind GNU by likening it to the sharing found in science. In October 2008, he began posting to his Twitter stream, which he regularly updates. In February 2009, he became the second-most-followed person on Twitter after Barack Obama. On May 16, 2009, he celebrated the 500,000-follower mark: “Bless my soul 500k followers. And I love you all. Well, all except that silly one. And that’s not you.”

Fry is clearly a man who has been shaped by his experience with the internet. He’s not an outside observer, enraged by the digital model that’s reshaping our world, instead he’s a part of the digital model. His arguments are clearly the arguments of a man who understands the world as it is now, he’s not busy trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle, instead he’s understood the shift that’s taken place and is trying his best to tell those who haven’t realized the world has changed that they’re acting profoundly ridiculous.

Probably the funniest part in all this is that perhaps the only reason that Fry was a part of Itunes Live is because he is such an integral part of the digital model. His twitter stream, website, blog, and podcast are what have given him the audience so that he’d be asked to be a part of this event. Part of the shift to the digital model is the currency, old media is obsessed with cash, the digital model is obsessed with influence. Fry is influential because he has an audience, and because he has an audience and influence money will follow.

And that’s how the world works now. Stephen Fry figured it out, most of his contemporaries haven’t.


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