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Stuff you can buy but never own

27 November 2014

Most of the time, when you pay money to purchase something, it becomes your property -- to use, abuse and/or dispose of as you see fit.

Buy a car, a set of golf clubs, a pair of shoes and you're the "owner" with full rights over your new property.

However, there are some things you can buy but never own and, with the imminent arrival of the TPPA, this situation will soon become even more of an issue.

I'm talking of course, about anything covered by copyright law.

Buy a book and you only own the paper -- not the words on it.

Buy a CD and you only own the plastic and aluminium from which it is constructed.

Buy a digital download and you own... well *nothing*.

So why will our signature on the TPPA documents make this situation worse?

Right now, the shelves and bins of The Warehouse are filled with grey-imports of movies, TV series and a raft of other video content.

Instead of paying $30-$40 per DVD, as we used to in the not-too-distant past, we can now pick up these disks for as little as $5 or less -- simply because they've been directly imported from outside NZ where the prices are far lower than local "authorised" distributors are demanding.

Right now, this is 100% legal and has see the price of many "copyrighted" and brand-named goods fall dramatically.

When parallel imports hit the market, the official distributors must also lower their prices to compete so very real competition is bought to the market -- and that's good for consumers.

Now imagine we've just signed the TPPA...

A trip to The Warehouse will find that all those bins of cheap CDs and DVDs are empty.

Under US copyright law (which will almost certainly then apply to NZ under the terms of the TPPA), parallel-importing is illegal. Authorised distributors are effectively protected from competing against distributors in other countries who sell the same stuff.

Almost overnight, those CDs and DVDs you were paying $10 for last week will go back up to $20, $30 or more -- simply because they can.

Will the cost of making and distributing the disks increased?

Of course not -- but the profit margins for the authorised distributors will have gone through the roof.

And, if you have any doubt about the effects that eliminating grey imports will have, or the copyright owner's willingness to enforce their newfound rights and sue for inordinately large amounts of money, please read this Arstechnica story and realise that in a post-TPPA NZ, we could also expect to see this type of protectionist racketeering -- with the full support of the law.

NZ is a small country that already suffers from a lack of competition in many markets (dairy anyone?) so the last thing hard-working Kiwis need are new laws that effectively allow them to be gouged by trademark and copyright holders who will, in the wake of the TPPA, have a right to charge whatever they think they can get away with.

And remember... unless it's your own creative work, you own *nothing* that carries a copyright notice.

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