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TED2012

Rob Reid: The $8 billion iPod

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Views 2,611,333

Comic author Rob Reid unveils Copyright Math (TM), a remarkable new field of study based on actual numbers from entertainment industry lawyers and lobbyists.

- Author, entrepreneur
Rob Reid is a humor author and the founder of the company that created the music subscription service Rhapsody. Full bio

The recent debate over copyright laws
00:15
like SOPA in the United States
00:17
and the ACTA agreement in Europe
00:19
has been very emotional.
00:21
And I think some dispassionate, quantitative reasoning
00:23
could really bring a great deal to the debate.
00:26
I'd therefore like to propose
00:28
that we employ, we enlist,
00:30
the cutting edge field of copyright math
00:32
whenever we approach this subject.
00:34
For instance, just recently
00:36
the Motion Picture Association revealed
00:38
that our economy loses 58 billion dollars a year
00:40
to copyright theft.
00:43
Now rather than just argue about this number,
00:46
a copyright mathematician will analyze it
00:48
and he'll soon discover that this money
00:51
could stretch from this auditorium
00:53
all the way across Ocean Boulevard
00:55
to the Westin, and then to Mars ...
00:57
(Laughter)
01:00
... if we use pennies.
01:02
Now this is obviously a powerful,
01:05
some might say dangerously powerful, insight.
01:07
But it's also a morally important one.
01:10
Because this isn't just the hypothetical retail value
01:12
of some pirated movies that we're talking about,
01:15
but this is actual economic losses.
01:17
This is the equivalent
01:19
to the entire American corn crop failing
01:21
along with all of our fruit crops,
01:23
as well as wheat, tobacco,
01:26
rice, sorghum --
01:28
whatever sorghum is -- losing sorghum.
01:30
But identifying the actual losses to the economy
01:34
is almost impossible to do
01:37
unless we use copyright math.
01:39
Now music revenues are down by about eight billion dollars a year
01:41
since Napster first came on the scene.
01:44
So that's a chunk of what we're looking for.
01:46
But total movie revenues
01:49
across theaters, home video and pay-per-view are up.
01:51
And TV, satellite and cable revenues are way up.
01:53
Other content markets like book publishing and radio
01:56
are also up.
01:58
So this small missing chunk here
02:00
is puzzling.
02:02
(Laughter)
02:04
(Applause)
02:07
Since the big content markets
02:10
have grown in line with historic norms,
02:12
it's not additional growth that piracy has prevented,
02:14
but copyright math tells us
02:17
it must therefore be foregone growth
02:19
in a market that has no historic norms --
02:22
one that didn't exist in the 90's.
02:24
What we're looking at here
02:26
is the insidious cost of ringtone piracy.
02:28
(Laughter)
02:30
50 billion dollars of it a year,
02:34
which is enough, at 30 seconds a ringtone,
02:36
that could stretch from here
02:38
to Neanderthal times.
02:40
(Laughter)
02:42
It's true.
02:46
(Applause)
02:48
I have Excel.
02:50
(Laughter)
02:52
The movie folks also tell us
02:54
that our economy loses
02:56
over 370,000 jobs to content theft,
02:58
which is quite a lot when you consider that, back in '98,
03:01
the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated
03:04
that the motion picture and video industries
03:06
were employing 270,000 people.
03:08
Other data has the music industry at about 45,000 people.
03:11
And so the job losses that came with the Internet
03:14
and all that content theft,
03:16
have therefore left us with negative employment in our content industries.
03:18
And this is just one of the many mind-blowing statistics
03:21
that copyright mathematicians have to deal with every day.
03:24
And some people think that string theory is tough.
03:26
(Laughter)
03:29
Now this is a key number from the copyright mathematicians' toolkit.
03:31
It's the precise amount of harm
03:34
that comes to media companies
03:36
whenever a single copyrighted song or movie
03:38
gets pirated.
03:40
Hollywood and Congress derived this number mathematically
03:42
back when they last sat down to improve copyright damages
03:45
and made this law.
03:48
Some people think this number's a little bit large,
03:50
but copyright mathematicians who are media lobby experts
03:52
are merely surprised
03:55
that it doesn't get compounded for inflation every year.
03:57
Now when this law first passed,
04:00
the world's hottest MP3 player could hold just 10 songs.
04:02
And it was a big Christmas hit.
04:05
Because what little hoodlum wouldn't want
04:07
a million and a half bucks-worth of stolen goods in his pocket.
04:09
(Laughter)
04:11
(Applause)
04:14
These days an iPod Classic can hold 40,000 songs,
04:19
which is to say eight billion dollars-worth
04:22
of stolen media.
04:25
(Applause)
04:27
Or about 75,000 jobs.
04:29
(Laughter)
04:31
(Applause)
04:33
Now you might find copyright math strange,
04:38
but that's because it's a field
04:41
that's best left to experts.
04:43
So that's it for now.
04:45
I hope you'll join me next time
04:47
when I will be making an equally scientific and fact-based inquiry
04:49
into the cost of alien music piracy to he American economy.
04:52
Thank you very much.
04:55
(Applause)
04:57
Thank you.
04:59
(Applause)
05:01

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About the speaker:

Rob Reid - Author, entrepreneur
Rob Reid is a humor author and the founder of the company that created the music subscription service Rhapsody.

Why you should listen

Rob Reid is an author and a serial entrepreneur. He founded the company that created the Rhapsody music website, and his latest book, Year Zero, was published in July 2013. In it, aliens seek to erase the ruinous fines on their vast collections of pirated American music by destroying the Earth. Parts of it are made up. The audiobook version will be read by John Hodgman.

On the TED Blog, read more on the numbers behind Copyright Math >>

More profile about the speaker
Rob Reid | Speaker | TED.com