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Black Mirror Discussion Project

Intellectual Property

This episode does not directly address intellectual property issues, but we can predict some of the consequences were everyone to have this always-on recording implant. In the past, the publishing industry^1 has traditionally objected to any advance in technology that could possibly make copying easier, one of the most recent and relevant cases being Sony Corp. of America v. Universal Studios (1984) (abbreviated as Sony v. Universal).

Sony v. Universal

Sony v. Universal stemmed from the development of the first videotaping devices and a precursor to VHS tapes, called Betamax. The system Sony developed allowed consumers to record television broadcasts to a magnetic tape, which they could play back at their leisure or even keep for long periods of time. Universal Studios and the Walt Disney Corporation objected to this, worried that consumers could use the device to record copies of their products and possibly share them – cutting into their profits. They sued Sony for enabling copyright infringement,

Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled against Univesral, arguing that recording television shows for the purpose of “time shifting” (recording and watching later, ex. if the original broadcast happened at an inconvenient time) is not copyright infringement, but instead fair use. Furthermore, Universal had failed to prove actual harm, and in one case a noted television personality (Mr. Rogers) testified as being in favor of allowing timeshifting. Ironically, Universal and Disney went on to earn a great deal of profit from the sales of tapes of their shows.

? v. Grain

A nearly identical argument could be made against grain memory – why buy a copy of the movie when you could just watch a re-do of the time you saw it in theaters, or watch a copy from a friend? Why pay for a subscription to something like Spotify when you could just queue up audio-only re-dos of times you’ve listened to songs before?

These scenarios could all have a large impact on the recording industry, as grains are much more powerful than VHS. However, the episode shows no evidence that grain memories are directly transferable (as if they were files), so any time you watch someone else’s re-do, you could expect a decrease in quality. You could also expect a decrease in quality in watching your own re-dos of movies – imagine watching a movie where every so often the camera darts away from the screen so the camera person can scratch an itch, or have a sip of water.

For quality reasons, it’s doubtful that any sort of grain-based piracy would seriously catch on (for a modern reference, “cammed” movies where someone physically records a theatrical release, are nowhere near as popular as DVD rips and other direct sources^2), but regardless it’s likely that the publishing industry would fight back.

.^1 “Publishing industry” is used broadly, it doesn’t just refer to books and newspapers.

.^2 Don’t ask for a source on that!