Mas salamah (goodbye)

The copyright industry is America’s largest export, something I learned just a few years ago. We still make and sell products and services, but Hollywood is at the top of the list. We sell our decadence to the rest of the world, and they’re buying it. I think the average American gives little thought to this, and yet it is by this that we are judged.

We’re proud of our smut, aren’t we?

I have written many times about the greed of the copyright industry and how this greed is one of the key fuels in the disintermediation of all forms of media — the unbundling thereof. For years, we’ve been forced to pay $18 for a music CD, for example, when all we wanted was one song. We sat through endless commercial interruptions while watching TV, because we had no choice. All of that is changing as media is unbundling and we are rebundling it for ourselves.

This is a central tenet of the Personal Media Revolution (PMR), and it’s important to understand that — in many ways — this same copyright industry brought it on themselves. When any industry begins suing its customers, as the RIAA has done in the U.S., one can safely assume it has lost its way.

On the streets of downtown Amman, amidst the juice stands, perfume sellers, clothing shops and variety stores, exists a type of shop that must gall the copyright cartel. For one Jordanian Dinar (about $1.50), you can buy any DVD or video game available. The quality is not guaranteed, but I can tell you that most work just fine. You can even buy films that are only available in theatres in the U.S.

I bought a couple for the 11-hour flight from Frankfurt to Dallas tomorrow. Sue me, Hollywood. I forgot where I bought them.

One day, these shops may be driven from the streets by Jordanian‑U.S. relations, but that will only drive the dealers elsewhere. This isn’t the U.S., and our reach just isn’t what we think it is. The economy here is whatever the people can make it to be, and if you could witness the poverty for yourselves, you’d bless their ingenuity as I have. After all, it isn’t the tourists who walk the streets of downtown Amman to shop; it’s the people who live here.

I should add that the idea of copyright doesn’t exist in Islam. Artists are recognized and compensated for their work, but after that, it belongs to the public. This no doubt influences those who buy and sell these movies and video games.

And shopping itself is considerably different here than in the West. Every shop is run by the person who owns it. The store often displays a photo of the shopkeeper’s father, the man who most likely built the business years ago. Franchises exist only in the suburbs or at the malls (A big new mall is opening Wednesday. All the women are excited.)

Prices are sometimes shown on merchandise tags but the actual price can vary widely based on where the shopper is from or how skilled the shopper is in bargaining. The shopkeepers have deep insight into the characteristics of Arabs from various countries, and they can alter their smile (and the cash register) accordingly. Waseem is a pro, but when they see me, the price suddenly goes up.

I will be leaving Amman at dawn tomorrow, and I am sad. Soon I will be back in my office with Piffy and feeding my squirrels, for this is my world. But I return a changed man, for I will never view events in the Middle East the same way, nor will I have the same biased and intolerant perspective that I’ve had about the people here. Such things are learned, and what is learned can be changed by personal experience.

This is one of the reasons that I have such hope for the future — the world that all of my daughters and their children will inherit. The internet offers the opportunity for us to learn from each other, not textbooks or one-sided histories. This can only bring us together, and I believe this is God’s will for the human race. The few people I’ve reached by sharing my trip here have knowledge they didn’t have before, and that’s just one person’s journal.

I am most sad, because I will miss my family. But even that is tempered by the warmth in my heart for them, the knowledge that I will return soon, and a conviction that we’ll use this amazing technology to talk to each other in ways our parents couldn’t even imagine. There is no distance in the world of the spirit, and it is here where we will always be together.

Mas salamah from Amman.


  1. I really hope that you will turn your experiences in Jordan into an article or series of articles for public reading in the U.S. Absolutely fascinating reading.

  2. You are probably at twenty thousand feet as I write this but may you have a safe journey home. Merry Christmas Terry.

  3. If I have the time zones figured out correctly, he leaves Jordan around 9PM Central Time on Sunday and will get back sometime Monday afternoon.

  4. Assalamo Alaikom Mr.Terry
    Thank you for the wonderful writing, you should write for National Geographic!
    I’m very sad I could’nt say good bye in person, but that’s where the net steps in so: good bye and be safe, and we will be waiting for your next visit ( by the way I really enjoyed our little chat the other day )

  5. Safe journey, T‑Man. You brought me right along with you thanks to your always splendid writings. I particularly like how you gave us a look at ourselves through a different lens. Proof that we, as a country, can have differences with other countries — but we, people, should celebrate our similarities and differences all the same.

    Here’s to a Busy 2007!

  6. For all of you who care about the beloved guest we had for a week, I just dropped him off at the airport. It is 5:00 am now in Amman; his flight will just leave in about 5 minutes. He left behind him precious memories that we will enjoy and cherish for ever. It is so sad to say good bye to you, but you left so much love in this house that is going to stay with us and comfort us until we see you again.. I pray for your safe return to your second home in the U.S., Dad.

  7. Thanks for the update, Mr. Waseem! I, and Terry’s other readers, I am sure, have really enjoyed reading about you and your beautiful family. I never even left my little town this week, and many of my assumptions and biases have been shattered. Thanks for that, too.

  8. Terry I always enjoy reading what you have to say, I appreciate your soul and your spirit. While I agree the copyrighters have ripped us off in a sense over the years, I’m not sure I agree with the way you essentially bless those who violate laws. Yes, poverty is a bad thing and we should all help those less fortunate, but what about the rule of law?

  9. Tom,

    The copyright laws of the U.S. have problems in foreign countries, witness the problems the RIAA is having with Russian download sites. There, however, the sites download to Americans, and I view that very differently than I do this. It’s a question to me of what’s enough? I’m sorry if I come off as rejoicing over law-breaking, because I certainly understand that what’s taking place there is illegal, according to U.S. law.

    I’m one of those people who believes the whole thing needs to be rewritten in light of circumstances. The rule of law has to be able to shift with time, which is why the law isn’t God.



  1. […] I concur that without checks and balances, we are certainly passing a form of decay off as progress, but any serious blogger knows that his or her audience provides a kind of check and balance that institutional journalism doesn’t know. Take a look, for instance, at the comment by Tom Tucker on my entry below about illegally sold DVDs in Amman. This is my editor, if you will, and I can understand why Rago would be concerned about this with political writers, because they may be more inclined to dismiss criticism that I am. […]

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