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.