An Example of International Copyright Helping Nobody — Not Customer, nor Developer, nor Publisher

This is cross-posted from my blog on Gamasutra.

This is the story all about how
My mind got flipped, turned upside down.
I’d like to take a minute, just sit right there,
And I’ll tell you how Apple’s customer service punished me for wanting to make an in-app purchase.

The Setup

When I make calls to customer service centers, I don’t usually have a normal problem. That’s the benefit of being more computer-savvy than most; I already know to check the cables, try restarting, clear the cache, etc. This time my problem was simple. I was pretty sure I understood the cause of the problem. When I made this call, I expected to be told there was no help for it and to be on my merry way, but Apple went a step further than that.

Here’s my unorthodox situation. I am a U.S. citizen living in Japan. I have a U.S. iTunes account, with which I’ve been merrily buying things for who knows how many years now from both the U.S. and from Japan. A little over a week ago, I got an iPhone from my Japanese phone carrier. I got it all set up and had no problems using my U.S. iTunes account with the Japanese iPhone.

I already had licenses for some iOS apps, from a time when my best friend got himself an iPhone and let me borrow his iPod Touch for a while. I added to that some new apps, including NimbleBit’s Tiny Tower. I decided that I wanted to make an in-app purchase, and that’s where I hit a snag.

My phone politely informed me that I couldn’t make in-app purchases and suggested that I contact customer service. Hmm, I thought. Maybe it’s because I have a U.S. iTunes account and am in Japan. So I tried making a purchase through a VPN. That didn’t succeed, either. So I called the U.S. Apple customer service.

The Punchline

I’m not going to give a full run-down of the call. In summary: I told the customer service rep what was up. He got me to give him my user ID so he could “see if [he] could find anything on my account.” He was gone for a couple of minutes, and when he came back he told me that they’d put a note of some kind on my account to keep it from allowing me to make any purchases outside the U.S. in the future, that I was in violation of the Terms of Service for having done so at all, and that I would still have access to things already purchased.

His conduct was kind of insulting; he got amazingly defensive in anticipation of hostility which was never going to come from me. He was just doing his job. I was in violation of the Terms of Service, which I should have read more thoroughly. I understood that he had done what he’d had to do to comply with Apple’s policies. And that those policies had been put into place because of international copyright law.

I also understood that international copyright law is the devil.

Here’s How This Hurts Everybody

First, the obvious one: I, the customer, am impacted. This decision to half-lock my account so the iTunes servers will pay attention to my global location infringes upon my life by making it so I can’t buy anything with that account. Yes, I can (and do) have a Japanese iTunes account for making purchases, but then I am stuck with getting my apps in Japanese — if the apps I want are available at all. Assuming the games I want are there, I don’t want the mindless games I play before I fall asleep to be in a foreign language. Furthermore, although I can use both accounts with my iPhone, I can only use one at a time. It’s incredibly inconvenient, at best. My motivation to buy anything is drastically reduced — not to mention the fact that the soft-boiled chicken egg of faith has cracks in the shell now.

Two, it hurts the developers. Why? Because even if I want to buy their software… I can’t! You have an amazing new game on the iTunes store? Fantastic. I’ll buy it when I go back to the states. If I ever go back to the states. Because I might not. If I do, it’ll be years from now. Hopefully I’ll remember that your game exists when the time comes.

And third… it hurts Apple itself. Because every lost sale is a sale that Apple doesn’t get its 30% cut of.

So if — as the customer service rep suggested — these policies are in place because of international copyright law… who the frell is this law helping?

The Area of a Japanese Circle

The formula for the area of a circle is pi times the square of its radius. The Japanese government has evacuated an area around the Fukushima power plants with a radius of 40km, or 5,024km sq. Right after the power plants went critical, the US government strongly recommended (at around 3 AM) that any of its citizens within 80km leave immediately. The U.S. evacuation circle therefore has an area of 20,096km sq. That’s a discrepancy 15,072km sq.in size.

This discrepancy is the reason that this year’s U.S. JETs haven’t been told their placements yet. We were supposed to have been informed in May, but some placements fall into this gray area. The Japanese and U.S. governments are discussing what to do about it, and we are not expected to find out placement assignments until right around the solstice.

If you’re wondering why they don’t just ask the JETs who are supposed to be placed in that zone whether or not they’re willing and then swap them out if they aren’t, then know that you aren’t alone. I don’t know what sort of logistical or diplomatic factors are affecting the decision behind the scenes, but I do know that if asked to go into that 15,072km sq. gray area, I would say yes. How many of the people living there have anywhere else to go, even if they want to leave their homes? They are surely under constant stress and need all the support they can get. Even though the area around the Fukushima power plants is one of the most dangerous in the world right now, I would be willing to share their risks in the hope that my presence there as a foreigner come of my own free will might improve morale.

Of course, I’m lucky enough to have family and friends who are willing to put aside their fears for my safety and support my decision, whatever that may be. I don’t have a spouse or children to consider and I don’t want children, which makes it easier for me to consider living someplace feared to be so radioactive it could render me infertile and give me superpowers.

Either way, I don’t know if I’m one of the people slated for that area and have no way to find out. All I can do is wait… now with 15,072km sq. more anticipation. Looking at the JET Programme forums, though, it seems that I’ve been more patient than most.