So they sit down to either side of me, these guys, and they slide a piece of paper in front of me. It’s an invoice.
“Well,” says Gazpacho, “you gonna read it?”
I look at the number they say I owe but it’s way too big to read all at once.
The other guy, Ivor Prong, he gives me a nudge. “Cash or plastic?”
“I don’t have that kind of money. Anyway, I don’t owe it. I’m just a guy out here in the diner. How could I owe that kind of bread?”
Gazpacho whips out a massive ledger; opens it to the first page. “Bought a copy of Big Red at the used book store in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1963 thereby depriving author James Kjelgaard of three cents royalty, which in today’s dollars adding in a simple calculation for compound, cthonic, Goldman-Sachsian interest comes to…a zillion gillion dollars!”
“And that’s just the one book,” said Ivor.
“Lies, all lies. No one ever bought a book in Bogalusa, Louisiana.”
“And look here,” mumbles Gazpacho flipping ahead, “says here you downloaded a free copy of Elton John’s Daniel My Brother off Kazaa—“
“Now wait just a minute, buster. I bought that song on 45, again on LP, then on 8-Track and yet again on cassette, so when everything shifted to CD I figured I had long since paid for it.”
“Not how the law looks at it, Sunny Jim,” said the Prong.
“So I have to pay Kjelgaard’s estate…?”
“Naw, that was just an example of your attitude. You don’t have to pay him. He’s an author. Hell, you’ve bought thousands of used books. There ain’t enough calculators in the world to figure out that debt. No, you can rip off authors all you want to. It’s the done thing. Been going on for hundreds of years. All that other intellectual property, well, you got to pony up for that.”
I thought about it for a minute. “Well, if the money’s actually going to the artists—“
“Whoa, slow down, Little Biscuit,” Gazpacho interrupted. “No one said anything about the money going to the artists. No, it goes to the industries, it goes to the music, movie, and television companies.”
“But all those art forms pretty much suck these days. Where’s the sense in paying for that?”
“Hey, America’s moved on. We just want your money. We don’t care what you like.” Thus spake the Prong.