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One of our neighbors keeps trying to steal cable television.

We know this because our neighbor isn't terribly good at electronics or even the most basic principles of electrical cabling. Our cable modem service keeps going out; last week, while I was visiting rain_herself, it went out for three days (leaving my roommate David, whose car still hasn't been replaced since it was totaled a couple months back by an unlicensed driver, without transportation or World of Warcraft).

The technical guy sent out by Comcast discovered that the main cable junction box feeding our apartment complex had been pried open, and the miscreant, in his clumsy and ham-handed efforts to steal cable, had made a right proper mess of the cable connections. Our cable connection had been cut entirely, and a much of the rest of the junction box had been screwed up as well.

Last night, just at the start of a boss fight in Heroic Pinnacle (that doesn't mean much to you if you don't play World of Warcraft, so substitute "a difficult situation where other players were counting on me"), it went out again. David ran outside to try to catch the miscreant, and discovered that the junction box had been pried open again and cables were strewn all over the place.

That's not what this post is about. That's just the back story.

This post is actually about intellectual property and opportunity cost. Now, before I get into a full-on rant here, I want to disclose something up front: I have a horse in this race. This is an issue that matters to me because I am a creator of work that is often taken without my permission, something I'll get into in a bit. This is not an abstract thing for me; it's something that affects me personally. If it sounds like I'm taking the issue of intellectual property personally, it's because I am.

We live in a society that is very hostile to the idea of intellectual property. People tend, by and large, to think very little of stealing content; in fact, entire social systems have grown up around it. We are, by and large, okay with bootleg software, illegally downloaded music, and all manner of disregard for the intellectual property of others, in ways that would horrify us if they were applied to physical property.

This stems, I think, in no small part from the fact that we are as a society hostile to intellectual pursuits in general. It's pretty tough not to notice that US culture today is steeped in anti-intellectualism; an anti-intellectualism so virulent that many folks won't vote for a political candidate if he's perceived to be too intelligent or too well-spoken. It's not surprising that a society that thinks so little of intellectual endeavor should think so little of the products of that endeavor.

In fact, I've even heard people argue that intellectual property as a concept should not exist at all. In a strange throwback to Communist ideals, I've heard it argued that if a person dedicates twenty years of his life and his entire fortune to the development of a new idea or the invention of a new gadget, his knowledge and the fruits of his labor should be available freely to all, so that anyone who wants to make knockoffs of his invention or who wants to sell the results of his idea should be free to do so without giving anything back to the person who worked so hard to develop it.

I think that's fucked up beyond all measure, frankly.

Now, granted, not everyone takes that extreme a view to the notion of ownership of the results of one's cognitive labors. A much more common argument in favor of intellectual theft is the "zero opportunity cost" argument.

This argument goes something like: "Well, there was no way I was going to buy Photoshop. If I steal a copy of Photoshop, Adobe has not lost anything, because I was never going to buy it to begin with. Because Adobe has not really lost anything, no harm has been done, and it's OK for me to pirate it."

Same for copying music, stealing cable, or sneaking into the movie theater; "I wasn't going to pay for those things anyway, so it's not like they have lost any sales. They're not losing anything, so it's OK for me to do this."

It's a bullshit argument, front to back. The opportunity cost is rarely truly zero.

My neighbor is a great example. In his attempt to steal cable, he has damaged property not belonging to him, he has interrupted a service that I'm paying for, and he has made Comcast send out repair technicians twice now. (Tomorrow will be a third time; they're replacing the entire enclosure around the cable junction box, because in prying it open he damaged it beyond repair, and the junctions inside are now getting rained on.)

It's a bullshit argument even if the piracy doesn't involve crowbars to someone else's property, though. Take Photoshop (or don't, please!). Most of the folks who pirate it are not professionals; they don't do print production for a living. That means they don't use, or even know about, anything even close to 90% of its capability; they have no need of a $700 image editing program, and there's no question that Adobe is not out $700 for everyone who steals Photoshop.

What these pirates need is a $49 image editing program; and that's a $49 image editing program they're not going to buy because they stole Photoshop.

And hell, there's a free image editing program called The GIMP that they can have for nothing, legally! It's not Photoshop and it can't do everything Photoshop can do, but the folks stealing Photoshop don't need everything Photoshop can do.

But that's not even the most important reason the argument from opportunity cost is bullshit. The argument from opportunity cost is bullshit because it rests on a sense of entitlement. Bluntly, you don't have the right to benefit from someone else's work without paying that person, even if you would rather go without than pay.

People steal intellectual property and people steal services because they want the benefit. They see benefit in owning Photoshop or having cable TV. Having these things makes their lives better in some way. And they feel entitled to that benefit; they feel that they deserve to have their lives made better from the labor of other people.

If I do something that has value, and you want that value, pay me. If you don't want to pay me, then don't take the value. You are not entitled to gain value from my work for free.

Even if--and I'm looking at the folks who steal music here--you think that the money I want is excessive or that I am unreasonable.

If you think that I am unreasonable and the value I offer is not worth what I am asking in exchange, that's fine. Don't take the deal. But don't then also believe that you're entitled to have that value, and you have a right to steal it just because you didn't take the deal! You may think the RIAA is a bunch of asshats who wouldn't know 'reasonable' if it bit them on the cocaine-powdered nose, and I'd agree with you, but that still doesn't excuse the fact that you have no right to take value from them for free just because they're asshats.

It gets simpler to understand when we think about tangible things. If I rent cars, and you sneak into my parking lot, you hot-wire one of my cars, and you take it for a joyride, then you return it to my lot the next morning and I don't notice what you've done, you could argue that the opportunity cost was zero. I didn't lose anything' the car is still there, and you weren't going to rent it from me anyway, right? You might even say I'm financially better off, if you fill the gas tank before you put it back so it has more gas in it the next morning than it did when you took it.

Yet reasonable people, even people who think that software piracy or theft of music is OK, would draw the line at this sort of behavior. I doubt that very many folks would say that taking my cr for a joyride was acceptable; the "zero opportunity cost" argument would not hold up. Yet it's the same argument that folks use to steal intangible things all the time.

Now, on to the horse that I have in this race.

In the past few days, intangible theft has affected me twice. First, my cable modem service was interrupted because my neighbor thinks that theft of service is OK. (Which, I suspect, will soon become a self-correcting problem; the police and the cable companies take theft of service seriously, and I started the ball rolling on a theft-of-service investigation this morning.)

Second, because I create intellectual property. I create content in the form of software, such as my game Onyx, and in the form of a great deal of writing on a number of diverse subjects.

Now, I like to think that I'm a reasonable fellow. I don't much like the way the software industry works, so I give away a limited version of my game for free. I don't like DRM and Draconian copy policies, so I license the pay version to people rather than to computers--if you buy the game, you're free to put it on as many machines as you own, under whatever operating system you like, and the same serial number will work on all of them.

I believe that outreach, especially on subjects like non-traditional relationship and lifestyle choice, is important, so I permit anybody who wants to to copy any of the information on my Web pages, provided they credit me for it. My BDSM and polyamory pages are wildly popular, and I get several requests a month to copy part or all of the site elsewhere. Go for it! Do whatever you want. You don't even need to ask me first. Seriously.

You want to print my stuff out and use it as a handout at a seminar? Be my guest! You want to translate it into other languages? Go right ahead! You want to put it on your own Web site? No problem! Just credit me as the author. That's not an undue burden.

Yet, even that is apparently too much to ask for some folks.

Lat week, I discovered that large sections of my BDSM site were being used on the commercial, for-profit site of a prodomme who makes her living from her Web site, and they were posted without attribution. I sent her a nice email explaining that I was fin with her using the material, but I'd really appreciate credit. She responded by saying that she'd never heard of me or my Web site, and that she hadn't taken the material from me, she'd taken it from another site.

I looked, and sure enough, she had--she'd lifted it from another site that had lifted it without attribution. From, get this, still another site that had lifted it without attribution.

No honor among thieves, I suppose.

So I've spent, over the last day or so, about four or five hours working my way up the chain and sending out copyright infringement notices. And I bet that over the next week I'll probably be hearing from a bunch of pissed-off people.

That seems to be how it happens. People do geniunely seem to have a sense of entitlement to the intellectual work of others; when I've dealt with this kind of thing in the past, it's shocking how often someone will become angry, as if to say 'how DARE you tell me that I can't take material you have created and use it on my own pay-for-access Web site!'. It's not just me, either. In any dispute over intellectual property, the person whose work has been stolen is often cast as the villain--in ways that they are not if, for example, someone has his car taken.

Which is weird, and more than a little fucked up.

And sometimes, it's by folks who really, really ought to know better. One of the Web sites that has lifted content from me belongs to the Triskelion Society, a well-known and generally well-respected BDSM organization. (Edit:</b> As it turns out, the material was given to the Triskelion Society by a third party claiming copyright; they were blameless and have since removed the material.)

I'm sure that there will be folks who think I'm being unreasonably hard-assed about this. After all, my own site is free; what's the harm in taking content from it for their own site? It's not like I'm losing money, right?

In the end, I think that it comes down to respect. We (well, generally, most of us) respect the property of other people, and the labor of other people, but it seems that same level of respect does not extend to the intangible creations of other people. The zero-opportunity-cost argument displays an appalling lack of respect for other people's effort and creation; it essentially boils don to "I want this, but I'm not going to pay for it, so I should have a right to have it anyway." It's even worse when it's dressed in the language of self-righteous indignation; there are many music bootleggers who will rail against the RIAA as a corrupt, archaic, greedy institution that exploits its own members (which is true) and doesn't pay its own artists (which is also true), but the difference between the RIAA and the misic pirates is that the RIAA believes artists should be paid a trivial pittance, whereas the music fans, incensed by this arrogance, seem to believe that the artists should be paid...nothing at all.

Now, me, I don't ask for money; I merely ask that work I created should be attributed it to me. And apparently that's too high a cost for some folks--even folks who use my content to build Web sites that they do charge money for.

But after all, they weren't going to pay me for it anyway, so I haven't really lost anything, right?


( 103 comments — Leave a comment )
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(Deleted comment)
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC)
Actually, that's a good point about the possibility of accusations of plagiarism. Defending against such an accusation would in fact represent a tangible loss (of time, and possibly of money).
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 10th, 2008 08:47 pm (UTC)
I will admit, I was one of the kids who enthusiastically used the original Napster to my full advantage and stole lots of music, and didn't think a thing of it. I didn't give much thought at all to intellectual property... until I started graduate school.

Now, knowing all the blood, sweat, tears, and hours away from my family and friends that it takes to create original research and get it published, I would be horrified if someone plagiarized my work. I would rather they steal my laptop- at least I didn't make that with my bare hands.

So, bravo! Fight the good fight, even against angsty neighbors.

(ps. I registered my copy of Onyx, and I love it). :)
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC)
yeah--funny how creating something of value can change your ideas about copyright, isn't it? :) I've long suspected hat most supporters of copyright violation haven't actually worked to create anything original.

Back in the day--and we're talking waaaaay back in the day, like late 70s and early 80s--I was a TRS-80 user, and hung out on the old-school bootleg TRS-80 BBS systems like Greene Machine and Pirate-80. Then, when I started writing custom TRS-80 software and shareware, my own attitude changed.
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 11th, 2008 04:16 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 10th, 2008 08:59 pm (UTC)
Brand your stuff.

Me, I'd really have to argue that in a case of IP theft, nothing is being stolen. Your Right to Reproduce (copyright) is being violated, but there's no crime of theft (car analogies notwithstanding).

But I'll readily agree that this will cut no ice with you, especially in the circumstances.

I *wanted* people to "steal" my book. That's why I made it Kopyleft. But you know what? I'm not sure, if some shithead edited my name off the cover and started serving that version instead of the version I released, I'm not sure I'd be terribly happy at all with that.

Blah. Anyway, I think we've confused tangible theft of actual property with Violation of Rights. And you know what? I think if the Violation of Rights aspect was played stronger, I think it'd go a hell of a lot better and stronger with people in general.

But then, the RIAA can't afford to start squarking about violating Artists' Rights, can it... ;}P>

Edited at 2008-12-10 09:00 pm (UTC)
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:26 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I'm curious about something--would you say that taking any sort of intangible is not theft? For example, would you say that theft of cable TV service is not actually theft?
(no subject) - drjon - Dec. 10th, 2008 09:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Dec. 10th, 2008 09:01 pm (UTC)
How do you feel about content _type_? eg buying a CD and ripping it so you can listen on your mp3 player; buying a DVD and converting it to watch on your Mac or iPhone or...?

Does it make a difference if you bought the original media and then downloaded a pirated copy, as opposed to doing the conversion yourself?
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - sweh - Dec. 10th, 2008 09:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 10th, 2008 09:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - addiejd - Dec. 10th, 2008 11:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - addiejd - Dec. 10th, 2008 11:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:03 pm (UTC)
As an aspiring photographer who sees stolen works all the time, i hear ya.
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, god, don't even get me started on theft of photography! There's a salesman here at the company I work with who will not seem to understand that just because a picture is posed on a public Web site doesn't mean we can freely use it in our advertising and marketing materials.
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:05 pm (UTC)
I think one thing that you didn't address in all this was the transition of our consumer culture from a free content society to a paid content society. Look at it this way: in the old days, you didn't have to buy the music, you bought the radio. What you didn't get was control over when you got to hear any given piece of music. For that, you needed to buy the phonograph/record/8-track/cassette/CD. Same thing for televisions. You bought the TV, the content was provided on the public airways for free. And if you didn't want to purchase a book, you went to the library. In the case of the library the cost was paid by your taxes and funneled through government funding. But in the cases of mass media, the content was subsidized by advertising. Then came recording devices which allowed people to grab and consume what was being given away for free, without paying their share by consuming the advertisements that were funding the giveaway. This made content cost more. Enter in cable television, pay-per-view, and the like.

(I will continue this in a moment .. baby crying.)
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:16 pm (UTC)

There are people out there who don't understand the big picture, and I seriously believe that the history of media content is responsible, at least in part, for some of this. Following the "old" way of thinking, it only makes a certain amount of sense that there are those who believe "I bought a computer" or "I already pay for Internet access, so why isn't the content or program free?"

I'm not saying that it's right, and in some cases I think there are people who really do know that it's wrong, but there is still a rebellious attitude left over from the old days -- a concept of "why should we pay for something that we *were* getting for free.

And yes, I'm sure there are a dozen holes in this comment. But sometimes you need to be a litigious asshole to protect yourself in a society that is transitioning from one model of content provision to another.
(no subject) - gipsieee - Dec. 10th, 2008 09:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Dec. 10th, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)

ok, i'm a raging music thief, BUT, i use my stolen music to explore artist and see if i like them and then i go buy them and ta-da.

but no, it isn't right at all. i went to peruse your site, and you put a lot of time and effort and thought in to the site, and others could at least give you the props you deserve.
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:41 pm (UTC)
One of the places where the RIAA really missed the wagon was in not realizing that distributing music for free can actually boost music sales.

Or maybe they do realize that, says my cynical self, and that's actually what they're trying to prevent.

Used to be that it was hideously expensive to cut an album; unless you were very wealthy, you could never do it yourself. You needed the labels. That's not true any more; even someone who's relatively poor can still make an album, but it's fantastically expensive to market it, and so you still need the labels. If it becomes cheap to produce and cheap to market an album, who needs the labels any more?
(no subject) - ashbet - Dec. 11th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:29 pm (UTC)
I have a rather popular photo on my website that I've seen plagiarized over and over, it's even on the cover of some Greek book. It's a collage of photos of a set of plaques on a Japanese monument that my friend Sven took and I scanned - unmistakable because of a blade of grass in front of one of the plaques among other things. I don't particularly care but like you I would appreciate if people asked and/or attributed the picture. I once wrote to a guy who had it on his website and he insisted high and low that the image did NOT originate from my site and that he had permission from the creator, who he refused to name. Then he turned nasty after I inquired why his file was named "sven1e.jpg"... Now I just don't bother anymore; I just create *new* stuff.

But yeah.
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC)
Heh. That's a whole can of worms, right there.

Copyright is limited in scope, and rightly so. After a time, works revert to the public domain, on the idea that once the original creator is dead and can no longer profit, the work should still benefit society as a whole.

Where people fall off the truck is in assuming that if a work is not protected by copyright, that means they're free to use any representation of the work that they choose. The plaques aren't protected by copyright, so folks are free to use representations of them...

...as long as they make those representations themselves.

The plaques are not protected, but your photographs of them are.

Had it been me, if some guy used a photograph of mine on my Web site and turned nasty on me when I notified him about it, I'd likely file a DMCA complaint to his ISP and have his Web site shut down. (In fact, I've actually done this once.) Getting nasty when you've been caught plagiarizing is just uncalled-for.
(no subject) - kawakiisakazuki - Dec. 10th, 2008 10:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - magyarok_saman - Dec. 11th, 2008 10:30 am (UTC) - Expand
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(no subject) - kawakiisakazuki - Dec. 11th, 2008 05:51 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:40 pm (UTC)
The "Zero Opportunity Cost" argument (I've never heard it called that, and I don't see what it has to do with opportunity cost) is based on utilitarian ethics. If you want to debate it in any meaningful way, you have to do so via utilitarian ethics; arguing about rights is just missing the point.

The only thing you said that really has any relevance to the view you're trying to counter is the bit about how someone pirating Photoshop is no longer going to buy a $50 editing program from someone else.

Other relevant critiques would include:
* People not being honest with themselves about whether they really would buy something
* Incidental harm that comes from procuring pirated material (breaking the junction box, risk to the car that was taken joyriding)
* That plagiarism is different than personal use, because it serves to take credit away from the real authors

It gets simpler to understand when we think about tangible things.
Fuck analogies. Tangible things are not like information, and the rules around information are intended to be a useful system to encourage people to make more information, not a reflection of natural rights. This is why copyright is (supposedly) temporary. Those rules are a good and useful thing, but talking about your rights to something you created is also missing the point of copyright and patent law.
Dec. 10th, 2008 11:53 pm (UTC)
"Tangible things are not like information, and the rules around information are intended to be a useful system to encourage people to make more information, not a reflection of natural rights."

This is not a good argument. Technically a painting and a composition of music would both fall under the content of intellectual property. Therefore, both would be able to be reproduced freely after a period of time. However, while music can be composed on a computer, so there is no technical hard copy, a painting does have a hard copy, and that original work of art is worth significantly more than any reproductions.

I don't see why a painting should be more valuable than a musical composition; they are both legitimate forms of art, and art is intellectual property. By distinguishing between a hard copy and a digital copy is stupid. Stealing the content of a CD is no different than stealing the CD itself.

This also goes into the realm of copyright infringement. If someone makes a counterfeit Monet and sells it as their own work it's the same as someone copying a musical piece and selling it as their own work. Both of these are also the same as copying someone's literary pursuits and calling them their own.
(no subject) - masterhyde - Dec. 11th, 2008 02:58 am (UTC) - Expand
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Dec. 10th, 2008 09:48 pm (UTC)
It's pretty tough not to notice that US culture today is steeped in anti-intellectualism;

do you run across a lot of people arguing against intellectual property who are themselves in general anti-intellectual? most of the people i've heard decry intellectual property were geeks; though i'm sure my samples may be biased in various ways.

i think the lone inventor, toiling away in his laboratory for 20 years until he produces an amazing invention and then is done and cashes out somehow, is a very appealing and romantic picture. and i can't think of too many good ways to achieve it without robust intellectual property laws. but from a business standpoint, things don't end there-- somebody has to take that invention and turn it into a product and sell it. if the original inventor is still involved, he's the world's foremost expert on his invention and even if his plans and schematics were distributed free to everyone in the world, the company he's involved with is going to be at the forefront of innovation in that product and will probably dominate the market anyway. so the main benefit of intellectual property laws is allowing him to cash out and retire instead. i'm all for cashing out-- it allows division of labor, a fine thing. but i don't think it's the real story behind most patents, at least.

your neighbor-stealing-your-cable examples are a nice hook, but disingenuous: there's physical damage going on there, and a nonzero opportunity cost. it's not parallel.
Dec. 14th, 2008 06:18 pm (UTC)
but from a business standpoint, things don't end there-- somebody has to take that invention and turn it into a product and sell it. if the original inventor is still involved, he's the world's foremost expert on his invention and even if his plans and schematics were distributed free to everyone in the world, the company he's involved with is going to be at the forefront of innovation in that product and will probably dominate the market anyway

That's actually not true, and there are several examples of markets where that's not true. The ability to conceive an invention isn't necessarily the same as the ability to capitalize on and market that invention, and in some cases, the invention's nature is such that the person who invented it doesn't necessarily have an advantage over everyone else.

Two real-world examples are the pulse detonation engine and the Mag-Lite.

The pulse detonation engine is a type of jet engine that's currently under development. It works by creating supersonic shock waves in a combustion chamber; these supersonic shock waves cause detonation (rather than deflagration, or ordinary burning) of jet fuel. The result is an engine that burns less fuel, has fewer moving parts, produces more thrust, and works at higher speed than a regular jet engine.

The development of a working pulse detonation engine would revolutionize airplanes. It would result in safer, faster, more fuel-efficient planes with longer ranges and greater capabilities. It would save billions of dollars in fuel for passenger jets alone, while simultaneously making passenger planes faster and more reliable. It's a big deal, in short.

A pulse detonation engine mechanically is very simple. There's a gotcha, though. The most critical part appears to be the exact shape of the combustion chamber, which must be carefully tuned to promote supersonic shock waves. Designing the combustion chamber is challenging the limits of our ability to understand and model fluid dynamics. All the major aircraft companies have already spent tens or hundreds of millions of dollars trying to develop working pulse detonation engines.

Because they are so simple, any engineer who sees one working would surely be able to duplicate it. Once the shape is right, that's it; you're done. A company that spent $100,000,000 developing a pulse detonation engine, only to see its design copied by a rival, would not be able to catch up; it's rival would be $100,000,000 ahead when it comes to marketing, tooling, manufacturing, and promotion. The principles are so simple that the company that developed it would not automatically have a greater understanding of it than anyone else.

The second example is the Mag-Lite. It was developed by a single inventor working in his garage, who wanted to develop a strong flashlight with a sealed switch that was reliable in extreme conditions. It's a classic American success story--he started out making them all by hand in his garage, he marketed them himself, and he built a successful business from his idea.

There was an article about him in a recent issue of Fortune Small Business (a magazine to which I subscribe). Today, nearly 30% of his company's gross profits are spent fighting off rivals who are infringing his patent. Several elements of the Mag-Lite are protected by patent, but that doesn't prevent much larger companies all over the world from trying to take his business by producing their own flashlights using his design, rather than come up with their own design. Patent attorneys and patent suits consume more than one dollar out of every four that he earns. If he were to stop pursuing the people who infringe his patent, he would likely go out of business; most of the infringers are much larger and wealthier than he is.
(no subject) - zotmeister - Dec. 15th, 2008 08:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 10th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
Wild West
There's an elephant in the room that you haven't mentioned: ASCAP and the other intellectual property guardians, are all firmly rooted in the 20th century. The money they bring in doesn't necessarily go to the artists who've created the content.

There's an entire industry of middlemen whose jobs were terribly important yesteryear, but now, not so much. They haven't been going out of their way to exploit the suddenly available bandwidth or explore micropayments, or any other future-focused compensation scheme. Instead, they claim to be fighting on behalf of the authors, using old-school bludgeons and renting us DRM crippled vaporware.

Their net effect on the overall dialog has been a lot like the tobacco companies arguing that smoking is a civil right that's being violated.

In the absence of a robust financial ecology where following the rules isn't penalized, some people are doing the equivalent of smash-and grab burglary, where overall value is being destroyed. Your cable thief is a pretty blatent example, but I think any time someone sells pirated goods pretending to be authentic stuff, overall value is being destroyed.

(I'm particularly thinking about helicopter crashes, where the bolts were cheap knockoffs marked up to look like they were rated for the proper stress)

The kind of sharing that you encourage, where credit is maintained, that's a creative commons license. When people used to make cassette mix tapes to share with friends, that was a tolerated form of such sharing. (eventually- there was a fight there too.)

The problem as I see it, is that industry is actively fighting against any sort of creative commons approach, and insisting we all stay rooted in the old way of doing things. There's new software that I paid money for, that won't run on my high-def monitor- I suspect because it hasn't proven to the HDMI spec that it's an authorized use of the system. In this case, it's the cable company that's vandalized my video, and I have to sink more tech support time into resolving it. (I won't, I'll just have to play it on a different monitor)

When Sony went ahead breaking the law by installing malware on people's computers, they made it plain that they're not going to be part of the solution. So it's going to be a wild west environment until something reasonable takes its place.

Please don't think I'm trying to put words into your mouth that you didn't say... I'm accusing people like the RIAA and their ilk of claiming to fight for your interests when they're really working against them.

In the largest scheme of things, I think those fat cats are going to have to be brought into compliance before the little guy is going to have a fair shake.
Dec. 11th, 2008 03:45 am (UTC)
Re: Wild West
Oh, believe me, I absoluttely agree with your point about the RIAA, and even said somewhere up there in the comments that I think their tactics have actually done more harm than good for other folks interested in protecting their intellectual property.

The business practices of the RIAA, and to a lesser extent many other large American businesses, seems rooted in a sense of entitlement as well; it seems to me that once a person or a company has become wealthy and successful in some particular market, it feels entitled to continuing to be wealthy and successful, even if the market changes. For all the fact that we talk the talk about capitalism, the reality seems to be that a lot of folks feel like they deserve to have the money keep rolling in without having to adapt to changing market conditions, simply because the money was rolling in before.

It's hard to find a better example than the RIAA> The music labels arose because in the past, they had a stranglehold on a very important choke point in the production of music; recording an album used to be an outrageously expensive undertaking beyond the means of anyone but the extraordinarily wealthy. The world has changed, though, and now virtually anyone can record an album--but the labels maintained a stranglehold on promotion and distribution.

The advent of the Internet changed that. The thing I think the labels fear more than anything else is the dawn of a world where a person can record, promote, distribute, and sell an album entirely on his own, without the help of anyone else. Issues of copyright and intellectual property aside, the RIAA's clumsy gyrations seem predicated on desperate attempt to maintain control over the distribution of music, because without that, they no longer have any value to add.
Dec. 10th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
If you're not familiar with the Baen publishing site (www.baen.com) and their free library, you probably should be. Eric Flint makes a compelling argument about digital free libraries and distribution of electronic material. It may or may not be relevant to your interests/fields, but...

File sharing of Baen's e-books has tangibly increased their profits - both the publisher and the authors' pockets directly.

Yes, I have (in the past, years ago) used P2P software to obtain music I had no other way to obtain - no radio, no tapes, no CDs, no money. Since then, I *have* purchased the music I felt was worth the money, and deleted the rest. Yes, there is obviously a difference between ripping tons of stuff off teh intarwebs and not paying for it, and "sampling".

Now I use Seeqpod for sampling, but to use it I must be havening an intarwebs connection, which doesn't quite do the same thing for me in terms of determining just how broad the appeal of that particular music is for me.

*shrugs* There's a reason I no longer listen to Metallica or read Harlan Ellison. They've made their views on "pirating" very plain, and I feel the position they take is so draconian that I cannot support it - so I simply will avoid their products entirely, even if I can get it "free". (Yes, this includes changing the radio station if Metallica is playing. No, it doesn't accomplish much except keep me in my moral comfort zone.)

And, of course, everyone's got an opinion that is biased by their personal interest - which is why I refer you to Eric Flint's writings at the Baen Free Library. As an editor and published author, his particular dog in this fight is clearly on the side of "creator of intellectual property". ;-)
Dec. 11th, 2008 04:01 am (UTC)
Wow. Interesting. I just did some Googling and found (and read) Eric Flint's essay on his ideas. Interesting stuff.

I happen to agree with him, in fact, and it's part of the reason that I let folks copy material from my Web site for free.

It's also why I don't think the RIAA's fight is mine. While copying music without permission of the copyright owner is both legally and morally wrong, I don't for even half a second believe that the RIAA is sincere in trying to protect the rights of their artists; rather, I think they're desperate to maintain control over the distribution and promotion of music. I seem to recall reading a peer-reviewed study a few years back that demonstrated that online music piracy economically benefits artists, because it exposes them to a wider audience, many of whom eventually buy the albums. (That's certainly been the case with me; on many occasions I've had friends give me copy of a CD or a mixed tape, and then bought the album. I owe my entire Sisters of Mercy collection, which includes not only all their albums but also rare imports and live concert albums I bought, sometimes at great expense, to a single mixed tape that someone gave me about twelve years ago. Not only have I bought every album, I've seen them in concert as well, all because that one mixed tape got me hooked. But I digress.)

Anyway, I absolutely agree with Mr. Flint's ideas, and I think that in the long run exposure generates more profit for content creators.

The part that irks me is not the copying so much as the plagiarism. (In two cases I discovered today, folks had not only lifted stuff from my site without attribution, they had stuck their OWN copyright notice on it, which shows an appalling amount of gall that it's hard to fathom.)

The argument he makes breaks down as soon as someone starts passing off the work of another as his own. I bet if I took his novels, removed his name from the cover and stick mine on it, and then started selling them from my Web site, he'd be none too pleased--and rightly so.
(no subject) - sweh - Dec. 11th, 2008 11:58 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - quaryn_dk - Dec. 11th, 2008 12:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 10th, 2008 10:34 pm (UTC)
"What these pirates need is a $49 image editing program; and that's a $49 image editing program they're not going to buy because they stole Photoshop."

This also leads to less development of alternative solutions, thus we trend towards (usually unsupported) freeware or Photoshop as the only choice. By extension, this harms the Commons via the chilling effect it has on mid-level development.

In respect to the RIAA - their unreasonable business model is forcing substitution by their consumer. If we truly shut down all illegal P2P, the market will develop a legal alternative to the RIAA. This is already happening slowly via sites like AmieStreet.com and TuneCore.com
Dec. 10th, 2008 10:49 pm (UTC)
As someone who's seen her intellectual property being offered for free download, I agree with you -- for the most part.

On the other hand:

I'm in a situation where I bring in $745/month (+ $14/month federal disability in a large, rather expensive city. Nearly a year of having an "active" file with vocational rehab has been absolutely useless in terms of providing help getting my knowledge/skills back up to date -- they told me that they won't pay for any education because I have a graduate degree.

I'd like to go back and actually work at the same thing I did before getting sick -- it would provide good enough health insurance to cover the overwhelming cost of the medication and care needed to keep me alive and well, as well as being the easiest/fastest route back to work given my various physical limitations.

Friends have been kind with loans and gifts of books, but not so much as far as the (expensive) software goes -- nor do I expect such a thing. If I don't learn some specific (software) tools that I'll likely be expected to know ahead of time).

The biggest local employer of people in my field (with the best health insurance, incidentally) makes several of these specific tools, and I don't think it would be a good thing for them to know about those of my disabilities that can't actually be seen in an interview. So I don't feel as if I can approach the company and ask for a free copy or anything, nor would that be likely to work anyway.

I'm sure you can guess how I'm handling this lack of resources wrt intellectual property. I'm sure this bothers you -- it certainly bothers me. But how else do I proceed? What would YOU do in this situation?
Dec. 10th, 2008 11:00 pm (UTC)
I agree with you in general. I don't think that this article -- or any other equally well-written article -- will change any minds.

Why? Because the cost to the creator doesn't matter. The important question is the cost to the pirate.

Think about literal pirates off the coast of Somalia: those that race to ships, attack or kill sailors, and run off with what they can capture (or hijack). As long as the likely gains are much, much greater than the likely costs, literal piracy will continue.

The same is true for music/software/photography/book pirates. And I don't see an easy way to raise the cost.
Dec. 11th, 2008 01:53 am (UTC)
Charlie Stross (British SciFi Author) had a different take on this; http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2007/03/why_the_commercial_ebook_marke.html

Basically his feeling was that a lot of these pirates do it because they can. Not for profit, but for the kudos of their peers. Your Somalian pirates are in it for the dosh; torrent seeders and binary flooders aren't.
(no subject) - tacit - Dec. 11th, 2008 04:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - sweh - Dec. 11th, 2008 11:50 am (UTC) - Expand
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