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Glare, Grouchy

[Rant] Copyright

As this has been getting discussed in the discussion groups of both Katherine Kerr and Megan Lindholm (Robin Hobb) over the past few weeks, it's been on my mind lately. Today I got a note on a game I help keep running that a couple users were using one of the communication venues in the game to discuss how best to trade around cracked games and whatnot.


There are some zealots, I admit, who really do believe that authors should release books for free and copyright shouldn't exist at all, or that all software should be free. Putting aside the question of 'if it's free, you are unlikely to make money on it, and there's no incentive to actually work on it as opposed to getting a different job,' there are other considerations.

Without copyright, for instance, someone could take a book and decide they want to publish their own version of it. They alter it -- cutting scenes, and adding a few they think are better -- and release their own revised edition with the same byline. The author's message is no longer there, and you no longer have any guarantee that you're getting the actual /book/ and not just someone's mutant edited copy.

Add to that the fact that our copyright laws were specifically altered some time ago to adhere to the Berne Convention guidelines, so that our copyright would be enforced and upheld by other countries who are signatories to it.

Really, what it boils down to, I think, is that the majority of people who pirate stuff do it because it's simple (just download something!) and it's free (and people are all about the free stuff). And all the arguments about how it 'doesn't hurt anyone' or how it 'only hurts the publishers' are largely just justifications. And 'I wouldn't have bought it anyway' doesn't really count for anything. If you wouldn't have bought it anyway, that's no excuse for theft. Hey, I wouldn't have bought that DVD player, but that makes it okay to steal it! Bzzt.

If you can convince yourself you're taking a Moral Stand against Big Business or whatever, you don't have to think about the fact that you are stealing from the people who wrote that game you're enjoying so much, that piece of software you use every day, composed and performed those songs you just downloaded in MP3, or wrote that book you just downloaded in eBook format.

The immaturity shows in a number of ways in the pirate community. Witness people who cheerfully accept acclaim and praise for making pirated goods available; the eBook scanners who cheerily accept the acclaim and thanks of the various pirates, acting as if the books were their own work. Hell, think about our Russian hacker friends who have an entire site devoted to Trillian as if it were their work, when all they're doing is distributing pirated copies of Trillian Pro and plugins.

I'm halfway tempted to talk to some of the authors, game developers and so on who I know, and ask them each to write a short essay on copyright and piracy, and collect them into a freely-available eBook to distribute on the net...


In an attempt to present a middle of the road arguement, I would like to start by saying that you are absolutely correct. There is no justification for a 'moral stand against big business' involved in these activities. It's stealing. Any attempt to pretty it up doesn't make it any better.

That being said, speaking as a former thief, I think that the problem is further under the surface. Ownership is a tricky thing to start with. Ignoring all of the international data/music/program thieves out there for a moment, let's look at the issue just in the US.

The main problem with capitalism is that it divides people into the 'have's and the 'have not's. And the culture of the US is built so strongly on becoming a 'have' that it has allowed a basic decline in social responsibility. Look at the state of public restrooms 50 or 60 years ago versus how they are now for an example.

So you have generations emerging with less and less of a sense of what is right and wrong. With data transfer becoming so fast and inexpensive, this facilitates data sharing at a level no one could have dreamed of. Rather than going with the flow and changing to meet the needs of the market, most industries attempted to do business the same way that they had been doing. When that failed, they brought the law into it. This gave the pirates a chance to achieve martyrdom. This promoted more piracy from the 'have not's who now had a rallying cry of fighting against the jerks in Big Business. And perhaps if they had only struck against industries that were causing problems, they might have been able to justify it a little better. But they hurt small companies liek Cerulean, too. And they are wrong because of it.

HOWEVER...this decline in morality affects both sides. One of the reasons for the boom in data piracy is because of the way that the big businesses behave. Instead of working to educate people on why it's wrong, they look at the bottom line. The lose of profit means they feel they need to cut costs which means more jobs lost overseas where the workforce is less expensive. That means more unemployment and more 'have not's. It's a vicious cycle.

This is not a problem that can be addressed from the sort of moral high ground you have taken. I understand why you feel the way you do. And you are not wrong to feel that way. But your approach will turn more people off of your point than draw them to it. Calling an immature person immature only results in them getting huffy and insulted and then doing something REALLY immature.

I may be missing what you're driving at, but I don't think that short essays are going to reach your target audience. They'll look at it as another attempt to subvert them from their 'righteous cause' or just ignore it altogether. It will likely only be read by the folks who already agree with you.

Action needs to be taken on a bigger level. First of all, the industries need to either lower prices a bit or show the justification for what they charge. I'm not saying that every company overcharges for their products, but there are some who price gouge. They also need to report honestly on the benefits and detriments of data piracy rather than doing what the US Government has done for years and only reporting the worst case scenarios about things they feel should be illegal.

As an example, while Metallica and some other artists are against mp3s, they aren't losing a whole lot of money because a majority of the price of a CD goes to the record company. When you take away the few cents that the CD, jewel case, printing and packaging cost, you've still got an average of $13 unaccounted for. Additionally, mp3 distribution helps generate interest in a band which leads to a bigger fan base forming more quickly and more people attending their concerts.

In addition to the industry actions, the government needs to take a better stand than they do no. Prosecuting high school students for downloading a few songs just makes you look like an asshole. But taking a firmer stand against the folks who do REAL harm helps everyone. This needs to be approached carefully though, and would be best if it started with educating first time offenders on why what they did is harmful.
I agree on the general decline in morality and a sense of right and wrong. However, your argument that mp3 piracy is a good thing...? No. I was reading an interesting story about how many smaller bands only exist anymore as a result of selling merchandising (i.e. which can't be pirated so easily, like t-shirts and suchnot).

MP3s and suchnot can help raise interest. But as I said in Kit's discussion group, and will repeat here, it MUST BE THE CHOICE OF THE ARTIST TO DO THAT. If an artist wants to release free MP3s, more power to them! However, saying 'well, I'm mostly hurting the publisher, and it gives the band name recognition' is nothing more than a rationalization. Period. Otherwise I could justify stealing your television because it hurts the Big, Evil Advertisers, and television's probably bad for you anyway.

Metallica may not be losing a lot of money on piracy. Big software companies may not be losing that much money on piracy, like Microsoft. But that doesn't make it right. Nor does it mean smaller companies don't lose a lot of money; I can think of a number of game companies -- including Monolith, where I used to work -- who have been slurped up by publishers and consumed as a result of needing to find better income due to piracy losses. And smaller bands, who aren't getting massive contracts and really rely on those royalty checks, they are absolutely harmed by piracy.

As for calling those who present pirated works with the pride a creator normally takes in them? What else can I call it? If someone cheerily pirates some RPG book into PDF format, sticks their name into the credits ('Electronic Edition by...') and sticks their pirate group's logo into one of the pages, and then presents it with as much pride as if they were the actual author? C'mon, Max, that /is/ immature. And it's insulting to the real creators, the people who spent months or years working on whatever just got pirated.
I agree. But this ties in to what I was saying about the way that highspeed internet has changed the world and the way people are having trouble adjusting to it. If bands released a few songs in mp3 format from each album, like they do with singles on the radio, maybe the mp3 issue wouldn't be such a big deal. Or maybe if companies hadn't tried to profit on the format and instead had pushed to abolish it entirely, this wouldn't be an issue. The problem is that there are now big companies selling big money items which use the same format that all the pirates use. They've legitimized it in a way. iTunes is a great idea, but it came way too late to make much of a difference.

This problem isn't new. People have taped songs off of the radio for years and even SOLD them as mix tapes. Beyond just stealing, they're profiting off of their theft.

Presenting pirated works as your own...yes, that's ugly, but so what? Why is that any worse than just making them available? Because it's arrogant? I hate to sound harsh, but boo hoo. Hell, legal or not, they do a lot of work to pirate things and I understand them taking pride in their accomplishment, however wrong it may be. The act of pirating the work is immature if done by someone who doesn't understand why what they do is wrong and criminal if done by someone who does understand. But taking pride in your work is not immature.

Now, before you reply, I want you to look over your rant, my reply and your re-reply. I want you to search carefully for proposed solutions. You do a great job of pointing out all of the problems, but (unless I missed it, in which case I apologize in advance) you don't offer solutions. Just pointing things out and going 'that's bad'. My proposed solutions, while not ideal, are at least something to work with. A compromise isn't perfect, but the world isn't perfect and your idealism, while admirable, is unrealistic. And you know that.

You've done an incredible job of finding problems, but you have to do something about them if you want to make a change. And with an issue this far reaching, it can't be something too idealistic or it will fall flat on its face. Every single time. Which is not to say that you shouldn't try it, just that you should be aware of that before you do so you won't be too horribly torn up with disappointment as you are lible to get that way without much prodding.

So take everything, find some ideas for how to fix them, then run them through a filter to sort out the ideas which could work from the ones which would be great, but unrealistic.
But selling mix tapes off of the radio was less of a problem -- though it was a problem -- in terms of range of distribution. Bootlegs have always been around, but before you often had to send off for a bootleg, wait however long, or track down a place to buy one. Even if it was a little more expensive, picking up the actual album was generally less hassle! Suddenly, however, you can toss an MP3 up on Gnutella and voila, anyone who wants it can pick it up from the comfort of their own bedroom or living room.

I don't get why you feel they're justified in 'taking pride' in their work by adding their own name and claiming credit for someone else's work. If someone spends two years writing an RPG manual, and someone spends two days scanning it into PDFs to distribute illegally? I absolutely and completely disagree with you that they deserve to take as much pride in the release as the actual authors do. And when they get irked that someone else goes and makes a slightly smaller PDF out of theirs, and puts /their/ name on it, and post angrily to boards that /they/ did all the work of scanning, and they should be getting the credit... that just seems freakin' hypocritical.

If someone spends two years making a video game, and people spend two weeks cracking it and release it with the crack placing their pirate group's logo into the game, I do find it lame that they accept the accolades of the pirates who download it... and moreso, that they get upset when someone else copies their crack and claim they're being cheated? Seems hypocritical.

If someone spends a bunch of time writing an instant messenger client and folks spend a day or two removing the protection from the commercial copy and distribute it, and take glee in the accolades of the masses, it seems hypocritical of them to complain when someone puts their pirated copy of it up on a competing site.

I call it immature because they clearly understand how irritating it is to have someone else claim credit for your work... and they do not care, unless it affects them directly. If you can come up with a way to justify that as mature behavior? I'd love to hear it.

As for fixes...

In my experience, a percentage of pirates -- a small one, but measurable nonetheless -- feel a great deal of guilt over the act of pirating once they realize that the artists whose work they are appreciating are harmed by the copyright violations and do not appreciate pirates. And upon realizing this, change their tune.

There is no easy 'quick fix' to the moral decline, or the 'I want a free lunch' aspect. But as you yourself point out, educating people as to why it's wrong is a good first start. Based on what I've seen in discussions elsewhere and seen in personal experience, I think the collection of essays might actually reach a few people and, even if it doesn't make them change their ways, might at least make them think about it, and about the moralistic justifications many use.
As I said, the matter of taking pride in an accomplishment is not immature. That's just a fact. What they are taking pride in, however, is an activity that is either immature or criminal. Getting pissed off for soemone doing the same thing to them and taking pride in it is immature. But the act of taking pride in your work is NOT. Even if everything surrounding it may be.
I was reading an interesting story about how many smaller bands only exist anymore as a result of selling merchandising (i.e. which can't be pirated so easily, like t-shirts and suchnot).

According to my reading on the subject, most musical artists make most of their money off of merchandising and concert performances, not for any reason having to do with the Internet or file sharing, but because the labels take most of the money.

Here’s what Courtney Love said about it in 2000, and Janis Ian in 2002.

These are about the peculiarities of the music business, and the details probably don’t carry over into the world of software.