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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...


As far as solutions go, I remember hearing somewhere about an alternative way to sell things. I don't remember if it was actually used, or if it was just suggested, but it was interesting.

This was designed for selling music CDs: The artist would release two or three tracks from the album, for free, on their website, and would post a target. Anyone could donate as much or as little as they wanted towards that target. Once the target amount was reached, the artist would release the entire CD for free. Possibly, it could be broken down so that an extra track is available every 15% received, or something like that.

Computer games could conceivably be sold the same way. The company develops the entire game, then releases the first third of it for free. They set a target goal based on how much it cost to develop, including salaries, facility costs, and so on, as well as a reasonable amount of profit. Then they release more of they game as they get donations, eventually having the whole thing. They'd have to develop with that in mind, and figure out a good way to release updated versions in the store, as well as more problems that I haven't thought of yet... but it might work well, especially for big, popular, highly-expected games. By not releasing the full thing, there's no chance of it being cracked, since there's nothing to crack - everything is either freely available for download (and probably in stores for a nominal fee - $5 to $10), or not available anywhere outside the company. It would increase the development costs, and distribution costs if they replace the CD's being physically sold after X percentage has been received (maybe 50% and 100%), but those can be factored into the target number.
People would hate it.

"I put $50 towards that album, and they never reached the target, so I never got a single other track! What a fucking rip-off, man!"

C'mon, we live in a world where the author of Something Positive has people griping that they're not getting enough for /donations/... or even more often, people griping that they /wouldn't/ be getting enough for their donations if they /had/ donated.