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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...


First of all, now suddenly free trial versions aren't sufficient? You're changing your argument, Gary. What you want is not a free trial version, you want a free version of the full thing, with an honor system that you'll buy it afterwards. The majority of the pirates out there have already demonstrated that they don't work on an honor system; a free download of the full game will just get it sent around faster. (And time-limited downloads are a joke; turning off the countdown timer routine so that it always returns true is a matter of twenty minutes and SoftICE.)

As a side note, the reason game demos may work on a machine that the final game doesn't (though more often it's the other way around) is that the game community demands the demos before the game is out. As a result, the demo is almost always from two or three builds -- at least -- before the final version of the game engine. It's quite possible that they discover they have to add some new Direct3D trick, and then only discover after the fact that it breaks things on 2/3 of the Windows 2000 machines out there. Trust me, speaking from experience, trying to test things on every single possible configuration of machines is a bitch. It's not as bad now as it was five years ago, since things are a little more standardized in the Windows world (and a lot of game dev happens for consoles, which have really taken off more now that we have DVD-based console systems).

As for the sales figures? That's a rather skewed statistic. I can state that taking every independent sales operation in North America and adding their profits together, they outperformed Wal-Mart. And it would probably be true. But then saying that this means that independent businesses have a better profit margin than Wal-Mart would be ludicrous. (If it isn't, I'd like to talk to you guys about donating some of the millions you've made from the store!)

Megan's complaints were not about loss of profit, but about the moral blindness of people who claim it's /all right/ to steal because it doesn't really hurt anyone. C'mon, are you really saying that there's no profit on used books to the author, and therefore if used books are okay that piracy should be okay? That's like saying, 'well, this person beat up X, and since there's already beating up going on, it makes it okay for me to beat up Y.' That's just... strange logic.

Plus, the key to used books is that if I want to sell one of my used books -- or give it to someone else -- I'm giving up my copy. If there were 100,000 copies sold and in circulation, there are still 100,000 copies in circulation. With PDFs? I don't have to. Congratulations! Now you have a copy, /and/ I still have a copy. And in fact, hey, maybe you really like the book, so you make copies of it on disk for /all your friends/ and give them a copy, going, 'hey, you really got to try this book.'

For me, no amount of argument is going to erase the fact, that over three years at a game company I saw our holiday bonuses go away due to piracy losses. I saw people pirating our games before they even hit the stores, and coming onto our forums to whine about the games being 'busted' when the cracks were what destabilized the game. I've seen the game company I used to work at get eaten by a publisher because, due to piracy losses, they could no longer afford to operate as an independent development house, and had to go become part of Time Warner's game studios instead. And that's without going into the piracy that Trillian faces.

I think this is one we're just going to have to disagree on. It doesn't matter what I say; you've already made up your mind that piracy is justifiable. And no matter what you say in return, you can't change the above experiences for me.