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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...


But books also have a nonconcrete cost, in terms of the author's time and effort.

As for software and movies, they have a concrete cost as well (unless you're dealing with Internet delivery); it /does/ cost the studio to make those DVD boxes and discs. Not as much as they charge for it, I grant you, but it adds up.
I'm not saying that books, software, and movies do not have a concrete cost. :) They do. But for distribution, their concrete costs (for movies and software) could be close to zero if they chose digital delivery.

For non-digital delivery, that's why I said in the beginning that the MC approaches 0, but isn't. :) It is higher, because there are physical products involved.

However, for purely digitally delivered products, once you take account of the cost of bandwidth and storage, the remaining marginal cost is close to 0.

I think we've reached a point of agreement - items are overpriced which induces people to steal. Technology, cheap bandwidth and storage have made it easier for people to steal.

My remaining point that we haven't agreed on is:
If pricing was lowered to be more realistic, less people would steal. ;)
Yeah, I disagree on this. Because if it were, people who have $10 shareware programs would see massive registration numbers. I think that software could probably be priced lower (though I will state that I think that's more the case in the higher end area, applications, and even still there are market reasons to charge a lot more for those sort of programs), but I don't think doing so would stop a significant portion of piracy.

And even today you find cracks and keygenerators and suchnot out there even for $5-10 shareware. Including things that people use on a daily basis. Sooooo... I am unconvinced.
I think that is the fringe that you can never get rid of. There are always going to be pirates and thieves.

Most of the things pirated are things like Microsoft Office, Visio, etc, Adobe's various software suites, and games.

For those categories, I absolutely think that it can be lowered. I think games should move to a subscription-based policy as well as a digital distribution platform (ala Steam). This simple move would completely void game pirating. Once you move beyond 5-15 dollar shareware programs, I think as a company, you need to move to this strategy.

My main complaint against this is that I have to pay for the game, and then pay again every month. I don't mind paying every month - I understand there's sysadmins, gamemasters, servers, bandwidth, etc - but I feel like I'm getting hit twice. I also logically understand that buying it is paying for R&D while the monthly costs pays for ongoing maintenance. ;) I understand that. But I still despise it. ;)